King Arthur’s birthplace Tintagel Castle in danger of the sea

King Arthur’s birthplace Tintagel Castle in danger of the sea

UNDATED UNTIL 0001 FRIDAY 23 SEPTEMBER Undated handout photo issued by English Heritage of Tintagel Castle.  The Cornish castle immortalized in British mythology as the site of King Arthur's conception is in danger of falling into the sea as climate change speeds up coastal erosion.  Date of issue: Friday 23  September 2022. PA photo.  Tintagel Castle is one of several sites at risk of being lost forever, English Heritage has warned, as rising seas batter the coast.  See PA story HERITAGE Castles.  Photo credit should read: Nigel Wallace-Iles/English Heritage/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used for editorial reporting purposes for simultaneous illustration of events, things or people in the photo or facts mentioned in caption.  Reuse of the image may require additional permission from the copyright holder.  - Nigel Wallace-Iles/English Heritage

UNDATED UNTIL 0001 FRIDAY 23 SEPTEMBER Undated handout photo issued by English Heritage of Tintagel Castle. The Cornish castle immortalized in British mythology as the site of King Arthur’s conception is in danger of falling into the sea as climate change speeds up coastal erosion. Date of issue: Friday 23 September 2022. PA photo. Tintagel Castle is one of several sites at risk of being lost forever, English Heritage has warned, as rising seas batter the coast. See PA story HERITAGE Castles. Photo credit should read: Nigel Wallace-Iles/English Heritage/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used for editorial reporting purposes for simultaneous illustration of events, things or people in the photo or facts mentioned in caption. Reuse of the image may require additional permission from the copyright holder. – Nigel Wallace-Iles/English Heritage

The legendary birthplace of King Arthur could be lost to the sea, English Heritage has said, as it warned that accelerating coastal erosion threatened heritage along England’s coastlines.

Rising sea levels and increasingly powerful winter storms driven by climate change are destroying the country’s coastal history.

“Erosion along England’s coastline is nothing new, but the rate of land loss that we have seen in recent years is alarming,” said Rob Woodside, the charity’s property director.

Woodside told The Telegraph that with limited budgets and hundreds of sites to protect, English Heritage faces difficult decisions ahead, including possibly abandoning some properties.

“What we can’t do is try to play King Cnut and hold back the water, we have to learn to live with this changing environment.”

Alongside the warning, English Heritage released a list of six sites most at risk of increasing erosion, among them Tintagel Castle. It has launched urgent fundraising efforts to defend the properties.

Tintagel Castle Footbridge for English Heritage (Cornwall) by Ney & Partnere and William Matthews Associates The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has today (Thursday 9 September) announced the 54 winners of the 2021 RIBA National Awards for Architecture.  - David Levene /

Tintagel Castle Footbridge for English Heritage (Cornwall) by Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has today (Thursday 9 September) announced the 54 winners of the 2021 RIBA National Awards for Architecture. – David Levene /

Tintagel, on the north Cornish coast, has been associated with King Arthur ever since Geoffrey of Monmouth named it as the place of his conception in his 12th-century History of the Kings of Britain.

The area has long been assaulted by the sea, with parts of the 13th century castle collapsing into the Celtic Sea over the past seven centuries.

However, accelerating erosion threatens large parts of the property, including the visitor centre. Archaeological remains and steps for visitors have already been swept away from the soft ground between the site’s two cliffs.

English Heritage said the site needs £40,000 of work just to repair damage from last winter’s storms.

Although the castle itself is not under immediate threat, the cliffs surrounding it face increasing danger from the sea over the coming decades.

A set of stairs down to the beach were swept away in the storms and urgently need to be replaced to allow visitors access, the charity said.

Other properties face an even more immediate challenge.

In February 2021, the heritage group was presented with strong evidence of the threat it faced. Just days before stabilization work was due to begin on Hurst Castle, an artillery fort on the Solent first built by Henry VIII, a large section of the east wing collapsed.

TINTAGEL, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 28: People visit the ruins of Tintagel Castle in Tintagel on April 28, 2016 in Cornwall, England.  The English Heritage site and nearby town have long been associated with the legend of King Arthur and continue to attract large numbers of visitors.  However, efforts by English Heritage to update visitors' experience with the Gallos sculpture, along with a petroglyph of Merlin's face, which English Heritage says is inspired by the legend of King Arthur and Tintagel Castle's royal past, has met with criticism from some Cornish nationalists and historians.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images) - Getty Images Europe /Matt Cardy

TINTAGEL, UNITED KINGDOM – APRIL 28: People visit the ruins of Tintagel Castle in Tintagel on April 28, 2016 in Cornwall, England. The English Heritage site and nearby town have long been associated with the legend of King Arthur and continue to attract large numbers of visitors. However, efforts by English Heritage to update visitors’ experience with the Gallos sculpture, along with a petroglyph of Merlin’s face, which English Heritage says is inspired by the legend of King Arthur and Tintagel Castle’s royal past, has met with criticism from some Cornish nationalists and historians. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images) – Getty Images Europe /Matt Cardy

The expansion of the fort from the 18th century had its foundations undercut by the sea. “Hurst Castle is a real challenge because the natural processes that created the spit are stopped because of development in Chichester harbour,” Woodside said, “So the spirit retreats and it undermines the foundations of the castle.”

Since the collapse, English Heritage has built new defenses around the fort and completed stabilization work. However, the sea walls protecting the original Tudor part of the fort are in desperate need of strengthening.

The long-term future of the site, meanwhile, is in doubt. If the Environment Agency were to decide not to protect the wider stretch of coast, Woodside said, “we could be looking at the spirit being cut off and we might not be able to access it, so we might get to a point where we’re not able to maintain it longer.”

Also on the list of properties at risk are the garrison walls at St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly. The 17th and 18th century walls were designed to harness the tides to create pinch points, but those same tides now threaten to breach the walls and wash them out into the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, Bayard’s Cove Fort, which has stood at the mouth of the River Dart in Devon for half a millennium, is at risk of regular flooding due to its low-lying position.

And 21 miles east of Hurst Castle, another of Henry VIII’s coastal batteries, Calshot Castle, faces permanent inundation from rising seas.

The last place on the list is Piel Castle, in Morecambe Bay. The island fortress was built in the early 14th century to protect Barrow-in-Furness from pirates and Scottish raiders. Now, however, it faces its own demise from the waters it once protected.

The eponymous island on which it sits is disappearing into the frigid Irish Sea as coastal defenses are “picked off”, Woodside said. If it continues, the castle itself will be in danger.

“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 must strengthen their walls and build sea defenses to protect them, he said.

List of buildings in the danger zone

  • Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

  • Garrison walls at St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly

  • Bayard’s Cove Fort, Devon

  • Hurst Castle, Hampshire

  • Calshot Castle, Hampshire

  • Piel Castle, Morecambe Bay

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