Category Archives: English myths and legends

King Arthur’s Hall; all roofless and wind-blown


Image of King Arthur's Hall, Cornwall

The remains of King Arthur’s Hall on Bodmin Moor. The “Hall” is thought to be a Bronze Age ceremonial centre for cremation although some argue that it was a pound for animals.

Into Cornwall I climb seeking comfort from winds

Among lower levels of that lofty moor Bodmin;

Through fields richly-flanked by leaves of fair green

I come up to Blisland by blowing moor’s edge.

In that soft church I sit to regain of my senses

With its vault above me which arches twice vast

And shouts of Agincourt when its arcs were stretched

On shield-bearing angels, their wings wafting high

And sailing in joy over scenes from the centuries.

Rested, I rise onto Gringolet’s saddle

Who carries me slow up ascents to the moor

And there in the blowing wind blasting my body

And sharp-shafting showers that strike to the soul

I see that square building which bold sits in bog-land;

King Arthur’s Hall it is known in Kernow.

Yet no knight knows that place, not to my knowing,

The years have long passed that parsed of its purpose

And my uncle Arthur never nursed in that place

Ideas of adventure to alter his aims

For the season, or Christmas, or sweet holidays.

It is but a pound to pen but some sheep or maybe a place to bury

The dead.

Surrounded by gorse and granite stones

That Hall it must be said

Just now sits square in moors alone,

Its story long unread.

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Filed under British History, British Landscape, Cornwall, English Counties, English Landscape, English myths and legends, French Battlefields, Gawain and the Green Knight, Historic places to visit in Britain, King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Touring Britain, Uncategorized

Swinside: Stone Sentinels of Past Centuries


Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria

Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria

Travelling, Le Gringalet has called me to Lancashire and Cumberland in my cause;
My horse lifts me high upon heath and mighty on mound
Through lofty lowlands and limp inlets sandy on Furness fallow.
Climbing now with Morcambe bay massive on my left shoulder
I soon rise to fields thrashed by winds, throttling life and thrusting sheep against walls
Where now we reach a circle stoney, standing guard sternly:
Swinside, the sunkenkirk, swept by swarming blasts, many stones sleeping close to the ground.

When I walked here last on the warmest of days under King Richard
These stones still stood circular and knowledge was dim as to their purpose.
And nothing now has changed save the passing of the years from one new one to the next.
Yes, more of this henge no longer hangs but hugs the soil where wind has pushed it
But whether warm to the ground or still windswept and upright
These robust stones remain in their entirety from my day and before.

What celebration have they seen in the years they stood?
What flushed face of youth feebly withstood young love here?
What women grew round and with birth gave the earth?
What men fought fights for far-flung tribal rites?
Did Romans see, stare and set apart?
Did Norman knights ennoble themselves through nuance of connection?
Did woman out of wedlock worry in tears for her child?

These stone sentinels of past centuries have seen it all:
The clasped hands of heaving lovers; the glistening eyes of sorrow;
The last sight of a land once loved by men away to foreign wars;
The coming and going of the seasons, from sweet to sweat;
The growing old of children, as childhood became but yesterday
And men grew weary, weeping for the youth they’d squandered.

Swindside is a site of yesterdays, steward of memories and holding them in its silent grasp:
If we could know its secrets we would without melancholy accept our fate
But yet the passage of time slips through our fingers and from our feeble grasp
And with it we see our lives pass by as particles of sand sieved with fumbling futility.
Swinside with certainty in its silent ways sways us to reflection
On how we lead our lives.

As we journey on our way, take care;
Our errors cause much pain.
But if through all our acts we’re fair
Our honour will remain.

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Lord Bardolph of Agincourt at Dennington


Image of Dennington Church, Suffolk

Dennington Church, Suffolk. The interior will astonish the visitor

Suffolk, the sandlings and sky. Here Le Gringalet guides me through the greenswards of England along the old road to Southwold and the coast of the German Ocean. Flat land, a fair wind and a festival of flowers dot the roadside as here at Dennington I find myself.

As with so much in my quest, the world has turned and wended a way beyond my comprehension. Yet this old church, charming still stands and chides those who choose to turn their heads to the gods of greed and avarice. And well have the centuries like sentinels kept this saintly place!

Square the tower stands as the squires had seen it built, squatting by stonemasons. The nave, when new, nestled here at the junction of quiet lanes and the glass glistered to all who glimpsed upon its luxury. Let us press inside and see what my eyes had seen in the silence of past sights…

Disappointment is not a word which deigns to dirty the glory herewithin. Light cascades as a carapace of calm onto dark figures dancing before the Greatest Deity. Poppy-headed pews portray people, poets and priests. And monsters, mystical figures and even a mermaid sit silently as you in prayer solemnly contemplate order, place and your own insignificance. 

Science and scepticism stop here now to see the Sciapod. Unusual in these islands, our one-footed friend falls in slumber on sunny days beneath the shadow of his single sole. Here he has lain, forever entombed by the bench-end since the day he was carved in oak by a carpenter skilled. Few who come here know of him yet those who find him scarce forget their fortune in such discovery.

More, too, looms here in this noble nave nestling. An old clock whose clicking has long since ceased to clatter and tell the passing of the days. Oaken chests which once chimed with the chink of tithe moneys given. And now, a great prize indeed: the tomb of Lord Bardolph, maligned in ignorance by the great bard of later years but who, in beauty now, belies a legacy undeserved.

Here in his chapel Lord Bardolph chatters in eternity to his cheery wife, holding hands in heaven as here on earth their visage still remains. Study now his armour, beaten on the field of Agincourt by blows French – but yet he stood. The arrows flew, the horses shied, and Frenchmen were flung to the field and drowned in the mud and crush of that October day long ago.

In the horror of that foreign furrowed field did this man found his glory. Here was a man who knew well the wounds of Henry, his cheek chiselled by a charmless bodkin at Shrewsbury in 1403. This man knew in dysentery disembowelled the distress of archers daunted by the chivalry of France. And blessed he was by the baton-beating command of Erpingham: Nestroque! Now Strike!

In one day at Agincourt the flower of France wilted in those furrows and brave men on both sides took belting blows. There is no fame in the fear that frets a man at the moment his life is soon lifeless to become. Yet those who stay behind stall not with their words when stating that they who died on Crispin’s day will be remembered well by Englishmen for all time.

So Bardolph sleeps in  bier ornate

His memory spanning time

In his survival fortunate

In life he saw his prime

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Piers Shonks the Dragon Slayer


Image of knight slaying a dragon

Piers Shonks the Dragon Slayer of Hertfordshire (a St George of those far lands!). Original Print available at http://www.mythicalbritain.co.uk

When the Devil thinks he’s caught you, a knight can do two things: succumb to the tyrant’s will, or fight back. Now here’s a story of a knight I knew well and whose story lives on today, should you wish to seek him out in a cold vault of an old church: Piers Shonks, the Dragon Slayer.

In olden times the wastelands of upper Hertfordshire, in an area known as the Pelhams, were home to strange men and stranger creatures. Here, when the light is gloomy, the land lies sullen like a great sea creature beached on the sands. The winds can be cold and lonely there, and even the oak and the ash, wayside friends as you seek direction, can suddenly turn silent and stare down at your misfortune.

And so it was a thousand years ago that Piers Shonks, a Norman knight of those fields, came face to face with the Devil’s creature among these fields and stones.

Hunting Dragons with Hounds

What a night that was! Sir Piers with his three fleet-footed hounds set forth into those fields to seek out a winged serpent whose rustlings and beatings among the woods and ungrowth was causing great concern among the serfs and yeomen who tended those lands.

He found the creature soon enough, nibbling and tearing at the carcase of an ox; its scales catching the evening light, glistening in the gloaming. In one move, Sir Piers couched his lance beneath his arm and charged the worm, launching his lance at the reptile’s mouth and splitting its throat asunder.

Its wings did beat and its tail did flap but in minutes the creature’s lifeless form lay draped upon the stubble, it’s eyes rolled to the welkin and its claws sunk in the earth. Plate by plate its armour had been made. Scale by scale the armour now dropped off like leaves on an autumn tree. The giant was no more.

Chased by the Fiend, never to be safe?

But the Devil’s work is never done. Now the Lord of Darkness arose from the earth, chastising Sir Piers for his affrontery and glowering said, “your soul shall know no rest and peace shall have no bed. No church will ever hold your sleep, no holy place your soul to keep”. Whether buried inside a church or without, Sir Piers would never be safe from the Prince of Evil

I knew Sir Piers and knew well how his mind would dwell upon a puzzle. Drawing of his short bow, he placed an arrow and shot it towards the church of Brent Pelham (a corruption, reader, of Burnt Pelham, as it was then known due to the predations of the dragon). There it landed on the church’s north wall and there he intended to be buried – neither inside the wall nor without: safe from Devil’s suction clutches.

And so today, fellow journeyman through time, if you look in the north wall of the church at Brent Pelham, you will still see Sir Piers’ grave and read upon it the words thus placed in more recent times which state:

Nothing of Cadmus nor St George, those names

of great renown survives them, but their Fames;

time was so sharp set, as to make no Bones

Of theirs, nor of their monumental Stones,

but Shonke one Serpent kills, t’other defies,

and in this Wall as in a Fortress lyes.

Is this story true, you ask me? Well reader, I know the truth of it and I shall keep it safe. For sure these stories are embellished with the passing of the years but “Shonkes’ Moat” is still marked upon the maps and in those lands you still meet folk who stand taller for taking the air that once Sir Piers breathed.

And yet still he lies there in his tomb in the wall, a silent guardian against the mischief of wickedness – at peace, slumbering for all time in that dusty vault.

As Byron might have said:

“Shrine of the Mighty! can it be

that this is all remains of thee?”

New Book by the Author: Michael Smith’s new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be published in July 2018. To pre-order your special collector’s limited first edition – with your name in the back – please click here

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