May 2017 sees the release of the major new film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword directed by Guy Ritchie and featuring a Hollywood cast including Charlie Hunman and Jude Law. The film retells the classic story of the legendary British leader made famous in medieval mythology. There are the film locations, and then the real locations of legend…
Historians have varying theories about who King Arthur was and where he came from, but many are convinced he existed. While details remain shrouded in mystery, medieval writings have connected places across Britain to the legend of King Arthur. Take your own Arthurian pilgrimage around the destination – from his supposed birthplace at Tintagel in Cornwall to King Arthur’s Round Table in Cumbria.
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, south-west England
South-west England has a wealth of locations linked to the King Arthur legend. The impressive ruins of 12th-century Tintagel Castle gained fame when Geoffrey of Monmouth named it in his History of the Kings of Britain as the place where Arthur was conceived. English Heritage has honoured the legend with an outdoor exhibition at the castle taking visitors on a journey of discovery. After learning about 1,500 years of Tintagel’s past, including its links to King Arthur, you can relax on the beach below the castle – perfect for a quick paddle, exploring rock pools or building your own castles out of sand.
Glastonbury, south-west England
Glastonbury is synonymous with the world-famous music festival, but it is also a town with a strong spiritual heritage, and was once home to the largest Abbey in Britain – and the earliest Christian sanctuary in the country. Although there are only ruins left of the 2,000-year-old Abbey, there is still much to explore. What is now a bustling little town of was known in ancient times as the Isle of Avalon – a legendary island appearing in historical writings as the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged, and later where Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. Avalon became associated with Glastonbury when monks claimed to have discovered the bones of Arthur and his queen at Glastonbury Abbey. The calm, manicured grounds that surround the impressive abbey ruins make a wonderful place for a picnic on a sunny day. To work up an appetite beforehand, there’s always the option to climb up the high conical hill of Glastonbury Tor, topped by St Michael’s Tower.
Wales can lay claim to many haunts associated with the legend of King Arthur, his mighty sword Excalibur and fabled magician Merlin. Arthur’s tale is deeply engrained in Welsh folklore, and Wales’ 2017 Year of Legends is the perfect time to explore the legend and associated locations. One such haunt is Snowdonia National Park and Mount Snowdon, where Arthur reputedly killed a fearsome giant, Rhitta, whose corpse was covered in huge stones by Arthur’s men at the summit of the mountain.
At least two lakes in Snowdonia are claimed to be home to the Lady of the Lake and the final resting place of Excalibur, Arthur’s legendary sword. Some local legends say that Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur into Llyn Llydaw, beneath Snowdon, after Arthur’s death and that this was the lake Arthur sailed across to reach the magical isle of Avalon. Another story claims that the sword was thrown into Llyn Ogwen, also in the mountains of Snowdonia.
Carlisle and King Arthur’s Round Table, Cumbria, north-west England
Legend has it that Carlisle was King Arthur’s Camelot (or his headquarters), making use of its Roman fortifications. Impressive Carlisle Castle is the most besieged fortress in Britain with a fascinating history, and you can even buy a replica of Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, in the gift shop!
East of Carlisle is Birdoswald Roman Fort, one of the best preserved of the 16 forts along Hadrian’s Wall and the nearest to Carlisle. It could have been the site of Camelot, but the more likely Arthurian connection is the Battle of Camlann, which was fought nearby.
An Arthurian pilgrimage of Britain would not be complete without a visit to the rumoured site of Arthur’s Round Table in the Eamont Bridge area of Cumbria, dating from about 2000 BC. This Neolithic henge consists of a low circular platform surrounded by a wide ditch and earthen bank. The exact original purpose of the monument remains unknown, but some believe it was King Arthur’s jousting arena. The English Heritage site is a natural amphitheatre, ideal for knights to gather and swap stories of adventure – and it’s also said that fifty champions of the realm gathered there to fight for the hand of King Arthur’s daughter. It is one of a pair of henges in the surrounding area, along with the large stone Mayburgh Henge. Both sites can be visited as part of an easy-going six kilometre walk devised by the Eden Rivers Trust, starting near Penrith town centre and taking in the ruins of medieval Brougham Castle along the way.
If you want to get into the real warrior spirit, head south into Cumbria’s Lake District region of Cumbria and get your hands on a bow and arrow, trying your hand at archery in the outdoors with Adventuremakers.