The Stuff That Myths Are Made Of. Cornwall Is Steeped in History and Legend. Rupert Isaacson Discovers You Can't Walk a Mile without Tripping over Some Ancient Ruin

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KING ARTHUR and the other characters associated with his story pop up in place names and legends all over Britain's Celtic fringe. He and his knights seem to have fought and been buried at several dozen hilltops between the West Country and Scotland. About a score of caves in Wales and the Pennines have, it seems, once held Merlin prisoner. Several lakes in southern and western England have once either yielded or taken back Excalibur.

Yet no region has so much claim to him as Cornwall because his story both begins here with his birth at Tintagel Castle (a real ruin with walls and everything) and his - or at least the legend's - end was at Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor, where Excalibur was supposedly thrown back to the Lady of the Lake after the final showdown with Mordred.

In between the Arthurian sites are numerous neolithic, mesolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and medieval sites to keep you interested. For example, walk south from the Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor, and you'll soon come to the eerie, silent expanse of Dozmary Pool - Cornwall's only natural lake - and, regardless of its Arthurian associations, a known point for both Neolithic and Druidic worship. Keep going south and east and you'll hit a 6th-century inscribed stone, a dolmen (three huge stones supporting a large roof slab, the grave of a neolithic chieftain), then The Hurlers - a set of three stone circles set among abandoned tin mines and overlooked by a set of strange natural rock piles known as the Cheese Rings - and another known Druidic site, the Devil's Chair, a depression that looks like a natural seat. All are within a 10-mile radius of the pub. A walking tour through Cornwall's ancient places is a good way to ground yourself in both the history and mythology of our small but rich island. The best way to do it is with a guide. Chichester House, a small hotel in Newquay, Cornwall, offers gentle tours for people who want time to explore rather than go on a route-march through the countryside. It organises various walks over moorland, farmland, along rivers and estuaries and across varied bits of coastline. It also can help you explore central or northern Cornwall, with accommodation provided in local B&Bs. It even runs flint collecting trips to some of the richer local Stone Age sites. …