Charles & Camilla in Cornwall: Tintagel Castle, royal helicopter, plus emergency dash!

Royal engagements are starting to spread out, and we saw Prince Charles and Camilla visit Cornwall, beginning their annual stint of visits in the Duchy.

The royal couple began their day at Tintagel Castle, where The Prince of Wales officially opened Tintagel Footbridge.

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Tintagel Castle is one of nearly 300 English Heritage monuments in the Duchy of Cornwall, and sits on a small peninsula off the coast of north Cornwall. It is a medieval fortification, built by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall in the 13th century. Tintagel has served as a prison in the past, before tourism interest took off in the early 20th century.

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall met architects who restored the Bridge, as well as English Heritage staff and project managers, before Charles cut a ribbon to mark the bridge open, and they walked across it.

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The footbridge at Tintagel Castle was opened by Prince Charles today (@EnglishHeritage)

“I’m not looking down, I’m looking above,” Camilla said as she strolled across with her husband.

In crossing, Charles became the first Duke of Cornwall in 500 years, to enter the castle the way its builders intended.

Tintagel Bridge forms the centrepiece of an ambitious English Heritage project to protect the castle’s archaeology and ecology with new landscaping works, and enables a more accessible route to the peninsula.

The original bridge to the site was exceedingly narrow, which it was claimed was so that three knights could have defended Tintagel Castle against an entire kingdom. But this collapsed more than four centuries ago, with a new bridge erected in August 2019, although today was the official opening.

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On the other side, archaeologists and historians were ready to speak to the Royals about their work on the historic site. The group walked to the viewpoint to take in the scenery and learn more about the location.

The ‘logistically challenging’  structure used helicopters to connect the two 98ft pieces of the bridge together, over a deep groge, measuring 198ft across. It follows the line of the original route between the 13th-century gatehouse on the mainland and the courtyard on the headland. A small gap of 4cm has been left between the two parts, to represent the original separation.

Funds were raised through public donations, and one generous amount of £2.5 million from Julia and Hans Rausing, which is the largest ever private donation to English Heritage.

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The castle has a long association with legends related to King Arthur, dating back to the 1130s as the place of his conception or birth.

According to the myth, the King of Britain, Uther Pendragon – transformed by the wizard Merlin into the likeness of the Duke of Cornwall – stole across this passage way into the castle, where he spent the night with the Duke’s wife, Ygerna; she later gave birth to the future King Arthur.

So impressed was Richard, Earl of Cornwall by the Arthurian myth that in the 1230s and 1240s he built a castle at Tintagel, with the land-bridge an integral part of its design. Merlin was also said to live below the castle, in a cave.

Prince Charles and Camilla also signed slates to mark their visit – a variation on the visitors’ book! – which will be added to the bridge with many others from donors, supporters and members of the public.

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The final engagement of the day was a solo event for the Duchess, who headed to Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust’s base in Newquay. Here, she launched the new ‘Duchess of Cornwall’ helicopter and mark her 10th year as their Patron.

The helicopters serve the sprawling county of Cornwall as well as the Isles of Scilly, enabling quick transport to the nearest hospital, or on-the-scene assistance for medical emergencies.

Camilla last visited the Trust in 2017.

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Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust to launch the new “Duchess of Cornwall” helicopter

But, as is the risk with events with an emergency service, some of the team had to dash off to give medical attention to a patient. An alarm sounded, alerting paramedics that they were needed; the royal visitor said was keeping her ‘fingers crossed’ for the person in need, who had suffered from a seizure and head injuries.

“Oh you have to go, of course. This always happens,” she smiled.

Camilla – who turned 73 on Friday – was gifted a bottle of gin and a posy of flowers, before being shown around the  £7.5million aircraft named after her. She even perched upon the bed, noting how small the craft was.

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The Duchess unveiled the new helicopter by removing a piece of Cornish hunting tartan from the nose cone, which was followed by a blessing from the Bishop of Truro.

Camilla is not the only member of the Royla Family to be involved with air ambulances: The Countess of Wessex became patron of the Thames Valley Air Ambulance in 2019, after they saved her life in 2001 following an ectopic pregnancy. The Duke of Cambridge also served two years as a pilot East Anglia.

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