High on the jagged cliffs of England’s southwestern coastline lies not only the remains of an abandoned castle but the mythical birthplace as well of one of most popular legends: King Arthur. And in the coastal cliffs beneath Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, lies an echoingly atmospheric cave. But, if the stories of old are to be believed, the cave may once have been home to Merlin, the popular wizard of Arthurian legend.
Tintagel Castle has long been linked with King Arthur, as far back as Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his book the Historia Regum Britanniae, around 1139.
According to the scholar, the castle was the birthplace of King Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon and Queen Igraine. But this is just legend, because there is no evidence to either prove or disprove this story.
Either way, people love good stories from time immemorial.
And Tintagel has become a physical embodiment of this popular legend, both the castle above ground and the cave below.
According to the archaeologists, this place was a Roman settlement and military outpost, most likely called Durocornovium, and there was some kind of monastic settlement here in the 5th or 6th century, maybe the stronghold of a Celtic king.
However, a finding during an 1998 excavation increased the possibility of a connection with King Arthur: a slate of 20 by 30 cm with the inscription ARTOGNOV, the Latin version of the British name Arthnou. In additions, its from the 6th century, which is most likely the time when Arthur lived.
Most realistically, Merlin’s Cave is an about 100-meters-long sea cave formed by marine erosion that stretches all the way beneath the craggy head of land on which Tintagel Castle stands, allowing you to enter from one side and exit out the other. Even though It is, without doubt, an impressive cave in its own right, what makes the coastal cavern extra special is its association with the legend of King Arthur and the wizard Merlin.
Merlin is said to have lived in a cave below the fortress of Tintagel while King Arthur grew up, to be his teacher. In one version of the legend, Arthur was found by Merlin washed ashore in a cave below the castle.
The legend about the wizard Merlin and King Arthur contains numerous caves, and Merlin has a mysterious hideout, where he learns, lives and does magic. He was trapped by his enemy, the witch Morgana, in his cave and so he was not able to help King Arthur and fight against his fate. And as story goes, he is still a prisoner in this cave.
The cave and castle gained greater fame following the publication of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King between 1859 and 1885. His cycle of narrative poems retold the legend of King Arthur, and included the tale of the infant Arthur being washed ashore at Merlin’s feet:
“They found a naked child upon the sands / Of dark Tintagil by the Cornish sea; / And that was Arthur; and they fostered him / Till he by miracle was approven King”
As a result, today the cave is inextricably linked to Merlin, so much so that local authorities hired the artist Peter Graham to carve Merlin’s bearded face into a rock near one of the cave entrances. It was immediately a controversial move, with some people calling it vandalism and the dumbing down of British history. Still, it’s still there and people continue to walk down the rocks to explore the sandy-floored cave at low tide, imagining Merlin walking there, carrying the future king in his arms.
Photos from web.