Recently I revisited Cornwall, the county in the United Kingdom that honours King Arthur in both its anthem and on its flag. They claim that the black crow with a red bill has his spirit residing in it. Along the spine of Cornwall runs the A20, a four-lane highway that cuts the wild Bodmin Moor in half. When my taxi driver discovered I was interested in Merlin and King Arthur I listened to a reverent historian, who insisted on turning off his meter and showing me Dozmare Pond. It had recently been in the news when a school girl Matilda Jones paddling in the pond pulled a mysterious sword from its depth. Was this the mysterious sword that the knight Bedivere had thrown into the pond in the seventh century?
“Dozmare has many moods,” the Cornish author Daphne du Maurier wrote about this famous pool that is a brisk walk from the Jamaica Inn that she made famous in her novel. “Dozmare is still and limpid on a summer’s day…but once a whisper of a breeze ripples the surface the colour changes to a slaty grey, ominous and drear…then we forget it is only five feet deep and look for the rising hand to break the surface, reaching for Excalibur.”
How different the pool looked in Arthur’s day when he rowed out to the Lady of the Lake to receive from her a white sword that blazed with the light of thirty torches and its magical scabbard. In his time, willows and pin oaks surrounded the pool that rose above mossy rocks, and Dozmare’s leaden water had an ethereal beauty and tranquillity. Later Merlin, the magician, would tell Arthur that the scabbard of Excalibur was more powerful than the sword itself because whenever he wore it, he would never lose any blood or be severely wounded. Gorlois’ daughter and Arthur’s half-sister Morgana, the evil sorceress, stole the scabbard minutes before the fateful battle on Badon Hill to enable their incestuous son, Modred, to strike the decisive blow that killed his father, Arthur.
Today Dozmare Pool is a sheet of water, about a mile in circumference and nine feet deep at its centre. It is there legend says that Arthur’s best friend Bedivere rushed to fulfil Arthur’s dying request to return his dazzling sword to the Lady of the Lake. Although Bedivere tried twice to let go of the sword, it was of such beauty and power that both times he failed to throw it away. On a third attempt, he flung it high into the air over the water, and a woman’s arm reached out of the pool and caught Excalibur and carried it into its murky depths.
There are local stories that the pool was a place where the sons of tribal chieftains and petty kings threw their fathers’ swords after battles but so far no sword had been recovered that was until last year. Had Matilda Jones found King Arthur’s legendary blade? A few days after she made front page news in the local papers a sheepish local fessed up. In the 1980’s he was in a Celtic mood and threw an iron sword into the pond wondering how long it would take to return to him. The answer thirty-eight years.