If you're looking for myth, Merlin and mystification, then Tintagel on the north Cornish coast offers the lot. Tintagel, and its ruined castle on the spectacular headland known as the Island, is the centre of a resilient King Arthur industry based on Victorian romanticism and a few scraps of historical wishful thinking.
Tintagel is thronged with visitors for much of the year, but this walk quickly leaves the crowds behind and crosses quiet fields to reach the magnificent coastline where there is plentiful evidence of, some may say, the real 'kings' of the Tintagel area: the coastal quarry workers who extracted slate from the great cliffs hereabouts. Their reign lasted from medieval times until the early 20th century and this walk along the rim of the cliff quarries celebrates their memory. There is evidence of quarrying from the Lanterdan Pinnacle (see below) to Penhallic Point, where a secure timber platform once projected from the cliff edge. Trimmed slates were lowered from the platform to cargo ships that lay alongside the base of the cliffs in calm weather. From Penhallic Point the coast path leads past a series of cliffside workings at Gull Point Quarry and Lambshouse Quarry. At these quarries men were lowered down the sheer cliff face on ropes to work out good slate from just above the tideline.
A visit to Tintagel Castle is hard to resist, not least for its spectacular position perched on 300ft (90m) cliffs. The ubiquitous King Arthur apart, the site was the stronghold of the medieval Earls of Cornwall, and probably of Bronze Age and Iron Age peoples too. Archaeological evidence suggests that it was occupied by a figure of great importance until the 8th century, when it was abandoned. Reginald, Earl of Cornwall, carried out construction work in the 9th century, but most of what remains today dates from the 13th century, when the site was massively refortified under Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Tintagel Castle is under the care of English Heritage and is open all year; it can be accessed from the upper entrance, or from the lower entrance on Tintagel Haven.
Although some believe that King Arthur was born here – and Cornwall is peppered with sites claiming a link to him – there is no evidence. Arthur is likely to have been a powerful warrior, famed for his opposition to Saxon invaders, rather than a somewhat 'magical' king supported by the wizard Merlin. Barras Nose, the headland lying immediately to the northeast of the Haven, is renowned as the National Trust's first English coastal acquisition, in 1896.
Leave the bustle of Tintagel by turning left down Vicarage Hill alongside The Cornishman Inn, signposted 'Parish Church – Glebe Cliff'. Descend steeply into immediate leafy peace, passing the 14th-century Chapel of Our Lady of Fontevrault (left).
Where the rising lane turns sharply right, leave the lane and go over a stile. Bear slightly right to a gate and stile, then go through the next field, bearing right to a stile. Continue on a fenced path along the right-hand edges of small fields (dogs under strict control here) to reach a track. Follow the track to a junction of tracks at Trevillick.
Keep straight across, signposted 'To the Coast Path'. Pass two houses and keep ahead to where the track ends at a field gate and stile by final houses. Cross fields ahead to reach a junction with the coastal footpath.
Go left along the coast path for a short distance to reach a junction with a track inland. From behind a secure wall you can look down at the Lanterdan Pinnacle, a tower of uncut rock rising to 80ft (24m) that was left in place by quarry workers because of its inferior slate. (The route returns north from here, but you can continue along the coast path from Lanterdan Quarry for 0.5 miles (800m) to descend to Trebarwith Strand; note it's a steep climb back up to rejoin the main walk.)
Retrace your steps from above Lanterdan Quarry to where the path previously followed from Trevillick joins the coast path. Here follow the coast path to eventually cross a stile and reach a gap in a wall on Bagalow Cliff. Turn left here, go over a stile then follow the path round Penhallic Point to join a broad track that leads down to Tintagel Youth Hostel, once the offices of the nearby cliff quarries.
Go past the hostel, then follow the coast path with the Church of St Materiana in sight (see While You're There). Bear right towards the church.
Turn left and follow a track along the seaward wall of the churchyard. Remain on this path towards the great headland of The Island and its famous ruins, to cross a stile on the coast path that descends past rocky fortifications to reach the upper approach to the castle.
Keep ahead here if you want to visit the castle, or turn right and follow a valley-side path to reach the road (and later path) that leads steeply uphill to Tintagel. Turn right to return to the start point.
Good coastal paths and field paths, many stiles
Spectacular sea cliff quarries
Dogs on lead through grazed areas
OS Explorer 111 Bude, Boscastle & Tintagel
Several car parks in Tintagel
Tintagel; Trebarwith Strand
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
Cornwall has just about everything – wild moorland landscapes, glorious river valley scenery, picturesque villages and miles of breathtaking coastline. With more than 80 surfing spots, there are plenty of sporting enthusiasts who also make their way here to enjoy wave-surfing, kite surfing and blokarting.
In recent years, new or restored visitor attractions have attracted even more visitors to the region; the Eden Project is famous for its giant geodesic domes housing exotic plants from different parts of the globe, while nearby the Lost Gardens of Heligan has impressive kitchen gardens and a wildlife hide.