Friday, February 10, 2017

Cornwall Part II: Tintagel & Padstow

The ruins of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall

In the first post about Cornwall, I said that I went to stay in a 13th century cottage near the town of Tintagel. I traveled with Anna and her mom, and we spent about a week living in the countryside, reading and writing, and going out for day trips around Cornwall.

One of the places Anna and I went was Tintagel, the nearest town. To get there, we followed the coastal path from Trebarwith Strand where the cottage was located, along the high cliffs over the ocean. The walk took about an hour and was absolutely stunning the entire way. We wandered through farmland with sheep and along the very edge of the cliffs, with views of wildflowers and the ocean and very few other people along the route. Granted, this was November - if you go during a warmer time of the year, I'm sure it can get crowded.

Walking along the coastal path in Cornwall

An old church on the coastal path near Tintagel in Cornwall

The coastal path in Cornwall

Tintagel is somewhere that I've always wanted to visit. I am definitely one of the biggest "Arthur" nerds that most people will ever meet. I grew up reading the legends about King Arthur and became pretty obsessed with them. I don't really believe that Arthur actually existed, although it is possible that the stories were very loosely based on a real person. It seems more likely that the stories were based on a few rulers of the time and a whole lot of folklore and imagination.

The connection between Arthur and Tintagel is that Tintagel Castle features in many of the Arthurian legends. In some, it's the site where Arthur was conceived. In one version of the story, King Uther fell in love with Igraine, the wife of the lord Gorlois, who lived at Tintagel Castle. Uther went to war with Gorlois, and while the battle was being fought outside the castle, Merlin used his magic to disguise Uther as Gorlois, who then entered the castle and slept with Lady Igraine (pretty creepy stuff, I know.) Gorlois died during the battle as this was going on, and following that Uther married Igraine who eventually gave birth to Arthur. This story was first written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote the Historia Regum Britanniae, or the History of the British Kings. Despite being titled a "history", it is really a very much fictional account of British history, written in the 12th century, about kings like Arthur who supposedly lived around the 5th and 6th centuries.

Good ol' Geoff, making stuff up and calling it history. Image is from the Geoffrey Tapestry (credit)

Another story related to Tintagel Castle is the romance Tristan and Isolde, first written by Chretien de Troyes in the 12th century. I won't go into all the details of this one as it's fairly long, but it's a Romeo and Juliet (or Lancelot and Guinevere) style story of tragic love. A lot of the story takes place at Tintagel Castle.

Having grown up reading these stories, it was very exciting for me to see the actual ruins of the castle. There's not really much left, just the foundations and some walls, but the location is incredible. Most of the castle was built on a bit of land barely connected to the mainland, which you can access now by a bridge and lots of stairs. The headland is very rugged and beautiful, with dark craggy cliffs and lots of caves. It probably features in so many legends because of how old it is. A castle was first built on the site in the 13th century by Richard, the 1st Earl of Cornwall, however it seems likely that the area was occupied as early as the Roman period (around the time that Arthur would have existed had he been a real person).

Bridge and stairs leading over to the main ruins of Tintagel Castle

Some of the remaining walls of Tintagel Castle

Little beach next to the site of the castle, with a number of caves hidden in the cliffs

The town of Tintagel doesn't really have that much to see, but there are a few nice shops selling mostly Arthurian souvenirs and there are some nice pubs, cafes and bakeries. We stopped at a cafe for a traditional Cornish cream tea. It's basically English tea served with scones, with jam and clotted cream on top. While that sounds fairly simple, apparently it's the source of a lot of controversy over with the jam goes on first or the clotted cream. Frankly, I don't really care, it was incredibly tasty however I ate it (I think I had the cream on first.)

Enjoying a cream tea in Tintagel, Cornwall

Hilariously, the Cream Tea Society's website will clear up any doubts you might have on the proper way to enjoy a cream tea. The fact that such a society exists is the most British thing I've heard all day.

The last place we visited in Cornwall was Padstow. It's just south of Tintagel along the coast. We parked near the town of Rock, on the opposite side of the Camel River, and took the ferry across to Padstow.

Catching the ferry to Padstow

We had unbelievably great weather most of the time we were in Cornwall, and the day in Padstow was especially nice. We wandered through town looking in the shops and walking by the harbor. It's a very touristy town with lots of things to see. We really spent most of our time eating and doing some Christmas shopping. We had pasties for lunch, and mine was one of the best I'd tried in Cornwall - the filling was potato, chicken and leeks, and it was amazing. We also bought some delicious fudge at Roly's Fudge Pantry.

Padstow, Cornwall

The harbor at Padstow

After a day out in Padstow, we caught a ferry back to the other side of the Camel River and went for a long walk along the beach. The weather and the sunset were gorgeous, once again making me fall in love with the Cornish scenery. Everywhere we went was beautiful. I really enjoyed my time there and I can't wait to go back again one day.

The Camel Estuary in Cornwall

Walking along the cliffs near Rock, Cornwall

Cornish countryside, near Rock, Cornwall

Beautiful sunset on the beach at the Camel Estuary

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