Sunday, 6 March 2016

Road to Avalon

Tintagel tourist sites: King Arthur's Great Halls and the Old Post Office

King Arthur’s Hall and Tintagel Old Post Office

Emily and I travelled from Plymouth to Cornwall and the spectacular site of Tintagel. Before venturing to the famous Castle we visited the eccentric Old Post Office (with its wonky roof) and the even more eccentric Great Hall of King Arthur. The Tintagel Old Post Office, curated by the National Trust, was a great place for a refreshing cuppa. King Arthur’s Hall, though, was our first Arthurian site – the gathering place in the 1930s for the Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table, founded by Frederick Thomas Glasscock (yes, Glasscock.) This group of benign gentlemen met from 1927 to “promote Christian ideals and Arthurian notions of medieval chivalry.” (If you click on the picture above, it should enlarge and you can read the ideals more closely, should you wish!)
The extraordinary Tintagel Castle
The castle itself – or series of forts and castles – is a remarkable English Heritage site. The changing views are breathtaking and the displays give a good account of all the different theories about why this site became important over many centuries. I first discovered the tales of King Arthur through Enid Blyton’s and Rosemary Sutcliff’s retellings of the legends but went on to devour just about everything I could through school and university, graduating from cartoon versions to European classics translated from Welsh and from the French. It’s hard to know why Arthurian Romance has played such a big part in my reading over the years – there’s something about the yearning for a better world and the poignancy of the failed enterprise that captured my imagination. I have blogged earlier about reading The Goshawk by TH White before graduating to The Once and Future King. Tintagel did not disappoint. It captures the beautiful romantic nature of the stories in its seaside clifftop setting, but its precarious and precipitous geography suggests it will inevitably come crashing down just as the Round Table did in the stories.
Launceston Castle in Cornwall

Launceston Castle

Leaving Cornwall and heading towards Somerset we called at Launceston Castle for a leg stretch and an exploration of the unusual keep which was the base for the Cornish Royalist defence of the county during the Civil War. Fantastic views from the battlements made the visit well worthwhile. Our next stop was to be the possible site for “Avalon” or the legendary isle where King Arthur was conveyed after his death at the hands of his son, Mordred. Although France and Sicily have also been proposed as Avalon locations – and Tintagel itself has island qualities – Glastonbury is where tradition places Avalon and that’s where Emily and I headed next.