The castle of Tintagel lies on a finger of land projecting into the sea from the flat plateau of North Cornwall. Access to the castle is by means of two steep staircases clinging to the cliffside. Part of the castle is on the mainland; the other part of the castle is reached by walking over a narrow neck of land between two inlets of the sea. Today, there is a wooden bridge between the two halves. The wooden bridge is the only link between the mainland and what is known as "The Island".

After a period as a Roman settlement and military outpost, Tintagel was the stronghold of kings or princes of Dumnonia - a kingdom comprising Cornwall, Devon and parts of Somerset. Sometime in the 5th or 6th century CE, the castle was strengthened by adding a stone wall, turning Tintagel into a fortress of great strength. To attack the castle, an army would have to work its way along the steep slopes or concentrate the attack on the cramped path. The narrowness of the approach to the castle was sufficient to give the stronghold the name by which it has become famous - Din Tagell - the Fortress of the Narrow Entrance.

In 1233 CE, Earl Richard of Cornwall, the brother of King Henry III, was persuaded to build a medieval castle in this isolated, windswept spot. Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain was written in 1136 CE, almost a century before Richard undertook the project. According to Geoffrey, Tintagel was the fortress of a Cornish duke called Gorlois and it was there - with the aid of Merlin's magic - that the boy destined to become King Arthur was conceived. By Earl Richard's time, the story had been elaborated: Tintagel was now where Arthur had been born and possibly where he had lived. Some speculate that Richard built Tintagel because he hoped to benefit from the tales of chivalry and heroism attributed to the site, presenting himself as a successor to King Arthur.

Click on the thumbnails below in order to see pictures of Tintagel.  Use your browser's back button to return to this page.

Mainland CourtyardsThe Mainland Courtyards and the narrow passage leading to the castle's entrance. This was the outermost part of the medieval castle built for Earl Richard of Cornwall. Narrow EntranceIn medieval times, the only way to the castle was along this narrow approach passage flanked by the crag on the left and a high wall on the right. In the event of an attack, this passage formed an easy killing ground for defenders on top of the battlemented gate tower.
Lower Mainland CourtyardThe Lower Mainland Courtyard.   To the right of the ruined gate tower is the high crag of rock which allowed defenders to control the only safe approach to their home. Reconstruction drawingReconstruction drawing by Ivan Lapper of the gateway and Lower Mainland Courtyard.
Lower Mainland CourtyardThe Lower Mainland Courtyard as seen from the Upper Mainland Courtyard. In the Middle Ages, it was bigger - almost a quarter of it has collapsed into the sea. It was also more closed-in with high battlemented walls on all four sides.
Upper Mainland CourtyardThe southern portion of the Upper Mainland Courtyard located on the high crag. The group of stone-floored rooms (foreground) were built in the latter Middle Ages. The lower grass-topped walls could be the remains of buildings from a time before either of the present courtyard walls were built, because of their quite different alignment. They may even have been a part of the Dark Age stronghold, re-used when the castle was built.  Upper Mainland CourtyardView of the upper Mainland Courtyard looking north. Like the lower courtyard, this courtyard was once much larger. Perhaps as much as half of the courtyard has collapsed into the sea.
Mainland CourtyardsView of the Mainland Courtyards and the bridge as seen from the south. Tintagel IslandTintagel Island as seen from the Lower Mainland Courtyard. A narrow neck of land connects the mainland and the Island. The chasm is spanned by a modern wooden bridge, suspended above the western inlet (left) and eastern inlet (right), making it easier to reach the steps leading up onto the Island.
Western InletTintagel's western inlet is open to the worst storms. Crevices in the rock have been opened up by the powerful action of the waves resulting in the many boulders on the beach. The HavenBy contrast,  the sandy eastern inlet, known as the Haven, is much more sheltered. Roman, Dark Age and medieval cargos were landed on the sandy beach of the Haven. In the 19th century, small sailing craft put out from the Haven with cargoes of slate quarried from the cliffs.
Barras NoseIn the 5th and 6th centuries CE, the link between Tintagel's mainland and the Island must have been much wider and higher than it is today. It may have looked more like the narrow part of Barras Nose, the headland across the other side of the Haven, before the sea created the present narrow neck. Caves in the HavenTintagel Castle sits above these two caves in the Haven. A fault or a layer of weaker rocks crosses the Tintagel Head on which the castle is built. The rocks were eroded by the sea forming several irregular sea caves all in one row. According to the King Arthur legend, Merlin the magician lived in a cave below the fortress of Tintagel. The larger of the two caves (rightmost) is known as Merlin's Cave. In Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King, Merlin stood on the beach beside the cave's entrance with the infant Arthur raised high in his arms.
Inside Cave Both caves are high enough to walk through and both penetrate through the whole head to the other side forming tunnels beneath Tintagel Island. Merlin's CaveLegend has it that inside Merlin's Cave, Arthur was schooled in the ways of magic and purpose of his knighthood.
The BridgeThe great chasm between the mainland and the Island is spanned by a modern wooden bridge. It was built in the 1970s to replace an earlier path and set of steps that had become very dangerous. Island courtyard doorwayA large doorway opens off the steep steps leading up and into Tintagel's Island courtyard.
The Island CourtyardTintagel's Island courtyard. This inner courtyard - the heart of the medieval castle - was once larger. Part of it has fallen down the cliff taking with it part of the courtyard wall and one end of the Great Hall built for Earl Richard in about 1235 CE. Battlemented wallThe remaining battlemented north wall of the castle's Island courtyard.
Island courtyardThe Island courtyard as seen from the battlemented  wall in the northwest. On the cliff top overlooking the Haven stands King Arthur's Castle Hotel, built just before 1900. WindowVisible through the crumbled remains of the Great Hall in the Island courtyard are windows and doorways.
SE Island courtyardBuilding remains located in the southeast portion of the Island courtyard. Steps to upper floorThe remains of a two-roomed building with a flight of steps up to where there was once an upper floor. This may have been a private chamber, intended for the use of the Earl on his rare visits to Tintagel.
The two halves of TintagelLooking from the Island back to the mainland, the two halves of Tintagel castle are visible.  In the background are the two Mainland courtyards perched on top of the sheer cliff. In the center lies the Island courtyard with its battlemented wall. In the foreground, along the sheltered sloping side of the Island, are four small groups of ruined buildings thought to be Dark Age houses, their low walls topped with grass. Tintagel CourtyardsThe two mainland courtyards and the Island courtyard as seen from the top of the Island. In the great cliff supporting the mainland courtyards, the various rock strata can be seen - the hard, dark bed of slate lying just below the mainland courtyards and below it, the softer, pale green-gray layers. The cliff is ridden with fissures running up through the rock. Large pieces of the cliff have fallen away destroying part of the castle.
CoastlineView of Tintagel's setting - its savage landscape of contorted rocks, sea caves and narrow sandy inlets - as seen from the eastern side of the Island. Dark Age BuildingsBarras Nose and one of the groups of ruined Dark Age buildings along the sloping eastern side of the Island.  According to the surveyors of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (now a part of English Heritage), at least 150 buildings lay beneath the grass and heather on top of the Island and its sheltered eastern and southern slopes.
Walled GardenThis small walled area on the top of the Island seems to have been laid out in the Middle Ages as a garden. It was in walled gardens that the gentler and more sophisticated episodes of courtly life took place: books were read, poetry was recited, and the latest songs were sung. Northern RuinsThe ruined buildings on the northern side of the Island were uncovered in the 1930s. Their date and purpose are still something of a mystery. Some of the buildings may be as old as the 5th or 6th century CE, like those on the eastern slopes of the Island. Others may be medieval in date.
The TunnelNo one really knows for what purpose this short length of tunnel was dug. The most likely is that the tunnel was dug in the Middle Ages as a long narrow larder for the castle, built this shape in order to economize on roofing materials. The sea wind blowing through the tunnel would keep the food cool. The WellThe shallow depression on the top of the Island is the only natural water-catchment at Tintagel. The well is medieval in date and must have been the main source of water for the castle apart from any water collected from the roofs of the buildings.
Parish ChurchView of Tintagel Parish Church, which has Norman and Saxon masonry, from the southern cliffs of the Island. The ChapelThis tiny chapel, dedicated to St Juliot, seems to have been built around the end of the 11th century, a time when the old Dark Age stronghold had been long abandoned and the castle had not been built.
Building remainsAround the chapel are more low stone walls topped with grass. These are all that remain of quite a large complex of buildings of various dates - some Dark Age and some medieval. Old Post OfficeIn Tintagel Village, the Old Post Office is a rare example of a 14th-century Cornish longhouse, beautifully restored and furnished with 17th-century oak furniture.

View GuestbookSign Guestbook

Cornwall United Kingdom MapGrisel's Home Page Email Grisel Boscastle



All pictures are Copyright 2001-2002 Grisel Gonzalez and Jeff Prosise

Moon & Back Graphics