The story tells us that the final battle between Arthur and his nephew/ son Mordred took place on this site in the first part of the 6th Century. The Roman occupation of Britain ended in AD 410 and was soon followed by an Anglo-Saxon onslaught. It is likely that Arthur was the Celtic leader who became a national hero as he led the British hosts against the Saxons.
The stories about King Arthur and his court were in circulation long before the first books emerged from William Caxton’s printing press. The first direct mention of the great sovereign of romance occurs in the account by Nennius in his ‘ Historia Brittonum’ circa 800 where he states that “ Arthur alone slew 960 of the enemy in a single attack”. It is not surprising that wonderful legends grew up about the British chieftain and that, by the early 12th Century, stories concerning Arthur were firmly established in Brittany and Cornwall. The oral tradition would have been taken to Brittany as the Celts left Cornwall to escape the Saxon enemy. It was in the 12th Century and after that the great medieval writers such as Chretien de Troyes, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Malory gave us a powerful King, dressed in shining armour, together with the young and beautiful Queen Guinevere. Her beauty captivated both Arthur and Lancelot but her love for both led to the destruction of The Round Table and all the great company of knights. It is a rich tradition of romantic narrative, which satisfies our need for heroes and heroines, full of strength and human frailty, like us. A mirror in which to see ourselves.
The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson visited here in 1848 and was inspired to write the “ Idylls of the King”. Much has been written since then, both by scholars and novelists and today there are Arthurian Societies throughout the world.
For over 800 years writers have identified the banks of the river Camel as Arthur’s final battleground. As one would expect, the old Cornish field names around the area, reflect these events. Leland ( 1538) recorded that ‘ various antiquities, such as rings, fragments of armour, ornaments of bridles and other trappings’ had been found. The Register of the Cornwall Committee for Rescue Archaeology also records ( Lake 111, 365) “ on removing a tree on the barton of Worthyvale 5 or 6 years ago, i.e. 1864-5, several spearheads of iron were found”.
Arthur was probably the first British leader to use cavalry. Using mounted forces, he was able to strike back at the Saxons who had little body armour and inferior weapons. The use of cavalry enabled unexpected blows to be struck from distant bases and it was a form of warfare in which small numbers of horsemen could rout many times their number of ill-armed barbarian foot soldiers. It is perhaps no coincidence that eight out of twelve battles traditionally associated with Arthur were fought at fords and so were many other 5th Century conflicts. ‘ A well-planned charge even by a few horsemen on a force of foot soldiers crossing a stream, could be expected to produce maximum confusion’
( Britannia, A History of Roman Britain, Sheppard Frere, 1978).
Interestingly another battle was fought on this same site in the year 823. The Saxon Chronicle, written in 1154, is the original testimony of Saxon writers after their arrival in this country. It talks of the ‘ Battle of Gafulford’ ( Camelford). Again the problem was invading Saxons and we can assume that the Cornish Celts chose this sacred site with its inscribed Stone and all the great memories of Arthur, to make their last stand. But Egbert was victorious, the Cornish were defeated and retreated to Brittany. The Saxons overran the country from East to West.