Monday, July 7, 2008

Arthur's Tintagel?

I don't remember a time when my imagination was not possessed by images of Arthur, the *Once & Future King*, symbolically a Christ figure, though flawed. Nor was I possessed by the medieval tale as most people know it, though that is certainly where I began.
No, my imagination was fired by the thought that he might have been real & thus began my long fall into love with archaeology.

Tintagel is the suppossed birthplace of Arthur & I tend to believe that the old stories contain kernels of truth & that is why they survive down through the centuries & only a fool would totally discredit them. So I tend to the theory that Arthur was, in fact, a real person, a real war leader of the late 5th, early 6th century. What his true name was & where his actual Camelot was is still open to speculation though some theories are more probable than others.

So when I was in England I desparately wanted to visit Tintagel & travel through the west country. It is most beautiful & apart from the Lake District my favourite part of England. (Scotland & Wales are separate Now I know what remains on Tintagel promatory is the remains of a 13 century castle. I also know that excavations have revealed a huge trade in medeterrian chattles in the 5th/6th century, our time reference ~ something only a very rich household could have managed. The household was a Celtic household & the castle went over the top of an old Celtic fort.

Unlike Stonehenge Tintagel was an awesome experience. As I waslked over the narrow causeway with the Cornish surf pounding the rocks & narrow beach below & the gulls screaming overhead I thought of Merlin doing his desparate trip late at night, a new born Arthur clutched against his chest ~ & shuddered.

There are ghosts everywhere amongst the ruins of Tintagel. The past presses down without weight & one can look out on the vastness of the ocean as Arthur may once have looked & one gets a sense of time pinched between the fingers of God as a small thing without substance.

I like wild places & Tintagel is still wild. On 3 sides the ocean growls about the cliff face, gnawing away at the Cornish rocks. Only the narrowest spit of land connects Tintagel to mainland Cornwall. It is now, as then, very isolated, isolated by that spit of land that has served it well as a defendable fort all down the centuries. Perched high above the water it gazes proud & solitary both across the waters that have brought so many marauders to English shores & north & east to what became England ~ Anlgeland, land of the Angles, who with the Saxons pushed the Celtic peoples ever westward into the furthest reaches of the Kingdom. It is ironic that Arthur held these very peoples at bay for a whole generation, slowing the Saxon invasion, perhaps changing the whole course of history. No wonder he has been remembered for so long.

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