Was there ever a King Arthur? Not really. How about Guinevere, Merlin, the Knights of the Round Table, the Sword of Excalibur, Camelot? No, no, no, no and no. All of these wonderful romantic tales sprang from the over active imagination of a master spinmeister, Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh monk. There probably was someone named Arthur who may have lived in the vicinity of Tintagel Castle in the 5th-6th century. He may have been some sort of minor leader, but most of the leaders of that era spent lots of time and energy fighting with one another, making the area sound a lot like the Middle East today. Geoffrey thought that the English people would rally around a hero and the King Arthur story which we know today, would serve to unite them. Certainly England began to form a national identity long before other European countries like Germany and Italy. In the 12th century Geoffrey's tales inspired Richard of Cornwall to build a mega castle on the Tintagle site where Geoffrey had said Arthur was born. He knew he would never be a monarch, but had enough funds to live like one. He built the castle over a fault line and used the weak earthworks to made an easily defendable break between his castle on an island and the mainland it was tenuously connected to. Over the years his McMansion began to crumble along the fault lines and very little remains of the grandeur today. Every so often archeologists stop by when they have secured a grant and uncover little bits of evidence for what really happened here. They guess that this protected cove must have been a major port during the Dark Ages, since they have found more pots and pans and other remnants of life in this area that the rest of the coast. They have also found a piece of slate that had an Arthur-ish name etched into it. Perhaps Arthur lived here after all.....
We had as much fun getting to the castle as being there. We asked the GPS for the fastest route and spent most of the drive on roads a bit too small for our compact car that were supposed to be two way. At times the listed speed limit was 60mph; Ken had a hard time going 40. The lanes were lined with high stone walls covered with lush vegetation. Luckily these lanes were lightly traveled and those cars coming at us were alert and polite. After some drives in reverse and hovering on the edges of curves, we finally made it. Tintagel Castle is a major tourist attraction; we met a bus load of Italians there. We don't know how they got there, but they sure didn't take our route. The Cornwall coast is beautiful and the castle ruins made it even more so. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails along the sea and many of the tourists we saw today never entered the grounds of the ruins, but were walking along the coast.
We told a good friend that we were coming to Cornwall and he alerted us to the Doc Marten TV series. We watched 1-1/2 seasons of the six that have been filmed and fell in love with the quirky doctor who flees the pressures of surgery in London to live in a little Cornish village full of eccentric and charming people. The show reminds us of Northern Exposure. The town Doc Marten is filmed in was only six miles from Tintagel. Forty minutes of twisty, narrow, rock fence lined lanes brought us to Port Isaac, a tiny town that cannot accommodate all the TV fans that come to visit. The car park was a mile out of town and the hike down to the shore line and up again took a toll on our legs after we had spent the morning climbing up and down the hills of Tintagel. Although there were a few Doc Marten T-shirts and coffee mugs for sale, the town was surprisingly uncommercial. We arrive at low tide and saw long chains draped down the beach. As the tide rose, fishing boats came in and offloaded crab, a local speciality.
Here's hoping we find somewhere flatter to go tomorrow - not likely in Cornwall.