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King Arthur

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King Arthur

We love a good legend here in Wales and are proud to claim King Arthur as our own – though we don’t mind sharing him with our neighbours in the West Country!

The Truth 

 The “real” base of the legend - deduced from documentation and archaeology -is a 5th century warrior chief who protected his Celtic people from the Saxon invaders in the lawless years after the Romans left Britain in the 5th century.

Arthur was first mentioned as a warrior in a history written by a welsh monk in 830AD. Other earlier Welsh literature talks about the King Arthur, but the actual surviving documents date from the time after the legend was firmly established.

The Legend 

Arthurian legend idealises a past with a society based on loyalty, honour and trust. So it’s no surprise that adding to the myth has suited everyone from medieval monarchs to post-Kennedy politicians. From early bards through the Romantic Poets to Mark Twain; from pre-Raphaelite painters to modern Hollywood and Monty Python – everyone has written their little bit.

Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136) started it all off detailing Arthur’s birth, childhood, ascension to the throne, military conquests, and death. French authors in the late 12th century added the chivalry bits involving Lancelot and his affair with Guinevere, Excalibur (the sword), The Holy Grail, Camelot, and the Round Table. Thomas Malory carried on the embroidery in the 15th Century, as did Tennyson in the 19th Century.

What's What & Who's Who 

Objects include Excalibur and the magical goblet of the Holy Grail and mythical places include the idyllic town of Camelot and the isle of Avalon where Arthur went to die. Everyone knows the major characters - Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin but it might be helpful to have a guide to more minor characters linked with welsh sites:

  • Uther Pendragon, (Chief Dragon) was Arthur’s father. Uther Pendragon was brother to Ambrosius and they were sons of Constantine a Romanised king of Britain.
  • Vortigern could have ruled Britain during 400s having grabbed the British throne from Constantine. He was demonised as the Celtic king who invited the Saxons in to rid Wales of the Irish – of course they never went back home again!
  • Huail, an early twelfth century account has King Arthur wounded in the thigh in a fight over a lady.
  • The Lady of the Lake originally gave King Arthur Excalibur and then took it back when the knight, Sir Bedivere threw it back into the lake.

The Places - (North) 

 

    North West - Llŷn Peninsula

  • Bardsey Island – Said to be Avalon and burial place of Merlin.
  • Nant Gwrtheyrn ('the valley of Vortigern) near Llithfaen - the supposed grave of Vortigern. Snowdonia.
  • Snowdonia Lakes - Several have been linked with the throwing of Excalibur -Llyn Llydaw Llyn Ogwen and Llyn Dinas.
  • Bwlch y Saethau (pass of the Arrows) on Snowdon – Arthur is said to have died here. His knights wait in a nearby cave to reawaken if the kingdom is threatened.
  • Tryfan is said to be the burial site of Sir Bedivere.
  • Llyn Barfog, or the Bearded Lake, is the setting for an encounter between Arthur and a lake monster. A nearby rock has a hoof print-shaped hollow.
 
 

    North East

  • Castell Dinas Brân was said to have been the home of the Holy Grail and some maintain that it lies hidden in a cave deep below the castle.
  • Eliseg Pillar, Llangollen - The old, weathered inscription contained the pedigree of Vortigern.
  • Maen Huail near Barclays Bank in Ruthin. Arthur had Huail beheaded on this stone when he broke his word not to mention an injury Arthur had received.
  • Carreg Carn March, Mold. Here is another stone, showing an imprint of Arthur's horse's hoof.
 

The Places - (South) 

 

    South West

  • Carmarthen - in Welsh Caer Fyrddin or Merlin’s Fort has three sites with Merlin connections and a legend When Merlin's Tree shall tumble down, Then shall fall Carmarthen Town. The last bits of the tree are now in the Civic Hall.
  • St Govan’s Chapel at the most southerly point on the Pembrokeshire coast. According to some legends Gawain, another of Arthur’s knights, became a hermit here after the death of King Arthur and was buried here.
  • Head off on a quest to see the sights and sounds of wizards and warriors on the King Arthur country trail, which aims to help visitors decide who they think Arthur really was while enjoying the stunning coast and hills. It guides visitors through everything from a day out in one region, to a five night break spread over all four regions in South Wales, hunting for clues to Arthur’s existence. For those who just want to indulge in the playful side of Arthur’s tale there are fun attractions – from owl experiences to wizard themed afternoon teas - throughout the four counties. There are accommodation suggestions as well as alternatives to Arthur attractions.
          
 

    South East

  • Caerleon (City of the Legion) with its vast Roman amphitheatre is believed by many to be the location of Camelot. Geoffrey of Monmouth tells of Arthur’s court at 'The City Of The Legions’ and Tennyson wrote Idylls of the King here in 1856.
    Roman Fortress & Baths
    Amphitheatre
    National Roman Legion Museum 
 

 

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