South West Coast Path
England, South-west, United Kingdom
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
Tintagel to St. Enedoc
From the dreary nearby car park, you suddenly find yourself across a cove from Tintagel Castle, on its almost-island, as magical as its reputation leads you to expect, indeed so magnificent that it survives having the horrendous Camelot Hotel and Tintagel Village opposite it on the mainland.
A flat-topped headland surmounts sheer cliffs, its grassy upper slopes dotted with the low remains of the castle buildings. It is a natural fortress. The visible remnants we see were started in the mid 1200s by Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of Henry III, on a site that had been fortified for centuries before: pottery from as far away as Turkey indicates that Tinagel had international connections from Roman times and was a wealthy place during the Dark Ages.
The legend of Tristan and Yseuit have come to be associated with Tintagel, as, of course, has King Arthur, who was said to have been conceived here. Richard's castle was a "prestige" project, rather than a serious castle, intended to project his power and importance. Its buildings are not all that impressive - the extraordinary Dunottar in Aberdeenshire, for instance, is actually more beautiful and more historically important - but history and legend make it overpoweringly romantic.
The narrow neck that joins the great rock to the mainland is now so collapsed and dangerous that a beautiful quarter rainbow of wooden bridge now spans this gap. Above it, the ancient steps zig-zag up to the narrow entrance gate. Inside, the low walls set in grass, with views along the wild coastline from broken window frames, are delightful. The view from the western edge of the platform, along the coast toward Pentire Point, with the breakers pounding the rocks far below, is magical. Atop the nearby cliff is the large, ancient Tintagel church in its even older burial ground. A Roman stele indicates its significance in those times.
Port Quin to St Enedoc church, Daymer Bay (May 2007)
Port Quin is another place to which it is hard to do justice while avoiding cliché.
A rocky little cove runs deep into the vivid green hillside, at its head the snug little fishermans' (and, no doubt, smugglers') cottages. It is enchantingly beautiful. This is described as a "natural harbour", but the narrow entrance, full on to the open sea, means it can never have been a particularly safe one.
On the steep cliff above it is a folly where the local landowner came to drink and gamble. The walk from here to Pentire Point was joyously perfect when I was there. Banks of pink and blue spring flowers sank away toward the cliff and a quiescent, almost benign sea. Sheep cropped grassy little ledges in the crags like the corniest sort Victorian paintings. Larks sang their hearts out. I dropped down to Epphaven Cove and Lundy Beach, with its rock arch, the remains of a collapsed cave, the sea slapping and foaming beneath it.
I ate my lunch on cropped grass in a sheltered notch in the headland, dozing in the sun while I listened to the larks and the distant surf.
And then on to the Rumps, another promontory turned in the Iron Age into a fort, defended by a earthworks thrown across the narrow isthmus leading to it. They were sufficiently prosperous here to have imported wine and pottery from the Mediterranean of the Homeric age. The flowers are outstanding here, their pinky orange contrasting with sea in a way which would have entranced them Impressionists. Stacks of "pillow lava" testify to the region's volcanic past.
Then it is Pentire Point, the high eastern entrance to the wide beaches of the Camel Estuary. On the far side, hazy coastline and shimmering sea recede to the south. I clamber down onto the vast expanse of Polzeath beach, back among the surfers and youthful constructors of silicate fortifications. Back up above the low cliffs and perfect rock pools, the path winds below the windswept holiday homes of Trebetherick: while still beautiful, this is essentially transported suburbia and this section could easily be missed were it not for the final destination: the beautiful little church of St. Enedoc, with its crooked spire, blown out of shape by centuries of gales. It had to be dug out of the encroaching sand dunes: in the 1800s it could only be accessed through a trap door. No wonder that Sir John Betjeman chose this spot to be buried.