ARTHUR'S KNIGHTS

Arthur's brave men attack
Then the Round Tablers rallied their ranks And to their royal ruler they rode all together. Swiftly were assembled seven score knights In sight of their sovereign sinking in death. -Alliterative Morte Arthure, lines 4291-4294

Arthur's Knights of the Round Table are almost as well known as the liege himself. In our travels, we visited places associated with the "Big 3" knights of the Welsh stories-- Sir Bedivere, Sir Gawain, and Sir Kay. We also saw Sir Lancelot's castles and the memorials of Tristan, the knights who rose to prominence with the romancers of the High Middle Ages.


SIR BEDIVERE

Sir Bedivere returns Excalibur to the Lady of the LakeAnd Arthur called on Bedwyr, who never shrank from any enterprise 
upon which Kai was bound. No one was equal to him in swiftness 
throughout the island except Arthur and Drych Ail Kibddar. And 
although he was one-handed, three warriors could not shed blood 
faster than he on the field of battle. Another property he had; his 
lance would produce a wound equal to those of nine opposing lances.
             -Kilhwch and Olwen in Guest, 107

Sir Bedivere is one of the knights that appears earliest in the Arthurian legend, and is often described or pictured with only one hand. His name appears several times in Welsh poetry as Bedwyr. He is a major player, for example, in the tale of Kilhwch and Olwen. He is remembered in the legend for remaining with the mortally wounded Arthur after the Battle of Camlann. Indeed, it is Bedivere that Arthur entrusts with the returning of Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake after the battle. To see the candidates for the sword's final resting place, click here.

Mount Tryfan

Legendary and Literary Background

Only one of these candidates has another legend specifically tied to Bedivere. He is said to be buried somewhere on Mount Tryfan, which is above Llyn Ogwen, the supposed Excalibur Lake. This is stated in the Black Book Englynion y Beddau, translated by Thomas Jones and Mount Tryfan rises above Llyn Ogwenquoted here from Trioedd Ynys Prydein, page 280:

"After many a slaughter, the grave of Bedwyr on the side of
Tryfan."
Location and Description

Mount Tryfan is a mountain in Snowdonia National Park in northern Wales, towering above the lake. There is parking along the A5. It is about ten miles west of Betws-y-Coed and is only about ten miles from Llyn Llydaw.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Mount Tryfan, click here.


SIR GAWAIN

He called Gwalchmai the son of Gwyar, because he never returned home without achieving the adventure of which he went in quest. He was the best of footmen and the best of knights. He was nephew to Arthur, the son of his sister, and his cousin. -Kilhwch and Olwen in Guest, 107 St. Govan's Head Dover Castle Wirral Forest

The Headless Horseman from Sir Gawain and the Green KnightGawain, along with Bedivere and Kay, appears early in some of the earliest Arthurian writings. He appears in early Welsh poetry as Gwalchmai, Walwen, or Gauvain. In the different legends, he is consistently related to Arthur as a nephew, though his parentage is variable. The earlier legends seem to place more emphasis on performance in battle, as seen in the quote above from Kilhwch and Olwen, than the later romances. Some believe that the character of Gawain is derived at least in part from some forgotten Celtic sun god. Gawain's strength increases, according to some stories, with the sun, peaks at noon, and wanes as evening approaches.

The character of Gawain has evolved incredibly over time, however. In the earlier stories, he is seen as a brave, honorable knight, but by the romances he has become womanizing, vengeful, and impulsive. In the Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur, he vows to kill Lancelot for his dishonor to the queen, king, and his brother, Agravain:

'I'll not return to England till
He's hanged upon a tree
For while I live and my powers last,
There are folk who'll fight for me.'
The king spoke next, then every lord
Gave his opinion plain,
And each one advocated peace,
Yes, all except Gawain.
                       -lines 2680-2687

Perhaps the most well-known story about Gawain is the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which Gawain's knightly virtues are tested by Bertilak, the lord of a mysterious castle deep in the forest. The story is famous for its symmetry, irony, and complex narrative structure.

 

St. Govan's Head

St. Govan's Chapel from aboveLegendary and Literary Background

It is said that Gawain is buried within the stone altar on the east side of the chapel, though legend holds that his skull was long kept in the chapel of Castle Dover on the other end of Great Britain. The similarity of the names "Govan" and "Gawain" probably prompted the association. The theories range from Govan and Gawain being two separate people to Govan being a later corruption of the name Gawain, who was the original inhabitant of the chapel. William of Malmesbury, writing in the early 1100's, does locate Gawain's grave in "Rhos," which is presumed to be in coastal Pembrokeshire:

At that time [ca. 1087 A.D.], in the province of Wales, 
called Ros, was found the sepulcher of Walwin, the 
noble nephew of Arthur; he reigned, a most renowned knight...
                         -William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, Book III.

There are some, however, that say that St. Govan is St. Gobham, Abbot of Dairinis in theWexford region of Ireland.

The legend says that St. Govan, escaping from pirates, landed at this point. Scurrying up the crag, he ducked into a rock fissure, which promptly closed up and hid him from his pursuers. This miracle moved him to establish his hermitage within these rocky cliffs of southern Pembrokeshire.

The tradition that Gawain is buried on the Pembrokeshire coast is older and more probable than the Dover claim. Another etymological association with Gawain in Pembrokeshire is the town of Walwyn's Castle (OS Grid Reference SM 872111), southwest of Haverford West. There is an earthwork in the town traditionally associated with this knight.

Location and DescriptionThe altar of St. Govan's Chapel

St. Govan's Chapel is about 7 miles south of the town of Pembroke on the South West tip of Wales. From Pembroke, take the B4319, for about 2.5 miles, where the road splits and signs lead to Bosherston. Go through Bosherston, site of the Lily Ponds where Excalibur supposedly rests, and head down to the coast. There are signs to St. Govan's Head, but the property is owned by the Ministry of Defense, so the road to it is closed when the area is in use by the military. There is a small car park and a path to the cliffs, where stairs lead down to the chapel.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around St. Govan's Head, click here.

As we were walking from the car park to St. Govan's Head, we passed a sign that gave the chapel a 5th or 6th century founding, though it notes that most of the construction dates from the 11th century. The church consists of a simple nave 17'6" by 12'6", with a stone altar on east that supposedly contains the remains of Sir Gawain. The cleft in the rock immediately behind and to the right of this altar is where St. Govan hid from the marauders. The imprint of his ribs can still be seen in the rock.

 
Journal Reflections

To read Jake's Journal Entry for this day, click here.

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.

 

Dover Castle

The Upper Chapel at Dover CastleLegendary and Literary Background

Caxton, in his preface to Malory's Morte Darthur, cites evidence for the existence of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. One of the arguments he uses concerns Gawain:

In the castle Dover, ye may see Gawain's skull.
                                               -Caxton's Preface to Malory's Morte Darthur, 529

This account of Gawain's death conflicts with the legend of St. Govan's head. The Dover account comes after Arthur's Gaulic campaign when they return to fight Mordred the Usurper. Arthur's knights met Mordred's on the field of battle.Wace gives his account of the battle and Gawain's death:

Ere the ships could be unladen in that port [Dover], Arthur suffered 
wondrous loss. Many a bold sergeant paid the price with his head. 
There, too, was Gawain, his nephew, slain; and Arthur made over him 
marvelous sorrow; for the knight was dearer to his heart than any 
other man.
                                                                                 -Wace, Roman de Brut, 111.

After he was slain, his body was buried on the grounds of Dover Castle. There are surviving documents that list Gawain's skull as a relic of the Castle, where it was kept in the Upper Chapel. The skull has since been lost.

Scholars doubt the validity of this claim, since the Kentish region was controlled by the Jutes, and it is highly unlikely that one of Arthur's men would be that deep into Saxon territory.

Location and Description

The town of Dover is approximately 15 miles from Canterbury on the A2. The castle is near the cliffs; follow the signs. The castle entrance is around a curve right before you enter Dover proper. The entry fee is 7 pounds. English Heritage passes are accepted.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Dover Castle, click here.

One of the most inspiring views of the castle is looking from the White Cliffs to the east of the Dover. The first place we looked for Gawain's skull was in the small SaxonView of Dover Castle from the White Cliffs church within the fortress walls. We then went into the keep and found both the Upper and Lower Chapels, and didn't know which one held Gawain's. The castle staff was more than helpful, even though they were not familiar with the legend. They did say that Gawain's skull would have most likely been kept in the more ornate Upper Chapel. The Lower Chapel was simply an empty room on the ground floor, and, though it did have a small recess in it's wall, would not have housed such a priceless object.

The Upper Chapel is buried within the maze of a castle; we just stumbled on it. It is on the second or third floor, down a narrow hallway outside of a large central room. There are pews in a small seating area outside the decorated portion of the chapel, which is closed off by a gate. The chapel is not marked in any way.

Journal Reflections

To read Jake's Journal Entry for this day, click here.

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.

 

Wirral Forest

Legendary and Historical Background

Wirral forest becomes associated with Gawain in the fourteenth century alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Gawain goes through Wirral forest on his way to the Green Chapel:

[Gawain] drew well enough into Northern Wales; 
All the isles of Anglesey he hurries by on the left,
And fares over the fords by the forelands 
To the Holy Fountainhead. On a raft he found shore
In the wilderness of Wirral, where dwelled but few
Whom either God or good men could ever love...
A trail through Wirral Forest           --Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 697-702

At the time the poem was written, Wirral was actually a royal forest and would have been dark and menacing, though probably not to the degree implied by the description.

Location and Description

The area known as Wirral is on the peninsula between north Wales and Liverpool. We drove up the A540 northwest of Chester, and there were several different pulloffs, each labeled "Wirral Country Park." There was an especially large one outside of Thurstaston, but we went to one outside of Neston.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Wirral, click here.

There is not a whole lot Arthurian to see here, but the area is nice for country walks.

Journal Reflections

To read Jake's Journal Entry for this day, click here.

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


SIR LANCELOT DU LACSir Lancelot knocking down his opponent

But Lancelot presses him hard and gives him a mighty blow upon his
right arm which, though encased in mail, was unprotected by the shield, 
severing it with one clean stroke. And when he felt the loss of his right 
arm, he said that it should be dearly sold. . . He rushes at him with the 
intent to seize him, but Lancelot forestalls his plan, for with his 
trenchant sword he deals his body such a cut as he will not recover 
from until April and May be passed. He smashes his nose-guard 
against his teeth, breaking three of them in his mouth. 
                            -(Vv. 7005-7119.) Lancelot or, The Knight of the Cart 
                              by Chretien DeTroyes

             Bamburgh Castle                        Castle Brougham

Lancelot is probably the most well-known of Arthur's Knights, even though he does not appear in the legends as early as Gawain, Bedivere, or Kay. In fact, he is first mentioned by a Frenchman, Chretien DeTroyes, in his The Knight of the Cart, written in the late 1100s. He is remembered as the adulterous lover of Queen Guinevere, a relationship that caused Arthur's Camelot to crumble from within.

As time progressed in the Middle Ages, Lancelot displaced Gawain as Arthur's best knight. In The Knight of the Cart, for example, Lancelot is a lesser ranked knight than Gawain. By the time Malory wrote roughly 300 years later, Lancelot's debonair French personality had become more popular than Gawain's, now impetuous and bent on revenge. Lancelot is Arthur's favorite, even though he kills Gawain's brothers and commits adultery with the queen. Arthur is pained by Lancelot deeds, but respects the noble manner in which the knight carries himself. Arthur is forced to retaliate and uphold his own honor despite the fact that he must battle his best and most loved companion.

This storyline is characteristic of the romance of the High Middle Ages and bears little semblance to the older tradition that Gawain, Bedivere, and Kai represent.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh CastleLegendary and Literary Background

Bamburgh Castle is reputed to be Lancelot's fortress Joyous Guard by Malory, though he does offer the castle at Alnwick (about 15 miles south of Bamburgh) as an alternative:

So when he was houselled and eneled, and had all that a 
Christian man ought to have, he prayed the bishop that his 
fellows might bear his body to Joyous Guard--some men 
say it was Alnwick, and some men say it was Bamborough...
                                       -Malory, Le Morte Darthur, 524

Bamburgh Castle saw activity as early as 547, a time that would allow an Arthurian connection. Before it was known as Bamburgh, though, the castle went by the name Din Guayrdi, one that quite easily suggests "Guard." Whether Lancelot had a real historical basis or not, Malory's placing of Joyous Guard at Bamburgh is the best substantiated.

The castle in the legend was originally known as Dolorous Guard and commanded by a wicked tyrant. It was impenetrable until Lancelot came along. When he conquered it single-handedly, he renamed it Joyous Guard and made it his primary residence.

Location and Description

Bamburgh Castle is on the coast of Northumberland, about 20 miles north of Alnwick. From the A1, get on the B1341 to Bamburgh and the castle is on the coast. It is closed during the off-season (November to March), as we found out during January.Bamburgh Castle from the coast

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Bamburgh Castle, click here.

The castle as it stands now is reflective of the renovations of 1st Baron Armstrong in the 1890's. It still serves as a home for Lady Armstrong. When we went in January, the castle was closed, but we were able to walk around to the waterfront and get some great views. The castle is huge, and may be, as the brochure proclaims, "The Finest Castle in England." It is set up on a rock separated from the sea by dunes and grasses. The day was overcast with very high winds, which made photography and even walking difficult. We had trouble opening the door to the car, we had to walk with our backs to the wind to keep from being blinded by the gusts of sand.

Journal Reflections

To read Jake's Journal Entry for this day, click here.

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.

 

Castle Brougham

Legendary and Literary Background

Legend tells of Lancelot's slaying a giant here that lived in a nearby cave, though the cave is fictitious and the tale is probably only romantic fancy.

Castle Brougham across the River EamontThe Roman camp of Brocavum was nearby, however, and was surrounded by a large Celtic population. It is possible that this group had local folklore about such a giant, and that this story was later given an Arthurian context.

Location and Description

Castle Brougham is just south of the town of Penrith in Cumbria. From the M6, get off on exit 40 and hit the A66 towards Penrith. After approximately 2 miles, there will be an exit to the castle on the right. It is closed during the off-season.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Castle Brougham, click here.

We had a little trouble finding the castle because of road work that was going on in the area. Once we found it, we were impressed. The river Eamont runs right in front of it and the ruins have a reddish tint unlike any other castle we saw. We were disappointed that it was closed, and had to settle for a few pictures before getting out of the way of the steamrollers and dump trucks.

Journal Reflections

To read Jake's Journal Entry for this day, click here.

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


SIR TRISTAN

Sir Tristan and Lady Isolde drink the love potionOnce more Tristan and Isolde had surmounted their cares and perils,
Once more they were happy at court, which again overflowed with their 
honours.Never had they enjoyed such esteem. They were as intimate 
again as ever with Mark their common lord. They also hid their feelings 
very thoroughly...
                                             -Tristan, by Gottfried von Strassburg, c1200.

                         Tristan Stone                   Trusty's Hill

Tristan was a Knight of the Round Table, but he is remembered more for his love affair with Isolde. He was one of the most well-rounded of the knights. He was as well known for his knightly prowess and courtly manners as he was for hunting, jousting, singing, dancing, and harp playing.

His uncle was King Mark, and he sent Tristan to Ireland to escort the lovely Isolde, Mark's betrothed, back to Cornwall. On the voyage back to England, Tristan and Isolde drank a love potion thinking mistakingly that it was wine. This potion, intended to bless the marriage of Mark and Isolde, bound the two inextricably in love.

The Tristan Stone

Legendary and Literary Background

The inscription on the stone, thought to be from the year 550, reads DRVSTAVS HIC IACIT CVNOMORI FILIVS, which translates as "Drustan [Tristan] here lies of Cunomorus the son." John Leland, while on his Tudor travels, described the Tristan stone but gave a different, and incorrect, translation:

There is a broken cross a mile from here [Castle Dore] with the Latin 
inscription: 'Conomor and his son with the Lady Clusilla.'
                                                 -John Leland's Itinerary, page 80.The Tristan Stone

This translation makes no mention of Tristan (Drustanus) and brings in the completely new character of Lady Clusilla. This could perhaps be due to the layout of the inscription. The D, for example, of Drustanus, is inscribed backwards (a common variant at the time), which to Leland might have looked like a Cl. This, when considered with the weathered state of the stone, could easily lead to an incorrect translation.

The monument seems to mark Tristan's grave, interesting because it is the only artifact of the right time period that mentions one of Arthur's Knights. It is also unique because it mentions King Mark, who was ruler of this area of Britain at the time, and that it is so near Castle Dore, which many believe was his residence.

Location and Description

The Tristan Stone is just outside of Fowey in Cornwall, near Castle Dore. Only a few miles north of Fowey on the B3269, the pillar is on the right side of the road. A shoulder is available for parking, and an informative plaque marks the site.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around the Tristan Stone, click here.

We had absolutely no trouble finding this monument, but of course it has been moved from its original location (it was originally found 200 yards to the north). We read the plaque, placed there by the Old Cornwall Society, and saw that it was thought to have been erected 550 AD. On the north side is a raised T, thought to represent a Christian Cross. On the south face of the pillar, the 6th century "Tristan" inscription was still faintly visible, though sections of the stone have seen a fair amount of weathering. We thought later that it would have been neat to do a rubbing of the inscription.

The inscription is in two lines. The top line is barely visible, CVNOMORI is the most legible part of the inscription..

The Inscription of the Tristan Stone
The layout of the inscription
Journal Reflections

To read Jake's Journal Entry for this day, click here.

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.

 

Trusty's Hill

Legendary and Historical Background

The case for this hill's association with the lover/knight is dependent on a linguistic snafu regarding the origin of the name Tristan. Though the love triangle is traditionally set in Cornwall, the root of both "Tristan" and "Trusty" is likely the Pictish "Drust," which would at least support a northern legend. Excavations have shown that the hill itself was occupied in roughly the correct time frame.

Looking up at Trusty's HillThe claim is also strengthened by another site 15-20 miles away called Mote of Mark. Ostensibly named after Tristan's legendary uncle, this site was also inhabited at the right time, a coincidence that has fueled these theories. All of these curiosities would make the Dumfries & Galloway placement of the legend at least possible if not plausible.

Location and Description

Trusty's Hill is in Dumfries and Galloway on a public footpath between the towns of Gatehouse of Fleet and Anwoth. From the A75, turn right just over the bridge at Cardoness Castle. Drive up this road, the B727, for about a mile until you can see a small island in the river to the right. There will be a road here going off to the left between two houses. Turn here and park in the first shoulder pull off you come to, on the left. Continue on foot straight up the hill until you come to a farm named Great Oaks, near a cattle grid. To the left of the grid there is a small white gate across a pubic footpath. Go through this gate and follow the trail through another gate and over a stone wall (there are steps). You will go over one small, sharp hill and then see Trusty's Hill in front of you. A grassy path leads up the right side. Go up here and you will be able to see an obelisk to your left and an Ordnance Survey trig point to your right in the distance. The summit has a rather small area, and the Pictish stone is under a domed grate to your left.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Trusty's Hill, click here.

We made the mistake of driving all the way up the hill and attempting to park in what turned out to be the yard of Great Oaks.View from the summit of Trusty's Hill The people here welcome tourists and hikers, but are not fond of ruts in their yard. It is best, therefore, to park in the pull off or in town.

The public footpath goes all the way to Anwoth. There are very few trees around Trusty's Hill; most of the plants are low to the ground, scrubby bushes growing in patches of fiery orange-red grasses. These colors contrasted brilliantly with the deeply verdant trails of the footpath. The terrain undulated with small but sharp hills, of which Trusty's was one. It almost camouflaged itself, sitting among the surrounding hills and standing against the larger ones in the distance, one crowned with the OS trig point and another with an obelisk dedicated to a local vicar.

It takes a little imagination to see Trusty's Hill as a hillfort, and perhaps it never was one in the fortified, defensive sense. Archeology has just shown that it was occupied in the Arthurian time frame. There did, however, appear to be some kind of earthwork around the circumference of the hill. We found the summit to be rather small and not very flat; there didn't even appear to be a good place to put a building. But even if the hill seemed to discourage habitation, the human stamp on the place was indubitable. There was, for instance, a small, stone walled, semicircular pit built into the side of the hill near the summit. We never figured out what it was, but it was very near the Pictish stone with which Trusty's Hill is associated. This stone, inscribed with Pictish petroglyphs, was under a large, domed iron grate. Amid several circular carvings, it depicts a sea monster that looked to us like a vicious shrimp.

The Pictish Carvings

Journal Reflections

To read Jake's Journal Entry for this day, click here.

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


SIR KAY

Before the lords of Emrys Have I seen Cei in haste. Prince of the plunder, The tall man in his wrath; Heavy was he in his vengeance; Terrible was his fighting. When he drank from a horn He would drink as much as four; When into battle he came He slew as would a hundred. Unless God should accomplish it, Cei's death would be unachieved. --Pa Gur, c. 11th century

Kay first appears in the earliest Welsh Arthurian stories as Cei, Kai, Cai, or Gai, and his name is thought to be related to the Roman Caius. In these tales, he is depicted as one of Arthur's most trusted knights, along with Bedivere and Gawain. He is Arthur's seneschal, the right-hand man, the one most responsible for the household. In later legends he becomes Arthur's foster brother, a condition which could reflect the high stead in which Arthur held him. By the time the sword in the stone became incorporated into the Arthurian canon, Kay's prominence in the tales had lessened; he suffered much the same fate as Bedivere and Gawain. With his decline in prominence came a less favorable portrayal of his character, such as his claiming to have pulled the sword from the stone. Despite this, he remains consistently faithful (if flawed) to Arthur and his court, even through the romances of the High Middle Ages.

Caer Gai

Legendary and Historical Background

This fort, originally a Roman Legionary base (Ashe says it was of "two cohorts of the Twentieth Legion, Valeria Victrix" in Traveller's Guide, 77), was supposedly the fortress of Kay, who appears as Arthur's seneschal in the earliest Welsh tales. Today a seventeenth century farmhouse occupies the summit of this small hill, but there are scant remains of Roman walls and earthworks.

Castleden discusses some other lore surrounding this site. In summarizing a source from the 1800s, he says that Llywarch Hen, who is supposed to have been a member of Arthur's court, once inhabited Caer Gai. He also quotes Camden as saying that "Caer Gai was once a castle built by Caius (Caw) 'while the Britons ascribe it to Cai, Arthur's foster brother '."

Location and Description

Caer Gai is just north of the Snowdonian town of Llanuwchllyn. Drive through the town on the A494 and the entrance to the hill is a farm's driveway .7 miles from the bridge. There is a small green sign on the left side of the drive that identifies this as Caer Gai. You should get permission to explore from the tenants of this Elizabethan farmhouse.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Caer Gai, click here.

It is easy to miss the small green sign that identifies the rather nondescript farm as Caer Gai. It does not much resemble a Roman fort from the road, nor does it at the top. The summit houses a working farm. The farmhouse is attractive, with a fenced in courtyard, but most of the top is heavily populated with livestock, either housed in several barns or roaming in the yard that Kay himself might once have roamed. There was evidence of past earthworks at the site, especially towards the northwest. The remains of what could have been a Roman wall (pictured) are visible in the yard of the farmhouse. It is interesting to see the erasing effect that centuries of farming can have on an ancient structure, but consequently there is not much to see.

Journal Reflections

To read Jake's Journal Entry for this day, click here.

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


All photographs by Jake Livingston and Joe Boyles.
Top picture from The Arthurian Legends. Sir Gawain picture is from Knights of the Round Table, page 21. Sir Lancelot picture is from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends, page 167. Sir Tristan picture is from The Arthurian Legends. The layout of the Tristan Stone inscription from Castleden, page 71.