The Return of King Arthur to Tintagel

It would be difficult for most people to dispute the ghostly majesty of this statue of King Arthur, particularly when viewed against a backdrop of the dramatic weather for which the North Cornwall coast is so famous. The eight foot bronze, designed by Rubin Eynon, was installed in 2016 above the steep cliffs of Tintagel and attended by a certain amount of controversy. Local commentators have had the effrontery to describe it as “disneyfication”, as if most of the Arthurian legends weren’t dreamed up by the monks of Glastonbury when they were desperate for some quick pilgrim cash after a series of fires in the 12th Century.

There is certainly some serious archaeology to be done around the rather unimpressive remains of a late Romano-British settlement and medieval holdfast but that is hardly why the sprinkling of international visitors we met on the steep climb had come all this way. They were paying English Heritage a not inconsiderable amount of money (most gratefully received for the upkeep costs, by the way) for the Romance.  And it is a beautiful spot, isn’t it? Personally, I was drawn back to Tintagel by its similarity to the depiction in the latest Star Wars films of Luke Skywalker’s remote coastal retreat. No, Disney is not coming here; if anything, the influence is flowing in the opposite direction.

In our first visit together to this part of the world in forty five years, G and I also stopped off in the little town of Boscastle, where touristification seems to have been slowed by the economic downturn and the cliff path is steep enough to deter all but the most enthusiastic walkers. Molly coped very well although now she is nearing thirteen it was probably something of a trial for her short little legs. This part of the coast is administered by the National Trust and so, of course, dog drinking water and poopy bins are amply supplied.

The next day, Grahame decided we would continue our outdoor activities with an attempt at Brown Willy, the highest point on Bodmin Moor. Since it was cool and overcast we could safely leave Molly to rest up in the car and I have to admit, she may have got the best out of the deal. Even in mild weather and with good footwear the moor is remarkably boggy and treacherous underfoot and I’m not sure Grahame has climbed this point since he was a boy. We may have been able to see the gently rising peak a mile or so away but getting to it around the sodden depressions and unexpectedly fenced-off areas proved to be too much of a challenge. Fortunately we are old enough to give in gracefully and in Cornwall you are never too far from a cup of tea and a plate of cream cakes.

We paid a visit to Grahame’s Aunt near who lives near Davidstow: a familiar place name across all the cheese counters of England. But Davidstow turns out not to be the quaint little Cornish village of our imagination but nothing more than a rather bleak looking factory on the edge of the moor, where the milk tankers pull up with unfailing regularity and mechanisation has continued to erode away the local job opportunities. Nonetheless, I was very impressed by Aunty Irene’s stand of beech trees; cut and woven into living fences sometime in the 1940’s, they have since been left to grow  and now tower above their twisted pediments. There are also places along this coast where the trees are almost as dramatically bent over as they are in Patagonia, so fierce and constant is the wind.

For our final day we had decided to take in one of the celebrated gardens on the more gentle southerly aspect of the county; not far but far enough to necessitate a choice. Should it be the Lost Gardens of Heligan or the Eden Project? Well, short of finding out whether the gift shop now extends even further than the biodomes themselves, there really wasn’t much need for me to re-visit Eden and G wasn’t any more enthusiastic. On the other hand, he had been an early visitor to Heligan not long after its re-discovery in 1990 and was keen to see how the restoration was progressing.

A much simplified version of the story of Heligan has the gardens lost to a history after the tragic failure of most of the gardeners to return from the First World War. However the dismantling of the family estate and the general lack of enthusiasm or funds for the upkeep of exotic gardens was more likely to have been just symptom of the way society was changing during the twentieth century. After all, how long could a single family have been expected to go on employing 22 gardeners (and all their assistants) to maintain a 200 acre plot in the elaborate style of the eighteenth century? But let’s not deny Dutch record producer and “finder” Mr Smit his achievement: the restoration is delightful, the walks are invigorating, both exotic and domestic species are thriving in this bountiful climate, well behaved dog owners are welcome to bring their pets and the gift shop is of a modest size.

In order not to impose on Aunty Irene, who is fast approaching her “Purple Birthday” we stayed in a  pretty cottage in the little town of St Breward. Here I must include a special thanks to Kate of Sandy Barn Cottages for such comfortable and typically Cornish accommodation; the delightful combination of silent starry nights, cool flagstones and snug bedding promoting such a restful ambiance that we were unable to quite finish her jigsaw puzzle.


Categories: Britain, West of England

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