Tintagel (Cornwall)
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Friday 3rd February 2006

If you'd like to join us in a musical virtual tour of Tintagel, click here. (Sound and Media Player needed).

In February, we had a long weekend in North Cornwall, to celebrate our birthdays. All I knew was that we were off to a castle somewhere in the UK, but had no idea where. We drove through the South Western counties in sub-zero temperatures, and finally arrived in Tintagel, on the western coast. Our home for 3 nights was to be Camelot Castle, previously known as King Arthur's Hotel, built in 1899 and directly opposite the remains of Tintagel Castle. Folklore abounds in this part of the world, nowhere more than at Tintagel, where legend has it that King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table lived.

Camelot Castle is an unusual place, dedicated to art and literature and making the world a more peaceful place. I won't try to explain the latter, but you can read more on their own website. The art is evident from the moment you walk through the door. Owned by jewellery heir John Mappin and his wife, and artist Ted Stourton, Ted's paintings cover the walls of the substantial building. They are very varied in style; I liked most, especially the one shown in the photo below. There is a selection of CDs by both John and Ted that you can buy or listen to in the lounge.

I have to say, we were disappointed with our room, other than its view, which looked out across to Tintagel Castle. It was very small and the furnishings were old and scruffy. Very retro - but unfashionably so! And the bedding wasn't right - nothing fitted! But the lovely sofas in the lounge were extremely comfortable. The hotel is undergoing renovations at the moment so we may have been unlucky. Also unluckily for us, it was the coldest part of the country that day and it was the day the heating had broken down, although our room was warm with an electric heater. So no heating and no hot water, which worried us in case it couldn't be fixed. So we walked into the village of Tintagel to see what was on offer. Not everything is open off-season so we missed seeing inside the Old Post Office, which was a shame. The tourist information centre is very good so we spent some time in there and made a mental note to return to King Arthur's Halls in the next couple of days as it was closed at that time. On returning to Camelot, we found the heating wasn't yet fixed so put on a few more clothes reading for dinner in the restaurant. Due to the redecorating, the dining room was temporarily moved into the bar. The food was OK, but a bit disappointing as little of it seemed to be home-made. Having said that, the wine was good and a fair price and I doubt we'd have eaten any better in the village.

Saturday 4th February

Tintagel is on the South West coastal path which runs for over 600 miles - a path we'd considered tackling over a period of 10 years, so we thought we'd take the section northwards to Boscastle and back. It was cold - but the heating and hot water was restored during the night - so we wrapped up and set off after breakfast. The path is wonderful, but not an easy walk and it took us 3 hours to walk the 5 miles into Boscastle, in the news in 2004 when a freak flood devastated the village. We had just 45 minutes for a quick lunch in the Cobweb before returning before darkness fell, so not much time for exploring. The walk was lovely but very hard work with lots of ups and downs and sometimes rough ground. We even had icicles! The views make it all worthwhile though, and on the way back the tide was out so we got a different perspective on the coastline. I have to admit, I was practically on my knees by the time we arrived back at Camelot. Far too worn out to go looking for somewhere else to eat that evening so again we dined in the restaurant there. Much warmer this time!

Sunday 5th February

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a visit to Tintagel Castle. It's a beautiful place, whatever its genuine history. And lots of steps so there was no rest for our aching legs. But well worth the effort, and a great time of year to go as it must be jam-packed in the summer months. We explored the castle and then went back into Tintagel via the pretty local church, and had a drink at one of the local pubs. Then we visited King Arthur's Great Halls which was a fascinating (if very cold!) place. It was built in the 30s by a man who wanted to bring back the art of chivalry. The visit starts with a rather naff 'lightshow' giving some of the history of the place, and then you go through to the hall itself, a huge room with round tables and granite thrones and corridors featuring 72 stained glass windows depicting the Arthurian legend designed by a pupil of William Morris. It was too cold to spend much time looking at everything but it certainly warrants a visit, and the stained glass windows are beautiful.

We had a look at the books in tourist information centre, to find out just how difficult that section of the Coastal Path was - only graded 2 out of 4, with 4 being the hardest. So that's put paid to our plans to walk the whole lot! I wouldn't want to walk anything much harder than that, being a wimp living in a  relatively flat county!

On returning to the hotel, we enquired about 'The Light Box' something which was being mysteriously recommended in Camelot Castle. Ted Stourton, resident artist, took us to his studios and explained the ethos of the place, which is to encourage artists to come and paint free of charge, hopefully gaining inspiration from the surroundings. He then showed us a studio in which he also records music, picked up his guitar and regaled us with a song! Finally we were shown the light box - I won't give the game away by explaining what it is, but it's fascinating and a very clever marketing tool which resulted in us coming away with a painting! It seemed a bargain at the time, but wasn't one we'd have chosen had we spent a little longer and looked at more paintings. We also bought CDs by both Ted and John Mappin, the latter which you can hear here.

We ate in the hotel again - our last night, this time by candlelight which was more romantic. So our weekend was over and we set off home the following morning, accompanied by drizzle. We had been lucky with the weather. Had it been stormy, we'd have been storm-watching, but much as I want to do that, it would have spoiled the other activities of which we were able to partake. Camelot Castle is a fascinating place, but the main attraction is the beauty of the coastline and the legends that have grown up around the area.



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