by Kathy Simcox
Did King Arthur exist? Was Excaliber real? Did Lancelot sweep Guinevere off her feet and seal the fate of Camelot? These questions are in my mind as I stand on the top of the cliffs where Tintagel, the English Heritage site and the mythical birthplace of one of the most famous legends in British history, perches. I have always enjoyed the Arthurian stories, which is why I had always wanted to travel to those wind-swept cliffs of Cornwall to walk among Tintagel’s castle ruins.
The legend: During what has become known as the Dark Ages (approx. 400 AD – 1000 AD), the Duke of Cornwall, Gorlois, and his wife Igraine held a party at their castle, and the High King of Britain, Uther Pendragon, attended. He and Igraine met and fell in love, but she was of course betrothed to someone else. The Saxon raids were increasing and Uther summoned the duke to war. During a break in the raiding, Uther rode to Tintagel to visit Igraine. It was during this time that the magician Merlin feared for Britain’s future since Uther did not have an heir. He decided to take matters into his own hands and placed a spell on Uther, making the king appear to be the duke himself. So when Igraine saw Uther, she thought he was her husband. They spent the night together and thus Arthur was born. So the legend goes.
I have always been intrigued by this part of Cornwall and the stone ruins that are scattered among the flowery cliffs. My tour group was given two-and-a-half hours to do whatever it wanted: to roam the streets of Tintagel village situated several hundred feet from the ruins to browse the shops, explore the 14th century Old Post Office, a still-used post office protected by the National Trust, indulge in Devonshire Cream Tea, or to walk among the crumbling castle ruins to listen to the crashing waves and be blown to bits by the fierce winds screaming in from the Atlantic.
Despite my Arthurian intrigue, I wasn’t sure what to do. The area surrounding the village is dated from the Iron Age (750 BC – 150 AD), which I found fascinating. But I remembered why I wanted to visit Tintagel in the first place, so I headed out toward the ruins.
It only took one glance out into the swirling, deep-blue ocean to convince me to spend the entire two-and-a-half hours riveted to the spot. The castle ruins themselves aren’t much to look at, just several stacks of stones, divided into what used to be separate chambers, the remains of an arch and tower. But the appeal, and lure, of them is twofold: the Arthurian legends coupled with the breath-taking scenery.
In order to navigate safely throughout the complex, and to get the most out of the experience, I climbed down the steep staircases that had been built up and down the cliff faces. The stairs led to a beach and once I had safely landed on the damp sand and pebbles, I could really feel, see, and hear the power of the wind. I looked out toward the ocean past a large boulder situated about fifty yards from where I was standing and watched as the sea churned and slammed dangerously against the cliffs. The bizarre weather in this mythical southwest corner of England was something I had never experienced before.
I turned away from the tempestuous scene and glanced behind me. Cascading over the cliff to the pebbled beach stretched a lovely waterfall. And to my immediate right gaped the infamous Merlin’s Cave, a tunnel of stone carved out of the cliff face from years and years of flowing water and rising tides. I couldn’t let the cave go unexplored, so with the sound of crunching pebbles and slamming surf in my ears, I walked through the arched entrance. The wind was even more deafening as it screamed through the tunnel so I didn’t linger inside very long; just long enough dampen my feet. Once outside the cave, I noticed the tide indeed was rising fast, and so I made my breath-stealing ascent up the steep, wooden steps to the top of the cliff and back toward the ancient village to where the tour bus idly sputtered.
Did King Arthur exist? Was Excaliber real? Did Lancelot sweep Guinevere off her feet and seal the fate of Camelot? As I turn and glance back past the blowing grass and out toward the white-capped Atlantic, I imagine Arthur and his knights of the Round Table galloping across the rolling hills, defending their infant country against the Saxons. For a fleeting moment, I allow the legends to be real.
Perhaps we all have a little Arthur in all of us – chivalrous, adventurous, brave, and true. In that brief, fleeting moment, I did. I turned back toward the bus with a smile, satisfied that I could erase another life wish from my bucket list. Arthur, and his legendary memory, will always be in my heart.
ADMISSION: (Non-members) Adult: £4.50, Concession: £3.40, Child: £2.30
1 Apr – 30 Sep, daily 10am – 6pm
1-31 Oct, daily 10am – 5pm
1 Nov – 20 Mar, daily 10am – 4pm
Closed, 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan
HOW TO GET THERE:
On Tintagel Head, 600 metres (660 yards) along uneven track from Tintagel; no vehicles except Land Rover service
Bus: Western Greyhoud 524 Bude-Wadebridge, 594 Bude-Truro (with connections on 555 at Wadebridge to Bodmin Parkway [Rail])
Tel: 01840 770328
About the author:
Kathy Simcox lives in Hilliard, Ohio. Ms. Simcox is an office manager at the College of the Arts at Ohio State University. She has a BA in psychology from Ohio University and has recently graduated from Ohio State with a 2nd B.A. in Religious Studies. She is active at All Saints Lutheran Church in Worthington, singing in the music program and serving her last year as council secretary. She enjoys traveling, writing, kayaking, hiking, biking, cross country skiing, swimming, Irish music, British comedies, playing Bodhran, and Guinness. She is also known to pick up an occasional book, preferably historical fiction. Kathy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of her work can be viewed at: community.webshots.com and www.facebook.com.
All photos are by Kathy Simcox.