Tintagel, legendary place where King Arthur was born. Down below is Merlin’s cave, with its magic, flat stones. My parents had a few of those stones for years, placed on the coffee table in their living room.
At age 14, I spent six weeks based in Exeter, England with my parents and 17 other high school students. We spent long weekends exploring Southwest England, imagining ourselves participating in the legends of King Arthur, going on adventures with Sir Frances Drake and solving mysteries on haunted, howling, misty moors with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
That summer was idyllic. For four decades, I longed to return.
Bruce Johnson and I became lifelong best friends on that trip. He writes: “Tintagel is a truly amazing place. I remember thinking the autumn after we were there that at the end of my life the one thing I would absolutely want to do would be to see Tintagel again.”
In the summer of 2017, I actually did return, with my wife and son.
View from window of our hotel, the Avalon.
My son Alex at Tintagel, standing next to what looks like the inspiration for Darth Vader of “Star Wars” fame. The legends of King Arthur were certainly an inspiration for “Star Wars” and many other modern stories, but this statue by Rubin Eynon is actually a relatively recent addition to Tintagel. The statue is titled “Gallos,” which is the Cornish word for power.
Here we are at Merlin’s Cave, with its magic stones. I carried a stone home to the US in my bag, and it set off an alarm in security not when I was flying internationally, but when traveling domestically from Detroit to RDU-North Carolina. “Is there something in your bag that can hurt me?” the attendant asked. “No,” I assured him. When he pulled out the stone, he asked why I am carrying a rock in my carry-on luggage. “It’s magic, from Merlin’s Cave near Tintagel, England where King Arthur was born,” I replied. He looked at me like I was crazy, shook his hand and waved me forward.
The first ‘castle’ was probably Roman, and the ruins seen today are from the 13th century. Tintagel is traditionally linked to the legend of King Arthur, and as such is a very popular tourist site.
Taken from the CD sleeve notes:
“Perhaps the best known of all his orchestral works Bax’s Tintagel is a vivid tonal impression of the castle-crowned cliff of Tintagel in Cornwall. Here the legends of King Arthur and the scenic grandeur of the Atlantic Ocean fired Bax’s imagination into producing some of the most vivid sea music ever written.
“Bax himself wrote that the music brought, “…thoughts of many passionate and tragic incidents in the tales of King Arthur and King Mark… and that the piece ends as it began, with a picture of the castle still proudly fronting the sea and wind of centuries”
“This is a full-throated performance by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by David Lloyd-Jones. Celtic music, played by a Celtic ensemble. Stirring!”
- My complete photo essay on Tintagel, including highlights from the museum.
- Click for a slideshow on Flickr.com.
- Tintagel is not easy to get to by public transportation. From Plymouth, we took the train about an hour to Bodman Parkway, then a bus for about an hour along winding but scenic roads and beaches. See route suggestions.
- Rosie Schapp of the NYT Magazine explains “the weird, mystic pull of Southwest England: The area is a place of pilgrimage for late-model would-be knights of the Round Table, as well as mystical seekers of many stripes.”
“For the sort of person who watched “Excalibur” countless times as a child, and carried a tattered copy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon” tucked under her arm as an adolescent, these places are also familiar enough that a first visit may feel like a homecoming.
“I am just that sort of person, and my plan was to bookend a recent trip to the region with those two sites steeped in Arthurian lore (accepting that the place we call Glastonbury was, in hazy long-ago times, part of the Isle of Avalon). It was in Avalon, the legend goes, that the sword Excalibur was forged, and Glastonbury Abbey is purported to be where King Arthur was buried.
“In the pseudohistorical but influential 12th-century telling of Geoffrey of Monmouth, it was at Tintagel Castle that Arthur was conceived….”