“HISTORIC” LINKS TO
KING ARTHUR

MOUNT SAINT MICHAEL, KING ARTHUR’S QUOIT, EXCALIBUR’S REPOSITORY

Any attempt to enumerate King Arthur’s influence in British history, legend, or oral tradition–even if brief or superficial–would be a formidable task, since Arthur’s image permeates icons, heraldry, geographic locations, landmarks, events, and Roman associations. More often than not, there are multiple claims of King Arthur’s Round Table, King Arthur’s gravesites or quoits, and King Arthur’s profile.  There are even claims of Arthur’s footprint, his oven, his chair, his bed, and his bridge. Neil Fairbairn touches upon 172 King Arthur sites scattered throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. There are several sites which people covetously postulate as the repository for Arthur’s sword, and individual can even visit Wales to see Cabal’s pawprint or Llamrei’s hoofprint. Geoffrey Ashe writes that “Six stones are called Arthur’s Stone, eleven are called Arthur’s quoits; four hills are called Arthur’s Seat. There are five earthwork Round Tables.”

I’ve listed in this section a few of the locations and artifacts which intrigued me during my visits, some which link to King Arthur’s historicity, and some to the legendary King Arthur.

Geoffrey of Monmouth is the first to write about King Arthur’s battle with a giant atop Mount Saint Michel. There is no doubt that the story unfolds while Arthur is on the continent, specifically at Saint Michel in what is now Normandy. However, there is a different interpretation that King Arthur fought this particular battle at the tip of Cornwall on the island.

The story runs thusly:

Meanwhile the news was brought to King Arthur that a giant of monstrous size had emerged from certain regions in Spain. This giant had snatched Helena, the niece of Duke Hoel, from the hands of her guardians and had fled with her to the top of what is now called the Mont-Saint-Michel. The knights of that district had pursued the giant, but they had been able to do nothing against him. It made no difference whether they attacked him by sea or by land, for he either sank their ships with huge rocks or else killed them with a variety of weapons. Those whom he captured, and they were quite a few, he ate while they were still half alive.

The next night . . . King Arthur, Kay, and Bedivere set out for the Mount. Being a man of outstanding courage, Arthur had no need to lead a whole army against monsters of this sort. Not only was he strong enough to destroy, but by doing so he wanted to inspire his men.

. . . .

At that moment the inhuman monster was standing by his fire. His face was smeared with the clotted blood of a number of pigs at which he had been gnawing. He had swallowed bits of them while he was roasting the rest over the live embers on the spits to which he had fixed them. The moment he saw the newcomers, nothing then being farther from his thoughts, he rushed to snatch up his club, which two young men would have found difficulty in lifting off the ground. The king drew his sword from its scabbard, held his shield in front of him and rushed forward at full speed to prevent the giant from seizing his club. The giant was quite aware of the advantage King Arthur was hoping to gain. He took up his club and dealt the King such a mighty blow on his shield that he filled the shore in either direction with the reverberation of the impact and deafened Arthur’s ears completely. The King grew white-hot in the fierceness of his rage. He struck the giant on the forehead with his sword and gave him such a blow that, although it was not mortal, all the same the blood ran down his face and into his eyes and prevented him from seeing. . .Blinded as he was by the blood which was gushing out, he rushed forward all the more fiercely. . . The giant rushed against the King’s sword. He seized Arthur round the middle and forced him to the ground on his knees. Arthur gathered his strength and quickly slipped out of the giant’s clutches. Moving like lightning, he struck the giant repeatedly with his sword, first in this place and then in that, giving him no respite until he had dealt him a lethal blow by driving the whole length of the blade into his head just where his brain was protected by his skull. At this the evil creature gave one great  shriek and toppled to the ground with a mighty crash, like some oak torn from its roots by the fury of the winds. King Arthur laughed with relief. He ordered Bedivere to saw off the giant’s head and to hand it over to one of their squires, so that it might be carried to the camp for all to go and stare at.

 

Mount Saint Michael’s in Cornwall. The causeway in the foreground allows visitors to walk to the island at low tide.

Mont San Michel in Normandy. The water has permanently receded and does not encompass the island. Posted around the castle are warnings of quicksand.

There are four popular sites which claim to be the repository for King Arthur’s Excalibur, only two of which I’ve included here. The photo to the left is Bosherton Lake, also known locally as “The Lily Ponds” because sections are teeming with lilies, a beautiful sight when they are in bloom. The lake itself is in the foreground, separated by a spit of land from the sea, visible in the distant center. Although the separation of sea and lake is narrow, Bosherton Lake is fresh-water, evidenced by swans, the specks of white in center-photo. Its location is in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, southern Wales.

The right photo depicts Loe Pool, near Porthleven in southern Cornwall. Like Bosherton, Loe Pool is separated from the sea by a sand spit, but unlike its near-twin, it is salt-water, not fresh. Boats and swimming are not allowed, since the lake is still attached to the sea, creating very dangerous undertows.

The two other common sites which are not pictured are Dozmary Pool in central Cornwall near Bodmin, and the River Brue near Glastonbury. The latter flows between artificial banks, and because it often overflowed (or was part of Bridgwater Bay surrounding Glastonbury) in King Arthur’s historic era, this condition created the credibility that this might be the area where Bedivere cast Excalibur into the water.

St Davids Head

King Arthur’s Quoit, St Davids Head, overlooking St. George’s Channel (no periods or apostrophe used in former name). Information explaining the name of this monument is either nonexistent or well-nigh impossible to uncover. It’s considered an ancient burial chamber, but there’s no hint of why it is called Arthur’s Quoit.

King Arthur’s Stone, Dorstone. According to Neil Fairbairn, this site marks Arthur’s battle with a giant. “As the giant lay dying, he leaned on the capstone with his elbows, making two depressions. Other legends explain that same depressions were made by Arthur’s knees as he prayed, or by his fingers as he played quoits, or even the knees of Christ.”