Category Archives: King Arthur

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

Fulk Nerra – the Butcher of Anjou


This knight, part of a frieze at the collegiate church of St Ours, Loches, shows an early mediaeval knight. The church was built by Fulk's son; could this be an image of the man himself?

This knight, part of a frieze at the collegiate church of St Ours, Loches, shows an early mediaeval knight. The church was built by Fulk’s son; could this be an image of the man himself?

Lithes and listen you ladies and young gentlemen
To my jolly journey now as I on le Gringalet jaunts
South  to Loches in the Loire, lively once to the sounds
Of clinking iron clattering in the clamour for blood
and now silent in the sunshine.
Enter here Fulk Nerra, the Black – and blackest of the black;
Blacker here than the blue-black crack of Beeston’s fractured well.
Fulk the Black, founder of the fight to form
A future in a land of chaos, chancing to chafe
His enemies by brutal power pressing with a pounce.

I knew him well, that man who men mention that
Even God and the Devil in equal measure paled from his presence.
I saw him when fresh-wed in the fruiting of his lust he
Clasped young breast and pink beauty to his bosom
And planted seed a plenty with the pleasantry of seduction.
But then I saw him have fair wife whipped in flames
For adultery unsupported by actions or actuary.
I saw his enemies bludgeoned, burned and bastard sons
Blossom in the aftermath of his cruelty.
No man, count, courtier or king could withstand
His blood red eyes and bleeding passion for bloodshed.
Even the king, it is said, was made with eyes a-wet
To watch on old friend executed on Fulk’s command!

Yet here was a man of contrasts contrary:
His ferocity was fewtered by a fear fecund;
On four crusades he crossed to be crossed
And his flesh bore witness to a whipping
Bare naked in the streets of Jerusalem –
Penitence indeed for the power he pricked
With spurs of spurting contempt for his fellow man.
Yet he held with fear and favour his fideles and in
So doing he built donjons dramatic to dab
The skies of the low and looming Loire and Indre.

Which brings me now to Loches, the light of lovelies:
The finest of all fine keeps and fair in faint colour,
Its tuffeau tower twinkling on horizons
For mile after mile as a monument of power
And suppression silent to all who see it far and wide.
This columned keep captures the eye from where man roams
In this part of Anjou; no angel from any angle
And but a blunt stub to bludgeon the blind.
It towers on its hill high, the highest of all keeps
And in its day dwarfing even Rochester in our own isles.
But this was one of the first – and what a first fastness!
It is peerless , matchless and unmatched;
It housed in later years the Lionheart himself
And still today stands almost to its full height,
Diminished but a little by the passing of the years.

What this has watched we wouldn’t wish to know:
Torture, touching tender its secrets to will out;
De Commynes confined in cruel uncertainty;
Sforza in centuries later secured in solemn dark;
Untold horrors hidden in these holes.
But time treats all the same
As the seasons wend and waft their way
And Fulk himself did to dust dimly pass
As so we all must in the drifting of our days.
Now at Beaulieu, Fulk be-fears no more his folk
But sleeps soundly in a solemn grave
Among the stones that once astounded one and all.

If we slay others in the vanity of our aims
On pursuit of glories only we can see
Then little wonder the payment for our gains
Is contempt of others – on our death their glee.

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Filed under Castles, French Battlefields, King Arthur, Loire Valley

In Devon banks down darkest lanes, bench ends beguiling


Bench end showing Death at Abbotsham Church

Death waits at Abbotsham – a reminder to all who sit in churches and elsewhere that their time will come

In different counties different downs roll deep their view to unravel, and so it was in Devonshire I rode on good Le Gringalet in search of things distinctive to pass away my hours.

Here is a most green of counties, a shire of verdant vibrancy in normal times yet cast brown by our long winter, spent as it was indoors before flame and fire avoiding of the freeze without. Never had I seen this county thus before yet clear it was before me now – and cold.

No ruby red, no cream upon the scone nor cheese crusty set upon my trencher. So into darker fields Le Gringalet led me towards two old parishes I thought I knew me well, named Abbotsham and High Bickington. What changes here since last I rode with Arthur in warmer days, wafting through lands and away on our hunting!

Abbotsham now by Appledore is closer, accreted such by dwellings that its once famed views of Torridge’s effluxion have now but eased below the eaves of roof tops many. Yet that church still it stands though starkly, so afflicted as it is by the varied violations of Victorian scrapers. But inside, what wares to while away the surface of your eyes!

This church, most charmless and cheap from outside yet once within giveth of its gifts with generosity unbounded: a bevy of bench-ends becoming and becalming at one and the same time. Look here at Death, his scythe he settles on we see. And there a workman wrapped forever in a woven bracket carved from wood. On another, Our Lord laughed at by later vandals is defaced upon the cross while too another bench blows mischief at some bounder riding backwards on his bay.

Bench ends are here distinctive while high above old faces beam, fragile survivors of all the worst of favours that those in Victoria’s reign could through upon their fame…

So let us move inland now to Old Devon where country folk, changed though they have, speak calmly as in all centuries they have and as, with God’s grace, they shall in future do. Let us ride out to High Bickington, remote and blowy on its rising ground bold standing in its grip of green damp grasping.

Here is a church much as I remembered it! A church charming and cheery despite the cheese of green decay which now impregnates its stones. In this church silent you can sit and hear the wind, a-feared as God Himself intended by the howling of the wind which did in centuries past cast down the spire of Norwich on St Maurus day.

In this damp room of sanctuary sleepy let settle your eyes in the gloom and touch those things my fingers brushed in centuries gone by. A sad remnant of a decorated carving – a rood screen perhaps long gone? Glass glistening and gold in places growing older and more faint by the years as Godless and unholy men predate the world without.

Yet more bench ends beckon and these beguile as well they should. Chanting singers sweetly sound in silence, four in a row; on another a Landsckecht, loosely ribboned loiters ready to work for whosoever wafts coin his way. Headless creatures hunted by the horrid in puritan times are hacked to faceless now, their forms only faring better through lack of subsequent protrusion. And finally, chance a man from China? No – this praying penitent points palms upwards as pigtail pony-like points back; a headdress of more humble times harks in the silence of the stones and tiles.

Let us leave these places now to sleep some more and centuries see out. It saddens me to think them sentinels of a silent age but still they stand and stoutly too, carrying their message to newer people long after I have left these lands and am but dust upon the earth.

In fields which still to me are there

from times when last I walked

I visited them once again to stare

And still to me they talked

Up in the roof space, an old face looks down at Abbotsham

Up in the roof space, an old face looks down at Abbotsham

Bench end Abbotsham

At Abbotsham, one of a number of such designs in other churches in Devon – a man bent double for all time

Primitive face carvings on a bench end at Abbotsham, Devon

Primitive face carvings on a bench end at Abbotsham, Devon

Image of the font at Abbotsham

Wonderfully carved fluted font at Abbotsham, Devon

Image of Death on a bench end at Abbotsham

Death at Abbotsham – the scythe had long since gone although parts of it remain if you look carefully

Image of Death on bench end at Abbotsham church

Here you can see the fuller bench end at Abbotsham, showing the design above Death.

Image of bench end at Abbotsham church showing instruments of the Passion

This image shows craftsmens’ tools carved into a bench end at Abbotsham. These may be connected to the Passion

Image of a bench end at Abbotsham church

Interesting curved forms on a bench end at Abbotsham

Image showing Norman door at High Bickington

The ancient Norman doorway at High Bickington Church, Devon

Image of early bench end at High Bickington Church

This bench end appears to have been cut into pieces – there are two other portions elsewhere in the church

Image of defaced bench end at High Bickington

A damaged bench end, probably defaced in the Puritan period at High Bickington

Image of Another animal bench end at High Bickington

Another damaged animal, headless.

Singers on a bench end at High Bickington

This image shows four singers. The “feathers” emerging from their mouths represent singing.

image of Landscknecht bench end at High Bickington

An image of a renaissance German mercenary or landsknecht. It is interesting that the person who carved this must have travelled abroad.

image of mediaeval carving at High Bickington

This fragment is all that remains of a much larger earlier piece. Nothing else remains at the church

image of The font, High Bickington

This wonderful font has an attractive ropework base and classic early mediaeval decoration.

image of man in pigtail on bench end at High Bickington

This image is said to represent someone from China but in fact the headdress is late mediaeval.

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Filed under British Landscape, Devonshire, English Counties, English History, English Landscape, Gawain and the Green Knight, Historic Churches in England, Historic places to visit in Britain, King Arthur, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet, Touring Britain, Touring England

Castell Dinas Emrys – Ambrosius reborn


 

View of Dinas Emrys

Through Logres and across the crowing hills from Camelot, le Gringalet takes me deep into Gwynedd. Here, paths peter out in passes steep and the roads which you rely on rise up into the mountains to disappear in the mists, mounds and moss. And it is just here, when the world seems but a whisper that the warriors of Wales still live on in the crumbling castles and commotes of Hywel Dda, “the Good“.

 In the centuries which have slowly passed since I was sealed in this world, there are few sights which cheer me more than the soaring mountains of northern Wales. Turn your eyes to the eagles’ eyries and there, stone circles, walls and castles catch your straining glimpse. For in Wales it is not town life which predisposes the populace but places picked from the hillsides, remote and unforgiving.Those names conjure times I recall even more freshly than the few stones which now feature there: Castell-y-Bere, Cricieth, Carndochan – halls of the princes whose lands these once were. But one above all rises in emotion high and legend long, loyally keeping guard over the hearts of the people: Dinas Emrys, the hill of Ambrosius. The Mound of the Magician, Merlin – Myrddin Emrys.

I can tell you of magic marvels here at this mountain place, biding its time as the burgh of Beddgelert, for I saw these things happen. Where now a tumbled tower tottering, once a fine keep – the finest in the mountains – fit for the Sycharth-singing salutation of our fellow Iolo Goch, had he lived in those times. But friends I burrow further back and bide with Vortigern who did a city buildeth here when from the Saxons he retreated.

Vortigern the valiant was so advised as to build a citadel so strong that none so serving would with soldiers take it. But boulders built blew down and the maths of masons could not that castle master. Each time they built it, each time that hill would eke out its substance and tumbling it fell down.

Anguished, Vortigern sought solace from advisers and action demanded. And so they said that strength would come only from the spilled blood of a small boy, sacrificed on this sparse hill. I recall well how that boy stood up to our sire strong and would not his blood-spill let. “For I am Ambrosius, artful and astute – and I alone can assist you at this hour”.

Vortigern, as I recall, with volition vented thus: “tell me Ambrosius, answer me now and advise me of my path”. And Ambrosius said with solemnity stateful: “the cause of the crumbling lies in the clods. Below these boulders is a pool of brown waters where deep down two dragons bout in battle eternal as placed there by Lord Lludd Llaw Erient. And the red dragon shall defeat the white as Vortigern shall vanquish the Saxons.”

And so it is that in Wales the dragon red is in heraldry hailed as the high standard of those who Cwmraeg speak. But history tells us that Vortigern well vanquished was and in the valleys the Britons by reduced circumstance fell amongst themselves in petty squabbles and fighting.

The Welsh, the true people of Britain, languished warring for centuries as brothers wielded sword against brother and many thus were killed. In their ceaseless combat, the cold knights of Wales may in themselves be those dragons compelled for ever to fight each other as Britain round them falls.

So now at Dinas Emrys only eerie silence assaults the ears and the pool in which those dragons fought is but a miry marsh muzzling in the moss of that Welsh hill.

In stones it stands there still

By Merlin’s magic blessed

In the cold and dampening chill

A nation’s legend nests

Image of keep at Dinas Emrys

Another view of the keep at Dinas Emrys, the hill of Ambrosius

Image of enclosure at Dinas Emrys

This stone enclosure is of uncertain age. Built near the pool, some have suggested it was the original enclosure which held the dragons – but it may be a small dwelling or sheep pen.

Image of moss at Dinas Emrys

The clear, clean air of North Wales encourages moss of all kinds in the damp air.

Image of keep at Dinas Emrys

These footings, perhaps 6 feet high from the inside are all that remains of the mediaeval keep at Dinas Emrys.

A typical Welsh day, encapsualting the myth and mystery of the ancient Welsh people.

A typical Welsh day, encapsualting the myth and mystery of the ancient Welsh people.

Image of view down from Dinas Emrys

Dinas Emrys is protected on all sides by the hills. Here we look down on the area in which the pool resides which held the red dragon and the white.

Image of the keep at Dinas Emrys

The footings of the keep at Dinas Emrys – all that now remains of the mediaeval fort here.

Image of the pool at Dinas Emrys

The pool at Dinas Emrys in which the dragons fought

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Filed under British History, British Landscape, Castles, Castles of Wales, King Arthur, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet, Touring Britain, Uncategorized, Welsh History, Welsh mythology