Joe Boyles, from Pensacola, FL, holds a Bachelor of Arts from Birmingham-Southern College. He attended the University of Alabama School of Law and currently practices in Pensacola.
Jake Livingston, from Tupelo, MS, holds a Bachelor of Arts from Birmingham-Southern College. He completed medical school at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, then a surgical internship at the University of Virginia. Currently, he is in an Otolaryngology residency in Rochester, NY.
The most intimidating thing about traveling through England is driving. Neither of us had any previous wrong side of the road driving experience, but we realized early on that there would be no other way to get to all of the places we wanted to see without a car. We had researched the train option early on, but we would have had to cut out many of the more interesting sites that may not have been the most popular. So we looked into renting a car. This was more of a chore than it may sound; the British don't like to rent cars to Americans under 25 years old. Jake was a meager 20 years, Joe was 21. After about two months of searching on the Internet, we happened upon Stuart. After haggling back and forth with him and his insurance company for at least another month, he agreed to rent us a car for a daily fee plus a "young driver charge" that practically doubled the cost. We had no other choice.
Our age difference dictated our roles in transportation. Joe would have to be the fearless driver (21 was the absolute minimum age they would rent to) and Jake would be the ever-vigilant navigator. Getting out of Gatwick was our first major obstacle, and Joe handled that very well. The roundabouts took a little getting used to, but by the end of the trip we were complaining about them not having them in the States. They truly are a very quick and efficient means of routing traffic, especially in the low to medium trafficked areas. The ones in Edinburgh were a little more intimidating.
We handled navigation pretty well, thanks to the miracles of modern technology. In our planning, we had used the Ordnance Survey Internet site to find out exactly where all the places were. As the trip kept getting closer and closer, we decided that an Ordnance Survey map would prove indispensable. We searched long and hard to find a map of Britain to take along and came across one on CD-ROM. We were already planning on bringing a laptop for the digital camera (Kodak DC 280). We also found a cigarette lighter battery charger for the computer. This became our setup. Joe would drive and Jake would bring up that area on the computer map. The Ordnance Survey grid references provided in Geoffrey Ashe's Traveller's Guide proved very helpful in finding the more isolated places.
When visiting the sites, we used mainly the digital camera. It would store thirty pictures on a higher quality setting, and hundreds on lower quality. It was an excellent thing to have. We could upload the pictures to the computer as soon as we got back to the car and see exactly how they turned out. We ended up with over 800 pictures, so we were glad that we organized them so well, grouping them into specific folders by name. While doing preliminary research on the Internet, we came across several 360 degree panoramas that created the illusion of standing in the center of a place and looking around in a circle. It didn't take long for us to decide we needed something similar on our site. We found a program called LivePicture that allowed us to do this, and we brought along a tripod to help us keep the camera steady. The end results were fantastic. We stitched panoramas for the following sites: Pendragon Castle (the best), Cadbury Castle, Caerleon, Castle Dore, and Castle Killibury.
The car we drove through Great Britain in was a bright red, 4-door hatchback Peugeot. It held up pretty well, considering that we put over 3100 miles on it in three weeks. This made the price of gas a real issue--it was about 30 pounds to fill up the tank, roughly five dollars a gallon. After only a few days of driving, we noticed that the car was well on its way to being labeled "filthy." We considered washing it several times, but this was always overridden by a curiosity to see just how dirty the car would get by the end. Filth must just float in the air over there; we went through two large jugs of wiper fluid concentrate all told. Joe had to use the wipers every five minutes to scrape away the mist and grime. We weren't the only ones; there was a line seven or eight cars long at a drive through car wash that we passed in York.
To make it easier on ourselves, we made a point to stay out of the large, populated cities. The biggest city we braved was Edinburgh, but by that time we had been driving for a good two weeks and had our driver-navigator team running smoothly. The worst experience we had was in Manchester, where we missed the turnoff to the motorway and ended up in the middle of the city. We decided to just follow signs to any motorway because they are infinitely easier to navigate than inner city roads where big dump trucks drove in between lanes and cars were parked haphazardly on the side of the road.
For the most part, then, we stayed in the rural areas. Thankfully, most of Great Britain is rural. The down side to this is that many of these roads were two-way one-lane roads, very narrow and curvy. Some locals in Winchester suggested that we try ginger candy to combat the queasiness that sometimes arose. It worked for both of us. There was no shoulder, either. Often the edge of the road was inches from a five or six foot high stone wall that threatened to take off a side mirror with any slight veer.
Aside from making the driving easier, we figured that the legends would be less adulterated in smaller towns and that the people would be more open to discussing them. We found this to be especially true in the pubs. Most of the ones we visited were not very crowded, and we were often able to strike up conversations with the locals. We met one pub owner, for instance, in the Cornish town of Porthleven named Roger Baker. We ate lunch at his Atlantic Inn, and started talking about Arthur and the US and his fishing vacations in Florida. He even let us use his computer in his apartment above the pub to send and receive a few emails. We got brave at some pubs and asked for free "souvenirs"; we got several packages of beer mats.
We also had three run-ins with the law one day. We came out of our guest house in South Shields to find our car ticketed for an "unnecessary obstruction"--we had parked with the tail of the car barely sticking out into an intersection. Later that day, in York, we almost got another ticket for not paying for parking. We got to our car just as the officer was writing the ticket, and we told him we were Americans and didn't know you had to pay to park on Sunday. He let us off. We were in Oxford that evening and got pulled over for having an unreadable license plate. It was covered with dirt and was completely opaque. We just laughed at that one.
Most of the sites we visited were in rural areas, too. In Britain, "rural" means "sheep farm." That is all people use extra land for over there. Joe particularly enjoyed playing "the sheep game." The sheep would stand next to the fence by the road, eating grass and looking stupid, so Joe would slow down and lay on the horn as we drove past. A constant source of amusement since there was hardly ever anyone else on the road and the sheep jumped and took off running.
Since there were so many sheep farms, there were fences enclosing most areas and we found ourselves pros at hopping a barbed wire fence unscathed by the end of the first week. There was a lot of hiking involved for some of the more remote and less popular sites, but we were often rewarded with excellent views of the entire English countryside. Usually we were the only ones there and we found a sense of isolation rarely felt in the southeastern US. It really helped create a kind of "time machine" back to Arthurian times; it was easy to ignore the modern world. We felt like the whole country was ours for exploring and that we were justified by our research. We weren't just reckless trespassing kids, we had a purpose and property lines blurred. Property in general seems to be much more relaxed over there, we weren't ever worried about getting shot by some crazy farmer for trespassing, even though we're sure we did it many times.
Very little of Arthur's landscape remains.Only shaped earth and the occasional building remains. The conclusion we finally came to is that Arthurian England is a bunch of nothing, but it's an inspiring nothing.
It's been a year since we first started planning this project. We came up with the idea to do an Arthurian travel-study in spring 1999. We were both English majors and both had always wanted to travel to Great Britain. We couldn't think of what to study over there, so we opened up the Norton Anthology of British Literature to give us ideas. In that anthology, we came across an excerpt from Malory's Le Morte Darthur. Little did we know how much the project would entail or how absorbed we would become with it. We would take a month-long trip to Great Britain during Interim 2000 term. This is a mini-term during the month of January that the college requires, during which the student can assume study in a single or focused area of interest. This is done in any number of ways--in the traditional classroom setting, internships, travel with professors, or the student can contract out an individual study. This last option requires a faculty sponsor, and we sought Dr. Susan Hagen, the resident medieval professor at Birmingham-Southern. She agreed.
The project would require a lot of reading and research. We got a head start in the fall semester of 1999, when we both took a medieval British literature course with Dr. Hagen. For our final project in that class, we completed what would be the History section of our site. We also had to worry about the more practical aspects of travel planning--finding places to see, reserving places to stay, finding transportation, etc. As stated in our contract, the final project would be a comprehensive web site that documented all of our research and travel experiences.
As we explored the Arthurian canon, it soon became apparent that there was not much we could do that would be completely original. To manage this body of knowledge, we decided to focus on those places in Britain most likely to have been associated with the real, "historical" Arthur. We would personalize our research by including not only the legends behind these places, but also the first hand experience of them. This would be a site useful to both students and educators, as well as interested travelers.
The next obstacle was the planning of the trip itself. Early on, we bought a wall map of Great Britain and a box of map pins. This proved invaluable in helping to visualize the scope and possibilities of the trip. We were lucky that we started planning the trip so far in advance, because it took that long to pull it all together as inexperienced students. We could have never foreseen, for example, how long it would take to find a car and make three weeks' worth of reservations all over the country. We were also careful to leave the itinerary flexible enough to allow for adaptability once we got over there, though we had to make it structured enough to keep the trip moving. We were glad that we planned it this way; this allowed us to work in Dover and visit Canterbury as well, sites which were not on our original itinerary.
We decided that we would rather stay in bed and breakfasts while traveling; this was largely dictated by the nature of the trip. There were not many hotels in the more rural areas, and we were able to find reasonable rates (an average of 20 pounds per person per night). We made practically all of our reservations through a site called A1 Tourism that lists many places with email and/or fax. This cut down on international calling costs of making reservations.
One single book was invaluable in our planning, Geoffrey Ashe's Traveller's Guide to Arthurian Britain. We stumbled across this book on an Internet bibliography of Arthurian guidebooks. We were only able to order this book from Amazon UK. This book lists hundreds of Arthurian places, both real and legendary, and explores their significance. It also provides Ordnance Survey grid references for all sites. In general these were very helpful, but some were a little off. The grid references allowed us to pinpoint sites to within 100 yards. While in Britain, we used a CD-ROM version of the Ordnance Survey map with a laptop computer to help us navigate to and find especially the more rural or unmarked sites. We compiled a complete bibliography of sources we used for the entire project, both planning and research.
One of the most difficult aspects of planning was narrowing down which sites we wanted to see. We wanted to fill our days with sites, but not overload ourselves and not get to see them all. This is where the map pins were particularly handy. This helped us notice clusters of sites, which helped us divide our trip into days. This, then, helped us decide where to make our reservations as well. Our itinerary included sites all over the country; the longest we stayed in any one place was three nights.
In our planning and research, we often ran across the name Geoffrey Ashe. He has written many books on the subject of Arthur, and is cited in most others. Through Dr. Hagen, who knows his wife, and Dr. Mildred Day, a former BSC professor and founder of the Arthurian journal Quondam et Futurus (now Arthuriana), we were able to make contact with him. He and his wife Patricia were very hospitable, and we were fortunate enough to meet them on our trip. Professor Ashe agreed to an interview at his home in Glastonbury and offered us a personal tour of Glastonbury Abbey. This bit of fortune was one of the defining experiences of the trip.
The web site has been both more toil and more of a reward than we ever could have imagined. Our research will be presented at Birmingham-Southern College's annual Honor's Day, an exhibition of undergraduate research. We have also been accepted to present at the annual conference of the Southeast Medieval Association (SEMA) in Asheville, NC in September 2000.
We wish to thank Birmingham-Southern College for the opportunity, Dr. Susan Hagen for sponsoring this unique experience, Dr. Mildred Leake Day for guidance and professional insight, Geoffrey and Patricia Ashe for their time and hospitality, our parents for their patronage, Dylan Wyn Davies for Llansannan info, Laura Soule and Lark Patterson for their support, and Justin Cotney for his scanner.