The legend of King Arthur, Merlin and the court of Camelot can be intriguing for visitors to southern Britain.
In some areas, the lines between folklore, romantic fiction and just plain tourism promotion can be blurry indeed.
And, like Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy, the Arthurian legend also has its props.
Take Tintagel Castle, in Cornwall, for example. The history and heritage of this craggy and beautiful area, with its jaw-dropping scenery, seems fascinating enough.
While visiting Tintagel village – where the wind whips in from the Atlantic Ocean – we walked down a peninsula to see the remains of a castle on an island close to the mainland.
The island is believed to have been a seasonal or ceremonial seat of the royal house of Dumnonia between 400AD and 700AD.
In the 13th Century, a castle was built on the easily-defended site by Richard, the Earl of Cornwall, after the area had been subsumed into the kingdom of England.
After falling into disrepair down the years, it was later investigated by archaeologists – and has long been a popular tourist attraction.
That history is amazing enough – especially the link with Cornish kings – but Tintagel Castle has also had a long association with the legends of King Arthur.
In the 12th Century, Tintagel was described as the place of Arthur’s conception in a fictionalised account of British history, the Historia Regum Britannia.
In this account, the infant Arthur was said to have been carried away by Merlin through an opening in the cliff known widely as Merlin’s Cave.
This ‘cave’, which locals described to us as an old coal mine, is now the centre of a controversy involving the English Heritage organisation that manages the Tintagel Castle site.
It seems that English Heritage engaged a sculptor to carve an imposing image of Merlin’s face into the natural rock near the ‘cave’, to help attract visitors interested in the King Arthur connection.
It’s one of several promotions that English Heritage plans at Tintagel, but the facial image has drawn criticism from Kernow Matters To Us, an organisation dedicated to preserving the integrity of Cornwall’s history and culture.
The organisation apparently feels that the rock sculpture dimishes the genuine heritage of the area in the name of a fiction.
Regardless of the merits of the debate, Tintagel is a fascinating place that we wholeheartedly recommend.
Why not see the Merlin face for yourself – and make up your own mind about the promotion?
Tintagel is in Cornwall about 257 miles or about four-and-a-half hours from London via the M4 and M5.
By train, it is a four hour trip from London Piccadilly.