Thursday 28 December 2017

The Winchester Round Table

Top Ten Arthurian Locations: No 4

King Arthur's Round Table
In The Traveller's Guide to Arthurian Britain (Gothic Image, 1997), Geoffrey Ashe lists five landscape features known as 'Round Tables':

Caerleon, Gwent (Monmouthshire), claimed as the true 'Round Table' in reference to the ancient Roman amphitheatre of the Legionary fortress of Isca Silurum; an obvious candidate for the site of Arthur's 9th battle at the City of the Legion. Geoffrey of Monmouth has Arthur hold court here.

Mayburgh, in Cumbria, is another site bearing the name 'Arthur's Round Table'. Situated at the junction of the A6 and the B5320 south of Penrith is an earthwork with a central round platform. Said to date from the Bronze Age the connection with Arthur is unknown.

Stirling Castle is visible for many miles in every direction, sitting on a high volcanic rock it rivals even Edinburgh Castle's for sheer grandness. Beneath the castle is King’s Park, once a royal hunting forest, now open space. Within the Park is an ancient grassy mound known as the King’s Knot, shaped into its current form around 1620. Tradition claims that King Arthur's Round Table was located in this vicinity. In 2011 archaeologists from Glasgow University located remains of a circular ditch and other earth works beneath the mound of the King's Knot.

Bwrdd Arthur (Arthur's Table), Anglesey, is an prehistoric hillfort with drystone wall ramparts, on a flat topped hill not far from the coast at Beaumaris, east of Red Wharf Bay. An atmospheric site but, again, the connection with Arthur is not known.

Bwrdd Arthur in Clwyd, Denbighshire, north-east Wales, is another 'Arthur's Table'. It is basically a rough circle of indentations in a rocky hillside. John Leland recorded 24 holes which a man could sit in.

In addition, there are many prehistoric megalithic sites, such as the cromlechs in Wales, where the capstone is often known as 'Arthur's Table'. The connection is unknown, however some believe it is evidence of a Bronze Age Arthur.

The Winchester Round Table

The Winchester Table
However, for all these 'landscape' Round Tables there is only one actual wooden table claiming to be such; for over 600 years an 18 foot diameter, legless table top known as King Arthur's Round Table has hung in the Great Hall of Winchester castle. Made of solid oak and painted into 24 green and white segments, each labelled with the name of a knight, the table is perhaps the most impressive piece of Arthuriana to be seen today.

Not that the table dates to Arthur's time of Post-Roman Britain, but it is witness to the belief in the legend over the centuries; from the late Middle Ages the table was accepted as the authentic original. Indeed Caxton promoted the table as such in his Preface to Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur and no doubt the table's presence influenced Malory who placed Arthur's court, Camelot, at Winchester.

Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first to mention King Arthur founding an order of knighthood but he does not mention the Round Table. Expanding Geoffrey's 'chronicle' the Norman poet Robert Wace introduced the Round Table writing around 1155, claiming a Breton source. The English cleric Layamon then expanded on Wace's work, being the first to present the tales of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in English poetry.

Later, in Arthurian Romance, the Round Table develops a mystical meaning. The table is the successor to two tables that precede it; the Table of the Last Supper and the Table of the Holy Grail. Merlin has the table made for Uthyr, it is modelled on the world and the heavens. One seat always remains empty in the memory of Judas, the Perilous Seat, which can only be occupied by the knight who attains the Grail. The Table passed to Guinevere's father which comes to Arthur as her dowry. After Arthur's passing the Table is destroyed when Mark captures Camelot.

In 1976 the Round Table was taken down from the hall at Winchester and examined by a team of historians and scientists assembled by Martin Biddle. They determined that the history of the Table began during the reign of Edward I as the centrepiece of a tournament held at Winchester in 1290.

In 1344 Edward III announced he would re-found an Order of the Round Table for 300 knights. Yet following victory at Crécy in 1346 Edward abandoned the idea and announced he would form a more exclusive Order of the Garter, rewarding his loyal commanders at the battle. This Order, like the Table, has persisted through the centuries and today membership is limited to the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and no more than 24 members, or Companions.

The Great Hall, Winchester

In 1348 the legs of the Round Table where knocked off and the top hung on the wall at Winchester as a symbol of Edward III's interest in the chivalric idea of the Fellowship of the Round Table.

Nearly 200 years later Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, exploited the Arthurian legend and accepted Malory's identification of Camelot with Winchester. He named his first son Arthur and had him baptised at Winchester. He was to reign as Arthur II but the Prince died young and his brother came to the throne as King Henry VIII, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Henry VIII had the Winchester table painted in segments of white and green, the Tudor colours, with places assigned to the principal knights and the king. A Tudor rose was painted in the middle of the table and an image of Henry himself inserted into King Arthur's position to reinforce his claim to a British imperium. Henry made further use of the figure of Arthur at Calais in 1520 and Winchester in 1522 to support his claim as arbiter of European power.

Henry's design was repainted in the 18th century, the scheme which we see at Winchester today.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

Geoffrey Ashe, The Traveller's Guide to Arthurian Britain, Gothic Image, 1997.
Norris J Lacey, et al (editors), The Arthurian Handbook, Garland, Second Edition, 1997.
Martin Biddle, King Arthur's Round Table, Boydell Press, 2000.

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Wednesday 27 December 2017

On the Trail of the Dragons of Emrys

Top Ten Arthurian Locations: No 5

The Legend of Dinas Emrys
Dinas Emrys  (the fortress of Ambrose) is a rocky outcrop 250 feet above Llyn Dinas in the Nantgwynant valley.  According to legend, this is the site that the tyrant Vortigern chose to build his fortress but it kept collapsing leading to the first literary appearance of the young Merlin (Myrddin in Welsh) as the boy Ambrose. This is said to be where the white dragon of England fought and lost to the red dragon of Wales.

“Fleeing Anglo-Saxon invaders Vortigen came to Wales and chose the hillfort as his retreat. However all efforts at building on the site failed, with workers returning daily to find collapsed masonry. Vortigern was counselled to seek the help of a young boy born of a virgin mother; a suitable boy was found named Myrddin Emrys (Merlin Ambrosius). Vortigern’s plan to kill Myrddin to appease the supernatural powers preventing him from building his fortress was scorned by Myrddin who instead explained that the fort could not stand due to a hidden pool containing two dragons. The White Dragon – he explained – of the Saxons would in time be defeated by the British Red Dragon. After Vortigern’s downfall the fort was given to Emrys Wledig (Ambrosius Aurelianus) from which it takes its name.”

The story of 'Lludd and  Lleflys' from the Mabinogion tells how Lludd captured the dragons in a vat containing ale. The dragons were buried at the safest place in Britain that later became known as Dinas Emrys.

Another legend tells of Myrddin's treasure hidden in a cave at Dinas Emrys.

Information board at the Craflwyn centre

Archaeology of Dinas Emrys

Today little remains above ground, however n 1910 and 1954-56 archaeologists excavated the site of Llywelyn's castle at Dinas Emrys and have identified several periods of habitation; the earliest dating to perhaps the 1st or 2nd century. They also found the cellar of the castle and the foundations of the tower. A cistern inside the structure has been identified which may have been the hidden pool and have some connection with the legendary tale of Vortigern and the dragons.

Follow the path past Craflwyn Hall to the waterfall at Merlin's Pool
From the information board at the Craflwyn centre:

"Dinas Emrys commands a strategic position in the valley of Nantgwynant, one of the main routes through Snowonia. A hillfort once stood on the site, shown today by an impressive gateway and stone ramparts around the summit. Excavations have revealed that Dinas Emrys was occupied from the late Roman period (3rd-4th centuries AD) until the 6th century. Pottery from the eastern Mediterranean and southern France has also been found there.

Dinas Emrys - our destination
"Other evidence shows this was an important site for many centuries. A medieval cistern supplied valuable fresh water to the hillfort's inhabitants, and plays an important part in the Dinas Emrys legend. On the rocky outcrop's summit, the stone base of a 12th-century tower survives. Traditionally associated with Llywelyn the Great, it was probably built by one of his feuding rivals before Llywelyn secured the kingdon in 1201.

Follow the path with the wall on your right until you reach a style where you cross into the woods
"Charcoal in the tower's base suggests it may have been burnt down deliberately, possibly by Llywelyn, as a 13th-century poem implies. the tower may have been built of stone, or partly of timber; we do not know its height. These reconstructions are based on the archaeological evidence we do have, including other castles built by Llywelyn.

Keep on through a wooded area
"In 1201 Llywelyn granted the Nantgwynant Valley, including Dinas Emrys, to the Cistercian monks of Aberconwy Abbey. The valley became a monastic grange, and land divisions today still reflect these ancient boundaries."

Go through a cleft in the rocks
The Gwyedd Princes
The Gwynedd Princes Project traces the Welsh Princes from Maelgwn Gwynedd to Llywelyn the Great across 30 heritage sites in North Wales, from the castles the princes built to the royal courts where they ruled, to tell the unique story of the longest and most successful dynasty in medieval Wales.

Scramble up on to the summit
The project was launched in October 2013 at Dinas Emrys visitor centre at Craflwyn, beneath the hillfort, near the Snowdonia village of Beddgelert, said to be named after Gelert, Llywelyn's favourite dog.

The base of Llywelyn's tower on the summit of Dinas Emrys

On the Trail of the Two Dragons
There is an excellent walk to the summit of Dinas Emrys with breath-taking views of Snowdonia.

Park at the National Trust car park at the Craflwyn centre one mile north of Beddgelert  on the A498. The Sherpa Bus Service goes also through Nantgwynant.

The Dinas Emrys trail
Although a short walk, less than 2.5 miles, it is described as 'moderate' - there is a short scramble toward the summit over mossy rocks that can be very slippery when wet.

For full walk instructions see: The legendary trail of Dinas Emrys

Photographs of the walk copyright © Edward Watson

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Tuesday 26 December 2017

Arthur and the Dogheads of Eidin

Top Ten Arthurian Locations: No 6

In his History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae, c.1136 AD), Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that Ebraucus built a city on the other side of the Humber which he called 'Kaerebrauc' from his own name (Celtic Eboracum = York), at the time that David ruled in Judea, around 1,000 BC. The story goes that Ebraucus then built the city of Alcud (Dumbarton) and the town of Mount Agned, which Geoffrey says was at this time called the 'Castle of Maidens', or the 'Mountain of Sorrow'.

Today it is generally accepted that Geoffrey had Edinburgh's Castle Rock in mind and some fortification that stood on it in his day. Following Geoffrey, the writers of Medieval Romance always assert that the first castle to have existed on the rock was known as 'The Castle of the Maidens' where there stood a shrine to Morgan le Fay, one of the nine maidens.

Castle Rock
In the 14th century John of Fordun provides the first historical reference to a castle at Edinburgh in his account of the death of King Malcolm III. John records that Malcolm's widow Margaret is at the Castle of Maidens when she is informed of his death in November 1093.

Mount Agned is of course the site of Arthur's 11th battle from the Historia Brittonum (Nennius) but other writers have not taken up Geoffrey's connection seeking alternatives elsewhere; one location favoured among Arthurian scholars is Angers (Andegavum), in Gaul, where the Loire Saxons were defeated by the Britons, around the time that Riothamus was fighting in the area.

In his survey of Britain, William Camden (Britannia, 1607), recorded that “the Britans called Castle Myned Agned, the Scots, the Maidens Castle and the Virgins Castle, of  certaine young maidens of the Picts roiall bloud who were kept there in old time”.

A variant 10th century manuscript of the Historia Brittonum provides the alternative name of Breguoin for this battle; this has been identified as 'the Cells of Brewyn' a battle attributed to Urien Rheged in Welsh poetry. The 'cells' has been interpreted as meaning the derelict remains of the Roman fort at Bremenium (High Rochester in Northumberland), an outpost on Dere Street north of Hadrian's Wall. However, Edinburgh is associated with another Arthurian battle, which we will come to shortly.

The name of Edinburgh was at one time commonly thought to be simply a rendering of
‘Edwinesburh' ( Edwin’s Burgh) after the 7th century Northumbrian King Edwin. This seems to have derived form the an entry in an Irish Annal which records for the year 638 that “the city of Din Eidyn is captured by the English and renamed Edinburgh”. But modern scholarship argues that the form 'Eidyn' predates Edwin and the form 'Edwinesburh' can only be dated to the time of David I (d.1153).

The Land of Lleu's Fortress
As well as the country's capital city, today Edinburgh is the principal settlement of the Lothian region of the Scottish Lowlands. The ancient Lothian territory of the Iron Age tribe recorded in classical sources as the 'Votadini', stretched from the Firth of Forth to the Tyne. Traprain Law hill fort in East Lothian was the earliest known citadel of the Votadini until it was abandoned in the early 5th century and they relocated to Din Eidyn (Eidin's fortress), Edinburgh.

A common misconception is that the name 'Lothian' derives from King Lot of the Arthurian legend, best known as the father of Sir Gawain. Geoffrey of Monmouth seems to have based his King Lot on Leudonus, legendary king of Leudonia, who features in hagiographical material concerning St Kentigern. Welsh sources call this same character Lewdwn, or Llewdwn Lluydauc (Llewdwn of the Hosts) and make him king of the Brythonic-speaking Gododdin (Old Welsh = Guotodin), the descendants of the Votadini.

Part of the kingdom of the Gododdin, occupying the narrow coastal region on the south side of the Firth of Forth, known as Manaw Gododdin, was the homeland of Cunedda and his sons prior to their  relocation in to North Wales. This land also spawned the heroic warriors of the literary epic Y Gododdin.

'Y Gododdin' is one of the oldest known pieces of British literature. The poem, written in Old Welsh by Aneirin, named as one of the five bards famous for their poetry in the Historia Brittonum, celebrates an attack on the northern Angles of Deira and Bernicia at a place named Catraeth (Catterick?) c.595 – 600. But the event is an absolute disaster for the warriors of the Gododdin, who spent the previous year feasting at Din Eidyn. The poem says a war band of three hundred set out for Catraeth and only three Britons survived the encounter, others say only Aneirin himself lived to tell the tale. It is argued the poem contains the earliest reference to Arthur the Warrior.

There is only one extant early manuscript of Y Gododdin, from “The Book of Aneirin”, (Llyfr Aneirin), kept in Cardiff Central Library, thought to date to c.1265. It is generally accepted that this manuscript contains the work of two different hands, known as Scribe A and Scribe B. Scribe A wrote down 88 stanzas of the poem, leaving a blank page before continuing with four poems known as Gorchanau. Later Scribe B added some 35 stanzas, some variants of those already written down by Scribe A.

Celtic scholar John T Koch (1997) has attempted to untangle this mess and reconstruct the separate Y Gododdin texts. Koch argues that the most archaic text, reflecting the first, or 'Leech Leud=ud' recension, deriving from the original oral tale, the B2 text, remained in the North, possibly Strathclyde.

The other text, 'The Srath Caruin' recension, Koch claims, moved to Gwynedd, North Wales, following the Battle of Winwaed, which the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records in 655 AD. From this text two separate texts, A and B1, are derived.

From this Koch has reconstructed three texts, variants A, B1 and B2, which he categorised as follows:

B2 – the most archaic surviving text, reflecting the first, or 'Leech Leud=ud' recension, deriving from the original oral tale, was absent of Christian influence and does not contain attribution to Aneirin or indeed mention of Aneirin as the sole survivor of the battle, or even the Bernicians (Northern English) as the enemies.

The 'Srath Caruin' text diverged and the A text in particular, now in Gwynedd, became subject to later additions and interpolations.

B1 – this text derives from the second or the 'Srath Caruin' recension, a Christian collection attributed to Aneirin.

A – the most innovative text, also derived from the second or the 'Srath Caruin' recension, but through third and fourth recensions; again a Christian collection attributed to Aneirin, but has the addition of the Bernicians as the enemy and displays interests in Gwynedd, the Coeling and in the personae of Talysessin and Myrdin.

Significantly the opening stanza to the most archaic Y Gododdin (the B2 text) derived from the
'Leech Leud=ud' recension, is named from the translation of the opening line "The rock of Lleu’s
tribe", B2 text awdl B2.24:

"The rock of Lleu’s tribe, 
the folk of Lleu’s mountain stronghold at Gododdin’s frontier" 

The origin of the Lothian name is said to come from the British *Lugudūniānā (Lleuddiniawn in Modern Welsh spelling) meaning "country of the fort of Lugus".

Koch notes that this singular awdl (B2.24) exists in all three variant texts and argues this is “primary material, pre-Christian, linguistically Archaic” and regards the opening lines as referring to a hill fort on Gododdin’s frontier probably Din Eidin (modern Edinburgh), the chief citadel of the Brythonic speaking tribe of Gododdin.

Arthur's Seat
The rock of Lleu’s tribe can be no other than either Castle Rock or Arthur’s Seat (Suidhe Arthair), an ancient volcano, towering over Edinburgh and linked with the stories of Arthur the Warrior. Local folklore claims that Arthur and his men lie sleeping inside the hill, awaiting the call to come forth in time of the Country’s need.

The Battle of Tryfrwyd
According to the 9th century Historia Brittonum Arthur's “...tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit.” 

Of the other Arthurian battles listed in the Historia Brittonum, the 'Battle of Tribuit' is the only one generally agreed to be associated with Arthur in another early Welsh source. Badon is also attributed to Arthur in the Welsh Annals but not by historians Gildas and Bede; for this reason the Badon entry is viewed with some suspicion by historians and probably derives directly from the battle list in the Historia Brittonum.

'Tribuit' appears as 'Tryfrwyd' in the Old Welsh poem Pa Gur? (What Man is the Gatekeeper) dated to perhaps the mid-9th or early 10th century.The poem follows the exploits of Arthur and his warband. In one episode Arthur's men fight dogheads (cinbin) on the mountain of Eidyn; which can only be a reference to Edinburgh as discussed above.

“Manawydan son of Llŷr,
whose counsel was weighty;
Manawyd brought
Shattered spears back from Tryfrwyd.
And Mabon son of Mellt,
he used to stain grass with blood.
And Anwas the Winged
and Lluch Llauynnauc:
they were accustomed to defend
at Eidyn on the border.”
(Lines 19-28)

“On the mountain of Eidyn 
he [Arthur] fought with dogheads.
By the hundred they fell;
they fell by the hundred
before Bedwyr the Perfect.
On the shores of Tryfrwyd
fighting with Rough Grey,
furious was his nature
with sword and shield.”
(Lines 43-51)

In the battle of the Tryfrwyd Arthur and his men fight against a character named Garwlwyd (Rough-Grey), who is likely identical with the Gwrgi Garwlwyd (Man-Dog Rough-Grey) who appears in the Welsh Triads who “made a corpse of the Cymry every day and two on Saturday so as not to have to kill on a Sunday.” 'Man-Dog' would seem appropriate as one of the dog-heads.

Arthur's main protagonist in the fight is Bedwyr, later known as Sir Bedivere in Medieval Arthurian Romance, and the poem also mentions the euhemerized gods Mabon, Manawydan and Lluch Llauynnauc (Lluch of the Striking Hand; i.e. the god Lugus, Irish Lugh, Welsh Lleu).

Arthur's enemies of the mountain of Eidyn are cinbin (dogheads), men who possess the characteristic of cynocephaly, or cynocephalus, i.e. having the head of a dog, which is a widely attested mythical phenomenon existing in many different forms and contexts. The word cynocephaly is taken from the Greek word kynokephaloi, meaning 'dog' and kephalē meaning 'head' which is interpreted as “werewolves.

Thomas Green (2008) sees it as significant that Arthur fights dogheads “on the border” at Eidyn, the very edge of the Brittonic world, reflecting Arthur’s role as a defender of Britain from all attacks, supernatural or otherwise. Green suggests that the story of Tryfrwyd has been attached to the so-called 'historical' battle list in the Historia Brittonum, but in Pa Gur? it is clearly mythical in nature, associated with werewolves and Arthur, aptly, accompanied by the god Lugh in the "country of the fort of Lugus" (Lothian = Lleuddiniawn), the ancient name for Eidyn (Edinburgh), the land providing the first literary mention of Arthur.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

John T Koch, The Gododdin of Aneirin: Text and Context from Dark-Age North Britain, University of Wales Press, 1997.
Stuart Harris, The Place Names of Edinburgh: Their Origins and History, Steve Savage Publishers, 2002.
Thomas Green, Concepts of Arthur, Tempus, 2008, pp.84-85 and pp. 119-121

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Sunday 24 December 2017

Visions of Camelot

Top Ten Arthurian Locations: No 7 

South Cadbury Castle
South Cadbury Castle is one of the most impressive multivallate hillforts in Britain, constructed on an isolated and steeply scarped limestone hill, standing 500ft on the Somerset-Dorset border. The hillfort occupies an enclosure of around eighteen acres, defended by four massive ramparts and ditches. The hillfort has a long and complex history as an archaeological site and has attracted much Arthurian folklore over the years. Yet, regardless of the name there has never been a castle here in the medieval sense.

The main path leads steeply up from South Cadbury village There is another less used path  coming up from Sutton Montis to the south-west and a third arrives from the east with difficult access. The enclosure rises steeply to a summit ridge with a long plateau, providing long views across the flat Somerset plain, with the distinctive Glastonbury Tor on the horizon about 12 miles distant. Oddly, when looking from the Tor, the hillfort at South Cadbury is very difficult to identify.

There is some Bronze Age evidence at Cadbury but the pre-Roman Iron Age saw a surge in activity with the construction of the huge ramparts and the establishment of a substantial settlement in the enclosure. Roman activity at the site was detected in the excavation of barracks and a ‘shrine’ or ‘temple’ on the hill-top. With the development of the Roman town at nearby Ilchester usage of the hillfort significantly declined.

Resettlement took place during the Post-Roman period with substantial re-fortification of the hillfort from c. 470 AD until some time after 580, the classic Arthurian period. In the 11th century it temporarily housed a late Saxon mint with coins stamped accordingly with identifying marks.

The Folklore
The belief that Cadbury Castle was King Arthur's court, known as Camelot in Arthurian Romance,  can be traced back to John Leland in the 16th century. A number of folkloric tales relating to Arthur have subsequently developed at Cadbury over the centuries following Leland's visit, including the sleeping king and the leader of the Wild Hunt on several tracks past the hillfort.

The earliest extant account is that of John Leland in 1542:

“At South Cadbryi standith Camallate, sumtyme a famose toun or castelle. The people can telle nothing ther but they have hard say that Arture much resorted to Camalat” [Leland - Itinerary 1535–43]

Although Leland implies the local people knew nothing of the Arthurian tradition of the hillfort he seems to have heard more than this and notes a tale of a silver horseshoe and of Roman coins found on the summit and fields at the base.

Later antiquarians, such as Camden (1586) and Stukeley (1724), tend to repeat Leland without adding much, although Stukeley included finds of slingshots, Roman utensils and the ruins of arches and hypocausts, but related that local people were unaware of the name of 'Camelot' for the site, but knew it as ‘Arthur’s Palace’ or ‘Cadbury Castle’.

Accordingly, it can be argued, and it has been, that Leland invented the Arthurian tradition at Cadbury; there are certainly no Arthurian associations with Cadbury to be found in the earliest Welsh traditions of the legend. We cannot, therefore, rule out the possibility of the name ‘Arthur’s Palace’ may have developed among local people following Leland’s claim that the hillfort was indeed Camelot.

However, the itineraries of Edward I and Edward III, who visited Cadbury on route to Glastonbury in 1278 and 1331 respectively, may be evidence that a connection between the hillfort and Arthur was extant as early as the 13th century.

Other local traditions, with no connection to Leland, has named one of the two wells on the hillside as 'King Arthur's Well'. It is claimed that at the other 'Queen Anne's Well' you can hear a cover slammed on 'King Arthur's Well'. This is part of the lore that claims Cadbury is a hollow hill; rumours persist of a large cavern with iron, or sometimes golden, gates, where if you arrive at the right moment you might glimpse King Arthur inside guarding fairy treasure.

Excavations carried out by Reverend James Bennett, the rector of South Cadbury, toward the end of the 19th century records that when he opened a 'hut dwelling' on the plain of the hill he found a flagstone at the bottom which, according to his workman, covered a manhole which led into the cave. The position of this hut is not recorded.

The Welsh chronicler Elis Gruffydd, (1490–1552), noted another Arthurian tradition in the area which may have been a reference to Cadbury Castle; “And yet they [the English] talk more about him [Arthur] than we [the Welsh] do; for they say and firmly believe that he will rise again to be king. They in their opinion say that he is asleep in a cave under a hill near Glastonbury.”

The 'sleeping king in a cave under a hill' is a popular folktale that many sites claim but seems to have exceptional longevity at Cadbury. A well-known tale asserts that some early archaeologists were affronted by an elderly local man who asked them if they had come to dig up the king. Geoffrey Ashe argues that the connection between Cadbury Castle and the cave legend is the earliest recorded tale to refer to Arthur as a sleeping king in England.

Other local lore suggests Arthur was not always restrained within the hill but on certain occasions he could be seen riding by. The Wild Hunt is a common narrative across Northern Europe, usually featuring the Norse god Odin, but on occasion Arthur leads a spectral group riding across the sky on moonlit nights.

Tina Paphitis (2013) claims there are three variants of this tale extant at Cadbury Castle, in each case Arthur is the leader of the Hunt. In one version, Arthur and his knights gallop around the hill on horses shod with silver, and stop off to water their mounts at King Arthur’s Well. This version may have its roots with Leland who claimed a silver horseshoe was found at Cadbury Castle ‘within the memory of man’; or conversely, this may have formed the basis of Leland's tale.

Stukeley (1724) records another local tale that, on winter nights, Arthur and his Otherworldy troop ride along 'King Arthur’s Lane' or 'Hunting Causeway' to Glastonbury, almost 12 miles distant. A local labourer working on the 19th century Bennett excavations at Cadbury claimed to have heard the king and his hounds pass by on the Causeway on his way home one night.

It was during Bennett's excavations in the 1890's on the western side of the hill that a pit containing the skeletons of boys and men bundled together in a hasty mass grave was unearthed. The Somerset river Cam flows not far from here, conjectured as a possible site for Arthur's last battle of Camlann.

The third variant of the Wild Hunt tale at Cadbury Castle tells how Arthur and his knights ride down to the village of Sutton Montis, immediately south-west of the hillfort, on Christmas Eve and drink water from the well by the village church.

The Archaeology
Fuelled by this wealth of tradition held by the local people in 1965 The Camelot Research Committee was assembled to investigate the possibility that an Arthur-type figure, a Post-Roman warlord, was once resident at the hillfort at South Cadbury Castle.

Co-founder and secretary of the committee, Geoffrey Ashe was firmly of the opinion that Arthur is best defined as the British general who won the battle of Badon and argues that he was a real individual identified as a military commander, not a king.

The archaeological excavations began in the summer of 1966 with Leslie Alcock appointed as field director. This was followed by excavations every summer thereafter until 1970 with a short final season in April 1973.

At the end of the 1969 season Alcock interpreted a timber slot as part of a 5th or 6th century hall and evidence was found at the south-west gate which showed a sequence from the Iron Age to fortification of a Late Saxon mint; coins marked 'CADANBYRIG' have been dated to the reign of Æthelred the Unready (d.1016 AD). In between these terminal points, the south-west gate revealed evidence of several violent events around the time of the Roman invasion.

Alcock established one of the most complete ceramic sequences for the Late Bronze Age-pre-Roman Iron Age in Britain. The hillfort was refortified during the Post-Roman period, the classic Arthurian period. He also found evidence for a wall which had been built in the 6th century and the ramparts were strengthened with large quantities of dressed masonry from derelict Roman buildings and mounted by raised wooden walkways. The large timber building, 63 feet by 34, was interpreted as evidence of a powerful chieftain's hall which occupied the part of the hillfort enclosure known locally as 'King Arthur's Palace'; from pottery finds it has been dated to the 5th/6th centuries. Then the hillfort was suddenly abandoned around 580.

The Camelot Research Committee excavations at Cadbury Castle established the possibility that the hillfort may have been a fortress of an Arthur-type figure, a wealthy battle leader who imported expensive goods who held immense influence over the area but uncovered nothing to substantiate that Arthur was an historical figure.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

John C Barrett, P W M Freeman and Ann Woodward, Cadbury Castle Somerset: The later prehistoric and early historic archaeology, Archaeological Report 20, English Heritage, 2000.
Geoffrey Ashe (editor), The Quest for Arthur's Britain, Pall Mall Press, 1968.
Tina Paphitis ‘Have You Come to Take the King Away?’: A Survey of Archaeology and Folklore in Context. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology, 23(1): 16, pp. 1-23, 2013.

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Thursday 21 December 2017

Arthur, Stonehenge and the Solstice

Top Ten Arthurian Locations: No 8 

“We saw through the great trees a well made round table of ancient construction, covered with flat stones. The knight walked across the arena and in through the door of the temple. He found the place in its simplicity the most holy that he had ever experienced. There was an altar toward the east where he mused for a while. Turning to the right he saw a rich throne. The sun which was then setting, directed a single ray through the door of the temple onto the throne, illuminating it brightly.” [Perceforest, 14th century anonymous Arthurian Romance]

The Solstice at Stonehenge
In the Northern Hemisphere the winter solstice will occur today, Thursday, 21 December 2017, at precisely 16:28 hours. Think of the solstices and Stonehenge immediately comes to mind where thousands will gather to witness the astronomical phenomenon on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. And there seems no better reason to include a post on the Arthurian connections with Stonehenge today.

This astronomical phenomenon marks the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year with the sun rising at 08:03 and setting at 15:53, providing just 7 hours, 49 minutes of daylight. After today the days will slowly, but surely, start to lengthen.

The term solstice means “sun stands still”, which we can best explain as if we were tracking the journey of the sun along the horizon by inserting marker posts (wooden, or stone) at the
sunrise, or sunset. On tracking the solar journey we will find that on the solstices (winter and summer) the sun appears to stop and pause on the horizon for a few days before changing direction and retracing its journey, moving back along the horizon position. The midpoint indicating the equinoxes where there is equal day and night.

The solstice seems to have been a special event in the annual cycle for many cultures since
Neolithic times. The sun reaches its strength at summer solstice and slowly decreases in power until its death at sunset on the winter solstice. The next morning a new infant sun will rise which will grow in strength until the summer solstice, and then the cycle starts over.

The axis of Stonehenge was purposefully constructed to align with the summer – winter solstice line. The majority of archaeologists agree that the significant alignment at Stonehenge is to the winter solstice where the setting sun will be seen to sink between the Great Trilithon and disappear into the recumbent Altar Stone.

The huge outer ring and the inner horseshoe of Trilithons are constructed from local sarsen, a hard silicified sandstone, found about 20 miles away on the Marlborough Downs. But the Altar Stone and the small stone settings in between the sarsen settings, the bluestone circle and inner bluestone horseshoe, are foreign stones, transported some 140 miles from South Wales. The term “bluestone” is used by geologists to cover all the exotic, non-local rocks at the monument, consisting of over 20 different types of Welsh rock, such as dolerites, rhyolites, and sandstones.

Antiquarians of the 17th and 18th century knew the bluestones were not local stones but it wasn't until 1923 when Herbert H Thomas identified the source of one type of dolerite to Carn Meyn in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales. Recent archaeological investigation has identified the source of the ‘spotted dolerite’ bluestones to Carn Goedog, also in the Preseli's, and the source of  one type ‘rhyolite’ bluestone further in north-west Pembrokeshire at an outcrop of Craig Rhos-y-felin.

Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Royal Cemetery
900 years ago Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed that the wizard Merlin was responsible for magically transporting the Giant’s Dance (as he called Stonehenge) from Ireland to Salisbury Plain in England. Writing around 1136 AD Geoffrey's Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) is today considered a pseudo-historical (fictitious) account of British history. Not many would argue with that today but with regard to Stonehenge, Geoffrey seems to have stumbled upon an tradition with an element of truth to it.

Geoffrey, loosely following the account known as the Night of the Long Knives in the 9th century Historia Brittonum, tells us that after Hengist's Saxon's treacherously slaughtered 460 unarmed British Nobles at a peace conference, having concealed daggers in their shoes. Vortigern is forced to concede his cities and fortified places in consideration of their granting him his life. He then fled to Kambria (Wales) where he is pursued by the Sons of Constantine.

Merlin is tasked with constructing a suitable monument to the British nobles. He brings the Giant's Dance from mount Killaraus in Ireland to Mount Ambrius on Salisbury Plain as if by magic. He sets up the stones brought over from Ireland about the sepulchre, placing them in the same manner as they had been on mount Killaraus.

Not only did Geoffrey have knowledge of the bluestone of Stonehenge coming from the west he was also aware that the monument was a Royal Cemetery.

When Arthur's father Utherpendragon dies Geoffrey has them carry his body “to the convent of Ambrius, where they buried it with regal solemnity, close by Aurelius Ambrosius, within the Giant's Dance”. Later, when Constantine dies he too is buried: “ the side of Utherpendragon within the circle of stones, called Stonehenge in the English language, which had been built with such wonderful skill, not far from Salisbury”. Should we expect Arthur to be buried here too along with his family?

Archaeological evidence obtained through study of the remains uncovered by the Stonehenge Riverside Project who raided Aubrey Hole 7 in 2008 to recover all the cremation deposits excavated from Stonehenge, including remains found during Colonel Hawley's excavation in  the 1920's, reburied by William Young and R.S. Newall reburied in 1935, has been interpreted as indicating that this was indeed a cemetery for a group of elite families whose remains were brought to Stonehenge and buried over a period of more than 200 years.

According to Geoffrey, there are three Dark Age interments at Stonehenge; Aurelius Ambrosius, Utherpendragon and Constantine. Yet, in addition to the many cremation burials found at Stonehenge, four articulated skeletons have been found during archaeological excavations at the monument. However, we must bear in mind that only half of the ground area of Stonehenge has been excavated; who knows what lies beneath?

Hawley found a skeleton in the ring ditch in 1922 but it was discarded as he felt that it was a modern interment. The fate of this skeleton is not known. In 1923 another skeleton, allocated number 4.10.4 in 1938 by the Royal College of Surgeons, was unearthed, then lost, believed destroyed in the London bombing of 1941. Another was found in 1926 lying across the central axis inside the stone circle, a significant placing, but again was subsequently lost.

Richard Atkinson unearthed another articulated skeleton at Stonehenge in 1978. The remains of this man, who died from a hail of flint-tipped arrows around 2,300 BC, was found in the ditch. Known today as the Stonehenge Archer; debate continues as to whether he was a ritual sacrifice or a murder victim.

In 1999 skeleton 4.10.4 was relocated by Mike Pitts who discovered it had actually survived the bombing during the Second World War. Tests have revealed he was decapitated and dated to 640–690 AD and therefore considered a Saxon execution.

However, unknown to archaeologists at the time, skeleton 4.10.4 had already been re-discovered in 1975 by Wystan Peach who believed the remains were of King Arthur, the architect of Stonehenge.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

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Monday 18 December 2017

Dover Castle: Gawain's Skull

Top Ten Arthurian Locations: No 9 

“And so at the hour of noon Sir Gawaine yielded up the spirit; and then the king let inter him in a chapel within Dover Castle; and there yet all men may see the skull of him, and the same wound is seen that Sir Launcelot gave him in battle.”  [Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur, Book  XXI, Chp 2]

The Foremost Knight
As Gwalchmai (Welsh = 'Hawk of May', or more probably 'Hawk of the Plains') along with Cei and Bedwyr, he is one of Arthur's earliest companions, in later Arthurian romance he is known as Sir Gawain, the foremost of the Knights of the Round Table.

In Culhwch and Olwen, the earliest Arthurian tale, Culhwch invokes Gwalchmei son of Gwyar “because he never came home without the quest he had gone to seek. He was the best of walkers and the best of riders. He was Arthur's nephew, his sister's son, and his first cousin.”

To Geoffrey of Monmouth he is Gualguanus, son of Lot of Lothian, son of Arthur's sister Anna, in French Arthurian Romance he is known as Gauvin, and in English he is the hero of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the only knight of the Round Table to accept the Green Knight's challenge in the beheading contest.

Around 1470 Thomas Malory completed his great summation of the Arthurian legend retelling the adventures of the knights of the Round Table in chronological sequence from the birth of Arthur to his death. Malory's opus was printed by William Caxton in 1485 and named  Le Morte d'Arthur, the title taken from the last book of Malory's work.

In Caxton's preface he argues for the existence of Arthur in citing several evidences; his sepulture in the monastery of Glastonbury; in the abbey of Westminster, at Saint Edward’s shrine, the print of his seal in red wax; at Winchester, the Round Table; in the castle of Dover is Cradok’s mantle and Gawain’s skull.

The Scalacronica, written by Thomas Grey of Heaton, a soldier in the Anglo-Scottish wars in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, imprisoned by the Scots in Edinburgh Castle after being captured in an ambush in October 1355, is a chronicle documenting the history of Britain from 1066 to 1363. In his chronicle, one of the few early chronicles written by a layman, Grey tells us that Cradock's chastity testing mantle could be seen at Glastonbury. Grey emphasises the head wound suffered by Gawain, which ultimately causes his death at Dover, is inflicted fighting the Roman Emperor and Lancelot is not implicated in his death.

A century before Malory, Raimon de Perillos, left an account of a journey he took from Avignon to Dublin at the end of the 14th century, and tells us that the mantle and Gawain's skull could both be viewed in Dover, as confirmed by Malory.

Malory also describes Gawain's burial at Dover, the hero is interred in a chapel at the castle, and he claims that the skull still showed evidence of the head wound. The medieval castle at Dover has two chapels, no one is sure in which Gawain is supposed to be buried, although some favour the lower chapel. All we can say with any certainty is that from Caxton's 'Preface' we can only assume a skull was on display at Dover castle, and had been for over a century, that in his day was popularly believed to be that of Gawain.

Dover Castle
Dover Castle
Dover has an impressive medieval Castle, built on a chalk hill, typical of the south-east coast of England. The hill has been reconfigured many times over the centuries as witnessed by the many earthworks, ditches and mounds,  but the castle was founded in the 12th century, most of that seen today being built during the reign of Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet Kings of England. The castle is the largest in the country and, owing to its strategically significant defensive position, known as “Key to England”.

The Castle towers over Dover Harbour on the Eastern Hights, overlooking the sea and protecting England's southeastern coast. Defensive structures have been built on this hill since before the time of the Romans. It is believed that the castle’s massive ramparts and ditches may have originated in an Iron Age hillfort. At the centre, on a Bronze Age mound, are the Roman lighthouse and Anglo-Saxon church.

The Roman lighthouse, or Pharos, has been dated to around 46-50 AD, being constructed shortly after the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, making the lighthouse the oldest building in England. A second Roman lighthouse stood at Bredenstone (after the lost village of Braddon) on the Western Heights but little remains today. The two lighthouses would have stood at 80ft high with fire beacons on top acting as navigational aids for ships coming from Gaul.

St Mary-in-Castro and Roman lighthouse
In the 2nd century the Romans built a large fort in the valley below the heights called Portus Dubris, or Dubrae, which eventually became the Port of Dover. The port was used by the Classis Britannica, the Roman fleet in British waters, to guard the harbour and the crossing from Gaul. In the early 3rd century the fort was abandoned and the Classis Britannica left Dover never to return. Later that century, in response to the ever increasing Saxon raids, the Romans returned to construct a series of coastal defences and a new “Fort of the Saxon Shore” constructed at the port around 270 AD.

The Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro (Latin 'in castra') stands right beside the Pharos which was used as the church bell-tower. Eadbald of Kent is recorded as building a church at Dover 'within the castle' in the 7th century. However, the site of Eadbald's church is uncertain; historians debate whether this refers to within the Saxon burh on the Eastern Heights, or within the ruins of old Roman fortifications in the valley below. Yet, the large, late-Saxon cemetery around the present church within the castle is suggestive of the existence of an earlier church constructed around 600 AD. The present Saxon church was built on the Eastern Heights around 1,000 AD, possibly on the foundations of the earlier church.

During the 18th century a network of tunnels was constructed under the castle grounds to house the large number of troops barracked at Dover to defend against a feared Napoleonic invasion. In the First World War the castle was used as a Naval signal station to control the harbour. In the Second World War the Napoleonic tunnels were brought back into use as a Naval command centre controlling operations in the Channel. In the 1940s the tunnels were extended to serve as both a hospital and an operational headquarters in preparation for the 1944 invasion of Europe.

Malory's Tale
In Malory, Gawain's brothers Gaheris and Gareth are slain when Guinevere is rescued from the stake, unwittingly by Lancelot, for which reason Gawain vows vengeance on Lancelot, thus beginning the final downfall of the Round Table. Gawain persuades King Arthur to declare war on Lancelot and they pursue him across the Channel.

Arthur leaves England and the Queen in the care of Sir Mordred. Lancelot's barons advise him to defend his lands against Arthur, but he first tries to make a peace treaty. Arthur is inclined to agree, but Gawain still refuses, so Arthur's forces lay siege to the city of Benewick. Gawain challenges Lancelot to one-on-one combat, and in the battle, Lancelot wounds Gawain, who then spends three weeks recovering and then challenges Lancelot all over again. And again, Lancelot wounds Gawain severely but refuses to kill him at such a disadvantage.

While Arthur is in France pursuing Lancelot, Mordred has circulated false letters claiming that Arthur is dead, declaring himself the King of England. Mordred then attempts to marry Guinevere, but she flees and locks herself in the Tower of London. Arthur receives word of Mordred's treachery, and sails to England. Upon their return, Arthur's armies immediately encounter the rebellious forces of Mordred at Dover.

In the battle, the head wound Gawain received at Lancelot's hands at Benewick, has not healed and worsens. After burying his dead soldiers, Arthur finds Gawain in a great boat, lying more than half dead. Before his death, Gawain writes a letter to Lancelot pleading for forgiveness and to pray at his tomb, and to come to Arthur's aid. Gawain is buried in the castle chapel, where his skull, displaying the head wound, was kept for many years.

Arthur's men push Mordred's army back to Salisbury Plain, where the two armies agree to meet in battle on the Monday after Trinity Sunday. The night before the battle, Arthur dreams that he's tied to a wheel that plunges into black water full of serpents and beasts. Gawain appears to Arthur and tells him that he will die the next day if he engages in battle with Mordred.

Malory's source for his last two books is the English Stanzaic Morte Arthure, itself a condensation of the French prose romance La Mort Artu. The Romances differ slightly in the account of the wound that kills Gawain but essentially they are following the Brut tradition of Geoffrey of Monmouth with Mordred usurping the throne while Arthur is on campaign in Europe, although both Wace and Geoffrey state that Arthur landed at Richborough on his return to Britain.

The Didot Perceval has Arthur land in Britain without naming the shore. Gawain attempts to disembark with twenty thousand men. Both sides throw pikes, stones, lances, and darts against the other. Gwawain’s helmet is not laced on and a Saxon, one of Mordred’s men, strikes him a blow to the head with an oar and kills him. All the twenty thousand men perish, including Bedwyr and Kay (Cei).

The English Stanzaic Morte Arthur has Gawain fight two single combats with Lancelot, in the second of which he receives the fatal head wound. Some time following the battle with Lancelot, King Arthur hears of Mordred’s rebellion and sets sail for Britain. Arthur and his men land at Dover where Mordred and his army await him. Gawain begins to fight against Mordred’s forces, but without a helmet on his head. As in the Didot Perceval, Gawain is stuck on the head with an oar. Here the handle of the oar hits the old wound from the battle with Lancelot, and Gawain dies. Gawain is buried in the choir of the chapel in a nearby castle. In the Le Morte d'Arthur Malory essentially follows the same tale, except he doesn't mention the oar stroke.

Gawain's Grave
Welsh tradition claims a different location altogether for the grave of Gwalchmai (Gawain). The 10th century Englynion y Beddau (Stanzas of the Graves) records the site of his grave such:

“The grave of Gwalchmai in Peryddon,
as a disgrace to men,
In Llanbadarn – the grave of Cynon.”
- [John K Bollard, Englynion y Beddau (Stanzas of the Graves), Carreg Gwalch, 2015]

The location of Perrydon has caused much debate as it is the name of several rivers; first and foremost Perrydon may have been an alternative name for that great Welsh river the Dee. Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions a 'fluvium Perironis' which is rendered as Afon Perrydon in early Welsh translations. The early 12th century Book of Llandaf references a charter which locates Aber Periron in the area of Rockfield near Monmouth, Geoffrey's home town, where the stream known as Nant Gwern joins the Monnow. This is probably the same Aber Peryddon recorded in the 10th century prophesy Armes Prydain, which was crossed on the journey into Wales.

St Govan's Chapel
Peryddon may also have been an early name for the stream at Sandyhaven Pill in Rhos, Pembrokeshire which runs down from Castell Gwalchmai (Walwyn's Castle) into the estuary at Milford Haven. William of Malmesbury confirms that his grave was discovered in Ros in the late 11th century:

“At that time [1087], in a province of Wales called Ros [Rhos] was found the sepulchre of Walwin, the noble nephew of Arthur.....He deservedly shared, with his uncle, the praise of retarding, for many years, the calamity of his failing country. The sepulchre of Arthur is nowhere to be seen, whence ancient ballads fable that he is still to come. But the tomb of the other [i.e. Walwin], as I have suggested was found in the time of King William, on the sea coast, fourteen feet long....” - [John K Bollard, Englynion y Beddau (Stanzas of the Graves), Carreg Gwalch, 2015]

Walwin is the Latin rendering of Gwalchmai. Rhos in Pembrokeshire is probably a reference to St. Govan's Chapel with whom Gawain is often confused. Saint Govan was a 6th century hermit who lived in a fissure on the side of a cliff near Bosherston, just along on the Pembrokeshire coast from Milford Haven.

Wherever Gawain was buried, a skull believed to be his was on display at Dover Castle for over a hundred years. Today the skull has long gone and no one seems to know of its current whereabouts.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

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Sunday 10 December 2017

Dozmary Pool: Nothing but Waves...

Top Ten Arthurian Locations: No 10

“On either side of the road the country stretched interminably into space. No trees, no lanes, no cluster of cottages or hamlet, but mile upon mile of bleak moorland, dark and untraversed, rolling like a desert land to some unseen horizon. No human being could live in this wasted country.” - Mary Yelland's description of Bodmin Moor, from Daphne du Maurier's novel Jamaica Inn.

The Lady of the Lake
Following the battle of Camlann, King Arthur and his loyal knight Bedivere arrive at the shore of a pool of water. Grievously wounded Arthur awaits for a barge to arrive to ferry him to Avalon, he commands Bedivere to return his sword Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake.

But Bedivere could not bring himself to throw such a magical sword into the water and hid Excalibur under a tree. He returned to the king who asked him what he saw. Bedivere said he saw nothing but “waves and wind”. Knowing Bedivere was lying the king commanded him to return to the lake and do as he commanded. Again, Bedivere could not waste such a noble sword, and hid it once more.

Again Arthur asked him what he saw. Bedivere said he saw nothing but the “waters wap and waves wan.” King Arthur questioned how such a noble knight could betray him twice? Once more the king  ordered the knight to go the waters edge and throw the sword into the lake.

Finally Bedivere “threw the sword as far into the water as he might; and there came an arm and an hand above the water and met it, and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water. So Sir Bedivere came again to the King, and told him what he saw.

Bedivere took the King to the water's edge where a “barge arrived with many fair ladies in it, and among them all was a queen, and all they had black hoods, and all they wept and shrieked when they saw King Arthur.” Arthur was then taken into the vale of Avilion to heal of his grievous wounds.
- Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XXI, Chapter V.

The Moorland Pool
Many lakes have been cited as the place where King Arthur's sword Excalibur was thrown to the Lady of the Lake. Dozmary Pool high on the wild, remote and desolate Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, just 10 miles from the sea, is one such site; this is an atmospheric spot on the Cornish Moor, often described as isolated and eerie. In the dim light of evening as the sun goes down it is easy to imagine many things at Dozmary Pool.

Local tales claim that Excalibur rests at the bottom of this pool. According to the local lore, after breaking the sword drawn from the stone, it is here that Merlin and Arthur rowed out on the water and received a sword held above the water by a hand and arm clad in white. According to Malory, the Lady of the Lake appeared calling to them to row out and collect it. And mortally wounded, Arthur was to return the weapon to the water Goddess. The motif has clear Celtic undertones, as attested by the votive deposits found in many lakes across north-western Europe.

No one knows when Dozymary Pool became associated with the Arthurian legend; it is often omitted from Arthurian works such as Mike Ashley's Mammoth Book of King Arthur (Robinson, 2005) and more recently the Matthews' The Complete King Arthur (Inner Traditions, 2017) but features strongly in local Cornish books. Yet the nearest Camlann battle site is some 10 miles distant at Slaughter Bridge, Camelford, a further 5 miles west lies the famed Arthurian Tintagel Castle.

Dozmary Pool is a small lake, barely 500 yards across, a mile in circumference, once said to be bottomless, but is in fact only 4 feet deep. Other tales claim it is linked underground to Falmouth Harbour. The saucer like depression on the moor has its origins in the post-glacial period, providing an important record of vegetation since the last Ice Age; consequently in 1951 the pool and surrounding area was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI).

The pool outflows into Colliford Lake and as such one of the sources of the River Fowey. However, since the construction of the Colliford reservoir on Bodmin Moor, its importance as a water source has declined.

Ghosts and Smugglers
The pool is just over a mile from the famous Jaimaca Inn at Bolventor, midway between Launceston and Bodmin where the A30 crosses the Moor. The coaching Inn, built in 1750, was made famous by Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name featuring smugglers and wreckers who lured ships toward the rugged Cornish coast by lighting beacons on the shore.

Dozmary Pool, Bodmin Moor
Ships that strayed on to the rocks had their cargo looted by the wreckers, brought ashore and then stashed at the Inn. It is said that half the brandy smuggled into Britain was landed along the Cornish and Devon coasts. Smuggled rum from the Caribbean was no doubt also stored at the Inn, however it is said to be named after the local Trelawney family, who served as Governors of Jamaica during the 18th century. Today the Inn is home to the Smugglers Museum which features the story of the wreckers and smugglers over the past 300 years.

Dozmary Pool is also well known for the tale of Jan Tregeagle who was charged by the spirits for his misdemeanours and sentenced to bail out Dozmary with a leaking limpet shell. Tortured by the endless futility of the task, Treageagle escaped to Roche Rock before being set another task, weaving ropes from the sand of Gwenor Cove. At the end of his life, he was damned to the bottomless Dozmary Pool, where his soul is tormented to this day; it is said that Tregeagle's ghost can still be heard howling across the moor.

If you are travelling to Cornwall you must visit Dozmary, leave the A30 at Bolventor and park opposite Jamaica Inn for a short walk to the pool. Follow the lane opposite the Inn signed for Dozmary Pool and walk down the path for about a mile or so to the shore. It is possible to walk around the pool on the shore line and partially on tracks but some ground can be very marshy.

It's all just legend of course.

Yet in the late summer of 2017, a schoolgirl pulled a mysterious 4ft long sword from Dozmary Pool.

A medieval sword pulled from the very same lake that King Arthur's legendary sword Excalibur is said to have been thrown into; could the legend be true?

Unfortunately the sword is thought to be only about 20 or 30 years old and probably deposited during a modern pagan ritual.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

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Sunday 3 December 2017

Arthur: A Legend in Landscape

“There is another wonder in the country called Builth. There is a heap of stones there, and one of these stones placed on the top of the pile has the footprint of a dog on it. When he hunted Twrch Trwyth, Cafal, the warrior Arthur’s hound, impressed his footprint on the stone....”

“There is another wonder in the country called Ergyng. There is a tomb there by a spring, called Llygad Amr; the name of the man who was buried in the tomb was Amr. He was the son of the warrior Arthur, and he killed him there and buried him."

MirabiliaThe Historia Brittonum §§67-75, dated 829/30AD (John Morris, Nennius: British History and The Welsh Annals)

Mapping the Arthurian Legend
There is nothing else quite like it; the Arthurian legend is unique.

Perhaps the endless fascination lies with the fact that, with current evidence, we cannot say for certain whether or not Arthur actually existed; we cannot prove the argument one way or the other.

But the legend certainly exists; Geoffrey Ashe (Arthurian Britain) lists over 150, whereas Neil Fairbairn (Kingdoms of Arthur) lists almost 200 places in Britain and Brittany associated with the Arthurian legend; second only to local lore associated with the Devil. And that does not include the peculiar tradition of Arthurian theme stained glass windows in many Christian churches.

It is fair to say that many Arthurian locations can only to traced back to the Arthurian revival of the Victorian Age and the birth of modern tourism. However, many are older and can be traced back to the 12th century with the literary explosion in the Middle Ages following Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.

Locations used for filming Guy Ritchie's 'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword'.

Some can be traced back even further, to the 9th century when places associated with Arthurian folklore were recorded in the Mirabila such as the mark of Arthur's hound and the tomb of his son Amr. And yet many places from the earliest stratum of the legend cannot be located with any certainty, such as the Arthurian battle list, §56 from the 9th century Historia Brittonum (aka Nennius).

Ancient battle sites are notoriously difficult to locate, not least the attack on Catraeth around the year 600 recorded in a series of elegies for the men of the Dark Age northern kingdom Y Gododdin in the Book of Aneirin. The earliest form of the poem, if authentic, may contain the first mention of Arthur. Catraeth has long been assumed to be Catterick in Yorkshire but this is far from certain. Indeed, the bard Taliesin refers to Urien Rheged as 'Lord of Catraeth', yet the precise location of Rheged continues to baffle historians.

It is from the earliest stratum of the legend that we find place names in Cornwall and Wales. Indeed, Arthurian associations can be found in ancient hillforts, prehistoric megalithic monuments, natural landscape phenomena and man-made constructions such as earthworks and castles. We find Arthur often associated with locations with a Roman past. Leslie Grinsell (Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain) claims the large number of prehistoric sites associated with Arthur in Wales is due to the lack of Roman sites in the country. Others claim these sites, such as the many 'Arthur's Quoits', to an Arthur of the Bronze Age. Others see this as the process of simply mythologising the landscape; Welsh is a very descriptive language and every hill, every lake, every valley in that land has a tale to tell.

Many of the Arthurian names of prehistoric sites do not appear until records from the 16th century. However, we know Arthurian location were in existence many centuries before this and the nomenclature was without doubt in use for many years before being written down. Certainly Geoffrey of Monmouth indelibly altered the Arthurian map, as he did the Arthurian legend, yet landscape features associated with Arthurian folklore were known before Geoffrey's great work. In the early 12th century the Canons of Laon were shown Arthurian sites as they crossed Dartmoor; as stated above, sites associated with Arthur's hound and Arthur's son were recorded in the 9th century; and the 10th century poem the 'Graves of the Warriors of Britain' records many Arthurian associations in the lanscape of Wales.

But the most evasive question is why Arthur? 

After the ubiquitous place names associated with the 'Devil' in England and Wales, oddly, Arthurian names and traditions are the most prevalent in the landscape. In naming any landscape feature that was perhaps poorly understood it was named after the Devil, or King Arthur. No doubt many Devil place names came about during the Reformation and many Arthurian sites were so named with the advent of the modern tourism that began in the Victorian Age.

King Arthur has been deeply etched on the psyche of the Brittonic people for at least the last 1,500 years, and this fascination shows no sign of wavering; the attraction is timeless.

The next ten posts will feature a selection of the top ten Arthurian locations to visit. It is accepted that this will be a very subjective exercise with selection based on personal preference.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

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