When the nationwide coronavirus lockdown was announced in March, Georgia Butters and her staff at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, southwest England, were getting ready for the busy Easter period.
But after all the preparation for one of the busiest periods of the year, the site was forced to close as the lockdown restricted travel and domestic tourism dropped in an instant.
After the government announced the phase-by-phase reopening of outdoor venues on July 4, Butters, English Heritage’s head of historic properties in Cornwall, told Xinhua that she and her staff at Tintagel had to introduce a number of changes to the way people could visit the site safely.
Tintagel Castle is considered one of the most spectacular sites in Britain, and its association with the legend of King Arthur makes it one of the most famous.
Half of the site features on the British mainland, and the other sits on a jagged headland that projects onto the Cornish sea.
Annually, over 250,000 tourists visit to pass through routes and ruins from around the 5-7th century AD and to walk through the great arch of Richard, Earl of Cornwall’s, 13th-century castle.
But with narrow walkways, steep steps and only one bridge to join the two “islands” together, the site has proved to bring a few hurdles when considering social distancing guidelines.
“We’ve been putting a lot of plans in place. As soon as the guidance came out we were planning to make sure that we could reopen Tintagel safely for our staff and our visitors but still provide a really good visitor experience,” Butters told Xinhua.
For the team, it was as much about keeping staff and visitors safe as it was about keeping the castle as a prime tourist location, and one that people would want to revisit.
To achieve this, the entire site reopened but with a new system in place.
“We’ve been putting in a one way route which means that people can safely social distance, we’ve limited access to our cafe — we have a kiosk available so people can get drinks and food from there,” said Butters.
Social distancing restrictions meant that a new “socially distanced” queueing system was brought in for the exhibition and the shop.
“The really important thing is that people can get to see all of the parts of Tintagel that they used to be able to see before,” said Butters.
But due to the ancient walkways and steep steps, it has meant that visitors with limited mobility will find it difficult to visit the site.
The local land rover service run by a local family will not be able to continue until next year, as the service is not permitted under social distancing guidelines.
A group of visitors told Xinhua that their experience had generally been positive with the new social distancing restrictions in place, but one elderly member of the group was only able to view the castle from a distance as without the local land rover service they were unable to access higher ground within the site.
Butters hopes that the land rover service can return as soon as possible, but said that the new one way system allows a new way of experiencing Tintagel and offers unique views that were overlooked pre-lockdown.
Due to social distancing, Tintagel has also now had to implement timed ticketing for everybody. Previously, bookings were optional.
“We can’t accept any walk-ins on the day. We’ve done that because we have to limit the number of people on the island at any one time so that people can maintain social distancing. At the moment we’re looking at a third of our peak capacity, which is a significant difference, which means the demand for our tickets is high,” said Butters.
A reduced number of visitors means that the surrounding area will likely take a hit, as for much of the immediate local communities, Tintagel is somewhere that provides a living for them.
However, Butters believes that next year will hopefully return to normality and allow a greater number of people to visit Tintagel and to put money back into the surrounding area.
“I think we’re going to have a really tough year, but people will always want to visit Cornwall, and this part of Cornwall, so I think it will bounce back.” Enditem