MERLIN

Merlin advises the King

Now, many years and many kings had come and gone. Merlin the Briton was famous throughout the world as king and prophet. He was a law-giver to the proud South Welsh, and he foretold the future to their leaders. --Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vita Merlini, c. 1150

Merlin the enchanter is one of the most interesting characters in the Arthurian Legend. He first appears by this name in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. Before Geoffrey, the character is thought to have been the English bard Myrddin (pronounced Mere-thin). Geoffrey would have to Latinize the name, a change that would have made the name similar to the French word merde, meaning (to put it bluntly) shit. Therefore in the name of decency, the author modified the name slightly to Merlin.

Merlin, though, is probably not based on this one bard that Geoffrey had in mind; he is more likely a composite of several well-known bards, of which Myrddin was one. The earliest mention of this Myrddin is in Aneirin's The Gododdin (c.600-900), in section XLIII:

Three bristled boars, bent on destruction, Morien carried off with his spear, Myrddin of song, sharing the best Part of his wealth, our strength and support.

The other figure of this composite Merlin is the bard Lailoken, who is mentioned in the 12th century work, Life of St. Kentigern. For a discussion of this story, go to the Drumelzier section.

We visited several sites associated with Merlin: his "birthplace" at Carmarthen, the circle he constructed at Stonehenge, Merlin's Cave at Tintagel, and the wizard's well at Alderley Edge. We visited three claimants for his death bed, Marlborough, Bardsey Island, and Drumelzier.


CARMARTHEN

There are three significant sites of Merlinian interest in the Carmarthen area--Bryn Myrddin (Merlin's Hill), Merlin's Stone, and Merlin's Tree (The Priory Oak).

The town of Carmarthen is a little less than two hours' drive west of Newport in South Wales. The sites of interest are on the east side of the town, so coming from Newport it is best to enter the town on the A40.

Bryn Myrddin

Legendary and Historical Background

In the lower section of Bryn Myrddin, there is a legendary hidden cave where Merlin was trapped by Vivien. As the legend goes, Merlin was in love with the sorceress and taught her the craft and certain spells. After earning his trust, she used the spells he taught her to imprison him in, perhaps, the cavern in Bryn Myrddin.

This is one of the many "cave-legends" in the Arthurian tradition. In some, Merlin alone is trapped by Vivien, as is the case here. In others, Arthur and his knights are sleeping in a cave, waiting for the time when Britain needs such benevolent rule again, and Merlin is not present. Still others, such as Alderley Edge, blend these. In this particular legend, Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table wait and prepare to come again. Bryn Myrddin (Merlin's Hill)

Location and Description

This hill is about a mile out of town and rises steeply off the A40. It is not marked that we saw, but it is easily found using the Ordnance Survey Grid Reference.

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

The Bryn Myrddin is a tree-covered medium sized hill that sits right on the A40. The best view that we found was from the valley across the street, when we were on our unsuccessful search for Merlin's Stone.

Journal Reflections

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Merlin's Stone

Legendary and Historical Background

Merlin is supposed to have prophesied about this stone, saying that a raven would one day drink a man's blood off of it. Merlin supposedly kept his treasure hidden near here, and, indeed, the stone did fall on a treasure hunter once, crushing and killing him. This, in essence, fulfilled the prophesy, and it took five horses to stand the stone back up as it was (Ashe, Traveller's Guide, 88).

Location and Description

The stone is supposedly on the other side of the road from Bryn Myrddin. We never found it. The opposite side of the road is open farmland for the most part, and we did not see any conspicuous rocks anywhere. We are not the only ones who haven't been able to find this rock. Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his book In Search of Stones, relates his troubles finding Merlin's Stone--"For the next two hours, in the still pouring rain, we drove at considerable risk through these little wooded tunnels, looking right and left for a supposed stone pointing to a supposed cave of a man who probably never existed except in people's imaginations. The search was a complete failure" (25).

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Merlin's Stone, click here. Hope you have more luck than we did.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.

 

Merlin's Tree

Legendary and Historical BackgroundA fragment of Merlin's Tree

There is a popular jingle that goes along with Merlin's Tree:

       When Myrddin's tree shall tumble down,
        Then shall fall Carmarthen Town.

We also heard a variation of this on our travels, with the ending:

        Carmarthen then will surely drown.

To keep this prophesy from being fulfilled, the town of Carmarthen kept bracing the dead tree when it sat in the center of town. They even went so far as to pour cement around the base. Finally, the tree became too unstable to support any longer and one branch was saved and moved to the museum. We learned from talking to several people that this was an unpopular move with the locals, however necessary.

Location and Description

What is left of this tree is now in the Carmarthen Museum. We stumbled upon this purely by accident. The museum happens to be off the A40 just before the first roundabout. Admission is free, we were pleased to discover, and the case containing Merlin's Tree is on the top floor.

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

We weren't planning on seeing Merlin's Tree, but as we were going into Carmarthen, we happened upon the city museum. We decided it was a sign from Merlin and we decided to go in. The museum has two floors. The first floor had, from what we The Voteporix Stoneremember, a piano, antique furniture, and paintings. Upstairs (by way of a grand staircase) housed many exhibits. There was a walkthrough history of Carmarthen, with exhibits such as an old schoolhouse and life during the World Wars. The museum also contains the Voteporix Stone.

Voteporix was a post-Arthurian king mentioned by Gildas as having committed incest with his daughter. The stone is inscribed with the words MEMORIA VOTEPORIGIS PROTICTORIS--translated as "the monument of Voteporix the Protector." The letters have been outlined in chalk (we assume) so that they can be easily read. This stone compares in many ways to other memorial pillars that we saw, such as the Tristan Stone and the Pillar of Eliseg.

In the next room is a small display case that houses what is left of Merlin's Tree. The tree used to sit in the town square, but, after numerous attempts to support it, it was removed despite the warnings of the legend. In the display case now is a small piece of the tree, a picture of its old home in town, and a marker that tells a brief history and the associated legends.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Stonehenge

Legendary and Historical Background

Aurelius ordered Merlin to erect round the burial-place the stones which he had brought from Ireland. Merlin obeyed the King's orders and put the stones up in a circle round the sepulchre, in exactly the same way as they had been arranged on Mount Killaraus in Ireland, thus proving that his artistry was worth more than any brute strength. (Monmouth, History, 198).

According to Monmouth, there had been a Saxon slaughter of the British at a meeting of nobles of both sides. King AmbrosStonehenge at duskius, brother of Uther Pendragon, wanted a memorial to those slain by the trickery of the Saxons. Merlin suggested transporting the stones from the Giant's Ring at the top of Mount Killaraus in Ireland back to Britain. Ambrosius though this would be a fitting memorial, so a band of Britons went over to retrieve the stones. Many tried, but only Merlin was crafty and "magical" enough to dismantle and then reassemble the stone circle. The site eventually served as a grave for Ambrosius himself, as well as Constantine, Arthur's successor.

In reality, Stonehenge is thought to date from around 3300 BC, during the late Neolithic period. Geology seems to suggest that at least some of the stones were "quarried in the Prescelly Mountains in southwest Wales and floated up the Bristol channel on rafts, so that Geoffrey's account of seaborne stones from the west could preserve a factual tradition" (Ashe and Lacy 350).

The stones are thought to have had both religious and astronomical significance. It has been noticed, for example, that the setup of the stones could be used to predict such phenomena as the sunrise, moonrise, and probably eclipses as well, though some scholars doubt that the people of the time had such knowledge (Brown).

Location and Description

Stonehenge is in the county of Wiltshire and is very easy to find. Approaching from the east on the A303, the road will split into the A303 (going off towards the left) and the A360 (going off towards the right) about 10 miles outside of Andover. Take the right fork, the A360. Stonehenge will be on your left and parking will be on your right. There is a tunnel under the A360 that you walk through to get to the property.

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

StonehengeIn January, Stonehenge does not open to visitors until 9:30. We got there at 8:30 and found this out the hard way. We decided to go visit Liddington Castle and come back later that afternoon. As you near the site, man-made earthen mounds dot the landscape before you crest a hill and the most famous megalith in the world comes into view. Seeing the real thing after seeing only pictures since we were young made the structure all the more incredible. Since the parking lot is on the opposite side of the street, there is a tunnel under the road that leads out to the site. The walls are colored murals of various prehistoric scenes. Everyone knows what Stonehenge basically looks like, but there is more to the site than the central stones. For example, the structure is inside a larger circular bank with small, flat stones spaced evenly along this circumference.

The stones weigh up to 50 tons each, the tallest of which rises 24 feet. The whole complex, including the banks and ditches, is about 450 feet in diameter. The most famous center stones are in the middle and the arrangement has a diameter of approximately 55 feet.

English Heritage, the group in charge of the maintenance of Stonehenge, wants to change the surrounding area's landscape to make it appear more as it did thousands of years ago. This plan involves removing the roads near the stones that presently pass within 100 yards of the stones and reducing the commercialization that now influences the area in the forms of gift shops and refreshment stands.

For a thorough description of Stonehenge and its history, see Britannia's discussion of the famous megalith.

Notice the ditch that circles the megalith

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Merlin's Cave at Tintagel

The tide crashing up to Merlin's CaveMerlin's Cave is on the right side of the rock at Tintagel (if you are facing the sea). It is accessible only at low tide and involves some rock climbing to get down on the beach.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Merlin's Cave at Tintagel, click here.

Geoffrey of Monmouth gives Merlin a key role in the conception of Arthur at Tintagel, and this part of the legend lives on in Merlin's Cave; the wizard is said to haunt it still today.

Until recently there were well-defined steps leading down to the cave. Those have washed away and are now blocked off. The only way down today is by a rough trail over the rocks down to the beach.

Joe exiting Merlin's CaveThis path doesn't appear to have been developed by the staff at Tintagel; rather it seems that people simply found another way to reach the cave when the stairs became an inviable option. The cave fills with water at high tide, but the sandy floor absorbs most of the water to make the cave explorable at low tide. The cave goes all the way through the rock, and there is a smaller tributary cave that can be entered on the southern side. It was pitch black, but we were curious and walked all the way back until we found the wet back wall.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Alderley Edge

The face and words are in the upper centerLegendary and Historical Background

To read one version of the legend of Alderley Edge, click here.

This legend is another one of the "cave legends" that explains Arthur's passing. In the concealed cave that is supposedly within the rock behind the old man's face, Arthur and his knights wait for the time when Britain needs their guidance and valor once more. In this account, there is one knight that does not have a horse, so a "strange looking figure with long hair and a beard" (Merlin?) stops a man who is traveling to Macclesfield (near Alderley Edge) with his horse to bargain. Merlin takes the man inside the cave and offers him all the treasure he can carry in exchange for his horse. The man agrees and no one has seen the cave since.

Conspicuously absent from this is the explicit mention of Arthur, though the number of knights mentioned (140) is near that which many claim to be Arthur's full complement.

Location and DescriptionThe wizard's face

The town of Alderley Edge is south of Manchester on the A34, near Wilmslow. The B5087 intersects the A34 in the town. Go on this road towards Macclesfield; it will take you through a residential area. Soon, on your left, there will be a sign marking "the Edge," and there is a roadside shoulder for parking. There is a trail that goes beside a field and then comes to a small flight of stairs (5 steps, maybe). When you get to the bottom of the steps, turn left. After a short walk, there is a rock with a face carved in it and a stone trough on the ground. This is the site of Merlin's association with Alderley Edge.

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

When we got to the carving, we saw the face of a bearded man etched in the rock with the words carved in underneath. The face looked much older and more weathered than the writing. We have not, however, come across anything that tells a date or an earliest reference for the face. There is also a stone trough at the bottom that serves as a wishing well, as there is usually a small trickle of water that runs down the rock face and collects there.

The face itself was probably two feet from the top of the head to the tip of the beard and the words were written neatly in a fairly modern script. There was a stone trough at the bottom that was supposed to catch the water that was supposed to fall "by the wizard's will," but we didn't see even a trickle. It was somewhat disappointing, but the day was very foggy and damp, which added to a mystical, wizard type atmosphere. We just figured that the water had been impeded by mud from the recent rain. The downside to this mist was that we could not take pictures with flash because it The rhyme carved in stonebounced off the water and ruined the pictures. And, since it was midmorning and overcast, many of our pictures came out dark. But that is what's good about a digital camera; we were able to lighten the photos with a computer program. This helped most of the photos, but our picture of the words is still too dark to be completely legible.

The words below the face read and are laid out as follows:

DRINK OF
THIS AND 
TAKE THY
FILL FOR THE
WATER FALLS
BY THE 
WIZARDS WILL
 
Journal Reflections

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MarlboroughLooking up the tiers of Merlin's Hill

Legendary and Historical Background

It has long been a notion that the name "Marlborough" was somehow derived from the name "Merlin"; Marlborough latinized is Merleburgia. This is evident in this line from a poem by Alexander Neckham written in 1215:

Merlin's tumulus gave your name,
Merleburgia
           --qtd. in Ashe, Traveller's Guide, 170

Most scholars believe that this connection is a faulty one, since the name "Merlin" was "Myrddin" until Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in 1130-40. Coins have been found from the days of William the Conqueror, which were decades pre-Galfridian (before Geoffrey), where the name of the town is spelled "Maerlebi." Since the bard's name had no "L" in it at this time, it is unlikely that he gave the town of Marlborough its name.

Location and Description

View from the top of Merlin's HillThe town of Marlborough is in the county of Wiltshire, approximately 30 miles east of Bristol. Merlin's Mount is on the campus of Marlborough College, which is on the eastern end of High Street. When you enter the campus, there is a large circular drive with parking all around. Merlin's Mount is behind the cafeteria building.

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

We knew Merlin's Mount was on the campus of Marlborough College, but we did not know exactly where it was. The campus was on holiday when we were there, but we found a dorm head there that helped us find the hill. We walked around behind the cafeteria and there was the large, tiered hill that is supposedly the resting place of Merlin. It looked as if the students enjoyed the mount--the paths around it were well worn and there was some sort of brick chimney sort of structure on top. Also on top was a huge green machine. Our guess was an air conditioning unit. Ignoring that, you can look out from the top of the mount over the college and the city--a nice view. It was worth the trip The Merlin Hotel and Bareven though the site's Merlin associations are probably nothing more than local fancy.

This local fancy is still alive and well, though. We wandered down High Street for lunch and noticed the Merlin Hotel and the adjoining Merlin Bar.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.

 


Bardsey Island

Bardsey IslandLegendary and Historical Background

The legends about this island differ. One says that Merlin is buried here. Another is an adaptation of the cave legend, where he is trapped not with Arthur and the sleeping knights and not by an evil enchantress. Here he lives in solitude by his own volition. A variation of this legend has Merlin living in a magical house of glass. This "Isle of Glass" legend incorporates Celtic mythology about the otherworld that is also manifest in the legendary Avalon.

Location and Description

Bardsey Island is off the northwest tip of Wales. From the town of Aberdaron, head west towards Uwchmynydd. You will start going up a gradual incline on very windy, narrow roads. Our strategy was just to go towards the water. Eventually we got to a grassy car park and followed footpaths out to the cliffs, from which Bardsey Island can be seen. There is some kind of ferry out to the island from the towns of Aberdaron and Pwhelli, but we are not sure of those specifics.

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

Most of the northwest peninsula of Wales, is, from what we saw, sparsely populated. We drove to Bardsey on the B4417, which runs along the northern coast and strings together a series of small towns an average of about five miles apart. The nearest town of any size is Aberdaron, and from there we could see the island. We got out to the coast, parked the car, and got out to explore. There were trails out to the edge, but these were probably sheep trails judging from the abundance of "signs"A strange pattern disrupts the pasture and a even few sheep themselves. There was a high area and then a sort of flat valley that afforded a closer view. In this valley there was an outline of some sort that looked like the foundation of a building. We hadn't then and still haven't found any information about this, but it commanded our curiosity nonetheless.

The island itself is funny shaped. There is a mountain on the east side that flattens into a plain on the west side. In this flat area, there are remains of 6th century Celtic religious activities, including gravesites and a monastery. Also of note on the island is a lighthouse. Sadly, none of these buildings could be seen from our vantage point and we did not have the time nor the information to take a ferry out there, if it even runs in January.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Drumelzier

Legendary and Historical Background

One for the homiesIn the legend associated with Drumelzier, Merlin is portrayed as a wild prophet of the woods. He has been equated with a Scottish bard and prophet named Lailoken in the 12th century work Life of St. Kentigern. There are several tales within the work, two of which relate the death of Lailoken that takes place near the River Tweed.

In Lailoken and Kentigern, the wild man is condemned by a voice from Heaven to wander the woods until he dies. His punishment is the result of his killing multitudes in a battle he was once involved in. He prophesied his own death, saying that he would be cudgeled, pierced, and drowned. This prophesy was dismissed because of the unlikelihood of all three methods acting together to cause his death. As it happened, shepherds of King Meldred beat him, after which he fell into the River Tweed and was run through by a stake in the water.

Lailoken and Meldred is a tale of events that occurred before Lailoken and Kentigern. In this, Lailoken requests from King Meldred a burial " 'not far from the spot where Pausayl burn falls into the River Tweed' " (qtd. in Bromwich 123).

Incidentally, there used to be a "cairn"--a pile of rocks that marks a burial--in the field in the same vicinity as the thorn tree that now marks Merlin's Grave.

Location and Description

Drumelzier is a small town in the Borders area of Scotland. From Biggar, take the B7106 to Broughton, then turn right onto the A701 heading south. After about a mile, turn onto the B712. This is the main road through town. When you get into the town, turn left towards the church. We parked out in front of it. There will be a burn running by at the bottom of a small hill. We The sign marking Merlin's Gravewalked along the church on top of this hill and crossed a fence to get into a field. Go down the hill and cross the bridge over the burn. Towards the confluence with the River Tweed, there is a thorn tree with a small fence around it that marks the site of Merlin's Grave.

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

Our first piece of advice is do not plan on eating a meal in Drumelzier. It is a small, small town. There is a church, but it has no defined parking lot. There is probably a way out to the field the does not involve jumping a fence, perhaps going around the other side of the church. Still, we got down into the field and only knew that Merlin's Grave was marked by a thorn tree near the confluence of Pausayl burn with the River Tweed. Finding the burn was easy. There is even a footbridge across it. But there were several thorn trees dotting the field, so we picked the dramatic looking one that was leaning over the burn.

But then we noticed a thorn tree closer to the Tweed that had a fence around it, and checked it out. At the base of the tree was a plaque put there by the town of Drumelzier marking "the wizard Merlin's grave." The sign also said that this was not the original tree; it had been washed away by a flood in the late 1920's. Out of respect for the bard, Joe poured out a dram of whisky, a libation, on the grave.

The legend lives on...Judging from this marker alone, we could tell that the Merlin connection was still pretty strong in Drumelzier. This impression was strengthened by a sign we saw as we were leaving the town that said "MERLINDALE." The sign marked an entrance to what appeared to be some sort of estate rather than a town.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


All photographs by Joe Boyles and Jake Livingston.
Top picture from Early British Kingdoms Web Site.