Review: Tintagel Castle and its new bridge

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Credit: English Heritage

Stories go that windswept Tintagel island was where legendary British leader King Arthur was conceived, his father Uther Pendragon tricking his mother through the sorcerer Merlin’s magic.

Any glimmer of truth in the tale is lost in the mists of time but the site of Tintagel Castle is without doubt an enchanting location with medieval ruins perched on an island above crashing waves.

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The floor of the bridge is made from local slates, aligned vertically. Credit: English Heritage

Until this year, access to the castle for the 250,000 visitors a year was by 148 steep and often crowded steps. However owners English Heritage have installed a new £5m level access bridge making crossing to the island much easier.

It took longer than expected and has been slightly controversial, with some commentators worrying that the bridge contributes to “Disneyfication” of the site and others criticising the introduction of timed tickets.

As Tintagel is only four miles from Boscastle we decided to go along and make up our own minds.

The new bridge is a graceful structure which suits its location perfectly. The Delabole slate floor echoes the surrounding rocks and the elegant steel railings sit lightly on the frame.

I expected to get a little vertigo when stepping across the expansion gap in the middle but felt none.

The ruins of the castle are dramatic in both their looks and their location. Waves crash all around the island and sea birds swoop on the winds.

It is somewhat hard to imagine the original medieval buildings from what is left but the beautiful setting is hugely impressive and atmospheric.

Wildflowers bloom all around the castle and the paths wind round from the lower levels of the castle to rocky headlands where the outlines of 5th to 7th Century houses can be seen.

I always wonder that people used to choose to live on such windswept promontories, but I suppose what the site lacks in shelter it makes up for in security, with any would-be marauders only able to approach on one side.

Merlin’s Cave

After our visit to the castle itself we clambered down the old steps to visit Merlin’s Cave. This is a large cavern with pools of water lit by an opposite entrance.

Glancing back up at the bridge from the beach we could see it catch the light, looking like an ethereal link from the real world to the land of legend.

The practical bits:

Getting to Tintagel Castle

There are several car parks in Tintagel village and you then follow the signs to the castle and walk down a hill to the ticket office. At this point you can either continue down to the old bridge or follow a flat path to the new bridge.

Do you have to buy advance tickets?

English Heritage has introduced advance tickets with half-hourly time-slots so that the bridge does not get too crowded. You don’t pay in advance however, it’s a reservation and you pay when you arrive. Advance tickets are not compulsory, you can just turn up and take your chances.

Tintagel ticket prices

Adult tickets cost £13 or £14.30 with Gift Aid. Child tickets for those aged 5-17 are £7.80. Concessions are £11.70 and a family ticket for 2 adults and up to 3 children is £33.80

Verdict:

A beautiful and practical updating of access to magical Tintagel Castle

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