Friday 20 August 2021

A visit to Tintagel Castle, Cornwall (an English Heritage site)

Tintagel Castle family day out review

When we were planning our holiday to Westward Ho! in July this year we were keen to visit a few local attractions, and one of these was Tintagel Castle. Tintagel Castle is an English Heritage site and it's not cheap to visit - a family ticket costs over £40 - so we decided to pay a bit more for a full year of English Heritage family membership. Luckily we already have a few other places in mind to visit!

All visits to Tintagel Castle currently need to be booked in advance, even if you are already English Heritage members, and it's very popular. We booked a week or two in advance for our visit in early July outside of the main school holidays, and when we arrived the only walk in tickets left on the day were for very late in the afternoon. Looking at the website in August there were no tickets available for the next few days.

Tintagel Castle ruins from the cliff opposite

There is no dedicated parking at Tintagel Castle itself, instead you need to park in a car park in the town and walk in. There are plenty of large public car parks and we had no problem parking when we arrived first thing, although when we left early afternoon there didn't seem to be many spaces. I imagine that on a busy day it could be difficult to find parking close by, although I spotted emptier car parks further out. I think we paid about £3 to park for the day which seemed very reasonable. The English Heritage entrance appears to be located in the town but it's about 10-15 minutes walk to the castle entrance itself, down quite a steep slope. 

The Tintagel Castle ruins are accessed by a footbridge across to the island. The views from this bridge and the island itself are absolutely incredible. We were lucky to visit on a beautiful summer's day,  to enjoy the lovely clear blue sea and spectacular views along the coastline. You can look down from the bridge to the beach below.

Once inside the Tintagel Castle ruins site, due to covid regulations you are signposted around a circular self-guided route. There is lots of walking up and down narrow stony paths with exposed cliff edges - it's not at all suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs and I'd be very nervous if visiting with young mobile children as I'd be hanging on to them constantly! 

Views from Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

When you have crossed the bridge you are among the ruins of the 13th-century castle. There are outdoor displays to guide you through the history of the castle and also information about the legends that have sprung up around the castle over time, for example the stories of King Arthur. There isn't a great deal remaining but it is interesting nonetheless.

Walking along the top of the cliffs around the edge of the island you come to remains of early medieval buildings. It must have been a very isolated and windswept spot to live. There's an impressive statue, the brooding figure of Gallos that is inspired by the King Arthur legends. There's also a tunnel to explore which the children loved.

Statue at Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, family day out

From the island you can look back in all directions to the cliffs on the other side to the beautiful scenery around the headland.

Family day out at Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

The tour then concludes with a steep climb down steps to the beach. It probably took us about an hour in total to tour the island part of the site.

Merlin's Cave is located on the beach along with another large cave that can be explored. If you are keen to visit the beach and caves then it's worth timing your visit around the tide times, as when the tide is in parts of the beach are inaccessible. The tide was coming in when we visited and we had to scramble across rocks to get to some places, you'd also need to be careful not to get cut off by the tide. 

From the bottom of the hill the public path to the beach is down more narrow stairs and across rocks and was very crowded when we visited as it was such a lovely day. It would be awkward if you had lots of beach equipment to carry. It's a public beach (see the bottom of this post for more details) but there is no lifeguard service. It's a really lovely beach, very shallow and calm for swimming.

Merlin's Cave is a large cave which is fun to climb around in. We could see light at the far end but couldn't get across as it was cut off by some deep water and we weren't dressed for the beach!

Inside Merlin's Cave, Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

It's worth noting that there are no facilities on the island itself, and the toilets are down by the entrance near the café and beach. Also it's a very open and exposed site, lovely on the day that we visited but perhaps not so pleasant if it's raining or windy.

Finally, something that we didn't realise before our visit, and which isn't obvious to tourists thanks to the English Heritage signed entrance and the staff located near to the town car parks, is that only the island itself is ticketed. 

The beach below, including Merlin's Cave and the other caves, is a free public beach, and there are some lovely cliff walks along public footpaths on the other side of the cliff. If you park in Tintagel town and walk over you can get some great free views of the castle ruins from the other side, as well as enjoying the beach below. I'm glad that we did the full visit to the ruins once, but it's definitely a tip worth knowing, especially if you are visiting at a busy time and you can't get tickets, or you baulk at the high cost.

Family review day out at Tintagel Castle

For more details about a visit to Tintagel Castle, along with the link to book tickets, visit the English Heritage Tintagel Castle website.

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