Walk 139: Tintagel Circular: It’s a legend

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4.72 miles (7.6km)

Time to walk: With stops for pasties, cups of tea & just sitting around admiring the spectacular views, this walk took us 3 hours. If you decide to visit Tintagel Castle, allow longer

Difficulty: A mix of hard surface & coastal path walking. There are some ups & downs, especially on the cliff edges, but nothing too strenuous

Parking: We parked in the Bossiney field car park on the Boscastle Road, beside the radio mast. You can’t miss it. Don’t forget to put your money in the honesty box though

Public toilets: At the Visitor Centre in Tintagel, plus the Castle & cafe

Map of the route:

This was the second walk we did on a short break in Cornwall in September 2019. Beginning on the outskirts of Tintagel, the walk passes through the village itself, before heading out to the church on the headland. It then follows the coastal path past spectacular Tintagel Castle & continuing along the cliffs back to the start

The name Tintagel comes from the Cornish “Tre war Venydh” meaning village on a mountain. The village & nearby castle are associated with the legends surrounding King Arthur

We’ll pick up on more of the history & legends as we go, so…

Let’s Walk!

1. The Bossiney car park is basically just a grass field, but the view from it gives you an indication of some of the coastline you’re going to be walking along…

The signs tell you this is a ‘Pay & Display’ car park, but you may spend some time looking for a machine that will take your credit card. The bad news is there isn’t one, & you won’t get a receipt to stick in your car window either as there’s just an honesty box

2. If you fancy some refreshments before setting off, we can highly recommend Bossiney Tea Room, directly over the road. If the weather’s nice you can sit in the garden & there’s even ‘Crazy Golf’ next door

3. Suitably refreshed, facing the tea room, turn right & walk along the road towards Tintagel…

…passing the very old ‘Fisherman’s Cottage’ which is actually a holiday cottage. Bossiney itself was the Parliamentary seat of Sir Francis Drake who, in 1584. gave his election speech from Bossiney Mound. It was also the Parliamentary seat of Sir Francis Bacon. The mound was actually the remains of a Motte & Bailey castle that was thought to have been deserted soon after the building of Tintagel Castle around 1230

4. Continue past the huge Lebanese Cedar tree & the hotel, where a sign tells you you’ve finally entered the village

The area now starts to get much busier as you head towards the centre…

On the left, you’ll find the Tintagel Visitor Centre, with its distinct spire. You could actually spend a good hour in there reading all the interesting information about the area, plus some of the legends

One of these, according to tradition, concerns the circular mound where Sir Francis Drake gave his speech from. It’s alleged that King Arthur’s Round Table lies buried beneath it & on Midsummer’s Night it briefly rises in a flash of light. At the end of time, the legend says it will be carried up to Heaven, where saints will sit at it to eat with Christ

5. Continue straight through the village along Fore Street, which is now becoming much more ‘touristy’…

…however there are quite a few old buildings that are worth a look at. First up on the right’s the imposing King Arthur’s Hall which opened 1933. Built by Frederick Thomas Glasscock, it originally served as the headquarters for a social organisation known as the ‘Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table’. It contains some works of art relating to the legend of King Arthur

Apparently it’s connected by ley lines directly to another Arthurian site…Glastonbury. Outside the door is a full suit of armour & we challenge you not to pay a hard-earned £1 of your money to take you picture looking through the helmet!

6. Next door’s the Old School Hall & King Arthur’s Arms hotel…

…however, the property over the road is the one we’ve come to see. This low, old building is The Old Post Office which is owned by the National Trust

Tintagel Old Post Office is a 14th century stone house, built to the plan of a medieval manor house. The name dates from the Victorian period when it briefly held a licence to be the letter receiving station for the district. The National Trust has restored it to this condition & it was among the early acquisitions of the Trust in 1903

The building was acquired by the Trust from its owner Catherine Eliza Johns, who had bought it in 1895 to prevent its demolition. She & a number of other artists then raised money to enable the National Trust to buy it from her

7. Continue along Fore Street. To leave the village & continue on the route, you need to turn left at the sign saying ‘No through road’ just past the ‘Cornishman’s Inn‘. However, it would be rude not to have a look at the rest of the village first, so continue past the ‘Ye Olde Malthouse Inn‘ which dates back to the 14th century

Now at this point we thought it best to have some sustenance for the rest of the walk. Actually it was the smell of freshly cooking pasties from the two shops on the bend that was irresistible. We chose Pengenna Bakery, mainly because of the number of people queuing, the sight of them being made & the size of them!!

We can highly recommend!

8. Return to the ‘No through road’ sign & walk down the hill…

We’re now heading towards the church which can be seen on the headland in the distance across the fields

9. The lane drops down & then rises up again. It’s very narrow so please be careful of traffic. At the top of the hill walk into the beautiful graveyard of St Materiana’s Church

There’s been a church on this site since probably the 6th century. Before entering the church have a look round the graveyard which is unusually large for Cornwall. As you wander though, just be careful as the signs warn you…

You may think that the graveyard looks slightly scruffy & unkempt, however this is because it’s one of Cornwall’s Living Churchyards which are managed for conservation

10. Have a look inside the church itself which was probably built towards the end of the 11th century

Saint Materiana was a 5th century Welsh saint & princess, who is patron of two churches in Cornwall & one in Wales. She was the eldest daughter of King Mortimer &, after her father’s death, ruled over Gwent, with her husband Prince Ynyr

11. Ready for some coastal walking? Come out of the church & turn right at the National Trust sign. This is Glebe Cliff…

At this point you can see Tintagel ahead once again, but you can’t see the remains of the castle as it’s in the dip ahead

Fear not though as this spectacular sight soon comes into view…

12. The site was settled during the early medieval period, when it was probably one of the seasonal residences of the regional King o Dusnonia. A castle was built on the site by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall in the 13th century, during the later medieval period. It later fell into disrepair & ruin

Archaeological investigation into the site began in the 19th century as it became a tourist attraction, with visitors coming to see the ruins of Richard’s castle. In the 1930s, excavations revealed significant traces of a much earlier high status settlement, which had trading links with the Mediterranean during the Late Roman period

In the past to reach the island you had to descend & ascend a steep footpath again. On Sunday 11th August 2019 a new steel bridge opened so you can just walk straight across. Try & spot the gap they’ve left in the middle so it can expand & contract

13. Today the site is owned by Prince Charles & managed by English Heritage. Why most tourists come here is because the castle has a long association with the Arthurian legends, being first associated with King Arthur by Welshman Geoffrey of Monmouth in his book the ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ (“History of the Kings of Britain'”), written around 1135, which includes a detailed account of the legend

According to Geoffrey & the legend, Arthur’s father was Uther Pendragon, the King of all Britain. He goes to war against Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, to capture Gorlois’ wife Igraine, with whom Uther has fallen in love. Gorlois defends himself against Uther’s armies at his fort of Dimilioc, but he sends Igraine to stay safely within Tintagel Castle which is his most secure refuge, according to the legend

Uther besieges Dimilioc, telling his friend Ulfin how he loves Igraine, but Ulfin replies that it would be impossible to take Tintagel, for “it is right by the sea, & surrounded by the sea on all sides; & there is no other way into it, except that provided by a narrow rocky passage—& there, three armed warriors could forbid all entry, even if you took up your stand with the whole of Britain behind you”

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story goes on to explain how the Wizard Merlin is summoned & magically changes Uther’s appearance to that of Gorlois to help get them into Tintagel Castle, while also changing his own & Ulfin’s appearances to those of two of Gorlois’s companions. Disguised thus, they are able to enter Tintagel where Uther goes to Igraine, & “in that night was the most famous of men, Arthur, conceived.”

It was here that Arthur was born (Now why do we feel the need to reference one of the greatest albums of all time & get the fanfare from Rick Wakeman’s ‘Myths & Legends of King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table?!)

14. If you want to visit the castle remains, pay your hard-earned cash & cross the bridge. If not…continue downwards & head towards a well-earned cuppa at the fabulous Tintagel Castle Beach Cafe

There’s a loo opportunity here as well. Have a walk to the end of path past the cafe where, at low tide, you’ll be able to spot Merlin’s Cave. It’s 330 foot long, passing completely through Tintagel Island from Tinagel Haven on the east to West Cove on the west. It’s a sea cave formed by marine erosion along a thrust plane between slate & volcanic rocks. The cave fills with water at high tide, but has a sandy floor & is explorable at low tide

Tennyson made Merlin’s Cave famous in his Idylls of the King, describing waves bringing the infant Arthur to the shore & Merlin carrying him to safety. Also from here you get a great view of the new bridge…

15. Refreshed once more begin to climb the steepish steps up the coastal path…

This next stretch of the walk really is fabulous coastal walking. And don’t forget it will be different at all times of the year & in all kinds of weather

16. The path rises sharply & if you want to take a diversion onto the headland, take the left path at the junction, otherwise continue straight ahead up the hill…

Over the top of the rise you get another great view of the coastline…

17. There’s no chance of getting lost though, as there’s always a signpost to point you in the right direction…

Pass through the gate & keep straight ahead on the path

18. Walk through another gate & climb to the top of the next rise…

There are a few other paths going off to the right, but ignore these & walk through the gap in the wall. The sign reminds us that we’re still on National Trust property – this headland’s called Willapark

19. Once through the wall there’s an option to visit the headland should you wish – just follow the path to the left. To continue on this walk, take the path to the right signposted towards Rocky Valley…

On a sunny, warm day this really is superb coastal walking, but it would be also good to see it on a wild,stormy day

20. Be careful as the path narrows & then descends steeply into Rocky Valley which was carved by the Trevillet River. At their highest point the slate canyon walls tower over seventy feet above the river below. Rocky Valley was mentioned in travel books as a place of exceptional beauty as early as 1897. The valley is owned by the National Trust & is home to 161 different species of moss

The South West Coast Path, which we’re on, descends into & out of the valley a little way inland due to the sheer cliffs on the coast. The rocks at the seaward end of the valley are dangerous & people have been swept off by freak waves

In 2007 some of the bridges over the Trevillet River were washed away during flash floods caused by heavy rains. These have since been replaced

21. If you wish to visit the beaches then cross the bridge & turn left. Our route back to the start of the walk lies down the steps & up the other side of the valley…

In the distance across the meadow, you can see the wireless mast which is next to the field where we parked the car

So that is the end of a short, but beautiful coastal path walk, that has some great history attached to…some true & some maybe not. Well leave it up to you to decide what’s fact & what’s fiction!

Go Walk!