Sunday, 8 April 2012

Following in the steps of King Arthur. Or more probably not

It’s awe-inspiring, as I’m sure anyone can imagine, to visit the very place that almost certainly never saw the birth of a mythical figure who probably never existed. 

So it was with suitably rapt feelings that I walked part of the North Cornwall coastal path yesterday to reach the ruins of Tintagel Castle, reliving an experience that had remained deeply ingrained in my memory from over forty years ago. We walked rather less far each day than then, and we drank rather more cider, but otherwise my feelings at being in Tintagel were the same: reverence and humility at knowing that I was standing on the very spot which was unlikely to have been the birthplace of King Arthur, whose very existence is doubtful. 

Whether or not the King was born in Tintagel, as purely local legend claims, is however neither here nor there. What matters is the castle itself. Or it would be if there were more of it left. Not much of it gets up above head height any more. The remains are fine all the same: the area’s all slate, giving it its distinctive style of dry stone walls, and the Castle’s built of the same stuff. 

North Cornwall dry-stone walls: works of art in slate
In any case, if the ruins of the cast leave a little to be desired, the climb to get onto the headland on which they stand is certainly impressive. You go down a staircase which feels as though it’s at more than 45° to the horizontal, practically reach sea level and then have to crawl up as high again on the other side, all the time knowing that a struggle back up what had been such a pain to get down awaits you on your return.

Still it’s all worth it to be able step between those ancient walls and think to yourself ‘why, Uther Pendragon and the great wizard Merlin almost certainly never strode through these halls all that time ago.’

Picturesque, and all the more so for knowing these
were the very places Merlin didn't visit.
The heating bills must have been horrendous.

And to add to the emotions of the day, there was the sense of living on the wild side as we flouted the instructions of a sign on the edge of the village.
There was a sense of liberation in walking past that sign:
not one of us was the possessor of an ERM T.

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