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Britannia's Magical History Tour
Stop 7: Tintagel, Cornwall
Tintagel Castle
There is something special about Tintagel. The town is situated on the wild, northern coast of Cornwall and, from a distance, appears to be a normal seaside community. Make no mistake, though, Tintagel is a company town. Its main function in life, is catering to the thriving King Arthur "industry"; to wit the King Arthur Hotel, the King Arthur Book Shop, the King Arthur Car Park, the King Arthur's Arms Pub, King Arthur's Cafe, King Arthur's Great Hall and Merlin's, just to name a few.

The town's associations with the legendary King Arthur date, as far as we know for certain, back to the twelfth century. The medieval writer, Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his "History of the Kings of Britain," tells the story of the night of the conception of Arthur, the "Once and Future King". He places the event at Tintagel Castle, which was said to be the home of the Duke of Cornwall, Gorlois, and his ravishing wife, Ygerna. Some 700 years later, the great Victorian poet laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, in "Idylls of the King" begins his story of Arthur at Tintagel, also.

Why did these authors choose Tintagel? Are these stories pure fabrication? Pure literary license? Or, was there an ancient oral or written tradition that associated Arthur with Tintagel? We don't know for sure. We do know that there is a ruined castle there. It sits impressively high above the Atlantic, connected to the mainland only by a slippery, narrow bridge where the wind howls constantly. Although the visible ruins date back only to the thirteenth century, archaeological excavations of the area have discovered that there were other, earlier structures on this site.

Tintagel CastleDr. C.A. Ralegh Radford, who originally excavated the site in the 1930's, believed that the earlier Tintagel was a Celtic monastery dating back to around the fifth century, the supposed time of Arthur. Further excavations in the 1990's have shown that it was not a monastic site, at all, but the stronghold of a powerful, dark-age chieftain. Was it Gorlois? Or maybe Arthur, himself?

The answer to that question shouldn't really matter to the traveler and it certainly doesn't matter to the good business people of the town. What matters is that this town and King Arthur are inextricably bound together, and that's enough to make any town special.

Next stop: Slaughterbridge, Cornwall

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