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Brown Willy, 1368 feet in height, and Rowtor, 1298 feet, the highest hills in Cornwall, rise boldly from the dun expanse. There the Fowey and Camel have their source; one flowing to the south, the other to the north. At a farm in that dreary region Adams the astronomer was born. There certainly was not much in the landscape around him to divert his attention from the stars.
At half-past one we got to Camelford: again the foreign look in the streets and houses. I did not stay to see how the redundant passengers were to be accommodated, but walked down to the market-place, bought a pound of cherries, turned up a narrow street on th left, which, after a few yards, changed into a lane, and strode away briskly for Tintagel.
A short distance up the lane, and then a breezy short cut by a path across the fields. I found a pleasant spot near a spring and under a tree, and sat down to lunch on my cherries and a crust; and for beverage I had only to dip my India-rubber goblet into the sparkling water that bubbled up within reach of my arm. What pleasure in such a halt! To recline at full length on the grass; to eat at leisure; to watch the pulsations of the tiny pool, and the mazy gyrations and quivering of its grassy fringe-living water to the eye as well as the palate—and to hear the rustling of the leaves overhead, and to feel how they temper the fervid ray! Who does not conceive an affection for the trees that have sheltered him by the wayside ? " Such tents the Patriarchs loved.” Eye and ear alike gratified, while bees,
on earnest business bent, Their murmuring labours ply."
Going on I saw what was to me a novel sight; sheep grazing in pairs linked together by coupling-irons. They appeared to agree, except when one would keep on nibbling while the other wanted to stand still and ruminate. The path ends in a road not far from a solitary public-house, Melorn Inn, and presently you begin to descend towards Bowithic Slate Quarries. I asked a man how far it was to Tintagel. “What part of Tintagel be you going to ?” he answered: and such is the reply usually given to a similar inquiry in Cornwall; the reason being that the people think you mean the parish and not simply a fraction of it. And so, though the place you seek may be but half a dozen houses, you will, most likely, be told you are in it, unless
ask for the “ church-town.” If you
have never seen a slate quarry before, you will be astonished by that of Bowithic, so high do its precipitous walls rise on either side of the road, so enormous the excavations, so busy the labour carried on. Men are scattered about on the cliff, endowed apparently with the surefootedness of goats, hewing, and “tamping,” and hurling the severed masses down to their comrades beneath, who speedily reduce them into squared blocks and thin slices. Others pack the finished slates into a large square tub; others, in attendance at the cranes on the top of the cliff, haul them up; and, apart from the sound and sight of industry, there is something romantic in the features of the quarry. The road, deep between mounds of rubbish, and the high, gray cliff, resembles a ravine, down which rushes a flashing torrent. Here and there dark pools are formed in the hollows of the excavations, and where the water breaks through and trickles down the precipice, ferns
and creepers grow thickly from all the chinks. Slate everywhere: for walls, piers of bridges, platforms for the machinery, stables, storehouses, and cottages, all are built of slate.
The quarries at Delabole, about two miles distant, are still more extensive. The slate is light and of excellent quality: more than three hundred years ago it was much esteemed for roofing purposes in other parts of England and on the Continent. In it are found the finest specimens of the rock crystals, known as “Cornish diamonds," some three inches long, and of proportionate thickness ; once much prized, and preserved as heirlooms in the old families. They were made into brooches, rings, bracelets, and other orna
“In blacknesse and hardnesse," says Carew, they come behind the right ones; and yet I have knowne some of them set on so good a foile, as at first they might appose a not unskilfull lapidarie.”
At the end of the quarry the road turns sharp to the right, round a mountain of refuse, ascends through the little village of Trewarnet, and coming to the top of the hill, you have a view of the sea and the summits of the lofty cliffs. You see Tintagel church on a commanding elevation; but "a brave little piece” off yet, as the villagers say. Make directly for it; and when the road no longer serves, get over the fence, and take to the fields. The rude and rugged architecture of the cottages will remind you that you are again going away into outlandish parts. When once at the church you are not far from the classic ground. Go down to the head of the ravine on your right, and follow the rough path as it declines between the hills, accompanied by a noisy stream. How it darts and
winds round the abrupt curves, laughing at the big stones that check its course, here half hidden by a grove of ferns, there rushing over a bed of cresses ! Higher and higher rise the hills on either side as you descend; the ravine widens, making room for a broad, irregular floor of turf; and presently, crowning the height on your left, you see the remains of an ancient circular tower, and a fragment of an arch. The sight will perhaps cause you to spring across the stream, and climb the slope. The slate peeps out in places in horizontal layers, and near the top you see bits of the ruin peering above the turf, scarcely distinguishable from the natural rock. The masonry of the broken arch, of the timeworn keep, and stray fragments of wall, which you see when on the summit, tell of their antiquity. Strength however rude, and not elegance, was the object of the builders.
And is this all? you will ask, while walking round the scanty relic, or cautiously trying to climb to the flagstaff to look down into the circular inclosure. As I scrambled up, a large gull that had been sitting on the topmost stone flew off with angry screams, and wheeling round in great circles, came again and again swooping down close to my head, to resent the intrusion.
Time has indeed spared but little of what was once so famous, yet sufficient to show the castle to have been of considerable extent. The south wall is said to be still as high as when first built. But all is naked. Time, besides sparing but little, has forgotten to make old bareness picturesque.” No ivy, no moss, no fern or lichen grows from the interstices of the stones; and the howling north-west gales from the stormy Atlantic have worked their will on the unprotected ruin. Only in imagination can you restore the renowned castle where Arthur was born of Utherpendragon and the fair Igraine, where Merlin wrought his wonders, where the Round Table was instituted, and the bravest and most gentle-hearted knights the world ever saw sat around it. How all the wondrous legend comes crowding back on the mind when you are on the spot which gave it birth! Where was the window from which Sir Kaye, leaping in haste, came near falling on the head of King Marke, who sat playing at chess in the garden beneath? where was the turret in which Sir Tristram was confined ? where the postern from whence Sir Galahad hastened singing
“My good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure;
Because my heart is pure?”
“Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere
Rode thro' the coverts of the deer ?"
Here began the reign of the famous king, and from hence, in his old age, he rode forth, with a gallant train, perhaps under that now broken arch, to its fatal ending; when smitten to death by traitorous hands, he commanded the “ brand Excalibur” to be flung back into the lake, and saying with feeble voice, “The old order changeth, yielding place to new," was laid in the mysterious bark, and floated away to the valley of Avilion.
The bluff on which the ruins stand is three hundred feet in height, rising perpendicularly from the water. Beyond it, separated by a chasm, and projecting far into the sea, is Tintagel Island, on which once stood another part of the castle, connected by a drawbridge