Day out: Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

A visionary crossing from mainland to headland restores a long-lost link and allows visitors to step into Arthurian folklore

Merlin's Cave sits beneath Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

The remains of a 13th-century castle, which welcomes up to 250,000 visitors every year and is already one of English Heritage’s top five attractions, hardly screams ‘new’. But now, for the first time in more than 500 years, the two severed halves of Tintagel Castle have been linked via a sleek and stunning footbridge. 

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Located on north Cornwall’s rough and rocky coast, the bridge links the mainland with the headland and manages to perform the trick of looking both state-of-the-art and as though it has always belonged. 

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall ©Getty

In 2015, English Heritage launched a competition to design this new crossing. The winning entry is a collaboration between Belgian architect Laurent Ney and William Matthews Associates, the lead designers of London’s Shard. Their design features local Cornish Delabole slate paving, with two separate cantilevers reaching out and almost – but not quite – meeting in the middle. The bridge’s central 4cm gap is a representation of the transition from the mainland to the island, present to past, reality to legend.

How to visit

In an effort to preserve the castle’s archaeology and ecology, English Heritage has introduced timed tickets, which need to be booked in advance. Once you’ve successfully navigated the bridge, you can explore the remains of the castle, including the Great Hall, which was once the centre of Richard, Earl of Cornwall’s court in the 13th century. The site’s history extends even further back, as highlighted by footprints of 5th and 7th-century dwellings. There is also the beach café, serving local dishes such as Cornish rarebit.

Corfe Castle, Dorset

 Legend and legacy 

Of course, Tintagel has long been considered a sacred site in Arthurian lore as the rumoured birthplace of King Arthur, as named by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 12th-century tome Historia Regum Britanniae. This ancient association is the reason Richard of Cornwall chose the spot for his own castle in 1233. A suitably spectral sculpture of the legendary king greets castle guests. Be sure to visit the beach below, and explore Merlin’s Cave at low tide. 

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Those wishing to continue the Arthurian adventure should seek out nearby St Nectan’s Glen and its spectacular waterfalls, Slaughterbridge and Camelford, or just soak up the uniquely mystical atmosphere of Tintagel village centre itself.