THE ROUND TABLE

The Symbol of Brotherhood, Equality, and Justice
Arthur made the Round Table, so reputed of the Britons. This Round Table was ordained of Arthur that when his fair fellowship sat to [eat] meat their chairs should be high alike, their service equal, and none before or after his comrade. Thus no man could boast that he was exalted above his fellow, for all alike were gathered round the board, and none was alien at the breaking of Arthur's bread. --Wace, Roman de Brut, c. 1155.

The notion of King Arthur's Round Table has become a universal symbol for equality and just government. Actually, Geoffrey of Monmouth makes no mention of a Round Table in his history of Arthur. It was Robert Wace, writing around 1155, who was the first to mention this noble piece of furniture in his Roman de Brut, a French version of Monmouth's work. In our travels, we found supposed Round Tables in Bryn-Rhyd-yr-Arian, Caerleon, Penrith, Stirling, and Winchester.


Bryn-Rhyd-yr-Arian

Legendary and Literary BackgroundThe Northern Welsh Round Table

John Leland, in his travels through Wales, describes this Round Table--"There is in the paroch of Llansannan in the side of a stony hille a place where ther be 24. holes or places in a roundel for men to sitte in, but sum lesse and sum bigger, cutte out of the mayne rok by mannes hand, and there childern and young men cumming to seke their catelle use to sitte and play. Sum caulle it the round table. Kiddes use ther communely to play and skip from sete to sete." (Smith, 99).

A Llansannan local, Dylan Wyn Davies, told us about a rare Welsh book entitled Llansannan Parish. It's Myths published in 1910. The author, a local historian named Robert Wynne Jones, writes--"Arthur's table stands on the land of Plas Isaf (the name of the farm), on Tryfan Mountain less than quarter of a mile from the farm house. A long time ago it was said that if you would dig around the rock which is called Arthur's table you will come to a door or entrance which led into a large room. In this room there was a large quantity of silver plates, but to confirm entrance to the room, the first person had to die by the hand of a sharp
sword which fell from behind the door, after this, the room was open to anyone so they could take the silver plates." We'd like to thank Davies for translating this passage from the original Welsh for us. Notice the striking similarity to the other cave legends, which are discussed in more detail here.

The local legends that we came across and descriptions by people such as Leland are all that give credence to this site as Arthur's Round Table. Indeed, it was the most out of the way Table we found; there were no signs to it and no commemorative plaque marking it. Perhaps it was its isolated nature that inspired such legends.

Location and Description

From Betws-y-Coed take the A470 up to Llanwrst and turn right onto the A548. In about five miles, this road comes to the town of Rhos-y-Mawn. From here, get on the B5382 to Llansannan, another five miles. At Llansannan, this road will run into the A544. Go through the town of Llansannan, staying on this road, but watch for a left turn on the B5382. We missed it the first time. This road, after about a mile, will run into the small, small town of Bryn-Rhyd-yr-Arian. You will pass a small cluster of houses and then go over a small bridge. At the first major road, turn right. There will be a hilly region on your left and a field The Northern Welsh Round Tablewith a stream running through it on your right. There is a gate on your left after a little less than a mile. This is where we parked. We crossed the gate and climbed up a fairly steep hill until we got to a barbed wire fence around the top. We crossed this, and the back of Arthur's Round Table was facing us.

There may be a better way to access this table; we took a second look at the map after the trip and there may be a road that will get you closer and eliminate the need to cross barbed wire. Nevertheless, We hazard the guess that there will be no markings or signs.

Click here to see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Bryn-Rhyd-yr-Arian.

This table was by far the hardest one to find. We had to ask a local woman to guide us in the right direction. She pointed us to a hill and told us it was on top. She also said that near the Table was another hill called Arthur's Seat. This was not in any of our guidebooks and we felt like we had "discovered" a new piece of local folklore.

We were hoping we wouldn't have to climb a hill, but anything for Arthur. We parked on the side of a narrow road near a gate and Arthur's Seat across from the Round Tablehopped over it. There was a gravel road running along the hill inside the gate. We turned to the left and walked until we came to a barbed wire fence with a herd of sheep on the other side. The only way to go was up. The hill was steep, but not terribly so. We walked up until we came to the top of the hill, and the only way to get in was to hop a barbed wire fence. We did. We came into a field that held sheep and a few horses. We couldn't tell if this was the right place or not, so we explored. There was a big hill in the middle of the field , but it didn't look anything like the picture we had seen. We walked around to the other side and saw the Table. Across a small dip in the land there was the Arthur's Seat of which the lady had spoken. We walked out into the dip and over to the Seat to get better pictures of the Table. We walked around on top of the Table and looked for the holes Leland had spoken of, but we didn't see any. Then again, it had been almost 500 years.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Caerleon

Legendary and Literary BackgroundThe amphitheater at Caerleon

The legend asserts that, after the Romans left Britain, Arthur set up a governmental center at Caerleon-on-Usk, also known as the City of the Legion. The city is associated with Arthur in many texts, including varied medieval stories, Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, and the Welsh Mabinogion. In the notes to Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of the Mabinogion, published in 1906, she states that "tradition informs us that it was the principle residence of King Arthur; and the amphitheater is still called Arthur's Round Table." Fitting with this location of the Round Table, the city of Caerleon is considered by many to be Camelot itself.

Caerleon as also been presented as Camelot as well as the site of Arthur's ninth battle.

Location and Description

Finding Caerleon is relatively easy. It is a town only a few miles north of Newport in southern Wales. From the M4, there are signs to the town; one exit you can take is number 25. There are brown roadsigns that guide you through the Roman sites of interest in the town, and the Roman amphitheater just outside the old Roman city walls is what has been called Arthur's Round Table.Notice our shadows in the middle of the ring

Click here to see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around the Roman fort at Caerleon.

One of the first things we realized about the modern town of Caerleon is that it is built over an old Roman one, and that the amphitheater, or Arthur's Round Table, is only part of that town. Portions of the Roman wall still exist, and the amphitheater is outside the wall, as are the remains of the army's barracks. We found the amphitheater without much trouble and began to explore. We were going to shoot the panorama shots first, but it was still morning and the sun was low and bright. We figured there would be less glare if we waited a while, so we went to explore the legion's barracks. When we returned, there was an elementary school group on a field trip visiting the amphitheater. We decided to eavesdrop on them and follow them around since we couldn't take our panorama shot with little kids all over the place. We got to pretend we were Roman soldiers parading through the arena. There was no mention of Arthur or his Round Table in the guide's discussion, though. The children eventually left to go visit the Roman baths inside the town, and we were free to explore on our own.

A reconsruction of the amphitheater at CaerleonThis amphitheater was similar to the Roman Colosseum, but much smaller and less complex. There were two large entrances opposite each other that were perhaps ten feet wide, and six others were placed around the amphitheater. There were also insets that served as staging areas for soldiers, prisoners, or animals. One of these contains a shrine to the goddess Nemesis. The Roman people would write prayers on lead sheets and offer them to the goddess at this shrine. Several of these were found in the excavation of the amphitheater and are now on display in the museum in the town of Caerleon. There is a conspicuous ruined area which was the seat of General of this Roman Legion and several box seats for distinguished guests. The amphitheater is thought to have been able to seat 6,000 in a stadium seating arrangement, much like a modern bullfighting ring.

To step inside the amphitheater at Caerleon 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.


Penrith

Legendary and Literary Background

The raised circular platform at PenrithJohn Leland, in his Itinerary from the mid 1500's, states--"Less than a mile from Penrith, but in Westmoreland, are the ruins of what is supposed to have been a castle. It stands on what is virtually an island, less than a bowshot from the river Lowther on one side and the river Eamont on the other. This ruin is called by some the Round Table, and by others Arthur's Castle" (484).

The earthwork itself dates from 2000-1000 BC. It may have been a prehistoric meeting place or held some kind of religious significance. Local legend provides the only substantial Arthurian link, though the central mound (the table), having a diameter of 50 or 60 yards, would have been big enough to seat Arthur's entourage.

Location and Description

Penrith is in the region of Cumbria in northern England, just off the M6. To get to Arthur's Round Table, get off the motorway onto the A66 towards Penrith. From this road, get on the A6 towards Eamont Bridge, a small town south of Penrith. The Round Table, also known as the Mayburgh Earthworks, will be on this road on your right, near the B5320.

Click here to see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around Penrith.

We parked at the pub across the street (seen in the background of the picture) and walked out to the earthworks. There is a circular ditch with a round plateau in the center. There were originally two entrances to the center "table" that spanned the ditch, one northwest and the other southeast. The northwest entrance has been destroyed by the road that we crossed to get there. The Mayburgh earthwork, another prehistoric construction, was nearby to the west. The Round Table and Mayburgh earthwork are seen together in the picture below.

 

A drawing of the earthworks from 1725
Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Stirling

The King's Knot seen from Stirling CastleLegendary and Literary Background

William of Worcester said in 1478 that "King Arthur kept the Round Table at Stirling Castle" and Sir David Lindsay, the 16th century Scottish poet, said that Stirling Castle is the home of the "Chapell-royall, park, and Tabyll Round" (qtd. in Ashe, Traveller's Guide).

The nobility at Stirling is thought to have held events known as Round Tables, and some of the association with the real King Arthur may have arisen from these festivals. The Knot itself dates from the 1620's. The center mound, however, is thought to be older than the rest of the Knot, perhaps existing in Arthur's day.

Location and Description

The Stirling Round Table, also known as the King's Knot, sits in a field below the western side of the castle. From the M9, take exit 10 and follow the signs to the castle. It is in plain view and impossible to miss. You can access the knot from the bottom, but we parked inside the city and got a view from the castle.

Click here to see a Streetmap.co.uk map of the area around the King's Knot at Stirling Castle.

The structure itself sits in a field below Stirling Castle, in land that was once a splendid royal garden. The ornate King's Knot, though, is all that remains. In the center of the Knot is a flat-topped central mound that is about 45 feet in diameter and rises about 6 feet.

We parked in the old town near the castle itself, and walked around the Church of the Holy Rood and through its cemetery. The cemetery is on the same elevated rock as the castle and overlooks the King's Knot. We had a little trouble finding a place without too many trees in the foreground from where we could get a good picture, but this may have been easier from within the castle itself. We hear that the Queen Anne garden within the castle walls affords an excellent view.

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


Winchester

Legendary and Literary BackgroundThe Winchester Table

"At Venta Symeno alias Winchester in ye castle most famously knowne, standeth fixed ye table at the walle side of ye kinges Hal, which (for ye majesty of Arthure) they cal ye round table"--The Assertion of King Arthur by John Leland, 1544.

Caxton also mentions the Winchester Table in his preface to Malory's Le Morte Darthur, and he seems to regard it as authentic, though the table itself probably dates from the late 1200's, during the reign of Edward I.

By the 1200's, it had become fashionable for nobility to hold festive events known as "Round Tables," where the court would engage in feasting, dancing, and jousting while dressing up as Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The oak table at Winchester is thought to be a relic from one of these elaborate festivals hosted by Henry VIII, and the King Arthur portrait that sits atop the table is a portrait of Henry.

Location and Description

The town of Winchester is in the county of Hampshire and just off the M3. From there, follow the signs to the city center and find a place to park. The cathedral is a nice, easy to find landmark and is close to King Arthur's Round Table, which is located in the Winchester Great Hall. The Great Hall is on the western end of the city off High Street; there are plenty of signs.

Click here to see a map of the Winchester city center.

The table is 18 feet across and today sits below a stained glass window in the Winchester Great Hall. It would have originally had twelve legs and seats for 25--24 knights and one king. The table is thought to have A sign we saw in Pembroke, Walesbeen built during the reign of Edward I, perhaps to celebrate a Round Table festival, though it was not painted at this time. The table was not painted until the time of Henry VIII, when it was decorated for the visit of emperor Charles V. It now has the appearance of a dart board, and, indeed, it was used for target practice by Cromwell and his troops in 1645. The holes were filled and the table was repainted in 1789.

We found an example of the endurance of the symbolism of the Round Table in Pembroke, a small town in South Wales. There was a sign that marked the meeting place of the "Pembroke Round Table," and the symbol used was a stylized Winchester table. The notions of brotherhood, equality, and justice are just as appealing to contemporary society as they did to Arthur's.

 

Journal Reflections

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

For Joe's Journal Entry, click here.


All photography by Joe Boyles and Jake Livingston.
The Caerleon reconstruction and Penrith sketch were taken from the signs at the sites. Thanks to Welsh Historic Monuments and English Heritage.