11 June 2013, Tintagel Castle, Cornwall.
Legend says that by Merlin’s magic Uther Pendragon slept with Ygerna, wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Gorlois had left Ygerna in the safest place he controlled — Tintagel Castle. Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us:
The castle is built high above the sea, which surrounds it on all sides, and there is no other way in except that offered by a narrow isthmus of rock. Three armed soldiers could hold it against you, even if you stood there with the whole kingdom of Britain at your side.
But Merlin made Uther appear in Gorlois’s form. And since no one could tell that he was not Gorlois the guards admitted him to the castle, Ygerna welcomed him to her bed, and together they conceived Arthur.
The present castle on Tintagel Island, of course, could not have been Gorlois’s castle. It was not built until 1233, when Richard, First Earl of Cornwall, built it, perhaps to establish a link to Geoffrey’s story of Arthur or to the belief that this was the site of the ancient rulers of Cornwall. It is this Medieval castle whose ruins attract many tourists every year, and in June 2013 we also, Lisa, Ruth, Mike, and I, braved the path from the village to castle and wandered at the top. And we can attest to the “narrow isthmus of rock” that Geoffrey described.
The day was windy and misty, and we were chilled on the exposed top. Fortunately, we had prepared ourselves with coffee at a small restaurant in the village, and wrapped ourselves as well as possible.
More recently, continued archaeological digs have revealed older ruins within the ruins of the Medieval castle, dating possibly to the 6th Century.