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Posts Tagged ‘setting’

Tintagel

Okay, so much for the characters and their weapons. Now for the setting.

To a considerable extent, it’s necessary to just make a guess at locations for the Arthur legend. Some can be identified, others guessed at with fair probability of being correct—or at least reasonable. Others . . . well, some are just flat out guesses.

So, let’s start with Arthur’s birthplace, Tintagel. This, at least, is one legendary location that can be placed absolutely—whether or not the legend about Arthur’s birth has any historical basis.

There it is on the northern coast of Dumnonia . . . Cornwall, now. (Well, as nearly as I could place it, anyway.)

Of course, in the fifth century, Tintagel would not have been a medieval-style castle. More like the coastal version of an Iron Age hillfort, a promontory fort, substituting steep cliffs and the sea for embankments around most of the protected area. Though the current ruins are of a castle built after the Norman Conquest, there is archaeological evidence of a high-status late or post-Roman dwelling at Tintagel, possibly a trading center with ties not only to Gaul, but also to the Mediterranean and North Africa, judging by the luxury items found during excavations. There seems to have been a path down the eastern cliffs to a small cove.

In fact, it’s a little hard to see why anyone would have wanted to build a castle there. It was hardly necessary. By itself, Tintagel would have been supremely defensible.

Now an island, Tintagel would have been on a headland, connected to mainland Cornwall (Dumnonia) by a narrow ridge. And, during the Dark Ages, a ditch and embankment earthwork narrowed the approach to the ridge. Although the area within the defenses ran for half a mile from the gate and about a quarter mile across, the usable space was more likely to be between ten and twenty acres—within the same size range as most hillforts.

For a bit of fun, a sea cave, called Merlin’s Cave, runs right through the island near the landward side.

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