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Sir Gawain goes to Bygrave, an ancient settlement in aged fields


Image of St Margaret of Antioch, Bygrave, Hertfordshire

The delightful church of St Margaret of Antioch, Bygrave, Hertfordshire, which has Saxon origins.

The rains relented overnight revealing sun to bless the day

And so on Gringolet I ride the rolling road below the ridge

Where ancient men lie buried still in mounds majestic overhead;

And on to this shire’s soft edge I go and down to see Bygrave below.

This place has history as betrayed by boundaries of its bold fields

Which have the centuries survived as Saxon relics still and true

When others all around did under evil threat so ease to be enclosed;

A market place it once was but now more music do we hear

From roaming red kites high above than any padding in this street.

Yet Margaret of Antioch is here mild among this springtime bliss –

She presides in such a place as will most sweetly calm

The troubled minds of those who mingle mid the graves

And by the marshy moats which men once dug upon this mound

When few but brave men felt compelled to make their fortunes here

And those that did played nine men’s morris meekly by the church.

A simple place, blanched white in sun and shining like

A beacon in lands dark, remote, or bleak or bad

And which now are but a less-viewed vestige of a vanished age.

Let ancient Bygrave calm you too and capture in your troubled head

and thoughts

A time when folk did wander free

And played at idle sports

Below the shadow of some tree

In harvest time cohorts.

 

Bygrave in the county of Hertford is an ancient settlement which today sleeps atop rolling countryside just below the Royston Ridge. The church, St Margaret of Antioch, contains much of interest, including wall paintings, a fifteenth century font and the remains of a mediaeval rood screen. Parts of the building are Saxon in origin. The field system surrounding the village are of particular note; research shows that it was never enclosed. This landscape sensitivity report does give some cause for alarm, given that this ancient landscape has survived for so long. This particular survival is miraculous and it is Sir Gawain’s view that all must be done to protect it for future generations so they can know and understand how our ancestors lived.

 

 

 

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Filed under British Landscape, British Society, English Counties, English Landscape, Hertfordshire, Historic Churches in England, Historic places to visit in Britain, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet, Uncategorized

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

A new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight!


Image of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Michael Smith of Mythical Britain

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – new translation is being published by crowdfunding publisher Unbound.

On Gringalet again I ride now glorious Spring glows good

With lengthened leaves grown green that long

For coming summer’s sweet sun to soak.

My dallying days with other duties filled

Have caused a gap too great and gaunt;

I plea for pardon for pain so caused

By my bleak absence from this bench

As other realms awry drew me

Turning eyes north by tempting twists.

Now here is nice news I deem to share:

A new book of my legends, from Lancashire loyally –

The Green Knight translated with knowledge anew

And crafted with linocuts carved for your pleasure!

Yet it cannot be without your help offered

Most kind:

Will you help this book be born

By pledging pure to see it be?

Unbound lets books with your seed corn

Be read anew most handsomely.

Please help bring Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to a new audience!

If you would like to support a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated and handsomely-illustrated by Michael Smith, author of this blog, please do pledge your support at the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight page at publisher Unbound

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Iconography at Ickleton illuminates the passing of the hours


Image of Ickleton church

Ickleton Church, Cambridgeshire showing cantilevered arm on spire holding bell

And so with summer comes Zephyrus soothing warm
from the west as I on Gringolet to Ickleton go
In Cambridgeshire, calming as I carve my way
through Essex easily on my errand searching.
A singular spire with suspended bell sounds
And later windows let light within
On earlier ecstasy lost till that empty day
Forty years ago when fire freed paintings
From a plastered prison put there by puritans
To save the soul and salvage it from popery.
But truth will trick out of any tainted cage
And here on walls full thick are wonders for the wayfarer:
The last supper seating saints on bounteous board,
The betrayal where brutally He was brought down;
Andrew sainted on a saltire steady, the martyrdom
of Peter depicted perfectly and St Laurence too;
Our Lord in flagellation not fearing for his fate
and then with cross our Christ cries in crucifixion.

Image of the doom painting, Ickleton church, Cambridgeshrie

The astonishing doom painting at Ickleton Church, Cambridgeshire. Most of the painting has long since disappeared but a particular feature of this image is a bare-breasted Mary (left) – a sign of supplication.

But raise your eyes now to that Chancel rich and rare:
A doom painting dominates but delights
For here is Mary bare-breasted in blatant supplication –
Find this in other church, a challenge to chasten
All but the most patient of travellers in our land;

A church here do not miss –
Walls and features grand.
There are few here such as this
That really come to hand.

 

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Filed under Cambridgeshire, English Landscape, Historic Churches in England, Historic places to visit in Britain, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet, Touring Britain, Touring England, Uncategorized

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