King Arthur is a myth. Or is he? Why not go forth on a DIY Arthurian trail to uncover the truth?
Tales of King Arthur, ruler of Camelot, husband of Guinevere, with his chivalrous Knights of the Round Table, captures our imaginations, fascinating all age groups.
Cornwall plays a huge part in the legend. Arthur may have been real – some say he was a Roman military leader staving off the Saxons – but either way, his story continues to enthral, providing visitors to Cornwall with many places to explore on their own intrepid Arthurian expedition
Cornwall’s involvement is, in part, down to the Victorian Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who published his epic poem, Idylls of the King, to tell the story of Camelot and the passing of King Arthur. However, we must really thank the 12th century cleric, Geoffrey of Monmouth, for bringing us the story in the first place, later re-written by Sir Thomas Malory, a gentleman who turned to a life of crime, telling the story of Arthur’s birth, rise and fall, while in prison for his felonies.
Certainly, the story of Arthur is a magical mystery, which we find intriguing because all human life is there: brotherly chivalry and male bonding, courtly love and romance, the quest for the Holy Grail (the cup Christ drank from at the Last Supper), and, of course, magic. Fact or fiction, it has all the elements of an awesome adventure story.
According to Geoffrey, Arthur was conceived at brooding Tintagel in Cornwall, the son of Uther Pendragon and Ygerna. The Castle ruins, set among dramatic cliffs, sit above Merlin’s Cave in Tintagel Bay. Here, legend has it that the baby Arthur was plucked out of the sea to safety by the wizard, Merlin.
Some think Camelot is actually Camelford, not far from Tintagel. Indeed, between the two, lies a spot called Slaughterbridge, just off the B3314, where Arthur is rumoured to have met Mordred, fighting a hand-to-hand battle on the bridge. The river is said to have run red with blood as Arthur was killed by Mordred at the Battle of Camlann. An inscribed stone marks the spot.
Nearby is the Arthurian Centre with an exhibition room of photos, paintings and display panels telling the story of the legend. Not too far away is Bodmin Moor with more Arthurian associations. Seek out Arthur’s Bed, near Trewortha Tor, or try a circular walk, taking in King Arthur’s Hall, near St Breward. Don’t forget the mysterious Dozmary Pool near Bolventor, where Arthur was said to row out to retrieve Excalibur, and which became the resting place of the sword. Legend has it that an arm of the so-called Lady of the Lake rose from the surface, caught the sword thrown by Sir Bedivere after Arthur’s death, and vanished back into the water.
Down to Fowey, you can take the story a little further. Uncover the stories of Tristan and Isolde (also known as Iseult). Tristan, a Knight of the Round Table, was nursed back to health by the beautiful Isolde leading to yet another tragic tale immortalised in the Tristan standing stone.
Finally, you may want to visit St Michael’s Mount, the traditional long-lost land the sunken kingdom of Lyonesse, a country of Arthurian legend, and described by Tennyson as the site of the mortal battle between Arthur and Mordred. As you can see, the legend is confused, as he cannot have been mortally wounded in two places, but why not visit Slaughterbridge and St Michael’s Mount, just to be on the safe side?
Places for your Arthurian list: