The Lone Kayaker Loves……Merlin’s Cave


Merlin’s Cave is excellent for a multitude of reasons. It’s a catchy name, the whole place is wrapped up in a blurr of mediaeval mythology, and its an awesome place to paddle in a kayak. In fact paddling it in a kayak is definitely the way to appreciate this dramatic place because the approach from land is a bit over-commercialised. Or so I’ve been told, because every one of over thirty visits to this amazing place has been by sea.

Legend states that wannabee monarch baby Arthur was washed up on the sand at the entrance to the cave.* . He was discovered by the wizard Merlin who lurked within** and was nurtured to his place on the throne of the castle on top of the cliffs high above.  Surrounded by Sir Lancelot et al.

*lucky it wasn’t high tide or he would have gone right through                                                   **hope he had a good set of chest waders

It’s all good stuff, and the knights and their entourage could not have chosen a more spectacular location for their castle. Tintagel island is great hulk of a rocky peninsular which is lashed by wind and battered by a booming swell for most of the year. It’s only on a handful of days during the summer that conditions are anything like suitable for a (relaxed) visit by sea kayak. For exploring the caves and tunnels the open sea swell has really got to be less than two feet….which isn’t very often.

Access by kayak isn’t that straightforward. It’s either a two mile paddle up from Trebarwith which is an exposed surf beach, or a four mile paddle down from the much more sheltered launch site of Boscastle Harbour. This has got to be the best route because it takes you past a couple of superb islands and the sandy beaches at Bossiney.

Merlin’s cave is even more remarkable because it passes through the neck of Tintagel island and for the  kayaker bypasses almost a mile of the most savage rocky coastline imaginable around Tintagel island. Vertical black cliffs and a sea which is restless even when everywhere else is flat calm. It’s a hostile place and I’ve had a hairy moment or two here.  This is the tip of Tintagel head:


The cave is in such a perfect place for sneaking between Tintagel Haven and West Cove, you can’t help thinking that a bit of wizardry was involved in its creation.


Approaching from the other direction (west) is not only magical from a scenery point of view, but also because the door of the cave seems to suddenly opens before you as you paddle towards blank cliff.

The tunnel is one hundred metres in length which, I’m pretty sure, makes it the longest in SW England. I’ve paddled the whole coast and don’t think I missed a better one.

It is only the realm of the kayaker from two or three hours either side of high tide when the sandy base of the cave is covered. During that time it is heaving with land-based tourists.