The Thrill of Visiting Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, England
I hear the excited voices of my companions exclaiming; “We are here!”
The sign at the limits of the town of Tintagel has slid by as I awaken from my slumber. Aware of a pain in my neck, I come fully awake. I feel as if we have been driving forever. I roll my head to stretch my muscles and glance at my watch. Our last food stop was over five hours ago. I am hungry and now would welcome the use of a toilet. Through the misted van windows it appears that the only choice we have is either a chip wagon or no lunch. What is Sally thinking?
The pubs are long since closed. This is not Canada and there are no burger joints with brightly coloured signs and drive through windows open 12 hours a day. Tension in the van is high. At least it has stopped raining.
Sally directs our driver to explore the town in search of somewhere to eat. After driving past several closed places she points to a deli and fish and chip shop and tells Tom to park. The white pub we passed about one o’clock in the moors would have been a much more appropriate stop than this deserted cafeteria-style shop in the middle of the afternoon.
Catching the proprietor dozing, Sally asks if we can have lunch. He tells us it will take awhile to get the fryer heated up. Sally is impatient with the delay. She is concerned that access to the castle will close before we get there. We are all insistent that we want to eat.
The food is hot and tasty. I feel much better than I did half an hour ago. I feel my blood sugar increasing and my attitude is becoming more optimistic.
Sally directs us to follow her to walk to Tintagel Castle. Calculating the time difference between Britain and Canada, I quickly try to make a call home to my family on the pay phone located just before the path descends toward the shoreline. It will be Saturday morning and I can envision my home and garden and the phone’s ringing. I am not able to get an international line. Disappointed, I plod down the packed earth path the others have taken to the castle. I let an unexpected tear roll down my cheek unchecked. I am homesick. It is spring and if I were there I would be planning to work in my garden as I sip my morning coffee in the sunshine on the patio.
As I head downward, I keep my head lowered so the people coming toward me do not see my tears. I walk slowly to give myself time to regain my composure. The walk down through the little river valley with the sea in the distance is easy going and I breathe the clear ocean air deeply into my lungs. I feel invigorated after the stale air of the van. Passing vendors, I barely look to see their wares, determined to shift my mood before reaching my group.
The path flattens for a short distance before climbing up to the remains of castle gates. I quicken my steps and lift my chin. The words my husband often uses, flash through my mind.
"Keep your chin up!"
I smile at the familiarity and helpfulness of the phrase. I feel his affection in the memory of his encouragement. With a warm smile consciously placed on my face, I step through the gates to find myself on a high edge of a cliff that overlooks the sea and a magnificent towering island. It is separated from the mainland by about fifteen feet. This is the site on which the legends say King Arthur was conceived and born. The ruins of Castle Tintagel create a dramatic silhouette against the sky.
My memory is in full vision of the words from the stories by Mary Stewart and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I have read about storms and horses, love and passion. My immediate thrill of the expansive view is cut short as Tom calls my name and I realise he is reciting one of his long dialogues on the history of this place. I do not want to give him my attention.
I play stories in my mind based on what I have read and re-created in my fantasies of a long ago time. I want to daydream my own visions and feel the energy of this place first hand. I do not want to stand and listen. I position myself at the edge of the group. Only half listening, I scan the vista. Barely tolerating the drone of his voice, I stay put as long as I can then I edge away. I love to wander alone. Why did I ever sign up for a group tour?
I wander alone down the very steep steps holding fast to the railing so as not to lose my footing on this precipice. I am filled with a tense excitement that draws me right down to the beach.
I look back up the cliff and see many of my companions scattered along the steps making their way down to the sea. A few other tourists are on the beach but it is virtually deserted. I stand at the edge of the water and smell the salty damp air as I breath deeply. I am now feeling invigorated!
There is a cave to my left and I tingle with anticipation as I move along the beach and into the massive stone vault. The rocks are wet and dark and the opening goes straight under the island. Moving into the shadows, I realise that it is an archway and not a closed cave. Enormous waves of the incoming tide are smashing the rock beach both behind and in front of me. In order to get inside and feel the full effect of the site, I must walk into the edge of the waves. The swirling foaming water laps at my boots threatening to get over the tops. I am determined to get into the centre of the arch without getting wet feet. It is a powerful spot, full of the noise of crashing waves and the distant cry of gulls. I have a sense of being deep in the earth, on the very frontier between water, land and air. I am thrilled at the excitement of it. The challenge is met and I retract out of the swirling torrent.
As I step carefully back along the beach dodging the incoming waves, successfully keeping the rim of my boots above the water, I can feel the wetness of the salt sea on my face. I know this is an experience that has returned me to the innocent wholeness of childhood. Like a carefree and careless youth I had scampered into the danger of the crashing water alone ahead of the others. I felt no fear. Only now as I see the tentative stance of others who hang back on the steps do I reassess my actions.
I survey the scene with a new awareness. I shake my head at my own impetuousness.
A sea otter is frolicking just off shore in the wavy water. I laugh at the sight. A large black Labrador Retriever is playing with stones about the size of tennis balls that are being rolled in by the incoming tide. He is having such fun.
Sally attempts to get him to leave the rocks and chase a piece of driftwood she has found. He leaps into the waves and having retrieved it drops it at her feet. The dog again drops the retrieved stick and as Sally stretches to catch it, it retreats on an ebbing wave. She leans forward and just as her hand clasps the wet slippery wood, a wave crashes beside her and swamps her up to her knees.
The group of us gathered to watch start to laugh at her plight but soon repress our glee as we hear her angry cries of surprise and disdain. The water is cold and the wind damp and cool. I turn to hide my smile and start to climb back up the many well-worn steps. I put all my energy into the experience of this place. I will be in the flow of my experience, moment by moment.
I climb from sea level up until I reach the stone gateway where I started. From here I climb up another flight of curving worn stone steps and through a small stone archway into the remains of what was once a castle.
Having just been to the centre of the opening under this island at sea level, I am determined to go to the very top. I leave the majority of the group taking pictures of each other and wandering about the fallen walls. I climb a combination of rough stone steps and grassy slopes to get to the crown of the ruins.
Finally atop the summit, I place my feet firmly on the rough ground and slowly turn round to survey the vast scene before me. I want to talk to the wind, and thank God for the beauty, the majesty, and the power of this place. I want to truly experience my presence here.
The wind is blowing so strongly I feel like I will lift into the sky. My rubberised pink raincoat billows out trapping the air. I imagine soaring high into the clouds like a kite, like a great pink bubble, to sail with the seagulls, which appear to be having such a wonderful time riding the wind.
Here I can feel my inner readiness to say, "YES" to life; to transcend my insecurities, fears and the limitations I put on myself and have allowed others to put on me. I feel free enough to fly from the past conditioning and open myself up to any opportunity the world can offer me.
As I free myself in a fantasy flight, I realise my quest is inward. I know at this point that what I am seeking does not lie in some soggy field or damp cave at the edge of the sea. What I am seeking, I carry like a secret within. Like the sculptor, who speaks of freeing the being from within the block, I am on a quest to free the being that is my Self.
I tune into this knowledge like accepting the force of a wave from the sea or a burst of wind. My psyche is tumbled about and I accept the flow of this new awareness. I fear that fighting it will result in me losing myself in a way so total that I might never regain my balance. As I allow my self to harmonize with universal energy, I feel a thrilling tingling throughout my being. Like my arm, that has "fallen asleep" under me as I nap tingles with the renewed flow of blood, my entire being pulses with psychic energy.
From this height, I can imagine the world from the viewpoint of the gull. I fly, in my mind's eye, to the altitude of the gulls. I recall the sense I had reading the words of Richard Bach as Jonathan Livingston Seagull soared. I want to transcend my earthbound views.
I turn on my perch and see the distant fields and forests green and brown. I look over the silver grey of the constantly moving ocean. The sun drops a golden shaft onto a distant spot. The wind gusts around me. I imagine I can see myself from a bird's eye view, a speck of pink in a circle of green, enhancing the panorama. My presence changes the scene. Did that nearby gliding gull cry to me?
With exhilaration and a keen sense of power, I know that I do influence this day in some way. I know I exist!
I need to feel confident as me, to overcome my insecurities and my sense of limitation. I need to declare my existence for my self. I am the one who must believe in me.
Coming down off of the height I had chosen for my visit with the universe, I look about for the others in the group. Only three others came to the top section of the castle ruins. Tom is expounding on why there is a depression in the grassy surface at a portion of the hill. They show no concern or awareness of me. I skirt behind them and off down the slope. I want to be alone for a moment or two with my experience.
I feel a great peace. As I walk I am in harmony with my self. Whatever happened up there was very significant to me but hard to explain. I will keep my own counsel on this.
As I descend further down the last of the steps, my stride matches a man wearing the uniform of the National Trust. It is his job to maintain this sight. I ask him several questions about the history of Tintagel as we head along the returning path. As I listen to his pleasant lilting accent, I regret that in each place we visit, we have not had a local guide, instead of expecting our driver to be the source of our information.
Our paths digress and I walk slowly on alone up the sharp incline. I chat with two women selling snacks from a little yellow trailer, as I buy myself a cool drink. Most of the others are already seated in the van complaining of a damp chill. In response to a question from Sally, I tell her who from our group are still behind me.
The mood in the van is a sharp contrast to the wild wind swirling my thoughts on top of Tintagel Castle. As I fold myself back into my seat, I know this is one place that will always have special memories for me.
By Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem M.Ed.