The magnificent wild nature of the spot, a rocky Cornish promontory pounded mercilessly by Atlantic breakers, has inspired poets, artists and dreamers for centuries.
But Tintagel, immortalized in British mythology as the site of King Arthur’s capture, is one of a number of castles at risk of falling into the sea as climate change increases the rate of coastal erosion.
English Heritage has launched a fundraising appeal and identified its six most vulnerable castles, warning that some of England’s best-loved spots could be lost if nothing is done.
Rob Woodside, director of estates at English Heritage, said: “Erosion along England’s coastline is nothing new, but the rate of land loss we have seen in recent years is alarming. Rising sea levels and more frequent storms are a real risk to the future of many of our sites.”
Pieces of Tintagel have long since fallen into the sea, but sections of the cliff directly in front of the visitor center have recently been lost to erosion, eating away at a viewing area and a coastal path.
Other sites at risk 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 from the rocky river bank, a beautiful location but prone to flooding. English Heritage says work is urgently needed to investigate the effects 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 a second fleet.
But the sea is now more of a threat than a hostile force, with the shape of the walls creating pinch points, or ‘armpits’, where the power of the tide is focused.
English Heritage is also concerned about Piel Castle in Cumbria, which sits on a low-lying island about half a mile off the coast in Morecambe Bay. A large part of the island has already been lost and the guarding of the castle is in danger.
Two castles in Hampshire are under threat. Calshot, built by Henry VIII, is considered to be at risk, with work required on the spit and shore.
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 eroded its foundations. While the damaged section has been stabilised, the sea walls around Tudor Castle are in urgent need of repair and strengthening.
Woodside said: “The partial collapse of the east battery at Hurst Castle was a devastating reminder of the power of the sea and the dangers facing our coastal heritage, but Hurst is not an isolated case.
“Hundreds of heritage sites in the UK and around the world are increasingly at risk. If these coastal properties are to survive in the coming decades, we will need to strengthen their walls and build sea defenses to protect them.”