Melvyn Penn

"To enliven us our mother said:  'When we leave Plymouth we shall come to a bridge, and once the bridge is crossed we shall be in Cornwall'.  We jumped about , excited.  All was anticipation, and it was unbearable to wait.  The train drew out of the station at last, and soon after there was a strange rattling sound as the carriage wheels ran upon the bridge..'There. Now we're in Cornwall' said our mother, laughing.  I stared out, disenchanted.  For what was different about this?" (du Maurier, 1967:4). 
I should like to take this opportunity to say a few words of my own before the heady stuff sets in. 

As a keen traveller and explorer I can recognise the planning and the excitement that often precedes a travel experience.  Sometimes the hype has been justified but I have also tasted the disappointment when the experience has failed to live up to expectations.  It is then that we may search for explanations.

As an undergraduate I have come to realise that the answers may stem from the sub-conscious.  We may feel an acquaintance with a particular sight or a destination even though we may never have been there.  One may easily conjure an image of the Eiffel Tower, for example, regardless of whether one has ever visited.  Some years ago I recall Tintagel being featured on television (I think the programme was Wish You Were Here) and I thought how beautiful it looked and that I must go there some day. 

This was my opportunity.  As this will be my first tangible acquaintance with Tintagel, I adopt the position of having no knowledge of the field other than those perceived images I have accumulated.  I refrain from giving my own opinions about Tintagel to avoid bias but it is intended that my empiricism can enhance the reading.

This study is aimed at a wide audience and projects a common discourse.  It is written for the academic.  It is written for the casual reader.  It is written for the people of Tintagel; for tourism planners, local residents and visitors, who all have the opportunity to share and conserve this precious environment. 


The Romantic Movement

At first acquaintance with this title the reader may assume an analogy with Charles Dickens.  This assumption would be incorrect but the reader may be forgiven on paradoxical grounds.  Romantic writers have long inspired visitors to the destinations they depict and their influence on the travel industry has been profound.  Restoration House in Rochester has become a popular attraction on the Dickens Trail because it is claimed to be the setting for Miss Havisham's Satis House in Dickens' novel, Great Expectations (Rojek, 1993).[for references click here

Romantic travel is a relatively recent phenomenon.  It was proceeded by the Grand Tour,  which was mostly undertaken around Europe during the eighteenth century by the aristocracy in preparation for civilised adult life.  It was advocated by parents and, should they be concerned about their young encountering foreign countries, guidebooks such as the Treatise (Starkie, 1678) pointed out that the English countryside was equally hazardous with its bogs and marshes.  This provides an early indication of the way the countryside used to be perceived.

The Grand Tourist was more interested in art, architecture, scholars and grand dinner parties than any scenic splendours.  Consequently, Vienna was declared the most sumptuous city in the world (Nugent, 1778 ).and "a man who has not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority" (Dr Johnson, 1760:107).  In fact, the natural landscape was seen as a barrier.  To travel between the two countries the Grand Tourist had to cross the dreaded Swiss Alps.  Sharp (1767:107) described them as "barren mountains (that) cannot delight a traveller", while Addison (1726:107)   found an "...agreeable shuddering at this most misshapen scenery". 

It was Rosseau (1762:41) who did much to change this philosophical outlook on civilisation.  In his novel, Emile, he wrote "...the more (men) congregate the more they corrupt each other".  Rosseau (1781:139) wanted to conquer nature rather than society and in contrast to the hitherto Grand Tourists he needed "...torrents, rocks, firs, dark woods, mountains, steep roads...(and) abysses".  By the 1840s the Grand Tour had largely fallen victim to the romantic and, Thomas Cook, clearly influenced by the likes of Rosseau, began to open up romantic travel for the masses.  Yet at the heart of romantic travel is a desire for "solitude, privacy and a personal, semi-spiritual relationship with the object of the gaze" (Urry, 1990:45).  This contrast shows how the construction of romantic images by outsiders can have a huge impact on the objects they depict and this concept is going to form the basis of our enquiries at Tintagel. 

Romantic Tintagel 1 

In Britain it is hardly surprising that Cornwall claims a far greater wealth of romantic literature for it's size than any other county (Stannier, 1992).  Cornwall's pastiche of spectacular scenery and legends has inspired many a writer.  Tintagel, in rugged North Cornwall, would appear to fit this description perfectly.  Tintagel's association with the legend of King Arthur has been the source of romantic literature world-wide and Elgar was so inspired by the scenery here that it inspired him to compose his last movement to his Second Symphony.  Our friend Charles Dickens also visited Tintagel during his tour of North Cornwall in 1842, when his companion, Daniel Maclise, painted his famous picture, 'The Girl at the Waterfall', at St Nectan's Kieve   

Consequently, it would seem, Tintagel developed into one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cornwall, receiving up to 1.5 million visitors a year during the 1960s and 1970s (Tintagel Regeneration Forum and North Cornwall District Council, 1998).  There are concerns, however, that current visitor levels have declined to only 800,000 a year and that only 27,440 of these are staying visitors, resulting in a lack of visitor expenditure and local economic decline.
Purpose Statement

The purpose of this study will be to explore the relationship between visitor expectations and the visitor experience at a romantic destination in decline.

Following assumptions that the romantic rhetoric of the markers can subvert that of the visit, we shall undertake a semiotic analysis of Tintagel to see how it is promoted and what the visitor may come to expect.  We shall investigate a current tourism strategy that attempts to rejuvenate Tintagel into a quality destination.  Finally, we shall engage in ethnographic research to empathise with the perceptions of the visitor.  The question remains, can these three components be compatible? 

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