Merlin's Cave

Tintagel Caves


Useful Information

photography
Tintagel Castle and the cave below.
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View from Tintagel Castle to the next head to the north. There is a second cave pointing in the same direction.
Location: 5 km South West of Boscastle, Cornwall.
Tintagel Head, 800 m walk from the town Tintagel. Steep track down to the sea.
(50.668324, -4.759399)
Open: Caves: no restrictions
Castle:
APR to SEP daily 10-18.
OCT daily 10-17,
NOV-MAR daily 10-16.
Last admission one hour before closing.
[2021]
Fee: Caves: free.
Castle:
Adults GBP 17, Children (5-17) GBP 10.10, Students GBP 15.20, Seniors (65+) GBP 15.20, Family (2+3) GBP 44.10, Family (1+3) GBP 27.10.
[2021]
Classification: Speleologysea cave
Light: not necessary but useful
Dimension: L=100 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Amy Hale, Alanm. Kent, Tim Saunders (): Inside Merlin's Cave,
Address: Tintagel Castle, Castle Road, Tintagel, Cornwall, PL34 0HE, Tel: +44-1840-770328.
Tintangel Visitor's Centre, Tintagel, Tel: +44-1840-779034.
Merlin's Cave, Atlantic Rd, Tintagel PL34 0DS, Tel: +44-7930-279758.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1930s extensive excavations by Radford.

Description

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View from Tintagel Castle to the next head to the north.
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Inside the cave in the head north of Tintagel.
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Inside the cave in the head north of Tintagel.
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Inside the cave below Tintagel.

Tintagel Castle is, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain, written 1139, the birthplace of King Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon and Queen Igraine. But this is just legend. There is no evidence to either prove or disprove this story.

According to the archaeologists, this place was a Roman settlement and military outpost, most likely called Durocornovium. There was some kind of monastic settlement here in the 5th or 6th century, maybe the stronghold of a Celtic king. This would seem entirely possible, as the site would have made an impressive fort and would be almost impenetrable to any enemies attempting to storm the headland. A finding during an 1998 excavation increased the possibility of a connection with King Arthur: a slate of 20 by 30 cm with the inscription ARTOGNOV, the Latin version of the British name Arthnou. Its from the 6th century, which is most likely the time when Arthur lived.

This castle fits the legend very well, because of another fact: Merlin's Cave below the castle. Merlin is said to have lived in a cave below the fortress of Tintagel while King Arthur grew up, to be his teacher. In one version of the legend, Arthur was found by Merlin washed ashore in a cave below the castle.

Merlin has this mysterious hideout, where he learns, lives and does magic. And it is the place where he is out of the normal time. Either the time goes different in his cave, or he sleeps for a very long time. Again a very common motive, Avalon, the magical island, is also told to have a different time axis. This motive is not really unique, as many fairy tales and legends tell about people who went into magic caves and after coming bach some minutes or hours later, they found that anybody they knew had died many years before.

But back to Merlin's cave: he was trapped by his enemy, the witch Morgana, in his cave and so he was not able to help King Arthur and fight against his fate. And he is still a prisoner in this cave. According to legend he will return when he is needed most. That's also a rather common idea, the same story is told about King Arthur and Emperor Barbarossa.

Below Tintagel Castle a thrust plane between slate and volcanic rocks crosses Tintagel Head, also called Tintagel Island. It is the reason for the gap between the land and the peninsula, where the bridge today connects the the two parts of the castle. It also crosses several other heads to the north and south, as can be easily seen from the castle. The rocks were eroded by the sea and so several irregular sea caves were formed, all in one line. Two caves are easy to access from the footpath to Tintagel Castle, the second one in Barras Nose to the north. Both are quite spacious and easy to walk through, both are going through the whole head to the other side. However, the caves are flooded during high tide, so if you want to enter them, we recommend to check the tide table. At least you should check the tide table before you decide if you visit the castle first or the caves.

The town Tintagel is dedicated to the tourism at Tintagel castle. It consists of pubs, inns, bed & breakfasts, hotels and parking lots. Every second house is a souvenir shop. Above the cove, opposite Tintagel castle is the Camelot Castle Hotel, which actually looks far more like Camelot than the real castle, which is in ruins. And obviously our expectations are strongly influenced by the 19th century romanticism in which the hotel was built. But seeing the cold and quite wet cave, which is flooded a meter high twice daily, we actually pity Merlin for his extremely uncomfortable home.