The wonderful wildness of the spot, a rocky Cornish headland pounded relentlessly by Atlantic breakers, has inspired poets, artists and dreamers for many a century.
But Tintagel, immortalised in British mythology as the place of King Arthur’s conception, is one of a string of castles at risk of tumbling into the sea as climate change increases the pace of coastal erosion.
English Heritage has launched a fundraising appeal and identified its six most vulnerable castles, warning that some of England’s most beloved spots may be lost if nothing is done.
Rob Woodside, the director of estates at English Heritage, said: “Erosion along England’s coastline is nothing new but the rate of land loss that we have seen over the past few years is alarming. Rising sea levels and more regular storms pose a real risk to the future of many of our sites.”
Chunks of Tintagel have long fallen into the sea but parts of the cliff directly in front of the visitor centre have recently been lost to erosion, eating into a viewing area and coastal path.
Other sites at risk in the south-west of England include Bayard’s Cove Fort, built in Tudor times to protect Dartmouth in Devon. It is set on a terrace cut from the rocky riverbank, a beautiful location but one prone to flooding. English Heritage says work is urgently needed to investigate the impact of rising sea levels.
Off the Cornish coast, English Heritage is also concerned about the garrison walls in St Mary’s, the largest of the Isles of Scilly. They were built after the attack of the Armada in 1588 due to concerns that Spain would send a second fleet.
But the sea is now more of a threat than enemy forces, with the shape of the walls creating pinch points, or “armpits”, where the tide’s power is focused.
English Heritage is also concerned about Piel Castle in Cumbria, set on a low-lying island about half a mile from the coast in Morecambe Bay. Much of the island has already been lost and the castle’s keep is at risk.
Two castles in Hampshire are under threat. Calshot, built by Henry VIII, is considered at risk, with work needed on a spit and foreshore.
Part of Hurst Castle, also built by Henry VIII, collapsed days before planned work to stabilise the site in February last year, after the sea exposed and undercut its foundations. While stabilisation of the damaged section has taken place, the sea walls around the Tudor fort urgently need repairing 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 risks our coastal heritage faces, 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 the coming decades, we will need to strengthen their walls and build sea defences to protect them.”
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