Monday, July 13, 2015

Let's talk about: Looking for Arthur in the U.K

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have always been very interested in the legend of King Arthur. This interest was created when I was a young girl and Sword in the Stone was one of my very favorite movies. 
It is no wonder then that through the years there have been many versions of the legend that have caught my attention, such as First Knight and the BBC's Merlin.  
Naturally, when I started researching my upcoming trip to the U.K, I was very interested in finding out more about places that factor into Arthurian legend. 
I will not be visiting all of these. But here are my favorites:

#1: Wroxeter in Shropshire


In the countryside just outside of the Shropshire town of Wroxeter, archaeologists have unearthed a vast Roman city. Many believe that it is the ruins of Camelot. 

#2: Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle

Mitchell's Fold is 27 metres in diameter and consisted of 37 stones but only 14 survive today.
This stone circle is also in Shropshire and one of the stones has a strange hole in it that leads to the myth that it is the stone from which Arthur pulled Excalibur.

#3: Glastonbury Tor

This hill is believed to be the ancient Isle of Avalon. The area surrounding it used to be flooded which adds to the belief since it used to be an island. 
There are seven levels of terraces going around the hill. They are believed to be man made and some believe that they were a path for those who have made pilgrimages to the site.  
Glastonbury Tor is also associated with the legend of the Holy Grail. Many believe that Joseph of Arimathea came to Britain with the Holy Grail containing drops of the blood of Jesus Christ. 
When Joseph arrived at the Isle of Avalon, he landed just below the Tor. He thrust his staff into the ground and rested. By morning, his staff had become a thorn bush: The Glastonbury Thorn. 
Joseph buried the Holy Grail just below the Tor. 
Soon after, a spring, now known as Chalice Well, began to flow. It is believed to have healing powers and over the years many have come to Glastonbury Tor to drink from the healing spring.
This relates to King Arthur as well because it is said that finding the Holy Grail was a particular quest of King Arthur and his knights. 
The hill has a 14th century church tower sitting on top. 
The hill is believed by some to contain a secret magical passage to the underworld where King Arthur is sleeping and will awake in England's hour of need to come to her rescue.
#4: Glastonbury Abbey

There are MANY places that claim to be Arthur's grave but Glastonbury Abbey is the one I have read about the most. It is said that a Welsh bard gave the location to Henry the 2nd and told him that Arthur was buried in the old graveyard at Glastonbury between two pyramids. 
At seven feet down, they found a stone slab with an inset lead cross. 
At sixteen feet down they found a hollowed out log that contained the skeletal remains of a large man and a delicate woman.
The cross with the words, "Here lies buried the famous King Arthur with Guinevere in the isle of Avalon", has disappeared over time. 
After the grave was discovered in 1190, it was moved by order of King Edward the first to the interior of Glastonbury Abbey in 1278. The Abbey was near destroyed over time but there is a portion of a tomb from the right time period preserved today in the abbey's visitor center. There is a marker that identifies the places as the grave site in the middle of the abbey ruins. 
 #5: Tintagel Castle

This is probably one of the most well known locations associated with King Arthur. 
Tintagel Castle in Cornwall is said to be the birthplace of Arthur. 
This was first associated with King Arthur by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his account of British history.  According to one legend, Arthur's father, the king of all Britain, Uther Pendragon, went to war against Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall. He had fallen in love with the wife of Gorlois, Igraine. 
While Gorlois defended himself against Uther's armies, he sent Igraine to stay safely within Tintagel Castle.  Merlin is said to have changed the appearance of Uther to that of Gorlois so that he was able to get into the castle. And that night Arthur was conceived.
Located beneath Tintagel Castle there is also a cave. It is called Merlin's cave. Tennyson made Merlin's Cave famous in his Idylls of the King, describing waves bringing the infant Arthur to the shore and Merlin carrying him to safety.
There are many myths surrounding Arthur's birth and Tintagel Castle. These are just some of them. 

#6: Dozmary Pool

Dozmary Pool, in Cornwall, is said to have no bottom and an underwater tunnel that connects it to the sea. Archaeologists have found traces of Neolithic artifacts on the shores of the pool.
It is thought to be the home of the Lady of the Lake.
Legend says that before Arthur died from the wounds he received at the battle of Camlann, he asks one of his knights to return Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. The knight tried twice but couldn't bring himself to throw the sword into the lake. On the third try he finally was able to do it.
When he did, the surface of the water was broken by the hand and arm of a woman who reached out to catch it and it was taken down into the waters.
There is archaeological evidence that the pool was the site of rituals and ceremonies, thought to be tied to ancient pagan deities, where swords were cast into the water as offerings.

#7: The Round Table

In the Great Hall of Winchester, all that remains of the Winchester Castle, in Hampshire, hangs the Round Table. 
According to legend it is the Round Table of King Arthur and his Knights. 
Originally it was a standing table with 12 outer legs and a central support. It is nearly 20 feet in diameter and weighs about 2, 600 pounds. It is made of English Oak.
In the early years of King Henry the 8th's reign, it was painted with the Tudor Rose at the center and is thought to portray Henry as King Arthur on his throne, surrounded by 24 places for his Knights of the Round Table. 
It first was hung on the eastern wall, perhaps being placed there as early as 1348. In 1873, it was moved to its current position on the west wall.

#8: Amesbury Abbey

Recently, Amesbury (near Stonehenge) was given the title of the oldest occupied settlement in Britain. Archaeological excavations have found proof that the site was occupied as far back as 8,820 BC. 
It was first connected to the Arthurian legend in Le Morte d' Arthur by Thomas Malory. 
After Arthur dies, Guinevere retreats to a convent. While this is referenced in many texts having to do with the legend, Malory was the first to specify the name of the convent as being Amesbury Abbey. 
According to this story, Lancelot returned to the abbey after her death to get her body and he buried it beside Arthur at Glastonbury as his final act of penance.

These are just a small selection of locations tied to Arthur. 
Whether you believe in the legend of King Arthur or not, I believe the story and the locations that have been connected to it are fascinating. 

*What are your thoughts on the Arthurian legends?
*Have you been to any of these spots. 
*Which would you be most interested in visiting, if any?


The Kings said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this information. I hope we can see the Round table when we visit there.

cheryl said...

Glad you found it interesting. I am hoping we will be able to see Glastonbury Tor, Abbey, and the round table. Those are the things I have on our itinerary.