Tintagel Castle stands on the wild and rugged north coast of Cornwall, suffering much erosion over the centuries. The site is split into two distinct segments: the landward section containing the remains of the upper and lower wards that stand rather precariously on the edge of a crumbling precipice; and the inner ward that lies on the narrow ridge linking the island to the mainland. It is not known for certain who built Tintagel Castle but evidence suggests it was Richard, Earl of Cornwall (brother to Henry III), as he acquired the site c1234, which seems to coincide with the date of the current remains.
Tintagel Castle was not inhabited for very long, as documented evidence records that the castle was in poor repair during the 14th century, and the Great Hall apparently roofless. In 1483 the Chapel of St Julitte was still being used, but the remainder of Tintagel Castle was long since derelict. Therefore, Tintagel Castle's remains are sparse, but the inner ward does contain the most substantial surviving masonry. The Great Hall stands to a reasonable height and the castellated North wall makes a striking picture set against such a rugged coastline.
Although little is known about the history of the medieval castle, Tintagel is most famous for its association with legendary British King, Arthur. The site is known to have been occupied by the Romans for tin mining, but it is as a Royal stronghold of the Cornish Kings during the 5th & 6th centuries that the legend takes hold.
In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about "the palace that belonged to Gorlois Duke of Cornwall whose wife, Igerna, one day aroused the passions of King Uther Pendragon. A dispute ensued over his unwanted attentions, and Uther laid siege to the palace. Unable to breach its walls Uther, assisted by the magician Merlin, assumed the image of Gorlois one night, and entered the castle unnoticed to seduce Igerna. The son borne of this night was to be the young King Arthur". Whether Geoffrey's words were based on fact rather than romantic fiction is unlikely, but it is a legend that has intrigued countless generations even to the present day.
Whatever the truth, it is reasonable to assume that this area was the stronghold of past Cornish Kings simply by the fact that Richard built the medieval castle here. There was no military or strategic benefit in building a castle there, so we must assume it was done out of the desire to build a castle on the site where his legendary ancestors had held court.
A visit to Tintagel Castle is a unique and thought-provoking experience, as it is very difficult not to become engrossed in the mystique that shrouds its past. The castle site is quite difficult to navigate with its endless, steep steps and its rough pathways, but the magnetism it holds is definitely worth the physical effort.