I don't really know where to start. I guess where everything starts. Conception.
Joe and I are fraternity brothers, both English majors, and wanted to go study in a foreign country for Interim. We both also have an interest in the old castle days of England, so a study of King Arthur was a natural choice. With this idea, we decided to tackle our Senior Interim as well, while we were juniors.
This was May of 99. Before we left school for the summer, we met with Dr. Susan Hagen. I didnt know her before this, but we decided shed be good to talk to, as she is the only professor here with any specialty in medieval literature. Her specialty is mainly Chaucer, I think. But this meeting was a quick introductory one, only intended to assess the feasibility of the idea, and we hoped that she would be our faculty sponsor. She did. Obstacle one, check.
Through the summer, Joe and I continued to research Arthur and the trip. Just reading and discussing. Fairly early on, we purchased a book called The Travellers Guide to Arthurian Britain. It has proven to be our Bible for trip planning. It was written by a guy named Geoffrey Ashe, who we had heard about from Dr. Hagen. He is, from what I understand, the Arthurian scholar. Hopefully, well get to meet him in England, as he lives in Glastonbury.
But perhaps the biggest event of the summer was our first meeting with Dr. Mildred Day. Joe found out about her. She used to edit an Arthurian Journal right here at BSC, and it has since joined with several other journals to become now the quarterly journal Arthuriana. Anyway, she lives not far from Birmingham, so we called her up and asked her if she would mind meeting with us. She said shed love to.
We met last summer with her one evening and talked about Arthur. No real structure as I remember, just occasional mentions of the trip. The main benefit of this meeting was discussing her thoughts/opinions/theories of Arthur. This is probably about when our focus began to narrow; we began to concentrate on the historical Arthur and evidence more than the more romanticized stories of the High Middle Ages. This became the focus of our trip.
Then, late in the summer, we began to plan the actual trip. We got a big map of England and put it on the wall, then got map tacks to mark the places we intended to visit and the places we planned to stay. Practically all of these sites came from Ashes travel book. Most of the places we will stay are bed and breakfasts. The idea here is that if we stay in small towns in small places, we will be able to get a local flavor about the areas legends. We thought this would make an interesting addition to the web page.
We had our second meeting with Dr. Day on Friday the 1st. We showed her the itinerary weve worked up and she thought it was great. She gave us Geoffrey Ashes address in Glastonbury and we wrote him a letter today to be mailed tomorrow. She told us about a friend she has that lives in Oxford that we might also potentially meet with. And she told us about the time she almost got arrested by the British Secret Service type people. She told them she was studying King Arthur, which happened to be the code name for some fanatic labor party communist and she just happened to match the description of his American contact lady. Weird. Were hoping we dont get arrested for anything like that, though it would make a cool story to tell the grandkids about. Ive also been reading this book by Norma Lorre Goodrich called King Arthur. She (Goodrich) evaluates the possibility of the real Arthur being from the Border Area rather than from way down south as is tradition. Most of her evidence comes from reevaluating the Latin/Welsh that Geoffrey of Monmouth used for his sources. It seems to make sense and is able to consolidate all the Arthurian sites into one area. Were visiting a lot of the major sites up north; i.e. Carlisle, Dumbarton, Edinburgh, Stirling, Bamburgh, etc. Dr. Day didnt take her too seriously, though, due to Goodrichs seeming dismissal of previous Arthurian scholarship. The main conflict between the two is that Dr. Day believes Caerleon was Arthurs big place (Camelot, if you will) while Goodrich says this was mistranslated and should be Carlisle. I dont know. Today or tomorrow were gonna check out Dr. Days book from our library, The Romance of Arthur, an Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation. This is her translation of the Latin where Caerleon is the biggie. We shall see.
Here I am, sitting in the Atlanta airport. Our flight to England leaves at 6:45, in about 2 hours. This morning I got up and drove from Tupelo to Memphis, and I flew from there into Atlanta about 2:30.
But a lot has happened these past couple months. We revamped our itinerary a bit. Mostly we slimmed it down, took out some stuff. It was getting a bit crowded and we werent sure if wed have the stamina to keep up. We cut out some of the stuff of lesser importance and we think this way well be able to relax a bit more and really enjoy the places we do see without being rushed. So we did that and were happier. Some days are still somewhat packed, but theres more easy days nonetheless. So when we get to Gatwick (about 8AM over there; I hope I can sleep on the plane) were gonna get our car (Nissan Micra, love the name) from Stuart. I hope that all works out ok. We had a bit of a time finding a car rental place because of our ages (Joe 21, me 20) but Stuart agreed. But theres a young driver charge per day thatll probably add up by the time its all over. So after we get the car, were heading right out to Portchester and then to Winchester. From there well settle in Andover to stay the night at Laines Cottage. I imagine well hit the sack pretty early. Im scared to add up how many hours I will have been awake.
So we have all of our lodging reservations and the car rented. Weve also been in contact with Geoffrey and Patricia Ashe, and the have agreed to meet with us while were in Glastonbury. They live right by the tor, and the place were staying is right by the tor as well, in one of the B & Bs that Mrs. Ashe suggested. Were excited. We dont really have any set plans for that yet, but I guess well try to call in the next few days.
The last big thing thats happened I guess is that we made the first portion of our web site. We made a page (3, actually) dealing with The Age of Arthur about life in the 6th century in England. This was a final project for Dr. Hagens class, and we were pleased with the result. And we both learned how to use all the internet software that well be using for the big one. So Id say were pretty well set.
PORTCHESTER / WINCHESTER1-5-00
Boy am I tired. Its about 8:00 over here right now. Didnt get a whole lot of sleep on the plane, which didnt help much either. But the flight over was rather uneventful. We arrived about 8 AM and did the customs thing, got baggage, and then got the car. We were on the road by quarter till 9.
First stop, Portchester. Joe did real well adapting to the driving thing over here. The roundabouts took a bit of getting used to but we were able to clip right along. I was the navigator and found the job pretty easy. We were never blatantly and utterly lost (like any man would ever admit it ). So anyway we got to Portchester and spent a good bit of time there. It was originally a Roman fortress in Portsmouth Harbor and was refortified many times. It was very cool. A lot of stuff to explore. And we bought this pass from the gift shop that will let us get in to all the English Heritage sites free for 14 days. A good deal for us. And only 16 pounds. So hopefully well make money. Ate lunch at a pub right near the castle. It was a neat little place. But the streets in this area were two lanes except people would park in one lane, effectively making it one and a half. Made driving real interesting. Then we drove up the road to Winchester.
Winchester is a cool little city. We walked around it a little bit, mostly trying to find the Great Hall where King Arthurs Round Table is. We got a good quick tour of the citysaw the huge cathedral and walked down the main street. The Great Hall was cool tooeven though it didnt have anything to do with the real King Arthur, as the table was made many centuries after the fact. The Hall used to be an old courtroom I think. But now its pretty empty with only a few old judge benches and the round table hanging on the wall. Impressive nonetheless.
And now Im lying in bed at Lains Cottage in Quarley, just outside of Andover. We talked to our hosts a bit about our purpose, and the accommodations are real nice and cozy. Just what I need for a good nights sleep. Which is sounding better and better
LIDDINGTON / STONEHENGE1-6-00
We got up real early this morningaround 7 AM. Ate a full English breakfast at about 7:30 and then set out.
We went to Stonehenge first, about 8:30, but it didnt open for an hour so we decided to go on to Marlborough and Liddington Castle. We had to go through Marlborough to get to Liddington, and we had a bit of trouble finding it. Its not labeled at all and from the bottom it just looks like a big hill. Its not a castle at all. Its a hillfortbasically theres a ditch/moat at the top around a flat space where I guess they used to have buildings and stuff. So we drove around on these small little roads and parked on the side of one at the bottom of this hill we decided was Liddington. As we were getting out of the car and ready to go up there, an old English gent confirmed that this was the hill. He was riding by on a bike. So we bundled up and started up this hill. We had to crawl through a barbed wire fence to get up there. I guess the area has been turned into a sheep farm or something; there were a couple wandering around the hillside. The walk up was a good strenuous one in the cool weather, and we found a whole flock of sheep at the top. We never scared them all the way off, but they kept their distance and we kept ours. Basically we just walked around the ramparts and in the ditches taking pictures. We took a series of pics in a circle using a tripod and were gonna use those with the Photovista program to make a panorama of the area. Well see if that works tomorrow. By the time we got back down and back to Marlborough, it was time for lunch at The Bear. Had lasagna. We walked around there for a while, went to an antique store and to Marlborough College to see Merlins Hilla mound in the middle of the campus where (I think) Merlin is supposedly buried. Appropriately, there was a Merlins Pub in the town, which we took a picture of.
From there we stopped off at Avebury, a little town with a big stone circle akin to Stonehenge but different looking. Nothing to do with Arthur really, just a curiosity. Neat though.
Then we went back to Stonehenge. The touristiness really contrasted with Liddington. But it was very cool. One of those things you just need to see in your lifetime. We got there as the sun was going down and that made for some cool pictures. After a stop in the Stonehenge gift shop (very touristy) we headed on to the city of Andover for a little touring and supper. We were trying to find this one pub and we couldnt and this guy offered to show us how to get there. Ok. But he took us there. We got the feeling he was kind of a local neer-do-well and we didnt really know what would happen. But he took us there and we gave him a pound each (at his request) and headed on our merry way. The pub was closed (didnt open till 6). So we wandered around to a couple more and finally found an open onethe Hogs Head. Had a steak pie. We came back to Lains Cottage after that and now were winding down. Gotta get to bed earlya lot of driving to do tomorrow. To Cornwall. Ill be asleep by 8. Wow.
DOZMARY POOL / FOWEY1-7-00
Today was a big driving day. It took about 3 hours to get from Andover to Dozmary Pool. Dozmary Pool was just outside a little town called Bolventor. We had to turn down this two-lane road that was very narrow with stone/shrubbery walls on either sideno medians or shoulders. Pretty scary when another vehicle (car, tractor, whatever) came along. One of us had to completely stop to let the other by. We were basically driving through farmland lined with little scrub grasses. We drove down little side roads filled with potholes until we saw the pool. It was right by a farmhouse. We took a couple of pics and decided to knock on the door but nobody was home. We left the pool and went down a few more country roads on the way to Fowey.
On the way we stopped at the Tristan Stone and took a few picstried to read the inscriptions but they were too weathered to make out much. So we continued to Fowey. Boy the streets there are narrow. But somehow we found this pub we were looking forThe Galleon. Its supposed to be 400 years old. Had some chicken. We walked around Fowey for a bit and then headed back out the way we came to find Castle Doreanother hillfort sort of like Liddington Castle. It was a bit smaller and on less of a hill, but very interesting nonetheless. A lot of the earthwork was a little more defined than at Liddington. We did another panorama thing, but we havent fixed it up yet. And were still playing around with the one from Liddington.
So after this we drove up to Tintagel to the Cornishman Inn. A cool little place. We settled in there for a bit and then decided to go walking around dusk to try to find the castle. We did. Walked around the cliffs a bit and came upon the castle. Wow. Wow. Wow. Very cool. I cant wait to see it in the light. It was very windy over there too. Its been windy on Liddington and Dore and really everywhere to a degree, but damn.
It drizzled a bit tonight but so far we havent gotten rained out and everything has gone according to schedule. Weve been lucky. Lets hope it stays that way.
TINTAGEL / CAMELFORD1-8-00
Today we slept in. As in 8:00. The breakfast here was the same as Lains Cottageham-bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, and an egg. Also cereal and toast and OJ and tea. Good stuff. Then we got to Tintagel Castle a bit before 10 AM. We got to see all the stuff we walked through last night in the light. We walked down by the church and cliffs again this morning to get to the castle.
We got there a little before 10 and took a few pictures at the land side of the ruins because it didnt open till 10. We were going to go down to Merlins Cave, a tunnel that runs through the bottom of the island, but the tide was in and we found out it was going out from the ticket guy. So we decided to go see the ruins for a while and then go down later.
I really dont know how to describe the castle. Really the only thing I can say is that it is perhaps the coolest place Ive ever been and I will take my kids there someday. Looking out over the cliffs and down the ragged coastline was just awesome. Incredible. On the Arthur side of it all, there were a lot of stone foundations of old buildings along the top. One was an old chapel that was different from the others in that there was an altar at one end overlooking the coastline. A very awe inspiring view appropriate for a chapel. And then there was a tunnel up there too. Its hypothesized that it might have been used as a meat cellar or something. Got a few pics in there.
By the time we were done walking around in there, it was a little before 12. The tide was out enough to get down to Merlins Cave. We got to climb over a bunch of rocks to get down to it. Thats ok with me; I love climbing rocks for some reason. Always have. But we got to the cave and walked in, discovering that in went all the way through the rock. Neither of us had any idea it did thatit was a great find for us. And then we found this tributary cave within that was pitch black but we decided to explore it anyway. We got in and were throwing rocks to try to tell about how far it went in. We then took flash pics with the digital camera so we could see a little in there. Kind of scary. But very cool. We got all the way in and took a pic or two looking out.
We got done playing around in there and grabbed a Cornish pasty for lunch because it was about 1:30 and we needed to get on to Slaughter Bridge. We had contacted a guy named Dan Parsons, who is starting the Camelot Project, which, as I understand, will be a digitized library of Arthurian texts and resources. It will be located at Worthyvale Manor, and the Arthurs Stone at Slaughter Bridge is on that property, as is a reputed Camlann battlefield. He told us he would be on holiday while we were here and to talk to Joe Parsons. We went to see the stone (very cool, on the bank of the river Camelmost of the rivers here would be creeks in the US) and the battlefield, then we drove up to the manor house to see if Joe was in. We had tried to call him earlier but no one answered. We went up to the house and found some people that said that Joe was on holiday as well but other people to talk to would be back soon; they were out moving horses to another field. They eventually got back and didnt really know much about the project. Maybe because there wasnt much to knowI understand its still in its infancy big time. But we ended up having tea with the Parsons and talked to them about our trip and project. They made fun of us for not drinking our tea with milk like the real English.
We came back to Tintagel after that and called our girlfriendstheyre leaving for Italy tomorrow and we wanted to see them off, so to speak. Mine was delighted that were sleeping at a bar. We walked around for a bit after that and ended up having ham, eggs, and chips at the Wharncliffe Inn, a nice little pub with very hospitable people. We talked with them for a while about our trip and just the general Arthurian stuff of the area. As well as the obligatory how the US is different conversationcant tell you how many times Ive had that one. Always interesting anyway. Well, we made it through another day and everythings gone according to plan. Lets hope it stays that way. Even the rain has cooperated and stayed out of our way when were sightseeing and exploring. Weve been lucky. But its almost bedtime again. Need to rest up for our day trip to the bottom of Cornwall tomorrow.
LOE POOL / MARAZION1-9-00
Today was a fun day. I wish I wasnt tired because I might write more.
But we got up at 7 and off at 8missed breakfast here. We headed off to the end of Cornwall, stopping outside Wadebridge to find Castle Killibury (AKA Kelly Rounds). This was like Castle Dore in the style of earthwork except that theres a road through the middle of it and a farm on one side. There was a sign on the farm that said something to the effect of minimally diseased pigsthat was a good way to start the morning. We took another Photovista panorama of it, including the farm, but we havent put it together yet. Weve messed with the Liddington and Dore pics a bit but theyre still not finalized.
Then we had a nice little drive down to Marazion, where we saw St. Michaels Mount. Very cool but only minimally related to Arthur. But we did meet two old birdwatching Englishmen as we were walking out to take pictures and told them our story. A nice little conversation. One of them told us to give Guinevere a kiss for him if we found Arthur. We also saw the lady of the house on St. Michaels (rich) being chauffeured out to town in her Land Rover Defender across the cobblestone causeway thats only usable at low tide. But it was very cool. We didnt give it a whole lot of emphasis, though, and we headed to Loe Pool.
We found a place to park to get to it, and theres probably a ½ mile trail to get there walking along cliffs reminiscent of those of north California. Apparently this is also a popular trail for people to bike and walk the dog. It was a great sunny Sunday to do it, too. Didnt even have to wear a jacket. We passed and old mine shaft and some old fortifications on the way out there. But we got out there and it was cool too. We read that the pool (lake, really) is really an inlet of the bay but a bar formed across it and created this lake where Bedivere supposedly threw Excalibur. Personally, I think Dozmary Pool has a bit more atmosphere. But theres a break in the cliffs and a thick beach that leads to the pool. We took a few pics looking down the pool and climbed out on old tree trunks to get better angles. But we were getting hungry and decided to go eat somewhere, and we ended up in the nearby town of Porthleven at a pub called the Atlantic Inn run by a guy named Roger Baker. We walked in and began to talk with the locals that were in there about the trip and what weve done. This is probably the best response weve had to our trip from the locals. So we ended up meeting Roger and we talked to him for a while about fishing, Florida, and some of the legends/history of the area, Arthur and otherwise. He even let us use his email to send out to family and our girlfriends, who left for Italy today. We had to give them a little Welcome to Italy note if theyre able to find any cyber-cafes or something. Anyway, he was very hospitable and the pub was niceoverlooked the bay from high on the hill. I had a rump steak. Good stuff. I ate some peas too though.
So we left Roger to head back and decided to drop in on St. Ives to see if wed meet a man with 7 wives. We didnt. We decided to eat supper there in a pub that was built in the 1300s that was on the harborThe Sloop Inn. But it was only 3:00 or so so we went down the road a bit to a little town outside of Hayle that had a pub called the Bucket of Blood. I got my picture taken in front of the sign, but the pub was closed. So we went back to St. Ives and walked around a bit. Settled into the pub and had bangers and mash for supper. Got back here around 8, called mom, and now its time to go to bed. Another drive tomorrow.
CADBURY / TOR / ASHES1-10-00
We missed the alarm this morninggot up at 7:30 instead of 7:00. Ate a cold breakfast (cereal, toast, tea, and OJ) at the Cornishman and headed out. It was a fairly long drive today to Cadbury but we kept ourselves busy with a refresher crash course on the history of the fort and we also came up with a couple of topics to talk about with Geoffrey Ashe. The rest of the time we spent trying to figure out where we were an where we were going.
But real quick a couple things I left out yesterdaywhen we went to the Atlantic Inn, they were playing Johnny Cashs Ring of Fire and then later we heard Willie Nelson Time Slips Away. A bunch of old country. We complemented them. And then at Marazion we had read where in the 1800s or so an old man was about to shoot a raven and this other old man told him not to because it might be King Arthur. In some legends he is supposed to have turned into a raven. So we thought itd be cool if we got a picture of a raven on Marazion Green, where this little incident happened. So we took about 20 pictures trying to catch a raven sitting on the grass. Most had a penchant for eating trash in the parking lot and landing on cars. But we got a good one finally.
So anyway, back to today. We got to Cadbury and had to walk up this muddy trail by somebodys farm (déjà vu, man). Its now grazing land up top and a lot of people walk their dogs up there too (déjà vu again). But this was definitely the biggest fort we have been to so far. And very, very cool. Instead of two lines of defense, this place has four. And theyre all on a steep slope. And instead of being flat on top there was a gradual rise to a plateau on one side that I believe is called Arthurs Palace. We took another panorama (thats stitching right now as I write) that will probably turn out to be the best so far. It was cool because you could see Glastonbury Tor and Brent Knoll from Cadbury, making the beacon theory come to life. I hope it shows up in some of these pictures. We did the walking around the ramparts thing, getting more pictures of them, the surrounding areas, and the three entrances to the fort. It was real easy up there to imagine it as a safe, well-protected fort. We were so high above everything elsemost of the area around it was lowlands (which made the tor stand out that much more. It was still a very cool place, though again Cadbury Castle is not a castle in the architectural sense. So we drew ourselves away a little before 1:00 to go to Glastonbury.
We headed into town and parked in the city center to find a pub where we could grab some lunch. We ended up at the George and Pilgrim pub. We both had tortelloni. We figured itd be appropriate since our girlfriends were having their first day in Italy. Real good though.
Then we tried to call the Ashes but they werent in. We wanted to walk around the town a bit anyway. Theres a lot of new age spirituality type stuff here evidenced by the shops and stuff around. But we went into an old book store and I picked up a couple of cheap little booksHuck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Gullivers Travels, a pocket Grays Anatomy, and a big book of physiology or pathology, I dont remember which.
Then we came to Little Orchard and met the Giffords. Great hospitable people. We left our muddy boots at the door and brought our stuff in. We tried calling the Ashes again from here and this time they were home. We worked it out where we would go up the tor (right outside our place) and come back down and stop in for a spot of tea. They live right at the foot of the tor too. So we walked up to the tor about 3:30 or 4right before it would get dark. So we were up there for sunset but it was sort of cloudy. Real purty though, anyway. The path up there was muddy too. And long. And tiring. But I still beat Joes pitiful little out-of-shape self up there. He stayed behind to take pictures. Ha Ha. It was cool too. All thats up there now is a tower that used to be part of a church dedicated to St. Michael. Some excavation has been done up there but it was all filled in and the tower was about the only thing up there. There was a little plaque thing that showed in what direction points of interest were. It showed Brent Knoll, which was clearly visible, and Cadbury Castle, which kind of blended in with the surrounding hills. But we got a couple good pictures of the tower. From most of the sides and a few around the inside. Its hollow, so I took a picture out the top. And you could look out to the south and some of the lowland was flooded (I hear it was moreso in December, though) and it made it easy to picture the tor as the Isle of Avalon. Were gonna try to get a misty picture in the morningthe Mists of Avalonbecause the water is right outside our window and we dont actually have to get up. But then it was getting dark and we decided wed better get down to the Ashes. We did. We finally met Geoffrey and Patricia. What can I say but delightful and hospitable? We were served crumpets and hot cross buns to snack on and a couple of mugs of some stuff called Horlix that tasted a lot like hot chocolate but I really dont know how it was made. Malted something or other. Good stuff. We just set around and talked about all sorts of thingshow things are in America and at BSC, the specifics of our project, places weve been so far and personal reflections from Mr. Ashe about them, the places we intend to go, just all sorts of stuff. A perfect get to know you conversation.
But, to our delight, they offered to give us a tour of the abbey in the morning followed by a lunch. We feel very privileged and even elated. Very fortunate. And then we plan on sharing some of our pictures with them and talking a bit more interview style with Mr. Ashe too. Theyve been very generous with their time and we plan on using every second of it the best we can. We have a real blessing here.
ABBEY / ASHES1-11-00
Real quick, one thing I forgot about the Atlantic Inn in Porthleventhe owner, Roger, told us a little Arthurian folklore. Whenever he walks by Loe Pool, he said, theres a piece of metal that sticks out of the water that he always thinks of as Excalibur. A little tidbit of local surviving legend I thought was neat.
And yesterday Geoffrey told us about how he had exchanged letters with John Steinbeck about the Arthurian Legends and tales. That impressed us being English majors and all.
Which will segue into today. We slept in a littleuntil 8:30 or so and lay in bed for a few minutes. We had breakfast scheduled for 9:30. Breakfast was just a little different todayno mushrooms (fine by me ) and the egg was on toast. I liked it. And the beds here are comfortable as hell. Slept like a little baby. Had a dream about watching a shark frenzy in some big aquarium-type thing, but I slept very well.
So we got up, ate, and walked down to the Ashes about 10:30 for our tour of the Abbey. We drove to it and then got our tour. Joe and I got a tour of Glastonbury Abbey by Geoffrey Ashe. Still a bit unbelievable. I got the impression that hes done many, many tours of the Abbey in his day, but Id like to think that ours was a little different and that much more special. But it was great. If I detached myself from reality for a minute it felt like I was watching a documentary, where a well-known scholar is walking through some faraway place telling you all he knows and has experienced. But I was there, not just watching a video. Incredible.
We saw all the sites of the Abbey and had a great little tour. Arthurs grave was just a corner of grass. Somewhat disappointing, but the tale behind it is intriguing. Supposedly his bones were found set in a log that resembled a dugout canoe. I couldnt help relating it to the Sutton Hoo burial in this respect. This supposed gravesite of Arthur has taken on a new light resulting from visiting magical Glastonbury and the sites in the area. This light shed a bit of validity on the matter; I hadnt known what to think before.
A fire truck just sirened past our window. They have blue lights here. Hmmm.
So anyway, we got the tour, learned all about the history of the AbbeyJoseph of Arimethia (saw the thorn tree) through Arthur through the dissolution. We perused the visitors center afterwards for a bita museum / history / overview of the Abbey, then we went to eat lunch at the Abbey Tea Room right across the street. We each bought a reproduction lead cross from Arthurs tomb from the Abbey gift shop before we leftvery cool.
So we ate a nice lunch with the Ashes. I had meat, potatoes, and vegetables prepared yet another way (beef and mushroom casserole it was called) and it was very good. Joe and I treated the Ashes, took the bill before they could. We figured it was the least we could do.
Then we went back to the Ashes and Joe and I went to Chalice Well, only spittin distance from their house. It was pretty coola hefty dose of the new-age culture that so permeates Glastonbury. But we each took a little sip of the healing waters from the lions head fountain before we left.
Then we went back to the Ashes house and showed them a few of our pictures on the laptop. We were then privileged enough to have a little 15 minute or so interview with Mr. Ashe. We just basically talked about the different Arthur figures, his theories and belief, the history of the time, the literature new and old. A quick survey of the scholarship, the tip of the Arthurian iceberg. But again we felt very very privileged.
It was nearing dusk when we finished the interview. We thanked the Ashes for all their hospitality, assistance, willingness, and sacrifice once again (though Im sure it wont be the last time). We then hurried to Pomparles Bridge, another place where Bedivere is said to have thrown Excalibur, to try to photograph it before dark. A lot of the pictures we got look pretty black. Well either doctor them up or stop by again on our way out of town in the morning. I dont know. So that was our day. A great day. We cant thank the Ashes enough. We ate supper at the Riflemana pub just down the road; I had meat, potatoes, and vegetables again. Mmmm. Good stuff.
So I dont know what will happen tomorrow; I hear Arthurs cave is kind of a chore to find. Well see.
BRENT KNOLL / CAVE1-12-00
Today was a pretty hard day. Were both exhausted. We left the Giffords this morning after yet another restful nights sleep. We didnt se the Ashes this morning, but I remembered a funny story. Over here they have these meals called ploughmans, which is basically just a hunk of bread and a hunk of cheese and a few veggies. Geoffrey said he liked to go to McDonalds every so often, and they once decided to make ploughmans of their own. The nameMcPloughman. I found that amusing.
Anyway, we left this AM and went to take a few daylight pics of Pomparles Bridge before heading on to Brent Knoll. We found it without trouble and made the climb up all right, except that, like many places weve been, its muddy and through farmland. We didnt see anybody walking the dog up there though. Odd for us. But there was a great view, although a tad misty, of the Glastonbury area and across the Bristol Channel towards Dinas Powys and Cardiff. We didnt spend a whole lot of time up there, but we enjoyed it. A good hike.
Then we took a little side trip to Cheddar. A great place full of cheese. A little touristy but seemed pretty respectable. You could tell they had their fair share of tour busses come through though. But we got some cheese and had a toasted cheese sandwich at the little café there. Good stuff. That would end up being lunch. We didnt know at that point whether it would be or not. Get while the gettins good, you know.
So we left Cheddar to head into Wales. We crossed the Bristol Channel on a toll bridge that cost dad gum four and a half pounds. Never seen a toll that big in the states. But we drove up to Monmouth and a little outside to this hill called Little Doward. We were going to find Arthurs Cave somewhere in a hillside. You never know what to expect at these placeshow well marked they will be or the general obscurity of the stuff were looking for. There were a few signs up to Little Doward, but no real markings and we had to hunt a while for the cave. The site is near a quarry so there were a few muddy dirt roads circling the hill. But we just walked around in the general area where it should be (using Ashes guidebook) and got lucky. We found a cave at long last that met all the criteria. It was in the right area, not very deep, and near the quarry. But, like I said, markings were nonexistent for the cave so we cant be 100% sure. It was a nice little hike though. We walked by a nature preserve somehow on the way out and saw some big ol deer. Took some pics. So we found our car (we had to park in somebodys driveway a little ways up the hill) and headed down to a little town outside of Newport called Redwick. Were staying at the Brick House tonight. A big old house in the middle of the woods. Very nice though. A lot of antique furniture and a real nice atmosphere. We tried to go into a less small town nearby called Magor to eat, but the pubs didnt start serving till 7. Too late for us. We went to the grocery and got some bread and came back to the house. We ate the bread with our cheese and had a bottle of wine to go along with it. A good, simple dinner. Good, because, like I said, were exhausted. Were only staying here a night but I really wouldnt mind staying here to relax for a few days. Maybe in a few years. Well, the beds feel very comfortable so I think Ill hit the sack pretty early tonight. We might try to call the women in Italy tonight.
CAERLEON / CARMARTHEN1-13-00
Those beds at Brick House were very comfortable. A lot of covers and I just sank down into the mattress. But we got up, packed, ate another full English breakfast, and got on our way.
We headed to Caerleon and got there a little after 9:30. We got out to the amphitheater and surveyed it for a while, took a few pics. But we opted not to do our panorama shots for a little while because the sun was pretty bright and would get in the way of some pics. So we walked out to see the Roman barracks foundations that were there. They were cool. A very linear, methodical layout typical of the Romans. But it was really just a bunch of brick squares in a line. Not a whole lot to see, but a good imagination impetus. So we spent a few minutes there and then went back to the amphitheater.
But there was a tour bus coming when we were walking back. Oh crap, we said. It turned out to be a school field trip and soon the amphitheater looked like an anthill covered with little kid-ants. It wasnt really that bad; the tour guide kept them in line pretty well. Eventually we did the if you cant beat em, join em thing and figured we might as well shadow the group and glean info from the guide. They didnt seem to mind. And we learned stuff, too. So that was ok. We just hung out with them until they left to go to the baths. We took our panorama then. Should be the best one if we can get it to work. The amphitheater was really cool even though it pales in comparison the Colosseum. But it was cool to see the Roman influence so far way and how similar it was to the motherland. We decided to explore this further.
We went to the Caerleon museum in the center of the town next. Turns out the whole town is built over a Roman one and the amphitheater and barracks are just on the fringes. So we saw the museum--a lot of old broken pots and stuff but very cooland headed next to see the baths. Only the pool and part of the frigidarium were left I think. And they built a building/visitors center around it and it was like elevated boardwalks around the ruins. Never seen a bath before, and we skipped Bath, so this was a good thing to see. And real interesting though only indirectly related to Arthur. Its hard to imagine such an advanced society being so immediately pre-Arthur. So we did the bath thing then we ate lunch because it was noon. Had a potato with ham and cheese. Wasnt real hungry but it was eatin time.
We left there and headed towards Dinas Powys. It was the 4th hill in the beacon theory but it kind of lost some priority because we stayed in Caerleon so long. We found the town of Dinas Powys and may have seen the hill but it wasnt anything we could be sure of. So we drove around for a while but didnt see anything definite so we kept on keepin on. We drove to Carmarthen.
Here we found Byrn Myrddin (Merlins Hill) but missed Merlins Rock, which was supposed to be across the street from the hill. We didnt see it. So we drove into town and saw signs to the museum. We were like what the hey and went in. We knew that a fragment of Myrddins tree from the town was supposed to be in there. It was, along with other stuff. The tree was just a piece of wood with a picture beside it. Good thing to see, and the museum was free. A pleasant surprise, both that and the fact that we just stumbled on the place without really looking for it. Again, we were lucky.
Now were at the High Noon Guest House in Pembroke. Ate a little steak and potato at the Kings Arms for supper and now its time to rest up for our relatively early day tomorrow. Maybe a little shopping.
ST. GOVANS / BOSHERSTON1-14-00
We slept in a bit todaytill around 8:00. Went to another full English breakfast, good yet again, at High Noon Guest House in Pembroke. About 9:30 we got on the road and went the little piece to St. Govans Head. One of the coolest places weve been thus far.
The place is right down on the coast. We had to drive through a military practice range and the chapel was only open when the military wasnt having firing practice. But we were lucky. So we went to the end of the line and saw the craggy cliffs of South Pembrokeshire. The chapel was down a few steps to the bottom of the cliffs. Awesome view. Great place for a chapel. It was real small with an altar at one end and a barely discernable cross carved in the wall over it. Simple. But the chapel looked like it was just crammed into the rockslike the side walls were partly cliff. And outside there was a well built in the rocks that St. Govan used. St. Govan was supposed to be Sir Gawain. Thats the Arthurian connection here. But we played on the rocks a lot too. Thats something Ive noticed. Weve been seeing a lot of old stuff (the original chapel was built in the late 500s) and so a lot of it is well on the way to being reclaimed by nature. Im not a big hippie or anything but I like playing around in a little bit of nature every once in a while, especially climbing on rocks by a coast. Water and rocks. I think thats why I like all this stuffa combo of nature and history thats fascinating. We ran around on the rocks for a while and then just sat and stared out at the sea for a few minutes.
Then we drove back up north to Bosherston, where there is another Excalibur legend in the lakes there. Theyre called the Lily Ponds because they get dense with lily pads during the summer months, I understand. These are little finger lakes, very clear and not too terribly deep with little paths running alongside. Bridges over parts of it. Real purty-like. And there was this little bird that followed us around. We tried to catch him but he wouldnt let us and he got annoying. But it was still amazing how much he followed us. And that was today.
Then we did a little shopping this afternoonwent to Pembroke Docks after a nice lunch at the Crossed Saws Inna ham and cheese toasty. I bought an old book of Darwins of his voyage on the Beagle. Cool. And then we chilled in the room for a while before going back out to dinner. Ate the nicest meal yet, at least we spent the most on it. But we had a very nice bartender/waiter guy at the Coach Inn here in Pembroke. But now its bedtime; gotta get up early.
LLYN LLYDAW / LLYN OGWEN1-15-00
Today was mostly a driving day. But it was ok because a lot of it was in Snowdoniaawesome mountain country in north Wales. But we started the day with another great breakfast at High Noon. We gave our web address to themweve done so at a fair number of places so far. Then we paid and got the hell outta Dodge. We got on the road about 8:30 AM and headed for north Wales.
The road was a long one; we went through several smaller towns and drove along the coast for a bit. Eventually we got into the mountainous regions of Snowdonia. Comparable to Colorado but different somehow. They may not be as high because only the very tops of some mountains had any snow, and not a whole lot at that. But still awesome. Thats all I can say. That and really, really, big. Big and awesome. But I just want to make sure big is emphasized enough. So we had to drive for a while. We didnt get to the area until after 1:00. We decided to skip lunch and drop Marchlyn Mawr from the itinerary to get it all in. As we got closer, we made the route go by Dinas Emrys, the hillfort were seeing tomorrow. We figured itd be a good idea to find it. And then we went around the mountain to find Llyn Llydaw. But we didnt expect what we found.
We found a parking lot where the trail to the lake should beat least we hoped there was a trail. But we had no idea why there should be a parking lot for something we were seeing way out in the woods. And what puzzled us further was that the parking lot was packed. We drove down the road a bit and every side pull off had as many cars as it could hold. We were amazed at how many people there were out here. We remembered that this was a national park, and maybe January was a big month for hiking round these parts. Its the best answer weve come up with.
So we paid our two pounds and parked in the packed lot. We walked down a well-marked trail for probably a little under a milea beautiful trail, great sceneryuntil we got to the lake. Another awesome sight. We played around there for a while, climbing on rocks and up hills to get better pictures. We stayed there for a while, till 3 something. Then we decided it was time to see Llyn Ogwen.
This was another Excalibur lake not ten minutes drive from the other one. I still dont quite get that. But it was right by the road and we hopped out to take a few picsa very few because it was cold, nearing dusk, and there was not much to explore. So we did that and decided to get on into the town of Betws-y-Coed. The Byrn-y-Gwynt Guest House where we were going to stay had had nightmare electrical and utility problems the past few days so they arranged for us to stay at the guest house of one of their friends. Bryn Celyn is the name. Good place seems like. The beds are comfy. We went into town for a bitate at a hotel/inn type place. Had another meat pie. Good stuff. This town, we noticed, seems like a ski resort town. Just had that feel. A lot of sports type stores geared towards hikers and climbers. But its a cozy little place. I like it. But were going down to the end of the peninsula tomorrow. I hope we can fit it all in; the mountain roads throw our planning off a little. So. Its about time to hit the sack one more time.
DINAS EMRYS / BARDSEY / GWRTHEYRN1-16-00
Today was a good day. Got up, ate a full English breakfast, and got on the road.
The first place we went to was Dinas Emrys. We had to go back the way we came yesterday, past the lakes and down little mountain roads. But it wasnt far anyway. And since we had found it yesterday, it was easy to find again today. We got out of the car to try to find a way up. There was a barbed wire fence down the side of the road to mark farmland and going over it seemed to be the only way up. So thats what we did. The climb up was the rockiest of any of the hillforts yet. And we got to the top. But what we saw was different from other hillforts. There was no nice neat circle with defined ramparts. It was very craggy and the fortress part of the hill was not readily apparent. We walked a little farther up after we had crested the hill and saw some flat places that we explored. At this point we still werent convinced that this was even the hill. But we soon found remains of old buildings; those were reassuring. We photographed these and a couple other interesting things up there, but no panorama was possible. Too many elevation changes on top. But it was a cool hill, and markedly different from any wed visited before then. So we climbed down, got over the fence again, and back into the car. We drove down the peninsula to find Nant Gwrtheyrn.
We drove through this little town called Llithfaen (or something) and took a right to go out to Caernarfon Bay. At the end of the road, on the bay, was the abandoned town of Nant Gwrtheyrn. I think it was an old mining company town that had been abandoned and later turned into a Welsh language center or something. When we got there it was very misty and foggy. Couldnt see far down the road at all. And it was cold too. Probably the worst weather weve had so far, but were lucky it hasnt been worse. So we went down to this old town. Vortigern is supposed to be buried along the stream that runs by it. So we heard the stream from the parking lot and walked over to it and along it for a while, taking pictures. There was this sheep ranch (surprise, surprise) on the other side fenced in. But we played around there for a while and then left. It was nearing lunch time. And we knew from experience that missing lunch wasnt the best thing in the world.
So we got in the car and drove through some really small towns. I bet I could hit a golf ball on one side and itd make it out the other. So needless to say there werent a whole lot of places to eat. We went into one pub but it didnt serve lunch (todays Sunday by the way, which made things a little more difficult). We went to this hotel and they only served expensive lunches. So we drove on through a few more towns (theyre all about two miles apart over here) and finally found the Lions Hotel (dont quote me on that name, though) in this little town that started with a T. I dont have a map nearby or Id look it up. Maybe later. [Tudweiliog]. So we ate there, and boy was it in the heart of Welsh country. Wed seen signs in Welsh and heard TV in Welsh but this is one of the first times wed really heard it spoken. The bartender spoke English well, but probably Welsh fluently too. A conversation struck up with this old Welsh couple sitting across the room who told us that Welsh kids learn Welsh first and then English as a second language. The man didnt learn English till he was five. Then the conversation evolved into Arthur. We talked about Bardsey and Merlin, the Mabinogion, and the Arthurian time period. The lady was of the opinion that Arthur was more ancient that 4-500s, like pre-Roman maybe. They also told us that instead of AR-thur it was pronounced Ar-THUR. I guess thats the Welsh way.
But when the conversation ended, we headed down to Bardsey. Man, we just thought we were in Welsh-ville before. Bardseys at the tippy tail end of the northern peninsula and there is one town of any size out there. Once you get past that, theres a town that starts with Ug and is about 17 letters with a bunch of ws and lsreally just a few scattered houses along a two lane road (that term is used very loosely over here). The rest is rolling farmland. But we got to the end of the road and could see the island from the grass car park. Very cool. Craggy cliffs, just the way I like em. The whole left side of it (the island) was a big mountain and the right side was flat. Weird looking. So we walked out to the coast to get the best view and took a few pics. Didnt see Merlins glass house though. But I ran down a little further closer to the water, dodging sheep poop (Ive gotten pretty good at it) and got a few more pics. The it was about 3 and we decided it was time to head back. Drove back along the south coast through Porthmadog and then headed up to Betws-y-Coed. We went back to the room and took a nap for about 2 hours. All that driving wore Joe out, poor thing. We decided we should eat supper about 7:30, but we did have to debate it for a while. Beds sure are comfortable. So we got up and drove into town and ate at a place called the Little Chefits a chain over here. As far as I can tell its the British cousin of Dennys or IHOP. Probably IHOP. But it was good. A little more expensive than your average pub meal and the food isnt particularly better, but we just wanted something quick so we could get back to bed. Speaking of which
ROUND TABLE / LLANGOLLEN1-17-00
We got up today to another full English breakfast at Bryn Celynour surrogate guest house. A very good place. So we ate, loaded up the car, and got on the road.
We drove up to Llansannan, the round table was just outside of it, in a little town with a real long Welsh name with like 3 dashes in it (we saw a postacard in Llangollen of the town with the longest name in the countrywow). So we drove around there for a while, didnt see anything, so we backtracked a bit. We met a farmer woman and asked her and she knew exactly where Arthurs stone/table was. So we went. Turned out we had to hike up a mountain. Surprise, surprise. So we hiked up the mountain (had to hop a few fences, but hey, what else is new?) and we had to dodge more sheep and horses, too, this time. So we got to the top and saw it from the back. It looked a lot better from the front. We werent sure it was even it until we walked out on it and out in front of it a ways. Joe took some pics, then I did while he fed the horses grass. One tried to eat his shirt. So we did that thing and got movin along.
Then we drove to Llangollen. First we had to find the Pillar of Eliseg. We made it harder than it should have been. We went up a couple wrong roads and made a few wrong turns. One time we missed it when we drove right by it. We went down to the ruined Abbey of Valle Crucis because the pillar was supposed to be close. We ended up wandering aimlessly for a while trying to find the thing and that resulted in circling the trailer park and a ten minute tour of the abbey. Then we asked some people walking their dog where the pillar was. 100 yards back the way we came. Hmph. So we went back and it was right there on the side of the road. And cool, however evasive. Took a few pics from all angles and went to eat.
We went first to a place called the Bull Inn, but they didnt serve lunch so they showed us to a place called (I think) Smithfields. Pub fare. Had a big thick Gammon steak and chips. Good stuff. And the guy there directed us to Dinas Bran except they were doing road work so we had to take a detour. It took us a while to figure that out and where the detour went, so by the time we got to the foot of the mountain it was a little after 2:00. So then we parked and looked up. Damn it was tall. We debated not walking up there but I really wanted to see it so I volunteered to take a few pics up there. Im glad I did. That place was awesome. Coolest hillfort yet, in part because there was a ruined medieval castle on top. And you could see out there forever. The hill was very high and isolated. But I spend maybe fifteen minutes walking around the ruins snapping pics and got back down about a quarter till 3. Then we figured wed better get on to Goose Green Farm.
Its a real nice place a little bit out of Macclesfield in a town called Mottram St. Andrew. Anyway we got here near 5:00 and walked up and Ms. Hatch remembered us but didnt think we had made a reservation. Oh crap, I thought. But luckily she had an empty twin room. I still dont know what happened. We sent in an enquiry, but I might have forgotten to reply or confirm or something. Some error in correspondence. But if that only happens once on this trip well be lucky. So everythings cool.
And we ate at some place with something to do with bulls, a Beefeater Pub. Had one of our nicer mealslamb shank with mashed taters and peas with some chocolate fudge brownie for dessert. Mmmm boy. Im so full I cant breathe. And its nearing bedtime even though its only 8:30. Long day tomorrow, a lot of driving.
ALDERLY EDGE / PENRITH1-18-00
We got up early this morningabout 6:30and had a full English breakfast. It was a very misty morning and it was hard to see until the sun got in the sky a little. But we had a good breakfast (talked to some other guests) and settled up the bill. Then we headed out to find the wizards well.
We found it fairly easily, actually, using the Travellers Guide. Good directions. But it was still very misty, and it added to the magical atmosphere. We found the edge after a short walk (I wouldnt even classify it as a hike). It was just as described. An old face carved on a rock with words carved under it, and a trough at the bottom that catches the water that is supposed to flow out. But there wasnt any flowing that I saw. Kind of disillusioning. But the atmosphere of the area was still very cool.
We didnt stay terribly longhad to press on. We drove through Stockport below Manchester and planned on hitting the motorway before we got into the city. Then wed be on the way to Penrith and get there easily. Nope. We wandered around Manchester for a while and finally settled on getting on any motorway because it was better than driving through the city. It was hard to tell one lane from two, and most trucks and stuff just drive in the middle. So the motorway was preferable and eventually we got on the right track and were able to relax. We finally got to Penrith a little before 1:00.
The Round Table was close to the motorway exit, so we decided to go there before lunch. And when we found it, there was a pub right across the street where we would eat lunch. In fact, the pub was probably built over part of the Round Table. The middle was still there, and most of the ditches and embankments were too, but some of the outer structures were turned into roadsflattened. And the pub was real close. So we decided to go in there after the Round Table tour for a bite. Had roast beef. And they had an aerial picture of the Round Table that we should have taken a picture of. Showed it in good perspective. But we got a lot of good pictures and had a good lunch, and it was time to find Brougham Castle.
We drove around looking for it for a little while too, but it was made difficult because the exit was blocked by road work. But we eventually found a way there, and it looked cool. I was looking forward to going in. But of course it was closed. And there were too many people around to hop the fence. So we had to settle for some long distance pictures. It wasnt too important Arthur-wise, but Id have still liked to explore a bit. Oh well.
So we pressed on, drove to Carlisle. We got to the Angus Hotelstill a bed and breakfast but more of a hotel. Just the overall feeling. Its bigger than just a house. Nice place. Theres an adjacent bistro that has the only internet café in the city. Well probably head down there later. But this afternoon we just walked through the town for an hour or two, doing a bit of souvenir shopping and whatnot. So now its about suppertime, and we might try to call the women in Italy a little later. So anyway. Its about time to get all that started.
CAMBOGLANNA / DRUMELZIER1-19-00
The full English breakfast at the Angus Hotel was a good one. We got two eggs as a standard. Didnt have to ask. We were pretty chop-chop this morning and got on the road by 9 AM.
We went to the Roman fort of Camboglanna (AKA Birdoswald) on Hadrians Wall. The fog this morning was thick. Like we could see 10-20 yards in front of us at any give time. And bridges and sometimes big trucks would just materialize out of nothing and appear right in front of us. But we go there eventually.
The fort was very cool. A lot of old ruins and foundations similar to the ones at Caerleon. The signs here were helpfulthey showed where the Roman ruins were and where Dark Age people built over them. Different colors of gravel were used to separate these areas on the site. Since the real visitors center was closed for the off-season, we found these very helpful. But we walked around there for a while, around the perimeter of the walled fort and all, then decided to press on. The fog was still dense, and while we were exploring the fort it created a mystical, old atmosphere somehow. It does that at every place. I dont know what it is. Maybe its just something to do with the limited sight distance and you cant really tell what year it is. Of course the ruins arent exactly in their heyday either, but its all I know of old stuff so its just a mental thing. So then we went back the way we came and started going north to Scotland.
The fog hung around till we got into Scotland, actually, then suddenly we were out of it and saw the sun again. A great feeling. And we had no trouble finding Merlins grave either. It was nearing noon, so the plan was to eat lunch in D-town and talk to the locals about the grave-legend (theres at least two candidates in the area). But we didnt count on Drumelzier to be one of those little small towns, one of the ones you could hit a golf ball across. No pubs or even restaurants. So we decided just to go for it on our own. Again using Ashes guidebook, we followed a little burn to its confluence with the Tweed, where there was supposed to be a thorn tree. By the thorn tree was the grave. So we found this cool thorn tree that was leaning over the burn and took a few pics of it. We had walked around the area and found a couple other thorn trees but his one was the most atmospheric. So we adopted it as our grave.
But, as we explored further, we saw another thorn tree nearer the confluence that had a fence around it. Hmm. We went closer and sure enough there was a little plaque naming the tree as the one marking Merlins grave. So then we took a bunch of pictures of that one. We walked around a bit more and caught sight of a hare. Then another. And another. Then we looked in an adjacent field and there were dozens. I hadnt ever seen so many rabbits in my life, even in a pet store. But it wasnt as cool as when we saw that seal out in the water by St. Govans Head. I think I forgot to write about that. We just saw one seal swimming around out there for about five minutes but it was cool. He stared at us for a while then ran off. And then when we left the chapel we met this group of four ladies having a picnic that we talked to about Arthur for a while. They were nice folks.
But back to Drumelzier. We left. We went back to this other town that wasnt much bigger. But there was a hotel there so we dropped in and had a pub meal that neither of us had had yetmacaroni and cheese with bacon (ham to us Americans). I love cheese. So we ate there and headed up to Edinburgh. This city was easier to navigate than Manchester. We didnt have as much trouble with it at least. By this I mean we got on the bypass at the right time and avoided the city center. And we went around to Joppa the back way to the Joppa Turrets Guest House. Its right on the Firth of Forth. Nice view. But this afternoon we took the bus into town and walked around for a few hours. Came back, then went to eat at a little hotel/pub type deal spittin distance from our place, also on the Firth. Another steak and ale pie for me. Those are good. So now its bedtime. I think were gonna try to get off pretty early tomorrow and get Dumbarton done.
DUMBARTON / STIRLING1-20-00
We had a bit of a change in the itinerary today. We got to Dumbarton pretty early, around 10 AM (and it closed at 12:00 anyway) and thus got done early. So we decided to do the Stirling thing today too, leaving a free day in Edinburgh tomorrow to see the castle, shop, and whatnot. But we had breakfast at 8 and were off about 8:30 or a little after.
We drove through Glasgow to get to Dumbarton. The city was big and didnt impress me a whole lot. We had to drive across another toll bridge at Erskine to get over to Dumbarton, but the toll was only 60p. A lot better than the bridge from Bristol to Wales---the toll there was like 4.50about 7 bucks USD. For a toll bridge. Id never seen anything like that. And that bridge was cool, but not that cool.
So we got to Dumbarton, a fair sized town. And the castle wasnt hard to find at all; its a pretty prominent feature. So we went in and explored. Most of the buildings were from the last 2-300 years, but excavations have shown occupation during Arthurs time. We were mainly there for the atmosphere and not a history of the site through the centuries; just a few tidbits about the area during the dark ages.
We bought a book about all that. We walked around for a bit. The place is reminiscent of Tintagela dramatic almost island with steep cliffs overlooking water. There were still a lot of intact buildings here, though. The little book we got had a little map with descriptions. So we basically just did the little tour in the book. There werent a whole lot of sites (if any) that still existed from Dark Age Britain so we got a more global view of the castle. There was an old jail (gaol?), a powder magazine, and much of the walls still intact. We got some good pictures up there. Some good views. So we did the Dumbarton thing and left about 11:30. When we were crossing the Erskine bridge going back to Glasgow, I tried to take a long distance picture of the castle out of the car, but a truck got in the way. Oh well.
So then we decided to go to Stirling since it was so early in the day. So we did. We got there around 1:00 and found a place to park near the castle. As we were coming into the city, we drove by the Kings Knot, AKA the King Arthurs Round Table at Stirling. Its at the foot of the castle, which sits magnificently on an isolated cliff/hill thing. As we drove by, we noticed we couldnt get a decent picture of the intricacy of the knot from the knots level. So the plan was then to photograph it from the castle abovea sort of poor mans aerial view. We got lucky. The parking spot we found was right by the Church of the Holy Rude. We walked in through the graveyard (found a stone with nicks in it. We found out later these were musket holes from a battle up therecool) and finally found a good angle to take the picture from. That thing is just cool. Its so symmetrical and orderly. Of course, most of the other hillforts and round tables have been also, but this was just more advancedtiers and octagonal shape instead of ditches and circles. Of course, that structure is a later one than Arthurs would be, but anyway First impressions make an impression. So.
We ate lunch at a little coffee house near the churchin the old town. Had a cheese and bacon (ham) croissanttoasted. And a chocolate milkshake, which is really just chocolate milk. To be a milkshake it has to be called a thick milkshake. But it was good. Enjoyed it. And over lunch we decided what to do with the still young afternoon. We decided to hoof it to St. Andrews. The birthplace of golf.
I missed it last time I was in Scotland. Anytime you get a chance to go to someplace you can see on TV, I say go for it. Its always cool to be able to tell people, Hey, Ive been there! So we went. It took about 1-1½ hours to get there. But we never really found it. We found the Old Course Hotel with ease and went in, looked around, and decided we could find the clubhouse because it must be close. So we went out and got lost. Didnt find a thing. So we went back to the hotel and got some Scotsmen to take our picture overlooking the course. Then we went into a gift shop called The Pro Shop (not the real pro shop, but it was getting dark so it was good enough). We got a few little trinkets from one of the coolest places on earth and headed back to Edinburgh. We got back a little before 7, then went to eat at a little Italian place down the road. Had gnocchi with 5 cheeses and cream sauce. Mmmm. After a long day and a good hearty meal, its about time for bed. Need to sleep in preparation for a day of touring in Edinburgh.
So today ended up being a free day. And I enjoyed it. We got up late (8:00) and had breakfast about 9:00. Full English. Then we went out to explore the town.
We first walked up towards the town center into Portobello. Found a couple little cheap antique/charity shops up that way. I got a tape with TV themes (including Dukes of Hazzard, of course). So we did that little thing until about 10:00 and then we decided to take the bus into town. We got off at Princes Street and walked up towards the castle and the Royal Mile. We went to a few more shops around and stuff until about 11. Then we decided it was time to visit the Scotch Whisky Heritage Center.
The best 3 pounds I ever spent. The tour included a movie about making Scotch followed by a little recap and some samples of the whisky at different steps of the process. Not for tasting, just for smelling. Nosing, they called it. And we got to see some peat. Essential, as I understand, for real Scotch. Then we watched a hologram ghost talk about blending Scotches. The grand finale was a Disneyland-esque ride through 300 years of Scotch making in a little car made of plastic barrels. We were so impressed that we decided to join the Scotch Whisky Appreciation Society. And we had lunch it the little bistro/café there. Bacon (ham) and mozzarella toasty. Mmmmm. Then we got back on the road. We mostly stayed on the Royal Mile.
I have to interrupt here. Were watching TV, and this man and this woman are arguing. It went a little like this:
You had an affair behind my back!
You werent here!
Thats because me mum was dying!
You still werent here!
What a great show. I thought that was funny. So anyway, we went to a few more shops , bought some presents for people back in the states, and ended up in this little silver shop. The Arthur thing came up again, and we got to talking to one of the guys that helps run the store.
He said something Id never really heard or really considered before. He brought up the possibility of Arthur being way pre-Roman, a couple hundred years BC. The evidence here is that Arthur was named after the Bear constellation, which was apparently mathematically perfect then. It didnt really convince me much, but he did mention that this was one of the only theories based on science and nature as opposed to literature and language. Fixity as opposed to fluidity. We got to talking about this later and it kind of made sense in a new sort of way, except that the language uncertainty could still be brought in. Arturius is the Latin for bear, so pre-Roman Britain would not have known the constellation by that name. Still, its one theory I havent heard.
Then we walked to the end of the mile to take a picture of Arthurs Seat and get a look at Holyrood Palace. We did. By the time we were done with this, it was 4 or 4:30. We got on the bus and headed back to the Portobello/Joppa area. We got off near the Italian restaurant where we ate last night. We decided to eat there again. Had cannelloni. Good stuff.
Now were back, and ready to get up and drive again in the morning. Get back on the research trail. But I really, really enjoyed this day relaxing. Glad we could fit it in. Anyway, bedtime is nigh.
BAMBURGH / BATTLES1-22-00
Today was the last real, official day of research and visiting sites. Not that we wont be doing anything else Arthur-related, but were pretty much done.
So we had another wonderful full English breakfast at Joppa Turrets Guest House and got on the road by 8:30. We were heading down the east coast of the UK to see Bamburgh Castlesupposedly a most impressive sight. When the castle came into view, it did not disappoint. Wow. The castle was huge and imposingcertainly not the largest castle in the UK, but an incredible sight compared to the bare hillforts and scant ruins we were used to. Not to downplay the hillfortsthey were different and most interesting, but you cant go to England and not see a castle. So driving up we were excited. Then we came to the gate and a big CLOSED sign mocked us. But even we dont give up that easy. We parked and suited up to go explore a little.
But damn it was windy. I tried to open the door as usual. I let go of the door as I got out and the wind said I dont think so and pushed the door into me and I fell back into my seat. And there was a mix of sleet and rain too. Cool. So we got out and braved it.
We walked over to the path up to the castle and down around the side. We walked out to the beach and looked up at the castle on the hill above. Then we turned around and looked at the sea. The wind gave it a tumultuous attitude. Or vice versa. The waves were crashing and the wind was blowing the water across the beach. Again nature added to the atmosphere of a site, as it had done several times before. We took as many pictures from as many different angles as we could while dealing with the disappointment of not being able to at least walk around the castle walls. Then we put our faces into the wind to head back to the car. The car is incredibly filthy, by the way. The lower half of the car is covered with dirt; the hood and windows dont look too good either. But we got into the car to drive to Yeavering Bellthe hillfort near the confluence of the rivers Glen and Till. This is a candidate for one of Arthurs battles as described by Nennius. We found the hillfort, but it was tall and there was no good way to get up there. There was a footpath, but it began on private property that had a sign declaring NO PARKING. Too much trouble, we decided. We got some pics of the hill and later of the River Glen, then went on to lunch in Jedburgh. Had macaroni and cheese. And we went into a little charity shop and I bought a copy of Macbeth for 60p. From there we were on our way to find the Roman fort of High Rochester, otherwise known as Bremenium. On the way down I read Sherlock Holmes stories out of the book I bought in Edinburgh printed in 1892, I believe. Cool. So we got into the town of Rochester and saw a sign for Bregonium, another fort/settlement type deal. We got the names mixed up and paid 2.50 to get in. We went around reading signsit was a pretty touristy placeand saw a reference to Bremenium at High Rochester not far away. So we cussed a bit for wasting five bucks and left. The other onethe real onewasnt easy to find. We had to drive through another military firing range (a la St. Govans) to get there. From the description we had, we found the best match. There were remains of walled buildings and other man-arranged stones (as well as an old, dead ram). There looked to be embankment type stuff as well. So the site we found matched location description and had some fort looking aspects. But Im still not 100% convinced that it was the right place. Mostly, but not 100%. There wasnt really a better site in the area.
So we got the pictures and drove around a little to look for other possibilities, but it was getting later (around 3:30) and we still had about an hour to get to South Shields. So we got going, read some more Sherlock, and hit the town about 4:30. Found the Rivers End pretty easily, only a few turnarounds, and settled in. The beds are nice.
We lounged around for a bit, got something to eat. Its a chore to find pub meals on Saturday night, but we found the Beehive. Had chicken nuggets. Now were back and ready to sleep. Were most likely headed to Oxford tomorrow. The plan is to go ahead and knock out as much driving as possible. So the last day of tour/research was a success. Good deal.
YORK / OXFORD1-23-00
Today was a big driving day. We got up at 7:00, had the biggest full English breakfast weve had yet, and got on the road about 9:00.
We had a little less than ½ a tank of petrol, so by the time we got to York we felt we could use some. So we decided to stop into York for lunch, see the Minster, and walk around a little.
We stopped for petrol at a BP station and there was an X-Wing sitting outside. I never figured out why, but I took several pictures of it anyway. Very cool. So we got gas and refilled washer fluid (Joe uses that stuff like its going out of stylebut theres so much dirt in this country that he needs to. Recall the ball of filth we call a car). We got water and Cokes too; gotta have something to soothe my throat while reading Sherlock Holmes. So we drove into York and went to see the Minster. Its Sunday, so we figured thered be a service going on and we might not be able to get inside. But there were plenty of other tourists there. Id been before, but Id forgotten how big it is. We walked around as much as we could, listened to a bit of the service, hit the gift shop (where we picked up a Pitkin Guide to the Knights of the Round Table), then we kept on moving. We walked around, killing the find a place to eat bird and the see a bit of York bird with one stone. We found a place called The Roman Baths; I had the Sunday roast beef special. Had a bit of Yorkshire Pudding with it. So by then it was about 1:30 and time to get on the road.
We walked back to the car and found a police guy writing us a ticket for not paying at the meter. Wed been places before where weekends were free; why should York be different? He let us off with a warning. This after we found a parking ticket on our car this AM in South Shields. Two run-ins with the police, and it was barely after lunch. Hmph.
So we got on the road, read a few Sherlock Holmes stories, and then we were in Oxford. We passed through Coventry and saw the Jaguar plant; hopefully well get to see it better tomorrow. And as we were driving around in Oxford looking around for this placeThe Gables Guest Housewe got pulled over againrun-in #3 todayfor not having a visible license plate. It was covered in dirt as yet another attest to the filthiness of our car. Incidentally, there was a big line outside of the car wash at the BP in York.
So we got to the house and they luckily had a vacancy. But only for tonight. So were planning to go to Dover tomorrow night since we wanted it on the itinerary anyway. So thats the plan. Ate at another Beefeater pub tonightGammon steakand got ice cream. Now were back in the room, just off the phone with the ladies in Italy, and now its about bedtime.
Well, we got up early again today6:20to begin another long driving day. Had another wonderful full English breakfast at the Gables in Oxford. We got on the road a little after 8 and headed up to Coventry. Why? To find the Jaguar plant. We found the Jaguar Engineering Center first. But this was kind of a top-secret place and they didnt give tours. But a magnificent building nonetheless. They gave us directions there to the Browns Lane plant, which is the production/factory type place. So we went there and found it fairly easily. No turnarounds. So we found it and went to the gate a little before 10. The guy at the gate said they were starting a tour at 10 and he gave us a parking pass to hang in the mirrorit was a souvenir to me. But he also said the tour would last a couple hours, making it a tour we didnt have time for. We had to drive to Canterbury. A good 3-4 hour drive. So we turned around after taking a few pictures of a fleet of S-types in the lot. A very cool place. I hope I get to go back someday.
So then we drove and drove and drove while I read and read and read.
We got into Canterbury for a late lunch about 2. We ate at a pub called the Firskin-something-or-other that was right outside the entrance to the cathedral area. Had ham and egg and chips.
Then we went to the cathedral. Big place, yessir. I remembered a lot of it from my trip in high school, but seeing something a second time always helps to cement it in the memory. We walked all through itthe various sites associated with Thomas Beckett, other crypts, the tombs, everything. We walked around the grounds for a while, through the cloisters and courtyards. Everything was very impressive, just as I remembered. We paid an obligatory visit to the gift shop and got back in the car to find a place to stay the night. We read in our Best B&B book about the Clare Ellen Guest House on Victoria Road. We found it, they had vacancies, and were here now. Good deal. Weve been incredibly lucky finding places in these foreign towns all over the country. I dont know how weve done it, but Im not complaining. But tomorrow its off to Dover for the day before we head out to the Yew Tree tomorrow evening. Then the next day its back to the states. But now, bed.
DOVER / FRANCE ?1-25-00
We got up this AM at 7:00. Woke up at the Clare Ellen Guest House in Canterbury. Then we ate a full English breakfast and Joe played with the ponies while the ice melted off the car. We got on the road a bit before 9. We were headed to Dover. We got there about 9:30 or a little before. Our target was the castle, which we found out didnt open till 10. So what else is there in Dover, we thought. The White Cliffs.
Absolutely amazing. Big and white. In an amazing sort of way. We walked along there for a while past the harbor/shipyard until we were looking out over open sea. We tried to see France but no dice. Speaking of France, by this time we had seen several signs for the chunnel. Naturally, we thought, Hey. Lets go to France!. To our knowledge, the trip only took 40 minutes or so, and we had most of the day free, so that became the plan.
So the next thing we had to do was see Dover Castle. We got there a little after 10. We knew Gawain is allegedly buried there (conflicting with St. Govans) and his skull was kept in a chapel there for a while. So that was our aim.
The first thing chapel-esque that we saw was the church. It wasnt a chapel but we figured that it must be the right place. The origins of the building were Saxon, unlike most of the rest of the castle. So we took pictures inside and outside, all around, from a lot of different angles. That was then all we had to see at the castle, but we wandered around a bit more, through Arthurs Hall (which actually has nothing to do with Arthur) and then into the keep.
In this large central fortification we discovered a chapelthe Upper Chapel. Uh oh. If theres an upper there must be a lower. We asked. Yep. So we ended up with a bunch of pics of the big church and only a couple of the chapels where the skull probably really was (in the legend bit I mean). But we did get to walk through the Dover Castle control room with this guy that showed us to the lower chapel. A privilege afforded to few, Id like to think.
So we did a quick run through of the grounds of the castle. It was about 12, so we decided it was time to go to France. We followed the signs to the chunnel and made it there with little trouble. We pulled up to the toll booth. We were cool. We were going to France to eat lunch. Cool. But a number shattered our illusions. One Hundred and Ten Pounds to go to France round trip. Over $150. Nope. Oh well. No France. Damn. So we turned around and headed up the motorway towards Gatwick.
We still had to eat lunch, so we stopped off at a little town called Ashford to grab a bite. Had a rump steak. For only 3 pounds. Then we walked around a little, doing some last minute shopping and stuff. And they had this cool space age public toilet there. The door was circular and opened like a sci-fi spaceship door. And when you were done, you got out, the door closed, and the thing cleaned and sanitized itself. All for only 10 pence. So that was Ashford.
We got up to Horley to the Yew Tree Guest House about 4:00 or so. We unloaded the car, brought everything up to the room, and packed and organized for about an hour. Tomorrows the big ride home and its been a blast. But we just went to supper at a local pub (lasagna and half of a bacon cheese melt), had my last Guinness for the trip, and now were back in the room. Talked to Mom and Lark (shes in Venice) a minute ago. Now, bed. Tomorrow, USA.
Im back in Tupelo nowfighting jet-lag as well as I can. Its 8:15 right now, and I could go to sleep at the drop of a hat.
But to look back on the trip a minute. What can I say but perfect? The months and months of planning and research paved the way for a trip that ran like clockwork. We were able to hit everything we wanted to see, when we wanted to see it. Even the weather cooperated with us; we werent rained out a single day, the temperature was always perfect, and everybody told us how bad the weather had been during the month of December. So we did something right.
And we got to meet a lot of people, many of which were willing to talk about or had opinions on Arthur. This was good for our research interests and allowed us to get a better local perspective on the whole thing. We met the birdwatchers in Marazion, interesting because that is the site of a legend where Arthur turns into a raven instead of dying. We met the group of picnicking ladies at St. Govans Head, one of whom was very familiar with many Welsh legends and texts, including the Mabinogion. And the man and wife in North Wales who were convinced Arthur was undoubtedly Welsh.
And we met Geoffrey Ashe in what could be considered the defining aspect of the trip. We were fortunate enough to be able to contact him in the first place, but even moreso for his willingness to spend as much time as he did with us. The personal tour of the abbey was priceless and the interview we were afforded was a dream come true. And when you pile on top of that how nice and hospitable the Ashes were, the whole affair seems too perfect, like it should be a mirage. We were lucky. And thankful.
So what do I think of Arthur after all this? Well, Ive about decided on the conglomerate theory. That is, the Arthur of romance is a melting pot of several Arthurs from many different places and possibly times as well. Ive seen too many places associated with the legend all over the country to think otherwise. This opinion also implies that I do believe Arthur existed. There is so much evidence out there that supports one or more Arthur-figure, yet that evidence is vague and impressive. This evidence is the root of bot the intrigue and frustration with the Arthurian Legend. Theres plenty to pique the curiosity, but not enough to offer resolution. And at this point, Im gonna say To be continued and hit the sack.
Sorry to end so abrupt there last night, but the jet-lag thing is slapping me silly. Its 8:00 PM now and Ill be asleep within the hour. So Ill probably wake up early again tomorrow. Id stay up later if I could keep my eyes open.
So Ive about said all I wanted to say to sum up the trip. Basically we went all over the UK and found traces of Arthur in each and every little sub-culture of the island. Very fascinating and intriguing, just as I had hoped. I was counting on the legend still being alive in all the places we went to and hoping that the smaller towns would have a memory unadulterated by tourism. This is what I saw in the town of Pembroke, where I saw a sign that said The Pembroke Round Table Meets Here and there was a stylized Winchester table on the logo. I dont know who these people are, but the sign showed me what I was looking for. And outside of Llansannan, in a real small town, we were asking for directions and the lady knew exactly what we meant when we said we were looking for Arthurs Round Table. Stuff like that was very reassuring. So Arthur left his footprint all over the islandwe knew this before we leftbut having this confirmed by the actual people of Britain was a treat I hoped for but didnt necessarily expect to any great degree.
And just experiencing the culture and environment over there was great as well, even the non-Arthur related stuff. I definitely got my fill of the full English breakfast and also of traditional pub fare. We heard all the different accents and even the Welsh language. All I can really say is that the trip was a success from any point of view and will prove to be one of the singular defining points of my life. But it aint over yet. The next step is the compilation of the web page, the Honors Day presentation, and who knows what else.
But this is a big project of which the trip is only a part. Weve gone digging and found all sorts of incredible things, and now its time to put it all together and make it look pretty.