Bax had visited Tintagel Castle during the summer of 1917, accompanied by pianist Harriet Cohen, with whom he was carrying on an affair at the time; he dedicated the work to her. He composed two poems on the theme, and the work is, to a certain extent, a sonic illustration of these. According to Bax, the music is meant to depict a castle perched high on the rocks, battered on a sunny summer day by theAtlantic Ocean. A certain Celtic flavour is apparent in the music; this provides the basis for one of the two themes in the work, meant to recall King Arthur and his connection to the castle, and which quotes amotif from Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde; the other theme depicts the sea.
The piece contains three sections. The first and last sections are somewhat grandiloquent, the first presenting the two main themes and the third a varied reprise:. in between these, there is a “development”. A typical performance of Tintagel lasts around fifteen minutes.
Tintagel was premiered in Bournemouth on 20 October 1921.
Short snatches of it were also used to excellent effect as musical backing for the BBC's iconic 'Goon Show', 'The Specter of Tintagel' the fifth in the Seventh series of the show, performed on 1st November 1956.