Review: Tintagel Castle and its new bridge

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.

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


A beautiful and practical updating of access to magical Tintagel Castle

Things to do in Cornwall when it rains

Much as we would wish blue skies and sunny days all summer, Cornwall does get its fair share of rain (although rumour has it Devon is wetter).

The good news is that bad weather rarely sets in for long as coastal winds keep things changeable. And if it’s raining on one coast, a drive north or south can make all the difference.

Even on a relentlessly damp day, I do enjoy a stroll on the beach, with new subtle colours to appreciate and fewer crowds.

However sometimes you just need to head inside. Here are some wet weather things to do in striking distance of Boscastle.

  • Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle harbour. Packed full of history and artefacts, this is a fascinating and serious museum. Open April to October
  • Lanhydrock – Beautiful late Victorian country house and estate stately run by the National Trust. There is stacks to do here for all ages and children will love the hands-on sections in the giant kitchens.
  • Check what’s on at the Rebel Cinema just off the A39 near Bude.
  • Eden project, an excellent full day out. Although it’s near the south coast it’s less than an hour’s drive. Plenty of it is indoors including the two giant biomes.
  • Pirate Quest Newquay. An interactive history of piracy guided by real actors. It may seem aimed at younger children to start off with but there is a great Davy Jones’s Locker scary section for older ones. Booking ahead advised as the tours have timed starts.
  • National Lobster Hatchery, Padstow. See tiny baby lobsters and learn all about the clawed creatures. It’s in the harbour car park area near the bike hire.
  • Surfing lesson – you honestly don’t care if it’s raining when you’re in a wetsuit and trying to catch a wave. Surf schools at Bude and Newquay.
  • Leisure centres with indoor swimming pools at Camelford and Bude

Further afield – Falmouth has the National Maritime Museum which is a full day out for all ages and the town itself is lively too.

Ancient lanes – Cornwall’s other beauty

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6618Cornwall’s spectacular coastline is the first thing many people think of when bringing the county to mind. But its miles of country lanes are beautiful too.

I particularly love the holloways – ancient roads carved out by countless feet, hooves and cartwheels over the centuries.

Small wonder that these paths with their high sides and narrow gauge are only just suitable for cars (although tractors still seem to manage.)

But the deep verges and overhanging trees give these routes their magic, creating a lush green tunnel that envelops the traveller.

Driving down one is like forest bathing by car – and should be done slowly!

The back route into Boscastle, taking the lane behind the village’s slate name sign, is one of my favourite approaches to the cottage.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_65ea


What’s in a name?

St Christopher carrying the Christ child, depicted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1516 in Germany
St Christopher depicted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1516

St Christopher’s Cottage has carried its name for many years – but not for ever. It was originally called Penleigh, matching Fernleigh next door. We considered reinstating the name but there is already a Penleigh and a Penlea in the village and we thought it would be confusing.

The more we thought about it, the more we wanted to keep St Christopher’s. After all, he is the patron saint of travellers – and further research revealed he also has a brief to look after surfers and sailors, and to protect from storms and floods. Highly appropriate for Boscastle!