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The History and Sites of King Arthur

Bron
Posted on 28 Feb 2023

I can’t remember where my obsession with King Arthur began. It could be argued that it goes back to this rather saucy book my friend lent me back in primary school (a tad inappropriate for me to be reading at such an age) that involved a young woman getting sent back in time to when Arthur, Merlin, and (most importantly for the story) Lancelot were around. Imagine her surprise that all these fictional characters turned out to be real. 

However, while reading the book, I recall this sensation that I’d already been rather obsessed with the Arthurian Legend and Merlin. Perhaps I’ll never really know where it all began, but I’m glad that it did. 

As a teenager, I then became obsessed with the TV show Merlin. While a sometimes-dorky family show, it touches on some of the most important aspects of this legend. From there, I read several books about the Arthurian Legend and, despite all the darkness involved in the story, I have romanticized it like many before me. 

There is no clear story of Arthur, not really. Most people know the basics. That a young orphan boy pulled a sword from a stone and became the King of England. That he was assisted by the great wizard Merlin. That Arthur fell in love with, and married, a beautiful woman known as Guinevere. That he and his Knights of Camelot sat around a round table to mark them as equals. That his ‘most chivalrous knight’ Lancelot had an affair with Guinevere. And that, finally, Arthur met his end at the Battle of Camlann at the hands of his son, Mordred.  

But there are so many different versions and small changes that it is hard to know for sure the legend of King Arthur. Some portray him as a hero, others as a weak and selfish ruler, and others as a villainous man who deserved what he got at the hands of Mordred. If you want to know a bit more, you can read our blog about it here.

This tale of a king and his knights has endured for centuries, inspiring people to retell and adapt this story time and again. What is it about it that captures our imaginations? It’s likely to be different for everyone.  

Whether you’re a huge fan like me, or only know the basics, you might be interested in seeing the places that are linked to this tale. Next time you’re adventuring around the UK, here are a few places you might be interested in visiting. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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1. The Round Table  

A round table. An icon of equality. At least this is what it represents in the Legend of King Arthur. Think of the tale and it’s hard not to think of the Round Table that the king and his knights sat around. But did you know that this table can be found in Winchester? 

Supposedly.  

The famous Round Table can be found in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle and has been hanging there since at least 1540. It was King Henry VIII who ordered the table painted with his family’s symbol, the Tudor Rose. Since the King was supposedly obsessed with the legend of Arthur and believed himself a decedent of the fabled man, Athur’s portrait can also be found on the table, though it bears a striking resemblance to Henry. Go figure.  

We head to Winchester on our 5-day Devon & Cornwall tour, so you can decide for yourself if the portrait is more Henry or more Arthur.  

2. Tintagel 

Arthur’s story began in Cornwall. Tintagel Castle is rumoured to be where the great king-to-be was born and there are several lakes in the region that claim to be where Arthur received the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake.  

There are endless places to visit with a supposed link to the legend, but one that should definitely be on your list is Tintagel Castle. According to legend, he was conceived at the castle after Uther used Merlin’s sorcery to make him look like the husband of Igraine, Arthur’s mother. See, not the nicest of legends.  

The castle still stands today, although in ruins, on a rocky island connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway. It’s all very dramatic, just like the legend, just how we like it. And below the castle sits Merlin’s Cave, accessible only at low tide.  

Is there any proof of this connection to Arthur? Well, in 1998, archaeologists found pottery and glass fragments from the fifth and sixth centuries at Tintagel Castle, along with a 1,500- year-old stone bearing an inscription in Latin that translates to ‘Artognou descendant of Patern[us] Colus made this’. There is much speculation that Artognou could be Arthur himself.  

We visit Tintagel Castle on our 4-day Cornwall, Devon & Stonehenge tour from Bristol and our 5-day Devon & Cornwall tour from London.  

3. Glastonbury 

I went to Glastonbury specifically for my obsession with King Arthur. This Somerset town is more than just its famous festival. It’s much, much more. It’s been a place of pilgrimage for centuries, and essentially that is what I was doing there.  

When Arthur was wounded in his final battle (damn that Sir Mordred), he was taken to the Isle of Avalon. Glastonbury is believed to be this very place. If you hike up the Tor, you can spot Cadbury Castle. No, it’s not made of chocolate (I was disappointed too). Instead, this Iron Age hill fort is believed to be the location of Arthur’s court, the famous Camelot.  

I also visited the Chalice Well due to its connections to the Arthurian Legend. Among the beautiful gardens is a well. The waters within are believed to be linked to Avalon and the Holy Grail. The seal of the well is a symbol that can be interpreted as the waters of Avalon and Excalibur. I have a matching ring and necklace set.  

Finally, Glastonbury Abbey is thought to be the burial place of King Arthur. In 1191, the monks of the abbey were digging in an old cemetery during the rebuilding of their monastery when they unearthed a lead cross. The Latin inscription on it read Hie Jacet Sepultus Inclytus Rex Arthurus In Insula Avalonia, which is translated into English as ‘here lies interred in the Isle of Avalon the renowned King Arthur’. The monks dug deeper and found two human skeletons, one male and one female, which they assumed to be those of Arthur and Guinevere. 

If I were to recommend one place for someone to visit for its connections to Arthur, it would be Glastonbury. We head here on our 5-day Devon & Cornwall tour from London and on our 1-day Flavours of Somerset & Glastonbury tour from Bristol.  

4. Stonehenge 

Stonehenge is one of the UK’s most visited attractions. This iconic stone circle has drawn people to it with the same questions in mind: who built it, how did they do it, and why was it built? Some stories say the Romans built it. Others say aliens were involved (love that). Another claims it was the wizard Merlin who brought this legendary site to life.  

Twelfth-century chronicler, Geoffrey of Monmouth, wrote of and made popular the Arthurian legends in his History of the Kings of Britain. In his writings, he claims the stones were healing rocks put there by Merlin under the direction of Uther Pendragon. The King wanted to erect a memorial at the site of a major battle he had fought. Merlin enslaved giants and had them carry the stones to where you see them today.  

Check it out for yourself on our 3-day Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Bath & the South West Coast tour from London, or our 1-day Stonehenge & Cotswold Villages tour from Bristol.  

5. Wye Valley & surrounding areas 

For those who have a love of King Arthur thanks to the many shows and movies out there, you might be interested in taking a jaunt around the stunning Wye Valley. Dubbed an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ANOB), Wye Valley is known for its limestone gorge scenery, dense native woodlands, amazing wildlife, and archaeological remains.  

Several locations within the Wye Valley were used as filming locations for both the TV series Merlin and the movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017). Take yourself to King Arthur’s Cave, a twenty-five-foot-high prehistoric cave surrounded by sorbus trees. The cave, and surrounding woodland, was used in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword for a council scene that you may recognise.  

Merlin fans have several spots they could head to, including the mystical Puzzlewood, an ancient woodland filled with strange rock formations, secret caves, a maze of paths, and ancient trees. Another filming location is Raglan Castle, which fans might recognise as the castle from the finale of season one where the evil Nimueh hides out.  

While we don’t visit any of these locations on a small-group tour, we do explore the Wye Valley on tours such as our 2-day Stratford–upon–Avon, Oxford & the Cotswolds tour, our 3-day The Mountains & Coasts of South Wales tour, and our 4-day South Wales, Cotswolds & Oxford tour, all departing from Bristol.  

6. Bardsey Island 

Famed for its fascinating wildlife, rare flora, and rugged scenery, Bardsey Island is located just off the Llŷn Peninsula in the Welsh county of Gwynedd. What you might not know is that legend claims this is the burial site of Merlin. The story goes that he sleeps inside a magical glass castle (sounds about right, since he always had a flair for the dramatic), but what isn’t clearly known is if he put himself there or if he was imprisoned by the Lady of the Lake.  

Regardless, it’s a beautiful place to visit. You can do day trips out to the island, or even stay for a week (by booking with Bardsey Island Trust) and give yourself time to search for Merlin’s resting place. 

7. St Nectan’s Glen 

Personally, I’m dying to visit this stunning spot. St Nectan’s Glen is a sixty-foot waterfall that comes pouring through a hole in the rocks. This otherworldly location has many legends and stories linked to it, but the one you’ll be interested in is linked to King Arthur. 

Legend has it that King Arthur’s knights journeyed to St Nectan’s Glen and received a blessing here before their quest to find the Holy Grail. You don’t have to be on a quest of your own to visit the waterfall, and there’s more than one reason to visit the area. Nearby you’ll find several other waterfalls, the River Trevillet, and ancient woodland trees teeming with wildlife. 

8. Dozmary Pool & Bodmin Moor 

Trust me. Stand within Bodmin Moor and you’ll feel like a knight about to embark on a quest. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Bodmin Moor is a stunning granite moorland in the north-east of Cornwall.   

Within the moor, you’ll find Dozmary Pool, known as a possible location for where the Lady of the Lake resides. Most people know of this legendary lady and how she emerges from a lake to hand Arthur the sword Excalibur. Maybe this is the lake in question. It sure looks like it could be; wild and beautiful, especially under the glow of a setting sun.  

Later in the legend, when Arthur is dying from a wound received at the Battle of Camlann, both he and his sword are taken back to the lake. Excalibur is thrown into the water. Everybody knows that a hand reaches up out of the water, returning the King’s gift to the depths. Then a boat arrives to take the body of Arthur to the mystical isle of Avalon.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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There are countless places you could visit to sate your obsession with all things King Arthur. Merlin knows I have plenty of sites left to explore, top of which is St Nectan’s Glen. I don’t plan to be blessed and depart on a quest, but if the occasion arises, I won’t need much convincing.  

King Arthur, Merlin, Camelot, Excalibur... perhaps it is the mystery and uncertainty that shrouds this legend that makes it so appealing. People continue to wonder, to search, and to hope that maybe one day the story will turn from fable to fiction. But personally, I think not knowing for sure is better.  

Meet the Author

Bronwyn lives and breathes words. Before coming to work at Rabbie's, she spent 7 years in publishing and is a published author of YA fantasy books. Born and raised in Sydney, she was drawn to Scotland and affectionately calls it her 'soul home'. An avid traveller herself, Bronwyn's favourite places (so far) are Mongolia, Iceland, Morocco, and Scotland (of course). When she's not writing, she can be found exploring the Scottish Highlands with her camera, on the lookout for coos and men in kilts. 

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