The beautiful wilderness of the place, a rocky Cape Cornwall battered mercilessly by Atlantic breakers, has inspired poets, artists and dreamers for centuries.
But Tintagel, immortalized in British mythology as the birthplace of King Arthur, is one of a string of castles in danger of falling into the sea as climate change accelerates coastal erosion.
English Heritage has launched a fundraising appeal and identified its six most threatened castles, warning that some of England’s best-loved sites could be lost if nothing is done.
Rob Woodside, director of estates at English Heritage, said: “Erosion along the English coast is nothing new, but the rate of land loss we have seen over the last few years is alarming. Sea level rise and increasingly frequent storms pose a real risk to the future of many of our locations.”
Pieces of Tintagel have long since fallen into the sea, but sections of the cliff just outside the visitor center have recently been lost to erosion, eroding the viewing area and coastal path.
Other endangered sites in south-west England include Bayard’s Cove Fort, built in Tudor times to protect Dartmouth in Devon. It is located on a terrace cut off from the rocky riverbank, a beautiful location, but prone to flooding. English Heritage says work is urgently needed to investigate the impacts of sea level rise.
Off the coast of Cornwall, English Heritage is also concerned about the garrison walls at St Mary’s, the largest of the Isles of Scilly. They were built after the Armada attacked in 1588 due to concerns that Spain would send another fleet.
But the sea is now a greater threat than the enemy forces, with the shape of the walls creating pinch points or “armpits”, where the power of the tide is directed.
English Heritage is also concerned about Piel Castle in Cumbria, situated on a low island about half a mile off the coast in Morecambe Bay. A large part of the island is already lost and the fortress of the castle is in danger.
Two castles in Hampshire are under threat. Calshot, built by Henry VIII, is considered at risk, with work required on the spit and foreshore.
Part of Hurst Castle, also built by Henry VIII, collapsed days before planned work to stabilize the site in February last year, after the sea exposed and undermined its foundations. While the damaged part has been stabilized, the sea walls around the Tudor fort urgently need to be repaired and strengthened.
Woodside said: “The partial collapse of the East Battery at Hurst Castle was a devastating reminder of the power of the sea and the risks facing our coastal heritage, but Hurst is not an isolated case.
“Hundreds of heritage sites in the UK and around the world are increasingly under threat. If these coastal estates are to survive the coming decades, we will need to strengthen their walls and build sea defenses to protect them.”