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In 1136AD a Welsh cleric named Geoffrey of Monmouth sat at his desk in Oxford and became the first of many to write down the fireside stories of King Arthur. What is interesting about his 'history' and the related story of Tristan and Isolde (Iseult), is that he placed most of the important events and sites in North Cornwall.
The stories have been retold for different audiences in different countries for centuries, but the original sites are still recognisable in Cornwall today.
Here we will link these and other Arthurian sites in North Cornwall (and throughout the British Isles) by taking you on a journey of discovery.
We will follow the legends through the real landscapes to which they belong - from the bleak Tintagel Castle, to King Arthur's Great Halls; to Bossiney, St. Nectan's Glen, Rocky Valley; and finally the site of the final battle field at Slaughterbridge. We'll visit the medieval market town of Camelford (a reputed site of Camelot), King Arthur's Down and Hall on Bodmin Moor and Dozmary Pool where Excalibur is reputed to lie. There is also Castle Dore and the Tristan Stone near the harbour town of Fowey.
Cornwall is a land full of magic and mystery, and following in Arthur's footsteps is a journey that stirs the imagination and harks back to a time of honour and chivalry.
The trail runs throughout the county through the following locations:
Perhaps it's the dramatic cliffs which rise almost 100m from the sea that give Tintagel such a sense of power and mystery.
For centuries the ruined castle has inspired legend and controversy. Ever since Geoffrey of Monmouth's great 12th century History of the British Kings, debate has as to whether Tintagel is the place of Arthur's Camelot has raged fiercely. The Medieval romancers certainly saw it as an ideal scene for their tales of the Grail knights; of such heroes as Gawain and Lancelot and the doomed lovers Tristan and Isolde. Tintagel is the setting for some of Tennyson's famous Arthurian cycle The Idylls of the King.
No matter what your view on the tales told, the area is forever linked with King Arthur and Merlin.
The actual site is a jutting peninsula located on the north Cornish coast. It was the location of a thriving monastery during the period A.D. 470 to 500. The castle here, which bore the same name, was the site of Arthur's conception.
In the days of Uther Pendragon's rule, the castle at Tintagel belonged to Gorlois, the duke of Cornwall. It was here that Gorlois hid his wife, Igerna, whom Uther coveted for his own. In order to woo her unbeknownst to Gorlois, Merlin disguised Uther as the duke:
"Called at once, Merlin, when he stood in the king's presence, was ordered to propose how the king might satisfy his longing for Igerna. Upon discovering the anguish the king was suffering because of her, Merlin marveled at his great love and said, "To gain what you wish, you must now use new arts unheard of in your day. I know by my drugs how to give you the appearance of Gorlois, so that you will resemble him in everything. If you follow my instructions, I will make you look exactly like him, and I will make Ulfin like Jordan of Tintagel, his servant. I shall be te third, disguised as yet another, and you will be able to go to the castle for Igerna and gain admittance.
The king approved and paid close heed. After having entrusted the siege to his subordinates, he submitted to Merlin's drugs and was transformed into the likeness of Gorlois. Ulfin was also changed into Jordan, and Merlin into Britaelis, so that it was evident to no one what their appearance had been before. Then they set out for Tintagel and came to the castle at dusk. After they hurriedly told the gatekeeper that the duke had arrived, the doors were opened and the men were admitted. For who could suspect anything since Gorlois himself was thought to be present? The king then spent the night with Igerna and satisfied himself with the lovemaking he had longed for, for he had deceived her by the guise he had assumed. He had deceived her, too, with false words that he artfully contrived. He said he had come in secret from the besieged fort so that he might take care of the one he so loved and of his castle. Believing him, therefore, she denied nothing that he asked. This night also she conceived that the most renowned of men, Arthur, who afterward won fame by his extraordinary valor."
an excerpt from Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain
When the conquering Normans reached the westernmost land of England they heard that the ancient seat of Cornwall's kings had stood atop this soaring headland, surrounded on three sides by the ceaseless surge of the Atlantic. So in propaganda terms it made sense for Earl Richard of Cornwall, younger brother of Henry III, to build a castle on the spot where his legendary predecessors had held court. There was no strategic reason for the choice, as there had been for the other Norman castles in Cornwall, Launceston and Restormel - and Earl Richard rarely stayed there.
It is seldom that one finds a place that captures the imagination. King Arthur's Halls is such a place. It is visited by Arthurian followers from all over the world and it is here the Legend comes together
A dreary grey granite building with a slate roof belies the beauty and atmosphere that lies behind it, the only intact building in the world dedicated to the Arthurian legend. King Arthur's Hall was the brainchild of Frederick Thomas Glasscock, retired London businessman who came to Tintagel early in the 20th century and who was captivated by the Legend. He had the wealth to translate his dream into reality and has left us a legacy for all to enjoy. The Halls have featured in films and television programmes about Arthur and have been visited by over 2 million people since they were opened in in June 1933.
King Arthur's Great Halls are open most days of the year. The stained glass windows of the Great Halls depict the Knights of Arthurian fame and their many deeds. The actor, Robert Powell, provides the voice of Merlin as he takes you on a journey through Arthurian times to the accompaniment of suitable musical, light and sound effects. This is both entertaining and informative.
For more information visit the Great Halls website
Bossiney was the parliamentary seat of Sir Francis Drake, whom in 1584 gave his election speech from Bossiney mound. Legend has it that “The Round Table" of King Arthur and the Knights” is buried under the mound. Bossiney Mound can be found near the Chapel at Jill pool, on the side road out of Bossiney, signposted Launceston, wherein lies the legendary round table. The myth is that the round table will rise up from the mound on a midsummer's night when King Arthur and his knights are due to return.
The site where Arthur's Knights were blessed before the Quest for the Holy Grail.
Renowned as one of the most sacred sites in Cornwall, the waterfall has also been described as being amongst the 10 most important spiritual sites in the country.
The 'Kieve' (the basin into which the water falls) has long been a place of worship, reverence and healing since pre-Christian times. People of many faiths have walked the ancient route to the waterfall.
The major part of the hermitage, including the remains of the Chapel, i now the owner's living accommodation, but beneath this is the room which is reputed to be the site of St. Nectan's Cell. Slate steps lead up to the chapel and rear bedrock forms a natural altar. Until recent times this cell has not been opened to the public, but as increasing numbers of visitors are realising the spiritual benefit of the Kieve, the owners are now allowing access to this shrine for meditation.
The shrine is the ideal place to sit, meditate and soak up the healing energies that flow through the cell.
Easter to end of October - waterfall and tea gardens open 7 days a week, 10.30 am to 6.30 pm.
November to Easter - Tea gardens closed, waterfall closed except for School and Public Holidays unless by prior appointment.
Family Ticket (2 Adults, 2 Children) £7.00
On a stream bed at Slaughterbridge, just off the B3314 between Camelford and Tintagel, lies a sixth century inscribed stone said to mark the spot where King Arthur met Mordred for the decisive battle of Camlann, which brought to an end the fellowship of the Round Table.
The fierce battle is said to have turned the small river red with the blood of slain men, whilst Arthur and Mordred fought a hand-to-hand battle across the river bridge. Arthur slew Mordred but had already received a fatal wound from Mordred's poisoned sword, which, in minutes, saw him stagger to his death.
Mordred is portrayed as a figure representing evil and spoken of in some stories as the illegitimate son of Arthur and his half sister Morgan le Fay.
The area has yielded up information that Slaughterbridge, on the River Camel, was undoubtedly, the site of a ferocious battle in ancient times; though, whether this was the Battle of Camlann in 542 is open to speculation.
Camelford situated on the edge of Bodmin Moor, is one of the highest towns in England at 700 ft above sea level. The Camel decorating the weathervane on the town hall is a little misleading, as the town's name is probably derived from the Cornish for a curved river, 'Cam Pol'. But then many say this is the site Camelot - there are many connections to 'Arthur' in the vicinity. Mordred in 542AD, and, of course, King Arthur's Castle at Tintagel. It is originally a medieval market town which was established as an important river crossing on the old route from Launceston to Wadebridge, and was made a free borough in 1259. In 1552, Edward VI bestowed on Camelford the right to send two members to Parliament, a practice which continued until the the early 1800's.
The moorland surrounding Jamaica Inn is both dramatic and beautiful. Bodmin Moor is home to many stone structures that have faced the cruel winds throughout the centuries. These structures were often seen as the work of giants.
The Cheesewring and The Hurlers are situated near the village of Minions.
The stones of The Hurlers form three circles and according to legend, the stones were once people who were turned to stone as punishment for hurling on Sundays.
Trevethy Quoit, also known as King Arthur's Quoit, is one of the more impressive burial chambers in Cornwall. Standing at over 15 feet 4.6 Metres. This cromlech dates from the Bronze Age period. The capstone is pierced by a hole, the purpose of which is unknown.
A small portion of the front entrance stone is also missing, it has been surmised that this was cut to leave an entrance into the chamber. As with many of these stone sentinels the whole structure may at one time have been covered with a mound of earth long since degraded by the changing seasons.
These structures were often seen as the work of giants and legendary figures.
To strengthen further the legend of King Arthur on Bodmin Moor, there is also King Arthur's Hall and Arthur's Bed. A young girl called Charlotte Dymond was murdered here in 1844 and a monument stands at the base of the hill in an eerie silence, which has led to many stories about her ghost wandering over the moors.
A quiet, natural, brooding lake, with no visible source of supply, where it is reputed the legendary "Excalibur", sword of King Arthur was thrown by Sir Bedevere after Arthur's defeat by his wicked nephew Mordred. Folk lore also it that this as a bottomless lake, which the ghost of the infamous John Tregeagle was forced to empty with a leaky limpet shell as punishment for the terrible life he had lead on earth. Whatever the truth may be, there is evidence of very early occupation within the vicinity of the lake, shaped stone tools have been found and dated at around 2000BC.
Dozmary Pool must have the most persistent of the claims to be the residence of the Lady of the Lake. It is an extremely atmospheric spot and an ideal candidate for Arthurian associations. It was at Dozmary that Arthur rowed out to claim his mighty sword, Excalibur, and to here the same was returned by Bedwyr after the fateful Battle of Camlann. In this case, of course, the battle had been fought at nearby Slaughter Bridge; while the wounded King Arthur was removed to the Isle of Avalon, proposed by some to be the Scilly Isles.
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