King Arthur and Tintagel Castle
Last night BBC2 broadcast a really interesting and well researched documentary featuring Tintagel Castle. If you have access to BBC iPlayer you can view it here. When we consider the possible origins of the King Arthur story and his links to Tintagel Castle, it always opens up many other questions and possible subjects for research. The documentary included and considered genetic discoveries, archaeological evidence, ancient manuscripts and expert opinions.
But the topic is so complicated that a series of documentaries would not be amiss. I was disappointed by the conclusion to the programme and a lack of evidence for King Arthur’s battles against the Saxon invaders. Before we can be sure that there is no true foundation to idea of invading Saxons fighting the Romano-Celts, we need to know that we have checked in all the right places. It does depend upon what constitutes a battle. It also depends if we can pin down the locations where King Arthur’s twelve great victories took place. The Cornish battle site at Slaughterbridge, where King Arthur was defeated and ‘mortally wounded’ could have been mentioned in the documentary, but it wasn’t. This location is just a short march from Tintagel Castle. I’m not saying there were definitely twelve great victorious battles, or that Slaughterbridge was unlucky thirteen. But there is more to be discovered and understood.
The interpretation of the Tintagel Castle site by expert historians and archaeologists has metamorphosed within the last 100 years or so, from King Arthur’s ‘birthplace’, to being an ‘early Celtic Christian Monastery’, to an important Trading Center, and currently, a ‘seat of ancient Cornish power’. Now I’m just waiting and expecting the interpretation to come full circle!
Archaeology News at Tintagel Castle
Strictly speaking, the site we refer to as Tintagel Castle contains more than just the 13th Century castle ruins built for Richard Earl of Cornwall. Strictly speaking, the ‘island’ is not quite an island, but a promontory. There are post Roman or Dark Age buildings and other mysterious features at Tintagel Castle. The five year dig (suspended in 2018) has already found an example of 7th Century writing carved into a stone slab. This had probably been re-used to form part of the ‘palace’ walls. Previous excavations in the 1990’s had revealed another carved stone, carved with the name Artognou. This latter example was not mentioned in last night’s film. It was found being used as a drain cover in undisturbed Dark Age earth. I think I’ve been told 5th Century earth – just about the right time!
Next week commencing 24th September 2018, a five day project will take place to protect the headland at Tintagel Castle from erosion, by laying new floating paths. Turf will be stripped where the path crosses particularly sensitive archaeological remains. The turf will be used for repair on other parts of the headland and any archaeology revealed will be recorded. Volunteers have been recruited for this task and I’m one of them.
Tintagel Castle and The New Bridge
Tintagel Castle will be closed at the end of September 2018, for the new and somewhat controversial bridge to be built. Supporters of the bridge will point out that access is being improved. The creation of the bridge will restore a high level link between the mainland castle and the island ruins. It will reflect back to times when a natural bridge of rock joined the mainland part of the castle to the promontory headland. Disabled access will be improved and a one way system could be introduced to help with the flow of visitors around the site. Those against the project are worried about environmental damage, increased visitor numbers and a huge change to the look of what is surely one of the most romantic and evocative sites in the UK, or even the world. See it when the fog rolls in and the whole place looks suspended in time and you will understand why.