After a cold January storm my wife and I scrambled down and then up the slippery rocky path of this almost inaccessible headland fortress, to fall breathless into its precincts.
Having rested, we began surveying this craggy piece of land that juts into the raging sea off the north coast of Cornwall. By mid-morning, the sun had broken out from the heavy cloud cover and had begun to splash its rays through the gaping wounds of the ruined castle walls.
It is not at all surprising, that this decayed island fortress, provokes distant Arthurian legends.
The translation of Tintagel means, “fort of the constriction” a combination of “din” and “tagell” and, having traversed the approach to the castle, the meaning of the name is self evident.
It is believed, during the 4th century BC, Cornwall exported tin to the Aegean but as to whether Tintagel featured as a trading port at that time, it is impossible to say however, eastern Mediterranean
pottery has been found here.
In Roman times it was an important trading post until the Roman departure from England in about 410. Archaeological finds suggest it became an important royal fortress and perhaps it was from this period, the legendary Arthur would have sprung.
The remains of buildings we see today are said to have begun in the 12th century and attributed to Reginald, Earl of Cornwall, a bastard son of King Henry I. The buildings were then much extended between the years 1236 and 1272 by Earl Richard of Cornwall.
In the 14th century, Tintagel passed into the hands of Edward the Black Prince,
whose surveyors described it thus:
"A certain castle sufficiently walled, in which there are two decayed chambers over the two gateways,
one sufficient chamber with a kitchen for the constable, a decayed stable for 8 horses,
a cellor, and a ruined bakehouse. And it should be noted that the timber-work of the great hall of
the said castle was dismantled by order of The Lord John (of Eltham) formaerly Earl of Cornwall,
because the said hall was ruinous and its walls of no value. And the said timber remains shut up in
a certain building there. There is also a sufficient chapel there in which there is
a priest celebrating divine service daily."
Another survey in 1345 showed that these defects had been made good.
The roofs of the chambers over the two gateways
had been re-leaded and the stables put in good order; the great hall rebuilt on a smaller scale with the addition of a pantry and the kitchen roofed in stone.
In 1385 King Richard II ordered moneys for repairs to the walls of the castle amounting to £34.16s.8d. The existing wall on the western side of the upper ward probably dates from this period.
The lack of any real strategic value probably sealed the castle’s fate and therefore no
further funds were available
for proper maintenance. The problem was compounded by natural land erosion and by 1513 it was said to be a "gulfyng yn of the Se" and it was "sore wether beten and yn ruine".
It is now in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.
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