Britannia's Magical History Tour
Stop 8: Slaughter Bridge, Cornwall
A few miles inland from Tintagel is another place with long-standing Arthurian associations. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his famous "History of the Kings of Britain" (a book which, for 600 years, passed as the definitive history of the island of Britain), tells us that King Arthur's final battle (the Battle of Camlann) took place beside a river in Cornwall.|
The "History" says that Mordred (Arthur's nephew, and a miserable usurper who tried to grab Arthur's crown and wife, while he was away on the continent), after a bloody engagement at Winchester, fled with his army towards Cornwall "as fast as ships could carry him."
Arthur was filled with great mental anguish by the fact that Mordred had escaped him so often. Without losing a moment, he followed him to that same locality, reaching the River Camblann, where Mordred was awaiting his arrival.
There is no River Camblann in Cornwall, today, but this reference has come to be understood as the River Camel, and local legend places the site of the great battle in a "water meadow" alongside Slaughterbridge (see photo at right), about a mile north of Camelford.
John Leland, Henry VIII's court antiquary travelled the kingdom in the 1530's to catalogue its historical treasures. In his magnum opus, "Itinerary," in which he describes his travels, he mentions Arthur's last battle, but locates it elsewhere. Leland writes,
And in the Camelford area there are some ancient mine workings, but it is not known what metal was extracted. Less than a mile south of that poor village flows the river which enters the Bristol Channel at Padstow. It is the largest of the rivers along the north Cornwall coast, and is called in the vernacular Dunmere; but in the royal grant of privileges to the canons and burgesses of Bodmin it is called Alan, which may be a reference to the Alaune (editor's note: in modern English, the River Allen). In some histories it is called Cablan (editor's note: perhaps a reference to Geoffrey's "History"). It was beside this river that Arthur fought his last battle, and evidence of this, in the form of bones and harness, is uncovered when the site is ploughed.
This is the written testimony of John Leland, one of the early modern era's most rigorous investigators. Apparently, though, 'local legend' has won the battle for peoples' hearts and minds because Slaughterbridge on the River Camel is the place people want to visit, not some unspecified place on the nearby River Allen.
Whatever the truth of the matter, if you do decide to visit Slaughterbridge, it might be hard for you to imagine a clash ever happening between two dark age armies in this peaceful place. The slow-moving water, the mists on the meadow, the surrounding trees, the stillness of the setting all belie what might have happened here, so long ago. Geoffrey of Monmouth says,
Arthur, himself, our renowned king, was mortally wounded and was carried off to the Isle of Avalon, so that his wounds might be attended to. He handed the crown of Britain over to his cousin Constantine, the son of Cador Duke of Cornwall; this in the year 542 after our Lord's Incarnation.
St. Petroc's Church, Cornwall
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