‘The Weird, Mystic Pull of Southwest England’

Tintagel, Cornwall

Tintagel, legendary place where King Arthur was born. Down below is Merlin’s cave, with its magic, flat stones. We had a few of those stones for years, placed on the coffee table in my parents’ 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 have longed to return. 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….”

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.”

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