Monday, August 2, 2010

Tintagel, England

Tintagel, England is almost certainly the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  I first heard about Tintagel in a small clip from a documentary I saw.  It mentioned that Tintagel is supposedly the birthplace of King Arthur, that there was the ruins of an castle, and a cave in the cliffs called Merlin's Cave.  Based on these bare facts alone, I knew that Tintagel had to be on our first tour of England.  Although I was excited to see it, I had no idea how strikingly beautiful the place was going to be.

Tintagel is a small village in northern Cornwall.  It consists primarily of a few shops, pubs, and inns, the castle ruins, and a small cliff-top church called St. Materiana's.  It is situated along the coastal path which runs along the craggy, headlines of the coast.  Rocky cliffs and outcroppings jut out into the sea, making this one of the most dramatic and atmospheric landscapes I have ever seen.  As soon as we arrived, Jordan and I dropped our bags and ran out, exclaiming in delight and astonishment over what we saw.  The pictures don't begin to capture the experience.

We went first to Tintagel Castle.  There isn't much left of it now, but it must have been an impressive place once.  There are actually two parts to it, part of it built on Tintagel Island (not a real island, as it is actually connected by a narrow isthmus) and part on the mainland.  The view in the above picture is from the island looking back toward to the village.

While browsing in a bookshop, we found a picture of a waterfall in a book on Tintagel.  We asked the clerk where it was located, and moments later we were on our way.  It was a short hike to the top of St. Nectan's Glen.  The waterfall is so old that it has carved out a deep chasm in the rock and even a perfect circle where the water flows through.  According to Arthurian legend, this is where Arthur's knights were baptized before their search for the Holy Grail.

This is a view of the coastal path.  Had we world enough and time, we would have walked miles.  As it was, we managed only a small section.  But it was amazing.  Rugged sea coast on one side, pastoral fields on the other.  Absolutely astonishing. (Can you see the moon in the picture?)

This is inside Merlin's Cave.  It runs the entire way under Tintagel Island, and can only be reached at low tide.  At high tide, the sea rushes in, so we became friendly with the tide clock at our bed and breakfast.  I definitely wouldn't want to be caught down there with the tide coming in because it does seem to come in fast, at least to someone who is used to the benign rhythms of the mid-Atlantic coast on the US side.  We wanted to traverse the entire length of the cave, and so waded through a crystal clear and cold pool and came out the other end where the waves were crashing about.

Tintagel is quite a ways off the beaten path.  Although we came across a few German tourists in the village, ours were the only American voices we heard the entire time we were there.  Tintagel was the whole reason that we rented a car and drove hours across the English country-side.  And it was beyond worth it.  I almost feel disappointed, in a way.  I'm afraid that no matter where I travel in the future, I have already seen the most beautiful place in the world.  I just can't see anything topping it.

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