We visited sites associated with other characters that surround the legend--Vortigern, King Mark of Cornwall, Uther Pendragon, and Guinevere. Also included are Bran and Huail, the son of Caw. There is even a site connected with Arthur's Horse. We saw Wansdyke, a large earthwork ditch that stretches for nearly 40 miles.


Bran is an ancient Welsh hero (a god before the advent of Christianity). He is the son of Llyr, and is sometimes asserted as an ancestor of Arthur. In some legends, it was Bran who brought Christianity to the Island, earning him the name "Bran the Blessed," or "Bendigeid Vran." When he died, he asked for his head to be buried under Tower Hill in London, facing the continent, and was purported to have magical powers that would keep the country safe from invading Saxons so long as it remained buried.

And Bendigeid Vran commanded them that they should cut off his head. 'And take you my head,' said he,
and bear it even unto the White Mount, in London, and bury it there, with the face towards France.
                                     -Branwen the Daughter of Llyr in Guest, 45

According to one legend, Arthur dug up the head of Bran to assert his own sovereignty over Celtic superstition. This gesture is known as one of the three "unfortunate disclosures" of Britain, related in the Welsh Triad 37:

The Head of Bran the Blessed, son of Llyr, which was concealed in the White Hill in London, with its face towards France.
And as long as it was in the position in which it was put there, no Saxon oppression would ever come to this Island . . .
And Arthur disclosed the Head of Bran the Blessed from the White Hill, because it did not seem right to him that this Island 
should be defended by the strength of anyone, but by his own he chose not to hold the Island except by his own strength.
                                     -qtd. in Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, 89

The name "Bran" means "the Raven," and there are scholars that see the story of Arthur's death as a parallel to the legend of Bran. Some believe Arthur was transformed into a raven, for example. And Celtic lore tells of a "god asleep in a cave in a western island," which would relate to both the cave legends and Arthur's travel to the Isle of Avalon.

Dinas Bran

Legendary and Literary BackgroundThe Nanteos Cup

The search for the Holy Grail is one of the most enduring themes in the Arthurian legend, and has several correlates with the Bran legend. The legend itself varies from text to text, but they possess common elements. The Grail itself is a holy relic that can only be found by the purest and most holy of knights. This relic has taken many forms, most consistently a cup either used at the Last Supper or used to catch Christ's blood at the Crucifixion. Many say that the Nanteos Cup, pictured at right, is the cup itself. The legendary cup has healing properties. The Bran legend has a magic cauldron, a remnant of pagan Celtic legends, that some scholars have seen as a precursor to the Grail:

'And I will enhance the atonement,' said Bendigeid Vran, 
'for I will give unto thee a cauldron, the property of which is, 
that if one of thy men be slain to-day, and be cast therein, 
to-morrow he will be as well as ever he was at the best, 
except that he will not regain his speech.'
            -Branwen the Daughter of Llyr in Guest, 37

Another correlation is that Bran is thought by some to be an early Grail King, or Fisher King. Robert de Boron, in his version of the legend, names the Grail King Bron. The association is strengthened by the similar wounds the two share--the Fisher King was wounded in the thigh and Bran in the foot:

The hill of Dinas BranBendigeid Vran himself was wounded in the foot with a 
poisoned dart.
           -Branwen the Daughter of Llyr in Guest, 45

Dinas Bran is said to be a model for the Grail Castle. Legend asserts that there is a silver harp, though some say it is the Grail, hidden beneath the castle. Accordingly, only a boy accompanied by a white dog with a silver eye can recover the treasure.

Location and Description

Dinas Bran is outside the town of Llangollen in Northern Wales. After coming into town on the A5, turn onto the A542 and go over the bridge that spans the Llangollen Canal (the River Dee). At the intersection immediately following, turn right and then take the first left. There are signs to Dinas Bran from here. You will go up a hill on a narrow road and come to a fenced in field that the castle commands. The hill will be on your left. Parking is only on the side of the road and there is a walking trail through the field and up the hill to the castle. The walk for us was about 15-20 minutes.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Dinas Bran, click here.The ruins of Dinas Bran

We had a time finding the castle; there was a lot of road work in the town of Llangollen that sent us on a veritable quest for this Grail Castle. We came to a conspicuous hill above the Dee Valley and looked apprehensively at the climb that lay ahead. The hike was across a flat field, then suddenly became steeper for the rest of the way up. The ruins at the top are unique. The large open area is dotted with portions of the walls and interior structure. There is no defined outline of a foundation or layout. The central area is surrounded by a huge ditch with a wall built into the earth on the downslope side. The view from the top is incredible. You can see for miles in all directions. It is not hard to imagine this as a very desirable spot for a defensive fortification.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.

KING MARK OF CORNWALLKing Mark slays Sir Tristan

Drystan ap Tallwch tending the swine of March son of Meirchiawn, 
while the swineherd went with a message to Esyllt.
Arthur and March and Cei and Bedwyr were there all four, 
but they did not succeed in getting so much as one pigling,
neither by force, nor by deception, nor by stealth...
               -From the Welsh Triad 26, 
                qtd in Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, 47

            Castle Dore                    Mote of Mark

King Mark was a powerful ruler of Dark Age Cornwall. In the Welsh legends, he is known as March ap Meirchiawn, and may have been Conomorus, the father of the "DRUSTAVS" inscribed on the Tristan Stone. He is remembered as the jealous husband who killed his nephew Tristan (Drystan) for having an affair with his Irish wife Isolde (Esyllt). For more of this story, see the section on Tristan.

Castle Dore

Legendary and Literary Background

Castle Dore has been widely seen as the chief residence of King Mark of Cornwall ever since the 12th century poem by Beroul, which locates the fort in "Lancien," or the modern day farm of Lantian, outside of Golant in southern Cornwall. John Leland comments on Castle Dore while on his travels through the area:

From Lostwithiel, to Castle Dore is at least three miles over fertile corn and grassland. 
Castle Dore belonged to the Earl of Salisbury, but is now completely demolished.
                                 -John Leland's Itinerary, 80

Inside Castle DoreIt is interesting that Leland does not mention King Mark in his description (and, for that matter, that he seems to be ignorant of the legends surrounding the Tristan Stone). The Arthurian enthusiast is either ignorant of the site's legendary heritage or he disregards it as poetic fancy.

Despite these strong connections, archeology has cast a rather large shadow of doubt on the veracity of the claims. At sites such as Tintagel and Cadbury, there are many indications of an extensive refortification in the 5th and 6th centuries, the time of Arthur. Most of this is in the form of imported Mediterranean pottery, which suggests a degree of prosperity. The excavations at Castle Dore in the 1930's though, failed to yield such persuasive evidence. The stratiography (layers of earth) of the site has been destroyed by repeated plowing, and this makes dating of the finds difficult. From what can be surmised, though, most of the construction was done by Iron Age peoples instead of post-Romans such as Mark.

On the 31st of August, 1644, Parliamentary forces seized the fort for defense against the Royalists. They lost.

Location and Description

Castle Dore is, like the Tristan Stone, outside of Fowey on the B3269. It is a little further north of the town than the Tristan Stone and harder to find, even though it is right on the side of the road. There is a small cluster of buildings along this road just before the turn off to the small town of Golant (on your right coming from Fowey). We parked near the buildings. Immediately north of these buildings is a field guarded on the road side by a stone fence. To get to the fort, you must either hop the fence at the buildings or walk along the side of the road until you see the fort. There is a gate to enter this field, but it was closed when we visited. Although the fort is difficult to see when driving past, it in unmistakable when you find it. And, to confirm your suspicions, there is an informative plaque near the fort.

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

The defenses of Castle DoreWe read the plaque outside the earthworks put there by the Old Cornwall Society. The interior of the earthenworks measures 225 feet in diameter and excavations have shown evidence of a village dating from the third to first centuries BC. It said that, in the 6th century AD, a wooden timber hall stood in the center as King Mark's residence.

We had some trouble finding this site; it is not too obvious from the road. We had to park about 100 yards away, on the side of the road by a small cluster of buildings. The site is not terribly impressive in a traditional sense. It does not occupy a high vantage point, it is one of the smaller forts we saw, and the only really interesting feature was the wide gateway that a cobblestone road used enter through. But we enjoyed the site because it seemed like more of a small homestead that was more in tune with everyday life than the large fortress of a well-known ruler.

To step inside Castle Dore and view a LivePicture panorama click here . This panorama is viewable with any java-capable browser, but is fairly large in size. Please be patient; it's well worth it.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Mote of Mark

Legendary and Literary Background

This fort was occupied from the 5th to 7th centuries, smack dab in the Arthurian time frame. At the pinnacle of its prominence, it was a well-fortified trading and manufacturing center. Excavations in 1913 and 1973 unearthed a large, circular timber hut and evidence of metalworking. These people seemed to have imported raw materials--iron from the Lake District and jet from York--to produce interlaced jewelry, brooches, and sundry metalwork. They imported luxuries as well--pottery from Bordeaux and glass from the Rhineland were found. Such prosperity suggests that this fort may have been the stronghold of a smaller British subkingdom.

The primary defences consisted of stone and timber walls, and there was a timber gate for the main entrance on the southern slopes. In the 7th century, though, these defences failed. The outer wall shows evidence of vitrification, a condition when extreme heat causes stones to fuse together. Many believe that this was the result of an attack by the Angles--Anglian runic inscriptions were found at the site--though some say that the walls were purposely vitrified to strengthen them.

The only thing truly connecting this fort with the Arthurian legend is the name, its period of occupation, and its proximity to Trusty's Hill.

Location and Description

The Mote of Mark is a hill in south Dumfries and Galloway above the village of Rockcliffe. From the A710 in Colvend you will see a sign to Rockcliffe, turn right here. It will take you into the village past a car park on the left. You will see the bay on you left. Turn right up a small hill when you get to the end of this main road. It will dead in at an intersection at the top. Turn left towards the Baron's Crag Hotel. Drive a short distance and you will see a pasture on your left and an old wooden sign that points to the Mote of Mark. Park somewhere along this road and walk through this pasture, then across the footbridge over the small brook, then through another pasture and a small wooden gate. There is an informative sign about the Mote and a trail up to the top.

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

The Mote of Mark sits atop the coastal village of Rockcliffe and looks out over Rough Firth. Walking through a cow pasture was a welcome change from the sheep farms we'd grown accustomed to; cow patties are easier to avoid than sheep pellets. An informative sign leads up steep stone steps through moss-covered stone walls. This path takes you to the top, where there is a grand view of Rough Firth, its namesake island, and the surrounding hills. The 200x130 foot top is bare and nondescript, with a few rocky outcroppings but no ramparts.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Young Merlin and King Vortigern at Dinas Emrys

They consulted what was to be done, and where they should seek assistance to prevent or repel the cruel and frequent incursions of the northern nations; and they all agreed with their King Vortigern to call over to their aid, from the parts beyond the sea, the Saxon nation; which, as the event still more evidently showed, appears to have been done by the appointment of our Lord Himself, that evil might fall upon them for their wicked deeds. -Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Chapter XIV Dinas Emrys Eliseg Pillar Nant Gwrtheyrn Little Doward

Vortigern supposedly ruled Britain during the early to mid 400s, who usurped the British throne from Constantine, the father of Ambrosius Aurelianus and Uther Pendragon. Ambrosius and Uther were exiled to Brittany to live with their uncle as children. In the meantime, Vortigern had invited the Saxons, led by Hengist and his brother Horsa, into the country as mercenaries to help fight the invading Picts and Scots. He was enamored with Rowena, the daughter Hengist, and ceded the area of Kent to the Saxons for permission to marry her. Over the years, the Saxons abused their position and started their own settlements, and in some places even outnumbered the British forces. Ambrosius killed Vortigern and took the throne, but inherited the Saxon menace.

For more information on the political history of Arthur's time, click here.

Dinas Emrys

Legendary and Literary Background

Dinas Emrys is supposedly the citadel where Vortigern retreated when the Saxon threat became too strong. The story of his building this citadel is first told by Nennius and then by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Vortigern repeatedly tried to erect his fortifications, but the structure would not stand. He consulted his wise men, who told him that:

You must find a child born without a father, put him to death, 
and sprinkle with his blood the ground on which the citadel is to be built, 
or you will never accomplish your purpose.
                             Nennius, Historia Brittonum, Chapter 40.

Vortigern sent his messengers to all ends of the country to search for this boy. They found him and took him back to Vortigern, where he was prepared for sacrifice. The boy stopped Vortigern and showed him the true reason for the instability of his structures. He told the men that there was a subterranean pool that was causing the structural weakness, and showed them where to dig. Digging revealed a pool in which there were two dragons, one red and one white, engaged in a fierce struggle in a tent. The red dragon triumphed after a length of fighting, and the boy proceeded to explain the meaning of this event.

The pool of the fighting dragons at Dinas EmrysIn Nennius, the prophesy is fairly optimistic:

The pool is the emblem of this world, and the tent that of 
your kingdom. the two serpents are two dragons; the red 
serpent is your dragon, but the white serpent is the dragon 
of the people who occupy several provinces and districts of 
Britain, even almost from sea to sea: at length, however, 
our people shall rise and drive away the Saxon race from 
beyond the sea, whence they originally came; but do you 
depart from this place, where you are not permitted to erect 
a citadel; I, to whom fate has allotted this mansion, 
shall remain here; whilst to you it is incumbent to seek 
other provinces, where you may build a fortress." 
                              -Nennius, Historia Brittonum, Chapter 42

In Geoffrey of Monmouth's story, the fighting is interpreted more pessimistically:

Alas for the Red Dragon, for its end is near. Its cavernous dens shall be occupied by the White Dragon,
which stands for the Saxons whom you have invited over. The Red Dragon represents the people of Britain,
who will be overrun by the White One: for Britain's mountains and valleys shall be leveled, and the streams
in its valleys shall run with blood.
                             -Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain,171.

This difference could perhaps be a result of the different time periods in which the authors wrote. Nennius, writing around the year 800, still envisioned the possibility of expelling the Saxons. Geoffrey, a post-Norman writer, had apparently given up all hope of British self-rule.

Another difference between the two accounts is that Nennius names the mysterious boy Ambrosius (indeed, "Dinas Emrys" means "Fort of Ambrose"), while Geoffrey chooses to introduce Merlin as the boy. Vortigern's men found Merlin outside the gates of Carmarthen, which Geoffrey spells A ruined building at Dinas Emrys"Kaermerdin."

The structural instability issue can be seen from a practical standpoint as well as a symbolic one. Perhaps the true reason Vortigern's fortress would not stand is that it was built over a sinkhole instead of on firm ground. Over time, the story could have acquired the dragon fight to explain how fate was against the British.

Location and Description

Dinas Emrys is in the Snowdonian Mountains of Northern Wales. It is north of the town of Porthmadog on the A498. When you get to Beddgelert, veer right to stay on the A498. You will now be heading northeast through the Valley of Nant Gwynant. The hill is a mile or two out of town; when you pass the copper mine on your right, pull over at the next shoulder and park. The hill will be on your left, right up against the road, behind a barbed wire fence, and next to a sheep pasture. If you get to Llyn Dinas, you've gone too far. Supposedly, there is someone in Beddgelert to speak to that will take you to the hill, but we were ignorant of this on our trip. For more information on this, click here.

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

The ruins of Dinas Emrys are on top of a craggy hill near a field and small trailer park. A barbed wire fence separates the hill from the road, but was not very effective at keeping us out. The climb up was steep and rocky, but not very long. The sheep up there were the best we saw on the whole trip, a longer haired mountain type. The ruins were different from the other forts we had seen. There was no circular "banks-and-ditches" layout, and no large central area like we were used to. The whole area A ruined building at Dinas Emryswas so rocky, we wondered why anyone would think to build a fortress up there in the first place. But there were remains of several structures, at least one of which is Roman. There were two prominent foundations that remained, each with walls several feet high. On the side of the hill facing the road, there were remains of a wall that ran around much of the hill.

The find that excited us most was the pool of the Vortigern story. This is a rectangle dug during the first century AD, and it is difficult to determine the dimensions because of the tall grasses growing in it. It became even more intriguing when we noticed standing water in this hollow. The association of Vortigern with this site is strengthened by the discovery of Tintagel pottery during excavations, which is indicative of a certain degree of prosperity in 400-600 AD.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


The Pillar of Eliseg

Legendary and Literary Background

Eliseg was a Welsh ruler, and this monument to him is more than 1100 years old. The Latin inscription, though illegible in several areas, traces his lineage all the way back to Vortigern:

Concenn son of Cattell, Cattell son of Brohcmail, Brohcmail son of Eliseg, Eliseg son of Guoillauc. Concenn, who is
therefore great-grandson of Eliseg, erected this stone to his great-grandfather Eliseg. . .Britu moreover was the son 
of Vortigern who Germanus blessed.
                         -qtd. in Castleden, page 12-13

The last line gives an identifiable time period to Vortigern's son, since St. Germanus was a bishop known to be in Britain during the early 400s. It also mentions Maximus, a Roman who was made an emperor in Britain in 383. These hints help place The Eliseg PillarVortigern, and thus Arthur, in the correct time period.

Location and Description

The Pillar of Eliseg is outside the town of Llangollen in North Wales. It is north of the ruined Valle Crucis Abbey and Trailer Park complex on the A542. If you come into town on the A5, turn onto the A542 and go over the bridge that spans the Llangollen Canal (River Dee). At the intersection, turn left and go 2-3 miles north. You will pass the ruined abbey on your right, and the pillar is in the field immediately north of it, also on the right.

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

We shouldn't have had trouble finding the Eliseg Pillar, but we did. We only knew that it was in a field near Valle Crucis Abbey, and we looked around all of the surrounding fields we could find. We ended up taking a quick tour of the ruined abbey and the trailer park (there was one near an outhouse dubbed Loo View) before asking a couple out walking their dog if they knew where the pillar was. We were less than 100 yards away, and frustrated.

The pillar itself is set up on a concrete base and protected by iron railing. It was originally a complete Celtic cross, but the cross has fallen off and the shaft is all that remains. The pillar has two separate inscriptions, one newer and more legible than the other. The old, weathered inscription was the one containing the pedigree, but, even if we had been fluent in Latin, we wouldn't have been able to decipher much.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Nant Gwrtheyrn

Looking into Vortigern's HollowLegendary and Literary Background

In early Welsh texts, the name Vortigern is "Gwrtheyrn." The name Nant Gwrtheyrn, then, means "Vortigern's Hollow." His grave is said to be in this area by a stream that runs from the hills down to Caernarvon Bay. This story runs contrary to Monmouth's assertions that Vortigern was burned to death at Ganarew.

John Leland, referring to Nant Gwrtheyrn in his Welsh Itinerary, says,"Bytwixt Vallis Vortegerni and Aberdaron the cum pase of the se gatherith a hed, and the se entereth at both endes" (87). Though Leland does not explicitly relate the "Valley of Vortigern" to the overlord of lore, the mention shows that the place had an association, at least in name, at the time of Leland.

Location and Description

Nant Gwrtheyrn is outside of the small town of Llithfaene on the northwest peninsula of Wales. The most direct route from Pwllheli is to go north on the A499 for 7-10 miles, where it intersects with the B4417. Go east on this road and you will pass through several small towns before reaching Llithfaene. Take the first main road to the right (though it's very narrow and in disrepair) and you will pass by a farmhouse or two before reaching a parking area on the left. This has an informative sign about the area. The road continues past the parking area (there is a gate that may be locked, in which case you can walk) and follows a winding road down a hill until you reach the complex. From this parking lot, a stream can be heard off in the woods. This is the area of Vortigern's Hollow we explored.

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

This area had a spooky feel. We approached the gate in a dense fog and ignored a sign that forbade entering the premises without an escort. The gate was open, though, so we helped ourselves and drove down a winding road (slowly, because of the fog) that led to a small parking area. There we saw a rather nice Welsh cultural center built in an abandoned company mining The river through Vortigern's Hollowtown. The old foreman's house, right on the bay, is the focal point of the center. We walked back in the woods towards the stream that we heard within and found a row of ruined small rooms that we presumed to be housing for the workers. We walked along the stream for about an hour, trying to find a good angle for a photo.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Little Doward

Little Doward from afarLegendary and Literary Background

Nennius lists "Cair Guorthigirn" as one of his twenty-eight cities of Britain, but there is some debate about where exactly Vortigern's stronghold was. Though there are stories that link Vortigern with Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia, the more southern Little Doward has its own associations as well. This hill is just north of the town of Monmouth and overlooks the Wye River. Geoffrey, for example, sets Vortigern's fortress here. He calls it Cloartius, which some say is a scribal mistranslation of [backwards D]oartius, the Latin for Doward. This backwards D was very common in dark-age Latin (see the Tristan Stone).

In order to carry out his design, [Aurelius Ambrosius] marched his 
army into Kambria and made for the castle of Genoreu, for it was there that Vortigern had fled in his search for a safe refuge. 
This castle, which belonged to Erging country, was beside the River Wye, on a hill called Cloartius.
                   --History of the Kings of Britain, page 187

Ambrosius returns from exile in Brittany to reclaim his rightful throne.Once they reach the stronghold, Ambrosius launches a tirade against the tyranny of Vortigern before proceeding to burn the place to the ground...with Vortigern inside. The Welsh versions of the story place it in this area as well:

And in the end Uthur and Emrys burned Gwrtheyrn in Castell Gwerthrynyawn beside the Wye, in a single conflagration
to avenge their brother.
               --from Triad 51 in Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein
Location and DescriptionThe southeastern summit

Little Doward is just a few miles north of Monmouth on the A40. Take the Ganarew, Doward, and Crocker's Ash exit. It will curve around backwards and pass a church before crossing over the A40 on an overpass. You will come to an intersection, just over the bridge. Turn left. Go a short distance and turn right at the "T" intersection with a sign pointing to Doward. There is a red phone booth on the left. Drive on this narrow road until it forks, then take the right fork towards "Little Doward." Almost immediately, you come to another fork; this time take the right fork. There is no sign here. Follow this road around and it turns into a steeper dirt road. It will level off and there will be a house on your left. We parked here. The hill will be on your left, go up it, into the forest. Keep heading up the hill and you will eventually come to some overgrown banks and ditches. Follow these banks around, down mossy paths, and you will reach the southeastern tip of the fort protected by sheer rock walls.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around the fort at Little Doward, click here.

You won't find many pictures of the top of Little Doward because, as Fairbairn says in his travel guide, "an expedition to its brambly, uneven summit is best left to archaeologists and lumberjacks" (84). We, being equal parts Indiana Jones and Paul Bunyan, accepted the challenge.

We drove up the hill, following signs to Little Doward, and ended up on lumber roads on the slopes wooded with evergreens. It wasn't hard to decide which way to go; we just went up. This took us through a tree farm with several packs of deer roaming free. We managed to capture several of them in pictures even though they obviously weren't used to having humans around. The planted forest was thick on the hillside, but once we got through it we encountered the ramparts of the fort. They were thoroughy overgrown with thorns and deep grasses, but What remains of the rampartsdiscernable when looking down at them from the top. The fort had a relatively large area, but it too seems to have been planted by foresters.

We figured we wouldn't see anything notable just by walking through the middle of the summit, so we decided to follow the ramparts that were sure to circle the entire fort. We walked around the north side of the hill and ended up in an open area on the southeast side. This was dotted with several rocks and outcroppings and punctuated only by a few gnarled old trees. There were incredible views of the Wye from up here; we could even see clear to Monmouth. A steep cliff protected this edge of the fort, making it very defendable indeed.

Not much remains up here from Vortigern's time; the years of forestry have hidden it. The view from the southeastern cliffs, though, is worth the climb.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Uther, the brother of Aurelius, . . . was appointed King. . . He ordered two dragons to be fashioned in gold, in the likeness of the one which he had seen in the ray which shone from that star. . .The second one he kept for himself, so that he could carry it round to his wars. From that moment onwards he was called Utherpendragon, which in the British language means 'a dragon's head'. He had been given this title because it was by means of a Dragon that Merlin had prophesied that he would become King. --History of the Kings of Britain, 202.

In legend, Uther Pendragon was brother to Ambrosius and ascended the throne of Britain when Ambrosius died. He is more famous, however, for siring Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth says that at Tintagel, Uther used Merlin's magic to deceive Ygerna so that Arthur would be conceived. While Monmouth translates Pendragon as dragon's head, the title could just as easily mean the head dragon, a denotation of high tribal leadership. Indeed, Uther exists with this title in in some early Welsh poetry, well before Geoffrey wrote his stories.

Pendragon Castle

Legendary and Literary Background

As the name suggests, local lore assignes this castle to Arthur's legendary father. Though no developed legends survive, individual stories do. One tells of how Uther was killed here with one hundred of his men when Saxon dogs poisoned the well. Another relates Uther's attempt to divert the nearby River Eden to create a moat for this castle. A couplet preserves his failure:

Let Uther Pendragon do what he can,Pendragon Castle overlooking Uther's Moat?
Eden will run where Eden ran. 

Pendragon Castle's only mention in Arthurian literature is in Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur of the fifteenth century. Malory, though, gives no clues as to its location:

And as Sir Launcelot came by the Castle of Pendragon there
he put Sir Brian de les Isles from his lands, for cause he would
never be withhold with King Arthur; and all that Castle of 
Pendragon and all the lands thereof he gave to Sir La Cote
Male Taile; and so they rode to Arthur's court all wholly together.
     --Book IX, Chapter IX

The castle is by no means Utherian. In actuality, it is a Norman work built by Hugh de Morville in the 12th century. Hugh is most famous as one of the knight assassins of Thomas á Becket.

There is more information at the Visitor's Center in Kirkby Stephen.

Location and Description

Pendragon Castle is in Cumbria, just four miles south of Kirkby Stephen on the B6259. It is on the side of the road at an intersection with a smaller, unnamed road, and there is a small shoulder on which to park. The castle is on private property, so please respect the land and the ruins and be sure to securely latch the gate when you go through.

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

Pendragon Castle is, as Joe's mom would say, "Tee-tiny." It sits on a small mound in a field east of the River Eden, accompanied by two tall, scraggly looking trees. Surrouding this mound is a formidable ditch, perhaps 15-20 feet deep and plenty wide. It forms a sort of horseshoe shape around the castle, where the two arms drop steeply down to the Eden, which flows parallel to the west wall of the castle. If the ditch were significantly deeper it would reach the Eden and, theoretically, The River Eden through a windowdivert the waters to the castle base.

The main entrance to the ruined castle was more than obvious, and opened to an central room of 35-45 feet square. This central room was flanked by several distinct rooms. There was also an attached tower with what looked to be a drainage system or chute; we suspect it was the castle "throne." We could tell that it used to be at least two storys high, since there were first story doors and second story windows. There is a striation in the stone between the two that indicates a long-gone floor.

When you enter the castle, you are at the level of the second floor, standing on the crumbled remains of the castle and centuries of accumulated dirt and sheep dung. Through the grass and rubble along the walls we could see the arches of several buried doors and windows. Although visitors have free reign to explore the castle, please remember this ancient building is on private property and should be treated with all due respect.

We have created a virtual reality panorama to let you step inside of Pendragon Castle; it is viewable with any java-capable browser but is fairly large in size. Please be patient, it's well worth it.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


                 Three faithless Wives of the Island of Britain. Three daughters of Culfanawyd of Britain:
                            Essyllt Fair-Hair (Trystan's Mistress),
                            and Penarwan (wife of Owain son of Urien)
                            and Bun, wife of Fflamddwyn.
                  And one was more faithless than those three: Gwenhwyfar, Arthur's wife, since she shamed 
                  a better man than any (of the others).
                                    --Triad 80, qtd. in Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, 200.

Guinevere is best known for her role in toppling Camelot, in a torrid affair with Lancelot that has fascinated audiences for centuries. She does, however, appear in the earliest stories of Arthur as his faithful wife. The Welsh Triad 56 actually lists three queens of Arthur's, each and every one named Gwenhwyfar. In this triad, it is generally accepted that the famous Gwenhwyfar is the third one mentioned; she is the "daughter of Gogfran the Giant." There are many variants of her name in these older stories, including Gwenhwyfar, Guanhumara, Guenhuuera, Gwenwara, Ganore, Vanore, or Guenhuibar. In this latter Welsh form, the name is translated "white phantom" or "white shadow."Vanora's Mound

Vanore's Grave at Meigle

Legendary and Literary Background

In Meigle churchyard, there is a plaque identifying the mound behind it as "Vanora's Mound," the grave of Guinevere. Local legend holds that she made her way to Scotland after Arthur's death and changed her name to Vanora or Ganore (meaning wanderer). Even though she changed her name and environment, she did not change her lustful ways. The townsfolk became intolerant of her lifestyle and killed her.Another legend, related by Boece, has her abducted (not unwillingly) by Mordred, who takes her to Barry Hill near the town of Alyth. Arthur takes his wife back and has her torn apart by wild horses as punishment for her adultery.

This account provides an alternative to other stories of Guinevere's last days. Some have her becoming a nun at either The Mound's MarkerAmesbury or Caerleon. Still others maintain that she was buried with her husband at Glastonbury.

Location and Description

Meigle is in mid-Scotland north of Perth. Get off the A9 at Dunkeld and follow signs to the A984 towards Coupar Angus; you will cross the River Tay and turn right just over the bridge. Go into town, past a diner and the SPAR grocery. There are many signs to the Pictish Stone Museum. The stone that marked Ganore's Grave is the large stone in the center of this rather small museum. Ganore's burial mound is in a kirkyard just down the street from the museum and is identified by a small marker on the path that leads to the front door of the church.

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

We found the churchyard and the museum easy enough. Ganore's mound lies beneath a slightly leaning tree near the entrance of the churchyard, surrounded by cracked stone slabs etched with dates and names of those Scots centuries deceased. Some ofThe back of Guinevere's tombstone the older ones were decorated with a skull and crossbones as well. But the mound itself is a domed bit of earth, plain-looking but conspicuous in an otherwise level cemetery. It is identified only by a small plaque near the sidewalk that leads to the door of the church.

We then walked over to the Pictish Stone Museum, which is located near the church and in what looks to be an old chapel or schoolhouse. It was closed for the season. We decided to use our status as researchers to our advantage. We asked around and found the custodian of the museum, who was supposed to have the keys to the building during the winter. She asked us to come back in three months. We gave up on trying to get in and figured we should just try to get the best picture we could from the property that abutted the wall of the museum. We got permission from the lady who lived there, went into her backyard, and cleaned the large, arched windows on the side with our jackets. We knew which stone was Ganore's and got the best picture we could.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


And Caw, of North Britain, mounted Arthur's mare Llamrei, and was first in the attack. --Kilhwch and Olwen in Guest, 128. ...and Arthur's horse, fearless in giving battle. --Canu y Meirch in the Book of Taliesin, qtd. in Bromwich, page c.

Carn March Arthur

Legendary and Literary BackgroundThe Archway Housing the Rock

There are several stones throughout the isle of Britain that claim to bear the hoofprint of Arthur's steed. Though these are all fanciful associations, they attest to the popularity of the legends and to the extent that the native peoples revere their Once and Future King. The inscription on the plaque above this particular claimant reads:

The Stone underneath this Arch
Was Adjudged to be the Boundary of the
Parish and Lourdship of Mold in the County
of Flint and of Llanverras in the County 
of Denbigh by the High Court of Exchequer 
at Westminster 10th November 1763.
Location and Description

Carn March Arthur is on the side of the A494, just south of Mold, near the border of Flintshire and Denbighshire. It is located at a minor entrance to the Loggerheads Country Park. The stone is housed under an archway that holds an informative plaque about the stone.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Carn March Arthur, click here.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


...And Huail the son of Kaw (he never yet made a request at the hand of any lord). --Kilhwch and Olwen in Guest, 101.

Maen Huail in Ruthin

Legendary and Literary Background

One of the earliest written versions of this story appears in Elis Gruffudd's chronicle, dated around 1530. Huail, described as "wanton and cheeky," decided to woo one of Arthur's mistresses. Arthur found out, and a raucous fight ensued. Huail came out of this the victor, having wounded Arthur in the knee. This wound would heal, but leave the King with a limp. Arthur decreed that if Huail ever spake of his victory, the ruffian would be beheaded.

On another occasion, Arthur fell in love with a woman in the town of Ruthin, and dressed up like a woman to visit her. Huail was there as well, dancing with the ladies. Huail recognized the lame king and said to the ladies, "This dancing were all right if it were not for the knee" (qtd. in Trioedd, 410). Arthur overheard this and, enraged, ordered Huail to be beheaded on the stone that sits in Ruthin today.

There is an earlier account of a conflict between Huail and Arthur, written in the early twelfth century, where Arthur is still wounded in the thigh but the final showdown is on the Isle of Man (Island of Minau) instead of in Ruthin.

Location and Description

This stone is in the town centre of Ruthin along the A494 in northeast Wales. The stone is in St. Peter's Square at the top of the hill; just follow the signs to the town centre and head uphill. The Square is not blatantly marked, but there are two islands in the center, one of them has a somewhat Gothic clocktower. The rock is outside of Barclay's Bank with an informative plaque above it.

To see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around the Maen Huail at Ruthin, click here.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.



Legendary and Literary Background

Wansdyke is a grand bank and ditch earthwork that extends (in fragments) from just south of Bath to the Savernake Forest south of Marlborough.Helen Hill Miller sees the purpose as defensive, saying that it "was clearly built with protection against an enemy coming from the north in mind," as the ditch is on the north side of the dyke. Though it definitely has the appearance of a defensive work, it has also been proposed as a line of demarcation between territories, as such a large work would require a large army to patrol it. Edwin Guest, in his Origines Celticae, proposes that it may have marked the northern boundary ofOn Wansdyke looking west Dumnonia. This kingdom, covering from Wiltshire to Cornwall, is the area richest in Arthurian lore.

Its age has been long debated, but the work is generally accepted as post-Roman and pre-Saxon, which fits nicely into the Arthurian time frame. The work is assumed post-Roman because not only does it lack the style of the Romans, but they would have no need for such a boundary in a land so indisputably controlled. The name Wansdyke in Saxon means Woden's Dyke, which suggests that it existed before their encroachment into the area. They perhaps saw this huge earthen structure and could only attribute it to one of their gods. The name also helps in dating; a polytheistic namesake would have been unlikely after the Saxon conversion to Christianity in the 630s.

Location and Description

The portion of Wansdyke we visited was just north of Devizes on the A361, running through the property of a farm called Shepherd's Shore. We asked for permission to visit at the farmhouse. There are, however, many other accessible sections of Wansdyke. This area, we hear, is one of the better preserved.

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

Though you can find remnants of Wansdyke along a stretch of almost 40 miles, we chose this one because it was convenient for us. As it turns out, this area has one of the better preserved stretches. The dyke runs from the Bath area for 13 miles, then disappears for 15 before continuing on towards Marlborough for another 10 miles. Many scholars say that East and West Wansdyke were once one large work, though a few contend that these may have been two separated dykes.

Wansdyke runs across the A361 by a farm called Shepherd's Shore. We could see the trench running for miles in both directions, but clearly the most interesting portion ran by the farm. We couldn't tell if the dyke was on its property or not, but we thought it best to ask permission from the owners before we hopped the fence. They weren't the most inviting people, but had no problem with us going on their property to explore Wansdyke. From trough to crest, the bank looked to be roughly 20 feet high. We walked along it for about half a mile, taking pictures and enjoying the view.

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
King Mark picture is from Knights of the Round Table, page 22. The Vortigern Picture is from King Arthur, page 4.