The moonlight shone down on the place, unhindered. The gnarled parapets jagged upwards like a bony hand of icy indifference. In the background, there was a fulmar. Who knew how long the place had stood there. A thousand years? A million years? Tempus immemoria, i.e. always? But it was a bad place, that much was certain. A very bad place indeed…
In this fourth post about my Dark Place (or my Dark Age Place to be precise), I present to you a past-shock that will shit you up. I dedicate this post on Tintagel to my departmental secretary, Brenda, who deals with the bulk of my admin.
A Garden of Time
In the middle of the island of Tintagel is a rectangular low-walled space: quite possibly the traces of a 13th-century medieval walled garden. Contemporary with the castle’s building itself, inspired in its location by legendary associations in the 13th century, it is possible to consider the walled garden as a component of attempts to tap into the legendary dimensions of the landscape. Building on work by Peter Rose on the garden and further investigations by Mark Bowden and his Historic England team, it is possible that this aspect of the medieval castle’s environs were connected to the legends. The walled garden, chapel and tunnel might all be dimensions of a legendary topography enhanced by the Earl of Cornwall.
I would suggest that this was intended to be a place in which time was supposed to dissolve. The garden was certainly a key material connection of the castle’s elite landscape. As a physical place, it was part of a designed landscape to be an environment in which legends were performed or invoked. Was it even regarded as a place where legends were considered to have taken place? Given that an important dimension of the story is that Tristan and Iseult meet in the castle garden, it might constitute a materialisation of legend in itself and the tunnel and church might have come to be regarded similarly.
Part of the new EH installation creates the connection for visitors between the walled garden and the site’s legends for the first time. Indeed, it does so in a fashion more explicitly than its other heritage dimensions discussed previously. It is a modest set of text-inscribed paving stones that take you around the inside walls of the garden counter-clockwise. Each tells a stage in the legend of Tristan and Iseult.
By walking, you engage with the space and imagine the story in its fuller form. Complementing the carving of Merlin by the sea, and the statue of the knight high up on the island’s northern edge, this is a modest addition that does not intervene below or above ground, yet foregrounds the connection of place and story. Of course, this doesn’t prevent visitors from rejecting this story and coming up with their own…