Thursday, August 30, 2018

Tintagel Castle--Legend and Ruins

A sprawling fortress, set on a breathtaking precipice above the turbulent sea. Pounded by violent storms and accessible only by a narrow strip of land with a sheer drop on either side, Tintagel is the perfect setting for an epic adventure story. It’s not surprising that this site on the southwestern edge of Cornwall is said to be the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur.

Very little is known about Arthur, the Roman British warlord who fought the Saxons and went on became the most famous king of all time. The few scant “facts” we have about him date from writings in the 7th century, well over a hundred years after he lived. It’s unlikely we will ever know his true place of birth, but it doesn’t matter. Tinagel fills the role nicely. Even today it remains a magical place, steeped in the mists of time. 
The site does have dark age ruins, so the legend is not entirely without merit. On the terraces on the east side of the island (which was connected by an isthmus to the mainland until the late Middle Ages) are the remnants of an extensive settlement. In addition to numerous buildings, there was likely a seawall protecting them, although the stone barrier has long since crumbled away. Pottery found at the site dates from the fifth to the seventh centuries, which perfectly fits the Arthurian era.

The ruins of a medieval castle are even more prominent on the site, and indeed, the area is known as Tintagel Castle on all the maps and signage. The castle dates to the early 13th century, and was built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III. A gate tower and some of curtain wall are still standing.
What is especially intriguing about the castle is that it was built on both the island and the mainland and the two parts of the fortress were connected by a narrow bridge that spanned the gap between them.

On the shore below the impressive promontory is a beautiful beach with vivid blue water,  a stunning moss covered shoreline and an impressive opening into the cliff wall known as Merlin's Cave, probably based on the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson in which Merlin plucks the infant Arthur from the sea. 

If all the history and legends of Tintagel weren't enough to inspire awe, the scenery by itself is stunning. The dramatic coastal formations, topped by emerald green grass, reminded me very much of the northern coast of Ireland. 
 I left Tintagel with several story ideas in my head. Perhaps I would return again to the dark age era of Maelgwn the Great, my first fictional hero and a contemporary of Arthur. Or maybe I will write a medieval romance set in the beautiful wild countryside of Cornwall. Or even a Regency era tale, as the people of the early 1800's were as enthralled with the legend of Arthur as we are today. 
If everything a writer experiences is material for their stories, then Tintagel is breathtaking enough to inspire a dozen tales.  
My latest book features a love story as dramatic and powerful as the wild sea crashing against the Cornish coast. In Lady of Steel, a hardened Crusader knight and a fiercely independent and secretive lady must learn to trust each other and give in to the fiery passion that binds them.