What to do in North Cornwall: The time we were pleasantly surprised by a visit to Tintagel Castle
I really didn’t want to go to Tintagel Castle ever again. But our oldest daughter had other ideas. She’d asked to visit a few times and was showing an interest in history that the nagging conscientious parent inside us felt we should indulge. And I have to admit, she was absolutely right to encourage us. Tintagel is a stunning place to visit (once you bypass the Arthurian tat).
What put me off? Mike and I first visited the town as a couple about 15 years ago. We were child-free and seeking a romantic Cornish break. After a 4 hour drive down the M5, the unapologetic assault of all things King Arthur as we entered the town wasn’t exactly part of our plans.
So, after a disappointing drive-by the B&B we’d booked, we cancelled our room and escaped Tintagel quicker than you could say Galahad the Great. We found a last-minute alternative in a quainter spot a little further along the coast, breathed a sigh of relief at our lucky escape, and vowed never to return.
However, fast forward to 2021, now with two children and an English Heritage membership card burning a hole in our pocket, we found ourselves arranging a day trip to Tintagel Castle.
And you know what, we were pleasantly surprised.
Where is Tintagel?
Tintagel is on the North Cornwall Coast, between Boscastle and Port Isaac. It takes about 30 minutes to drive there from Cottons Cottage.
Our destination was Tintagel Castle. Address – Castle Road, Tintagel, Cornwall, PL34 0HE.
This is an English Heritage site, so entry is free to members but there’s a charge for non-members. Pre-booking your visit online is probably prudent, particularly at the moment. You can book on the English Heritage website.
There isn’t parking on site, but there are several car parks in Tintagel. We used the Tintagel Country Club Pay and Display, which is a short walk from the entrance to the castle.
What is there to see at Tintagel?
It’s rumoured to be the birthplace of King Arthur and some say it was the site of Camelot. So, expect lots of swords, shields, catapults and Merlin references.
The Tintagel Castle ruins are dramatically perched on the clifftops of ‘Tintagel Island’ accessed by a very impressive footbridge that spans a 190-foot gorge. Our girls loved discovering the gap in the middle of the bridge!
Our girls loved clambering over the ruins and imagining what might have happened there back in Arthurian times (mainly based on what they’ve gleaned from Horrible Histories). But aside from the Medieval history, the views of the coastline are absolutely spectacular from the castle and we really enjoyed the rugged walk up to the King Arthur statue.
We also visited Merlin’s Cave, which is free for everyone to explore. The sea cave is 330 feet long and was, according legend, home to the Arthurian wizard, Merlin. Frankly, for us, we were more impressed by the expanse of echoing cave than the historical references.
But beware, the cave fills with water at high tide, so time your visit with low tide if you want to step inside and see the cavern in its full glory. This is definitely worth it. Also be prepared for the steep walk down, which brings me to…
Is Tintagel Castle easy to access?
The path down to the castle is very steep and there are also lots of steps and uneven surfaces to deal with too. The additional walk down to Merlin’s Cave is also best tackled wearing sturdy footwear.
Although for children age 5+, the rocky landscape, steep slopes and rugged pathways seem to add to the adventure, they could make it a less enjoyable challenge for others. It would be hard work with a toddler and isn’t particularly buggy friendly. A Land Rover service is available for those that need it, but it’s not the ideal spot for anyone with any difficulties walking.
Is Tintagel worth a visit?
We would say yes. If you’re interested in Medieval history or have any wannabe knights in your clan, they’re in for a treat. And, if not, bypass the Arthur stuff and enjoy the views from the castle, the experience of crossing the bridge and the eeriness of the cave.