...go in search of Camelot
IN THE MUCH-HYPED film First Knight, the legend of King Arthur meets the Wonderful World of Disney. In Tintagel, a small windswept village in Cornwall, the legend met the marketing men a long time ago.

The village is built around the ruins of a medieval fortress, which is rumoured to be the place where King Arthur was born. As a result, thousands of tourists flock to this magical spot every year. Unfortunately, Arthur lived (if indeed he lived at all) between AD475 and AD550, while the castle was not built for another 700 years. But so what - as a notice in the ruins says: "When the mists come swirling through Merlin's cave [on the shore beneath the ruins] it is easy to see how the myth has survived to this day." So forget history, and enjoy the poetry.

What to see

First, TINTAGEL CASTLE itself. You can approach the ruins either by walking down a track from the village - a Land Rover will drive you up again for 80p - or along the cliff edge which leads from the Norman parish CHURCH OF ST MATERIANA. From the village side, you will walk through the ruins in the order in which they were built (the way the history buffs do it), but the cliff walk gives a more dramatic view of the ruins from the church, and is worth doing in itself because of the plants, insects and birds that you will see en route.

In the village itself, most of the shops are called Excalibur this and Round Table that, but the only essential Arthurian attraction is the HALL OF CHIVALRY with its 73 stained glass windows showing the heraldry of knights with their symbolic interpretations. Another (non-Arthurian) attraction is the OLD POST OFFICE, a 14th-century manor house built on a miniature scale, and one of the few remaining examples of such a building in the south west of England.

Beaches

The beach at Tintagel is small and consists of pebbles made of rounded slate. Sand enthusiasts should therefore head for the beaches at nearby BOSSINEY COVE and TREBARWITH STRAND where the surfing is good. There are many riding stables in the area, as well as four championship standard golf courses within 20 minutes drive.

Where to stay

There are a number of reasonably priced hotels in Tintagel, all within walking distance of the castle. The most strikingly situated is KING ARTHUR'S CASTLE HOTEL, an imposing Edwardian building with 60 bedrooms which overlooks the ruins from the edge of the cliff. Bed and breakfast is pounds 27.50 per person, with dinner pounds 8.50. Tel: 01840 770202.

Those looking for more seclusion would enjoy TREBREA LODGE, a manor house set in four and a half acres of wooded hillside with views across open fields to the village and sea less than a mile away. It was owned by the same family for almost 600 years, and it retains the atmosphere of a private house: the eight bedrooms all have antique furniture, and there is a smoking room with an open log fire. A double room and breakfast ranges from pounds 29 to pounds 36, and single rooms from pounds 45 to pounds 50. A four course dinner in the oak panelled dining room (specialities include sea trout and wild salmon from the River Tamar) costs pounds 16. Tel: 01840 770410.

There are plenty of bed and breakfast places around, but the best is probably the POLKERR GUEST HOUSE, which has been highly commended by the English Tourist Board despite being situated on the road. At pounds 15 to pounds 20 per person, it is good value. It is popular, with many regular customers, so it is important to book early.

Where to eat

THE RIGGS RESTAURANT AND TEA ROOMS, and THE CROSSBOW, both in the main street, are typical of the predominantly "Chicken Kiev" restaurants in Tintagel, where holidaymakers eat relatively cheaply but well. For a more extravagant night out, it's well worth driving a few miles down the coast towards Port Isaac, and the 17th-century PORT GAVERNE HOTEL where the seafood in particular is excellent. A speciality is the seafood platter of lobster, crevettes, crab, langoustines, and a selection of cold seafood costing pounds 32 for two. Among the best tea shops - and there are many - is the PANGENNA TEA GARDEN where you sit under wide umbrellas in the garden, eating cream teas for pounds 2.35. By then, you'll probably have had at least one Cornish pasty, but if not, head down to the shop at the bottom of the hill, and not just because of the notice proclaiming them to have been "baked by a little old Cornish biddy".

Where to drink

Tintagel has nine pubs, five of them in the main street. THE CORNISHMAN used to be a pottery until its conversion to a pub 17 years ago, and the former potter can now be found pulling the pints. It's particularly pleasant at this time of year as drinkers sit out on a terrace, and in a large garden beyond. For those wanting live music and discos, the KING ARTHUR'S ARMS with its fruit machines and pool table (not to mention the Green Bullet beer at pounds 1.85 per pint) is popular.

Hot tips

Fill up with petrol before you arrive: the village's two pumps look like they were last used by King Arthur.

How to get there

From London and the Midlands, take the M5 to Exeter and then the A30 to Launceston and A395 to Camelford (journey time: four hours). Bodmin Parkway railway station and Newquay airport are both about 40 minutes drive away.

CHARLES OULTON

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