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Tintagel Castle

Introduction to site

The ruins of a castle's walls were built across the narrowest part of a headland during the 13th century. Erosion of the slate bedrock along obvious fault lines has resulted in the collapse of the central section of the narrow neck, separating the Island from the mainland and dividing the castle into an Inner (mainland) and an Outer (Island) ward. The slighter walls on the terraces of the Island are evidence for a substantial Post-Roman occupation which tells the story of an important and exceptional aspect of Cornish history.

Tintagel Castle is located near the village of Tintagel, signposted from the A39. There are a number of pay and display car parks within the village, the closest to the site being Castle car park. There is a signposted footpath from the village to the castle. There is a Land Rover service operated by English Heritage between April and October to take visually impaired and ambulant disabled people to the exhibition and shop for which there is a charge. The site can also be reached from the South West Coast Path.

The site is managed by English Heritage and there is a charge for entry. Opening days and times alter throughout the year. Please check English Heritage's website for more details on opening times and prices.

There are refreshments and public toilet facilities located at the site.

There are regular bus services to Tintagel. Visit the Traveline website for customised sustainable transport options.

View our interactive Access to Monuments map to find this and other nearby sites.

The wild and rugged headland at Tintagel is a magnet for visitors who are lured by its dramatic location and by its association with Arthurian legends as the birthplace of Arthur and the haunt of Merlin. There have been widely differing interpretations of the visible archaeological remains on the headland in the past, but numerous mostly small-scale excavation and recording projects, carried out over the last three decades have considerably improved our knowledge of the site and helped to clarify its fascinating history.

The archaeology can be broadly divided into two types of features representing two distinct phases of activity – the massive remains of standing walls straddling the seaward end of the headland and the eastern side of Island, and the low walls set on narrow terraces cut into the northern slopes of the Island and spreading across its flat summit.

Excavation has provided evidence for occupation on the headland and in the wider area during the Roman period, dating to the third and fourth centuries AD. Although no trace of a settlement has been found, a leather purse containing Roman coins was found near the mainland ward of the castle and pottery fragments have been recovered beneath the occupation levels of the terraces on the island’s eastern slopes. However, it was in the Post-Roman period during the fifth and sixth centuries that Tintagel flourished as a major high-status settlement consisting of a large number of small rectangular stone and timber buildings set on terraces cut into all but the most exposed slopes of the headland. For a long time these buildings were thought to represent a Celtic monastery, but the numerous finds which have been recovered from this phase of occupation are dominated by imported amphorae (wine and oil jars from the Mediterranean) and exotic pottery wares of the highest quality, including fine table wares and drinking vessels. They far outnumber the more mundane locally produced cooking pots and storage jars. The total number of imported wares recovered so far from Tintagel exceeds those of all the other comparable sites in Britain put together! It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Tintagel was a unique and important place – the British end of a trading network that extended to the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa, and a centre for the distribution of high status goods across 'Dark-Age' Britain.

It is thought likely that in the fifth and sixth centuries, Tintagel was an important administrative centre controlled by a ruling elite that had assumed the mantle of the departing Roman administration, and taken over the government of what then became the Kingdom of Dumnonia. Excavation of one of a number of mounds in Tintagel parish churchyard revealed a number of high-status stone-lined graves, and pottery fragments associated with these were contemporary with that found in the settlement on the island. It should not necessarily be inferred from this that the people in the graves had adopted Christianity by this time, but it does imply that the 5th-6th century occupation was extensive and well-established. Whilst the occupation on the island appears to have come to an end around the start of the seventh century, the burial ground continued in use as a sacred site, eventually becoming the location of a Christian chapel and then the site of the Norman church.

Prior to the 13th century Tintagel was part of the medieval Manor of Bossiney, held by the Earl of Cornwall. The heir to the manor changed his name to "de Tintagel" in 1207, presumably to profit from the growing fame of the area as the mythical seat of the ancient Kings of Cornwall. In 1233, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, acquired the manor as part of his personal estate and had a castle erected across Tintagel headland as part of an attempt to assert his credentials as the rightful heir of those earlier Cornish rulers and to emphasise his authority in the region. Occupation of the castle appears to have been relatively short-lived however. A winding track leads from the castle complex along the eastern side of the island to a length of crenellated wall containing a doorway which has been construed as a possible landing point contemporary with the castle. Its name, the "Iron Gate", is of uncertain origin, maybe the greenstone of which the door jambs are constructed or the presence of an iron door prompted the name but the presence of a flight of rock-cut steps leading round the slope towards the remains of some surviving masonry, as yet unexplored, makes it likely this was a substantial wharf area and safe deep-water harbour during the medieval period. Fragments of North African pottery and amphorae have also been recovered from this area giving rise to speculation that this may also have been the landing place for vessels travelling to Cornwall with their cargoes of exotic Mediterranean merchandise.