Tintagel Castle, Cornwall: The Legend of Merlin and King Arthur

Tintagel Castle has been on my “must-see places in Cornwall” list for several years. Imbued with mythical tales of forbidden love, Merlin and King Arthur, and with royal linkage stemming back as far as the Black Prince, this medieval site has something for all the family.

the south west coastpath at Tintagel Castle showing a deep valley and a path with buildings

Tintagel is a village in north Cornwall on the Atlantic coast. Originally named, Trevena (which means “village on a mountain”), the main draw for those visiting is to see the ruins of Tintagel Castle. Owned and preserved by English Heritage, Tintagel Castle covers a vast amount of coastline. From an impressive and photogenic footbridge to Merlin’s Cave, there’s plenty to explore, discover and learn.

Before I share details of our visit, let me impart some valuable information about location, membership and parking (basically, the essentials).

Remains of Tintagel Castle with the sea and cliff in the background

Planning Your Visit to Tintagel Castle

Book your visit

I’d recommend booking your tickets and time slot for Tintagel Castle online. This will guarantee your entry and is a good idea during peak season. We went in the height of summer and it was busy. Entry is free for English Heritage members.

I recently became a member of the Cornish Heritage Trust. It covers entry to English Heritage sites in Cornwall and is considerably cheaper in comparison.

If you’re not a member of either, adult entry to Tintagel Castle is £17.60 and £10.60 for a child, 5 and over (2022 prices, including donation).

the cliffs at Tintagel Castle with rocks and high tide

Parking for Tintagel Castle

There are a number of car parks in Tintagel village, all just a short walk from the entrance to the castle site and grounds. These are pay and display car parks which also cater for campervans and motorhomes. We used King Arthur’s Car Park (PL34 0DA). Having arrived early for our visit, there were plenty of spaces. I think I paid about £4 for about half a day.

the climb along the cliff on the north Cornish coast with the sea and blue sky
people standing on the top of a cliff in the sun

Accessibility and walking to Tintagel Castle

There’s a bit of a downhill stroll to the reception/kiosk for Tintagel Castle. This means there’s a strenuous uphill walk back to the village. There is a private landrover shuttle service available if you can’t quite face it.

Given the nature of the site and the location of Tintagel Castle, wheelchair access is limited. There is a comprehensive access guide on the English Heritage website.

blue sea and a sandy cove in Cornwall
bright shallow green sea and a sandy cove by Merlin's Cave Cornwall

Can you visit Tintagel Castle without paying?

You cannot visit the ruins without paying entry. However, you can walk on the surrounding land and coast path for free. I’m not sure you’ll be able to see much of what remains of the castle though.

What’s so special about Tintagel Castle?

Where do I start?

Apart from its precarious position, loitering on the edge of a cliff, Tintagel Castle is mostly known for being connected to King Arthur but there remains much dispute about his existence. If he lived at all, King Arthur is believed to have been around in the 6th Century.

Scepticism around King Arthur, Merlin, Camelot and the knights of the round table remain largely due to the lack evidence and “Dear Diary” entries from this period. Welsh texts from the 9th century mention an Arthur-type warrior figure who lived several hundred years before.

Jagged stone framing a view of the sea and Cornish coast
A grey slate with Cornish etchings and words at TIntagel Castle Cornwall

Many of the tales surrounding King Arthur are linked to the 12th Century writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth. He evolved characters, like Merlin, and elaborate stories, such as Uther Pendragon’s seduction of Queen Ygerna. Geoffrey Monmouth also wrote of Tintagel Castle being the place of the King’s conception. Other elements, like Camelot, are believed to have been added later.

True or not, King Arthur, Merlin and all the legendary tales make for a fantastic story. I don’t mind whether it’s fact, fiction, or a romanticised version of something that happened once. Such narratives only add to the mythical air surrounding Tintagel Castle. Plus, it’s good to keep us guessing, and talking, hundreds of years later.

Me and my 11 year old son visited Tintagel on one of the hottest days of the year. I planned to cover every location on offer but the lunchtime heat proved to be too much. We covered most of the site but skipped a few bits towards the end of our visit.

Let me take you round so you know what to expect.

the footbridge to the island where Tintagel Castle is in Cornwall

Tintagel Castle footbridge

The first landmark you come to as you enter the castle site is the famous footbridge. Completed in 2019, the Tintagel Castle footbridge replaced an original crossing that disappeared centuries before.

I consider the bridge to be a welcome addition to the castle grounds. It’s considerably wider than some photos had me believe and I felt totally safe walking across it (I’m not phased by walking across bridges but I know some people are). Using the footbridge saves taking the old route which involves loads of steps (there’s still some uphill sections and climbs involved in visiting the site). The bridge takes visitors to the top of the island where you can see the rest of the ruins and remains (there are lots!).

The long footbridge at Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
a boy in the ancient doorway on the cliff at Tintagel Castle

The ancient castle door

If there’s one well known image connected to Tintagel Castle, it’s the ancient arched oak castle door. You’ll find it after you’ve crossed the bridge; it’s kind of randomly on the left. As we were early visitors, we managed to bag some pictures without queuing or interruption. People were lined up when we were making our way back though.

The door opens onto some wooden steps which lead down to a small rocky cove. At high tide there isn’t any beach or cove available to explore. But I’m sure it’s no less beautiful.

bright clear sea with golden rocks

Gallos sculpture of King Arthur

Gallos, the Cornish word for “power,” is definitely emulated in the impressive 8 foot bronze statue of King Arthur. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Rubin Eynon’s statue is a nod to Tintagel’s rich royal history beyond the myth of King Arthur.

The Gallos Sculpture of KIng Arthur at Tintagel Castle

The sculpture of King Arthur is, in my view, iconic. It’s one feature of Tintagel Castle that I wanted to see for myself. I think it’s clever and manages to capture something historical and classic, while also being contemporary in style. I like how there are missing elements to the bronze King Arthur, yet our mind’s eye fills in the gaps. Perhaps the gaps in the sculpture are a nod to the lack of certainty around King Arthur’s very existence (apologies for the analysis, it’s the psychologist in me!) The sculpture changes as you move around it too; it’s a bit like a visual illusion.

The Gallos sculpture is a popular photo location and we had to wait our turn to strike a pose with the King!

Merlin’s Cave

I intended on exploring Merlin’s Cave and timed our visit to Tintagel Castle to coincide with low tide to make this possible. However, the relentless summer heat left us flagging. Me and Henry decided we wouldn’t scale the steep steps down to the beach but stopped and appreciated the scenery. I wish I’d packed our swimmers, we could’ve done with cooling off in the sea.

shallow turquoise sea and grey rocks with a cave

Merlin’s Cave is said to have been the wizard’s home. There’s even an etching of Merlin carved into the cliff; another offering by artist, Rubin Eynon.

If you want to venture into Merlin’s Cave, do time your visit around tide times. At low tide you can walk through the cave to the other side. I’ve heard it’s quite rocky at the back though!

People in the sea near some rocks

More Places to Visit in Tintagel

While Tintagel Castle may be the village’s crowning glory, there are other places of interest to visit in and around the area.

One place I’d like to go, which has also received positive reviews is Tintagel Old Post Office. Owned by the National Trust, this pretty building is over 600 years old and has a sweet, appealing cottage garden. You can wander around the garden and walk around inside. I think I just fancy a stint in the post room!

Stepping outside of Tintagel village, and just a 15 minute drive away, is St Nectan’s Glen. I really, really want to go here. It’s meant to be quiet and scenic, plus the quieter months are wonderful for exploring Cornwall’s woodland. If that’s your thing too, you can find posts here on Idless Woods, near Truro, Cardinham (Bodmin), and Kennall Vale.

Have you been to TIntagel Castle? It’s definitely a place to learn more about the myths and legends associated with Cornwall.

If you like visiting places in Cornwall with rich storytelling and interesting tales, you’d probably like St Michael’s Mount in Marazion.

Pinterest pin for tintagel castle blog post

Author: plbedford

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *