Few Cornish high streets, however large the town, can be as crammed, wholesale, with such variety and character. Tintagel, barely more than a village, could easily be the destination for a pub or café-hopping holiday, but equally rewards the visitor with a vast range of souvenirs, shops and other interesting emporia, even without the extensive King Arthur connection, which celebrates both the historical and the apocryphal elements of Arthurian legend. The streets are buzzing with a wide range of tourists, though the traffic is generally light, and buskers often add their musical contribution to the holiday atmosphere. Surrounding the shop filled Fore St are the many attractions that make Tintagel one of the most visited towns in Britain.
Tintagel (Tre war Venydh) is a small Cornish village (population around 1800) that nestles on the cliffs of the North coast, and enjoys considerable popularity that belies its size and remote location. In fact, it’s one of the most visited places in Britain! It might be a cliché to repeat, as is written everywhere, that Tintagel is steeped in myth and legend, but it’s hard to find better words. As well as its beautiful and exceptional scenery, the village and surrounding area are replete with ancient features, many of them with exceptional stories to tell.
Tintagel is situated not far from the A39, known as the Atlantic Highway and one of the finest touring roads in the UK. Turn north onto the B3314 at Slaughterbridge, between Camelford and Davidstow. To get there by public transport, it would be best to take the train or coach to Exeter, and then a bus to Bude and another to Tintagel. That’s pretty easy. The closest train station is Bodmin Parkway, from whence buses run to Wadebridge and another on to Tintagel, but the Exeter strategy is probably better served, at most times.
Much of the intelligence about Tintagel surrounds its (somewhat dubious, see below) association with King Arthur. That is a shame, because with a history going at least as far back as Roman Times, Tintagel is one of the most interesting locations in the south west, with or without the Arthurian connection. There are Bronze Age barrows in the hills above the village, two Roman milestones, and a Celtic monastery stood on the site of the current castle in the 5/6th centuries, after the Romans left. A small castle existed at Bossiney even before the Domesday Book, and land there was later farmed by the Earl of Cornwall’s tenants and the Christian monks of the local monasteries.
Located as it is in the middle of the stretch of North Cornwall coastline that is referred to in the Cornish Country Guide as the ‘Sunshine Strip’, Tintagel experiences exceptionally good weather, with considerably more hours of sunshine per year than the UK average. The village and beach are sheltered from the prevailing winds and well placed to catch the rays – this, combined with the turquoise waters that characterise the area, make it an exceptionally pleasant village to visit.
Crackington Haven is a long narrow cove which lies to the NE of Tintagel, between Boscastle and Bude. It’s popular with surfers when the weather is stormy and other beaches are blown out. There are lots of interesting rock pools at low tide. Dogs are not allowed here in the high season.
Bossiney Haven is a short drive up the road, between Tintagel and Boscastle, and is reached by walking down a footpath across the fields and then down many steps onto the beach.
Trebarwith Strand lies just to the south of Tintagel. The car park is a five minute walk away but you can pull up near the beach to drop off people and “stuff”. This bay can provide surf and has good facilities including toilets.
Port Gaverne is a sheltered natural harbour cove, a bit stoney/shingly at times but with sand in the lower reaches of the tide. You have to park in nearby Port Isaac and walk there.
Port Isaac is a good sized village near Tintagel, with a plethora of shops and eating/drinking places. Parking on the beach at low tide – make sure you understand the time constraints! And be patient with the narrow roads.
Further west again is the lovely Port Quin. A beautiful, almost deserted natural harbour, once a thriving fishing village (in the 1800s) but abandoned until the latter half of the 20th century. There’s a small National Trust car park but not much else, so make sure you bring a picnic and anything else you need. A rare escape into a hidden world.
Up above Port Quin sits Doyden Castle – built for having parties in by a wealthy hedonist of the 1830s. It’s little more than a castellated folly, but interesting to have featured in TV shows like Poldark and at least one pop music video.
Polzeath is the nearest beach to Tintagel that provides proper, consistent surf, and is about twenty minutes drive away. There are surf shops and cafés and a pub, and lots of parking on the beach as well as up on the cliff top if you don’t want to leave when the tide comes in.
Dog Friendly Beaches
At any time of year, Tintagel is a wonderful place for a coastal walk with your dog. It’s also blessed with beaches close by that our canine friends are allowed on all the year round. Bossiney Haven, Trebarwith Strand, Port Gaverne, Port Isaac and Port Quin are all eminently suitable for furry frolicking. Do plan ahead though, because all these beaches are completely covered at high tide.
It’s no exaggeration to describe the Camel Estuary, a few miles west of Tintagel, as a paradise for watersports enthusiasts and beach lovers of all kinds. It takes about twenty minutes to drive there and there is ample parking in Rock, Polzeath and Daymer Bay.
Eating and drinking
Tintagel has a great selection of pubs and cafes.
The Castle Beach Café serves a selection of refreshments and light meals made from locally sourced ingredients. Set below the castle heights and overlooking both beach and sea as well as imposing cliffs, it’s one of the most attractive places on Earth for a cuppa.
Tintagel inns and hostelries include the Port William Inn at Trebarwith Strand, King Arthur’s Arms (of course), the Cornishman Inn, the Tintagel Arms Hotel, the Malthouse Inn and Wooton’s Free House as well as the vast Camelot Castle Hotel.
In Fore St, the Crossbow Café & Grill serves excellent pub-style grub as well as teas and coffees. Try Charlie’s Restaurant & Deli, where you can also purchase locally sourced ingredients. There’s also the Olive Garden Italian Restaurant just around the corner in Atlantic Rd.
Unusually for a small town, but very welcome, there’s the Indian Rimi curry house and takeaway in Fore Street.
For those who like to visit the past and present haunts of celebrities of any kind, it may be interesting to note that Kate Winslet owned a house in Tintagel for a number of years from 2001 onwards. Her luxury home, which was reputed to be haunted, eventually fell into dereliction and was gutted by fire. The house, which was once said to be one of the first in the UK to have electric lights, is now being renovated in spectacular modern vintage style by a new owner.
More Haunting Stuff
In fact, Tintagel is regarded as one of the most haunted places in Cornwall. The Camelot Castle Hotel claims no less than three ghosts. One throws paintings off the wall if they are not to his taste. Another is a nurse who wakes people during the night, and the third bizarrely rummages through the hotel bins!
Not really an island, but a round promontory connected to Tintagel only by a thin strip of land. A wooden staircase of some three hundred steps snakes its way up the hillside to the top of ‘The Island’. From here the visitor commands spectacular views, as well as some eighteen acres to explore. The chapel, its garden, tunnel and the well are all worth a visit. King Arthur’s Footprint (not a real footprint, but a hollow shaped by human hands) can be found on the south side.
The dramatic cliff top ruins of Tintagel Castle, cared for by English Heritage, are said to be the birthplace of King Arthur, and it is upon this tradition that many local businesses trade, or at least derive their Arthurian names. This fortress, dating from the twelfth and thirteenth century, is far too recent for that to be true, but there are other sites around it, notably of an older monastery, that appear to have held huge ritual importance in Celtic times, so perhaps there is some truth in the tales after all!
King Arthur’s Great Halls were built in the 1930’s by Frederic Thomas Glasscock. Far from being an actual Arthurian site, it was conceived as the home of a social group dedicated to medieval principles of chivalry. However, it has become a popular attraction for enthusiasts of all things Arthurian, with many relevant works of art, and a bookshop. The building itself is made from 52 different types of Cornish granite, and has more than 70 stained-glass windows telling the story of Arthur and his knights.
Merlin’s Cave is another interesting natural feature, hidden in the cliffs, and can only be reached at low tide.
Perhaps one to visit on the way to or from Tintagel, on the River Camel in Slaughterbridge, there is a sixth century inscribed stone. It’s said to mark the spot where King Arthur fought Mordred in the decisive battle of Camlann, which brought to a close the fellowship of the Round Table. It seems clear that there was a huge battle on the site in ancient times, although whether this was in fact the same 542AD engagement is unclear. But, Camel, Camlann. You decide. There is an Arthurian Centre nearby, and you can visit the battle field.
St. Materiana’s Church
A pleasant walk up to Glebe Cliff takes us to the ancient church of St. Materiana, which is over 900 years old and exceptionally well preserved. It’s a fine example of Norman period architecture and contains a selection of interesting historical artefacts.
The Old Post Office
One of the most interesting buildings in Cornwall is Tintagel’s ‘Old Post Office’. Only briefly ever an actual post office, it is in reality a fourteenth century farmhouse looked after by the National Trust. It has regular events for all the family, and music in the garden, but for some the most memorable feature is the wibbly-wobbly roof.
You might not expect a Cornish village to be famous for its waterfalls, but Tintagel has several that are well worth a visit! St Nectan’s Glen is a quasi-mystical site in the valley of the River Trevillet. The river pours over a 60′ (18m) waterfall and then punches its way through the ancient rock into a beautiful valley.
The sloping chute at Tintagel Haven cascades at high tide into deep water, but at low tide it flows out into a pool where it’s fun to play.
The South West Coast Path is the long or short distance footpath which completely encircles the coastline of Cornwall and beyond, giving unmatched access to the loveliest coastal scenery to be found anywhere in the country. It loops in and out of Tintagel taking in the best of the spectacular topography. There are easy walks between the village and the main sights, or longer/steeper ones taking in the other headlands, villages and beaches mentioned herein.
High up on the hills above Tintagel lies Condolden Farm, which has the honour of being the highest farmhouse in Cornwall. It is also the wind-turbine powered home of Tintagel Brewery. The spring water rises 852 feet above the sea at Trebarwith Strand. A redundant milking parlour on the farm was converted into the brewery, making a selection of classic real ales for Cornwall to enjoy. All the beers are made with pure spring water and wet yeast, another mark of great quality to the connoisseur. Using English malts and hops, they hold their head and have the refreshing sparkle in their character that comes from cask conditioning. Visits to the brewery may be made by appointment, or they can be enjoyed in many of the local pubs.
If the kids aren’t all about sea and sand, there’s an outdoor skatepark at Tintagel Playing Fields. It has a mini ramp with spine, small and large grind boxes, a flat bank and a small rail.
The main street, Fore St, is full of interesting shops for amusements and souvenirs – from the Trading Post to the Ice Cream Parlour and the Candy Shop to the North Shore Art Gallery. Or the Willow Moon occult emporium that invites you to “Come in for a spell”. Dress as a knight in armour for a photograph at the Great Halls, visit St Nectan’s Pottery, or Merlin’s Cave Crystal, Mineral & Fossil Museum. All in Fore St! There are many other shops selling the usual holiday paraphenalia, and also a toy shop which contains a small, but interesting (and free) Toy Museum, in Atlantic Road.
Holiday Cottages in Tintagel
There is a lovely selection of holiday cottages to rent in the Tintagel area, from traditional cottages to barn conversions. As befits their location, they are mostly distinguished by a very sunny disposition, a far cry from the forbidding granite houses of Bodmin Moor.