Tag Archives: King Arthur

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

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Gawain and the Green Knight, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

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

Where the Welsh princes still live on – a ride to Dolbadarn in the Llanberis Pass


Dolbadarn Caslte, Gwynedd

Dolbadarn Caslte, Gwynedd - a statement in the Welsh mountains

What is it about Wales, dear reader, that conjures in the mind the mysteries of medieaval Britain? Is it the fact that it is bound from Prestatyn to Chepstow by that great dyke of King Offa of the Saxons – sealing it off from England like a great curtain of earth across the marches? Is it the looming mountains shrowded in mists and rain which evoke a land almost beyond the land – a  true Valhalla for the scented isle of Albion? Or is it the dark secrets and stories which my old friend Geraldus Cambrensis liked to tell over the fires at night time?

Whatever the reason, Wales was – and is – a land of magical beauty, and a land where my blood still runs and where my head turns in search of the true Britain which I seek and pray for in my travels. Here, on le Gringalet, I chose to visit again the very land which perhaps defines what scholars have called the Matter of Britain and, perhaps, the ultimate legendary home of my true king, Arthur – King of the Britons.

And so it was, after much travelling, that I arrived at the halls of Dolbadarn once again. Here is a favourite place of mine – its tower standing proudly and yet minutely against the backdrop of its cold black, old black slate and grey mountains. Here the harp plays in the secret fastness of the hills. And there, a raven-headed girl flashes blue eyes at me over the fire side as she sings the stories of the Mabinogion…

The last time I was down this way, the only view of Dolbadarn I saw was through the slit of my visor. These were troubled lands in troubled times: Edward Longshanks had builded such a wall around the north of Wales that few could prize themselves from its iron grip. To the west, Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Harlech and even Cricieth. To the north, Conwy, Rhuddlan and Fflint. To the east, Chirk and Builth. To the south, Aberystwyth.

The fingers of that great lord tightened stone by stone and the long days of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd – seen by many as the last true Prince of Wales – were coming to an end. At Orewen Bridge, alas, he died a lonely and somewhat ignominious death at the hands of Stephen of Frankton, a low-ranking knight (and not of my acquaintance).

But let us not dwell too harshly on those days – it repays us not to boil resentment in a cauldron long since cooked dry. Instead, let us see what still remains in majesty to look down upon the great pass of Llanberis: the great tower of Dolbadarn, built by Llewelyn Fawr, Llewelyn the Great.

In true form, of course, Dolbadarn is a classic castle of the Welsh. It is not sophisticated, indeed it is somewhat crude and yet, like many of the great English castles set within their landscape, this is a castle of statement. Unlike Ewloe, strangely hidden in the woods near Chester, Dolbadarn is unafraid.

It is a proud place and, no doubt, was built so to be. It is not built to high up the Pass, for in winter it would be inaccessible. It is not built too low, for it would be too exposed. No, it stands proudly in the centre of the Pass, visible from both ends and from the glistening Llyn Padarn below – a statement of ownership of this damp, wet and looming landscape.

In my time, I remember well this compact castle and the cluster of huts and houses around its base. Alas, like the captains and the kings, the princes and their lovers, they have long gone but the tower still remains – enough so in my mind to see it as once it was. The steps leading up to its entrance have changed but once at the entrance it still makes me smile to see provision for a portcullis. Clearly, what the Welsh may have lacked in money they made up for in craft and were still capable – as at Dinas Bran – of adding complex features to even the simplest of buildings.

I scale the steps which once led to a most exquiste bedroom but alas now only birds and insects flit around where once we sat and exchanged stories in the quietness. There is no roof now, no floors, no drapery, no plaster. Dolbadarn is but a shell and yet, and yet. Visit this place on a quiet day, ascend the steps of the tower and listen…

Listen to poetry sung in ancient Welsh. Listen to the poets’ voices as they whisper adventure, love and many things. Think now of the words of Iolo Goch as he described the castle of Sycharth, home of Owain Glyn Dwr, seen by some as the very last prince of Wales:

There are joists upon the hillside

As in a vault, side by side,

And each one, in a tight-knit

Pattern, to the next is knit

Twice nine dwellings to look up

To a wood fort on a hill top.

Next to heaven his court towers

On four marvellous pillars,

A loft tops all, built carefully,

With all four rooms for friendship

Joined as one, where minstrels sleep…

Dolbadarn, a ruin now, still sings its song to all who care to listen when they venture up the Llanberis Pass in search of beauty now instead of war. While its outer walls are but mere foundations, its tower is like a siren song for all in search of simple, yet profound, majesty.

Note: For modern travellers, the remains of Dolbadarn are now managed by Cadw. Be prepared for some steep car-parking charges (fees charged by the day to cater for hill walkers) at a large car park just below the castle. I believe the original castle car park is still open where you can park just to visit the castle itself.

SEE INSIDE DOLBADARN: Follow this link from author Owen Law who is writing his first novel: follow his links to his You Tube video of the keep’s stark interior!

 

1 Comment

Filed under British History, British Landscape, Castles, Castles of Wales, Dolbadarn, Gawain and the Green Knight, Historic places to visit in Britain, King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet, Touring Britain, Welsh History

The rising of the serfs – Britain’s moral collapse?


Good readers, what sin still presides in the land since Perceval failed to ask The Question of the Fisher King? As I ride through the Waste Forest on yet another Quest, signs trouble me. In the Matter of Britain, something is not right.

I read of Britain’s “moral collapse” today and wonder whether King Arthur himself has sunk into a coma, never to recover. I see damsels no longer demure, turned instead to riot and cast rocks and stones. I read of serfs driving chariots into innocents and mowing them down. Order has gone from the land. The armies of the Queen seem unable to bring order to the people. The forest that doth feed the nation is turned to waste indeed…

How comes it that a land I knew so well now turns itself upside down? Where now social order? Why does the populace fly from morality? Well, riot is not controllable and neither can it be “cured” like a leg of ham.

Rioting has always been the way of the people – as Wat Tyler himself was telling me just the other day – but what is it this time which stirs the bellies of the rebellious?

Once, they told us, it was authoritarian brutality and prejudice. Now they tell us it is money and social problems brought on by “decades of neglect”. I read, too, that the armies of the Queen are to blame because they failed to predict rebellion. Stuff and nonsense.

Governments argue that the cause of riot lies not without but within. Social order is not about social control but self control. Where today the private moment in the hermitage, the silent inner counsel, the discipline of self over the indiscipline of the many?

True enough, private moments today are oft spent in front of mirrors, on social media, on telephones and other devices. In my day, we had none of these things (well maybe a mirror): we could only look out and reflect in upon ourselves. In so doing, love, charity and faith governed our ways and moral codes.

But did this make things better? Did this avoid riot? Ah, no! After all, as a knight I benefited but as for the serfs who worked my land, that’s another matter…

As I write, I reflect too on the words of the maverick preacher John Ball when he argued: “when Adam delved and Eve Span, who was then the gentleman?” It is careless to think too romantically of my own times: the people have always sought to better themselves.

But sadly, government reactions today seem hardly any different to my own time. It was Richard II who is supposed to have said at Blackheath: “Serfs ye are, and serfs ye shall remain“.

Alas, this seems the response of government today. Some things never change. To coin a phrase, the serfs are revolting. Again…

5 Comments

Filed under British History, Gawain and the Green Knight, King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Touring Britain