Moving on from Padstow, we arrived in the historic village of Tintagel, the birthplace of one of the most famous figures in English history…
Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Village, England
Eating & Sleeping: King Arthur’s Bistro
Attractions: Tintagel Castle, Tintagel Old Post Office, St Materiana’s Church, Ye Olde Malthouse Inn, King Arthur’s Arms Inn etc
One of Tintagel’s most famous landmarks is the “Old Post Office Building”, shown above. The building is over 600 years old, and thought to date to around 1380, when it was built as a manor house, which looked markedly different to the existing structure today. It only had one floor, the ground floor, which was split into three different rooms, whilst the section to the far right of the picture, shorter and more squat, was used to house livestock, presumably such as pigs or sheep.
Many years later, culminating in work done during the 17th century, the building was given a full revamp, with much of the original timber replaced with stone, and the iconic chimneys were also added. As there was no chimney before this time, the space between the ground floor to the roof was left empty, making it single storey so the smoke didn’t endanger its occupants, but filled the roof space. Now, with it being vented out through the roof instead, a new floor was added, as you can see today via the upper storey windows on the exterior.
It is most famously known as the “Old Post Office”, which it became during the 1840’s due to the large amount of mail being sent from the village, with a new collection box installed by 1857, which you can see on the left just next to the tree. It had closed down by the end of the Victorian Era, when it narrowly survived demolition due to the deteriorating condition it was left in. Many other buildings around it suffered this fate, and much of the village centre was rebuilt. Taken into the care of the National Trust at the turn of the 20th century, it was lovingly restored back to it’s days as a Post Office, however despite this being it’s most famous use, out of 600 years of history it was only a Post Office for around 40.
Today it’s open to the public at certain times throughout the year, and you can find out more about visiting this historic building on its official page on the National Trust’s website here.
Like any good town/village, there are of course a few local pubs, including the King Arthur’s Arms Hotel, which fits into the myths/legends surrounding the village. A pleasant local Inn, it has both a bar, open to the public throughout the day, and a hotel making it a perfect base to explore the rest of the area. Located almost directly opposite the Old Post Office, it also offers a unique view should you get a front facing window. You can find out more on their official website here.
If you’re unfamiliar with Tintagel then you will have to read on to find out why exactly it references King Arthur!
Just up the road from the King Arthurs Arms is “Ye Olde Malthouse Inn”, a stunning 14th century Inn that has graced the high street for many, many years. It has preserved its old world charm beautifully, and perhaps the owners of the Old Post Office were to be found at the bar in days gone by.
The Inn is also a proud host of a number of Ales created by the Tintagel Brewery, including such well known favourites as “Gull Rock”, “Castle Gold” and “Arthur’s Ale” (originally created as the 2012 Celebration Ale to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee).
We left the village centre behind us, and began to wander down towards the coast, home to the rest of Tintagel’s major landmarks, starting with the Church of St Materiana, high on a hill overlooking the rest of the village.
The main portion of the building is thought to date back to Norman times, around the end of the 11th century. The Tower was built a few hundred years later, possibly by the 15th century, which appears to fit a trend I have noticed with many ancient Churches, which generally is:
- Main building dating from 11th century
- Later built tower, from 13th – 15th centuries
- Major rebuild around the 19th century.
Point three fits St Materiana’s too, as in 1870 James Piers St Aubyn (1815 – 1895, Architect from Worcestershire) led a full restoration of the building, during which the entire roof was replaced.
The name of the Church refers to St Materiana (Born around 440 AD), a Welsh Saint who is associated with three different Churches across Cornwall and Wales. Her father was supposedly a noted King of North Wales, a role she later inherited. Aside from Tintagel, she is the patron saint of Trawsfynydd Church in Gwynedd, North Wales, as well as the Minster Church in Boscastle, also in Cornwall.
Moving away from the Church, we followed a long, steep track down through the cliffs towards the Atlantic, to catch a glimpse of Tintagel’s most iconic building, the ruins of Tintagel Castle. Its sits high on a cliff, guarding the seaward approach to the village.
The Castle dates back to 1233, when construction of a brand new fortified structure was completed by the 1st Earl of Cornwall, Richard (1209 – 1272, son of the English King John). The Great Hall of the building slowly began to deteriorate, presumably due to high coastal winds and spray from the Atlantic eroding the main structure. It would later be partially restored by the 1st Duke of Cornwall, Edward of Woodstock (1330 – 1376, then Prince of Wales).
The Castle itself saw little if any action, and due to its precarious position the rest of the building began to erode like the Great Hall (which was eventually stripped of it’s roof). The rocky outcrop it actually sits on its separated from the rest of the cliff, accessible only via the wooden footbridge which exists today. In days gone by it is reported that a makeshift bridge of just tree trunks tied together was being used. Aside from a short period of extra fortification with the threat of Spanish Invasion looming around 1580, the building remained abandoned, and today is just a ruin.
That, however, isn’t the end of the story, as in 1138 various folklore tales began to create a myth around a man called Arthur, who would eventually become one of England’s most legendary figures. It was of course King Arthur, with whom Tintagel was closely associated, with the legends eventually claiming that he was born here at Tintagel Castle, hence the many references to him around the village. Many famous tales are still told of Arthur, his Knights of the Round Table, Sir Lancelot, Merlin, his sword Excalibur, and the Lady of the Lake, all of which are well known the world over.
Back in the village, you can visit “King Arthur’s Hall”, housed in a large building from 1933 designed by Frederick Thomas Glasscock. It is the HQ of the “Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table” and acts as a Museum for the Arthurian legends, which is open to the public.
You do have to pay to visit the Castle, but access to Tintagel Beach is free, as shown above. Near the beach is the visitor centre for the Castle, along with a Museum about it’s history. The scene really does feel very medieval, and it does make for a good story!
Tintagel is a lovely little village, in a beautiful setting on Cornwall’s Northern coast. The mystery surrounding the Arthurian Legends is a big draw for tourists, so if you are in the area it’s worth popping in to see where the stories began. There is no railway line into Tintagel, however buses will run from the larger nearby towns such as Camelford (Bus 595), and it isn’t far from the A39, one of the three major A roads through Cornwall.
Moving on, we moved on to Boscastle, another Village not far away where another of St Materiana’s Churches is located, although alas we didn’t have time to find it…