In its marketing strategy for Tintagel English Heritage decided to emphasise its legendary aspects and links to the Arthurian myth. The only problem with this was that there were actually no physical objects at the site on which they could anchor the legends. So they installed some in the shape of the statue of the anonymous knight and the carving of Merlin’s face.
A recent academic article by Laura Hodson has evaluated what expectations people bring with them to Tintagel and how they react to the place in the light of those. It did this by subjecting to analysis just under 400 reviews on TripAdvisor in 2018. Of course, this might well tell us more about the kind of person who completes a TripAdvisor review rather than be representative of visitors to Tintagel.
Around a half of the reviews made no reference to legend or history. They either had no expectations at all or came for the scenery or for personal and family reasons. Reviews focused on the extortionate price charged by English Heritage for entry and the difficulty of climbing up the steps to castle and island. This has now been solved by English Heritage’s post-modern bridge. All we need now is a lift.
Reactions of those reviewers who made some reference to legendary or historical expectations was more polarised. Contrary to what might be expected however, it was some of the reviews with historical references where imaginations were sparked, not those attracted by legend. For the latter (around a fifth of the total) did not lose themselves in the swirling mists of legend as they stalked dreamily around the Island at Tintagel. Instead they were largely content to take a quick selfie next to the knight, usually assumed wrongly to be Arthur himself. The statue has apparently done nothing to change a shallow and superficial visitor experience.
Given this, maybe English Heritage should focus on the fascinating early history and archaeology of the site rather than play around with elusive legendary connections. Having failed to provide any perceived educational benefits its continued (mis-)management of this site must surely come into question. Perhaps the Duchy of Cornwall, which owns the place, should now do the decent thing and transfer its management from English Heritage to a Cornish-run body aware of its proper significance.