12 July 2008: Peat Moors Centre, Tintagel and Port Isaac
From gothic cathedrals to the Iron Age – I love this country!
We left the run-down Wessex Hotel and drove via the Peat Moors Centre to Camelot Castle Hotel, Tintagel.
The Peat Moors Centre is now closed due to lack of funding – a great shame, although there are other such sites in the UK.
The centre has reconstructions of three Iron Age round-houses, one of which had fallen down and archaeologists were watching it to see how it deteriorated. The walls were reeds and sticks smeared thickly with mud, and a solid thatched roof. The archaeological finds from this place, including a large canoe, were in the museum I visited in Glastonbury. The caretaker was going to give a tour to a group of school kids in 30 minutes, but we had other places to be and had to miss out, so a quick whizz round had to satisfy us. Various plants, including the woad bush, were growing there, too. The ancient Picts were thought to use the blue dye from woad to decorate their bodies, but this is controversial.
The caretaker above had just lit the fire, so it was smoky inside. Interestingly, a hole in the roof is not needed, as the smoke rises to a layer above head height and dissipates through the thatched roofing.
And then on to something completely different … Camelot Castle hotel in Tintagel and, yes, I was indeed welcomed by one of the owners saying, ‘Welcome to Camelot’! This was a real eccentric’s paradise. It was built in Victorian times as a ‘mock castle’ and one of the Cornish staff said that it was used for the Laurence Olivier film, ‘Dracula’. With the long winding staircases, many levels, endless corridors easy to get lost in and semi-spooky feel, it was the perfect place for such an event. It is now owned by a couple of scientologists (which explains the photos of Tom Cruise and other celebrity scientologists around the place), and the walls are lined with the oil paintings of one of the owners. Heavy on ‘character’, that’s for sure.
Our base for the next few days, Camelot Castle is in a spectacular cliff spot overlooking the coast about 1 km walk from Tintagel village. The village is very touristy with lots of Arthur-related shops and souvenirs, but small and pleasant enough to walk around easily. It overlooks the supposed site of the birthplace of King Arthur, which we visited the next day (below).
Tintagel castle is a spectacular 13th century ruin high on the coast, overlooking Merlin’s cave. We could not get into the actual cave, as the tide was too high, but you could see the sunlight and hear the crashing of the waves on the other side of the opening that goes all the way through the cliff.
That night we had dinner in charming Port Isaac (Cornish: Porthusek; for all you “Doc Martin” TV show fans), with even tinier roads that our 10-seater van was just able to squeeze down, thanks to the skill of our driver, David. The only public parking was in the harbour when the tide was out. A sign on the harbour wall said when the tide was lowest, when highest, and when you had to get your car out by or risk immersion. I saw the cutest West Highland terrier pup ever, walking its owner.
… and how close the houses are built, even up the steep hillside slopes in Cornwall.
Continued in part 6.