Tag Archives: Yorkshire

King Arthur comes alive with all of his knights!


Image of King Arthur and his knights

The knights of King Arthur from a fifteenth century manuscript – the Alliterative Morte Arthure captures the speed and thinking of the fourteenth century in one fabulous poetic creation.

Of all of the heroes of the British isles

There is none better known than noble King Arthur

Yet despite his renown and that of his Round Table

Most romances it seems were not written here.

Yet there is one which was worked up near Lincoln

That told of his torments when tackled by Rome;

Of his battle to take on Sir Lucius alone

To reclaim his lands that this man also claimed.

King Arthur’s Death is how many do know it,

A salutary tale of soldierly strength;

A poem that plucks great strings of pure valour,

A song for all folk who seek ancient heroes!

It speaks of his journey, of crossing great seas

To face down that Emperor and force him away;

It tells of the battles between boisterous knights

As the king crossed the continent to fight with Sir Lucius.

Yet this is no romance with ladies and courtiers,

This is no story of delicate deeds;

It tells of how kings in long distant times

Had to rally their leaders in loyal command.

Sir Lot and Sir Lancelot put others to flight;

Sir Cador of Cornwall crashes through knights;

Sir Gawain the mighty against his great foes,

Arthur’s great advocate advancing to fame!

But battles abroad cast a cautionary note

And for Arthur he shuddered for all his arms used;

Sir Mordred at home assumed that great kingdom

So Arthur again had to win back his lands.

He does so of course but at great kingly cost:

His once great Round Table was brought to low ruin;

His most loyal knights were all lost in the fight

And so with his sword that king sought his great foe

Alone.

He battled with Mordred

Until he heard him moan;

He killed that man stone dead

But so too his life was gone.


Pledge for this brand new book – and have your name in the back as a supporter!

This post celebrates a new translation I am working on of the Alliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur’s Death), a magnificent poem of the alliterative revival of the fourteenth century written somewhere in Yorkshire or Lincolnshire in about 1400.

Like my translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, King Arthur’s Death will be published by Unbound and will be richly illustrated with over 30 of my pen-and-ink drawings, based on contemporary mediaeval manuscripts. The book can only happen with your help; if you would like to see it become reality – and have your name in the back for all time as a patron and subscriber, please click here for more information

Different pledge rewards available (see below)

The images below show three of the pledge rewards on offer for supporters of the book – but you can simply pledge for the book on its own. Every pledge received before the book is sent to print, no matter the size, will ensure your name appears in the back of the book.

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Filed under British History, English myths and legends, Gawain and the Green Knight, King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Poetry, Unbound, Welsh mythology

At the home of the joggled lintel: Conisborough Castle revisited


Conisborough Castle - Joggled lintel above the main door

What is it about travelling, reader, that makes of the mind to float like the Orford Merman, lost among the brown and briney waves? In my quest to find the quoins of the door to my escape I query at times why ceaseless disappointment never dissuades me from my search. Each castle I find, casts new barbs at my calm: each church and chancel disturbs me as I try to chart my true way home. And here, so, I am brought to Conisborough where once I dined on coney meat and now just the carping of the pigeons serves to capture past times…

Lurk long in the land of Yorkshire and soon you come to Conisborough. It’s keep is like a beacon brightly burning above the hillside and yet… When last I lingered here such sport was to be found in several parks that a lord could stay all year and never tire of the hunting. Not now though, for all around are dwellings and dowdy views I dare not describe in depth for fear of offence.

But let me tell you how it once was to me as in the household of the de Warennes I did discover the delights of that great place. Ascent to the great bailey was by a barbican tall and bold: a narrow defile among high walls, a death-trap for the dim-witted. And those high walls were bright as snowberries being built of York stone to shine for miles, lighting the way for the weary traveller…

Inside, I will take you, the inner ward wakens the soul, awash with sounds of the denizens within. In the bailey the kitchen staff cook in cauldrons round while stablemen stoutly stand to groom the lord’s horses. And here you too could wait while through the long day the wallowing shadow of the Donjon turns round the realm like a rouncey on slow parade.

Ghosts all now, of course, those gentlemen and guards have gone the way of history. But let us not leave here, alighting instead the steps to the stone sentinel, this great keep, one of the most remarkable in the kingdom. These stairs are new, I perceive, pitched differently to the practice when I last walked here but nevertheless, and notwithstanding, they nudge you upwards to the great door.

In standing there, before entering, eye if you will the excellent masonry: a joggled lintel jiggling jauntily above your head – moving but static; moving and ecstatic. These stones stir the soul, perched perilously in position as they have done these last seven centuries since. And thence inside, an empty chamber now but one which once chanced to cheer you as the Lord John de Warenne chuckled with his friends a welcome. At least that was so when I last saddled up this way in a distant summer in 1340…

This astounding stone stump is as complex as it is comforting. Buttressed all about by bold bastions six, it dazzles the dozy dreamer, being visible for miles.You are impressed at first sight, your innocent imagination imbued with visions of the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry: the castle as culture, a carapace of kings. But back inside to be becalmed by the beauty of it: that welcoming chamber again makes you ghasp with its gawping fireplace with joggled lintels more.

Then, fellow traveller, ascend to the Lord’s room above to listen as I once did to his lilting voice. His private chamber charms you with its chapel, a wash-basin to water as you will, and views over hunting hills and high banks. That chapel is indeed cheering with its fine vaulting, piscina and cupboard for the chalice. This small room is where our Mighty Lord, He that lives above us, loiters in your spirit, glowing like a spark above dark waters…

And then you climb further, by invitation, inclining inside the walls as the steps lead you to the light, like a lamp at the end of a tunnel. Athwart that tower take time to be entranced by vistas vast and velvety if, by chance, you can imagine what was once to be seen beyond what’s there now… Yet there is one more treat for the traveller of turrets bold: a pigeon coop fashioned in a buttress for the private predeliction of the Lord Warenne, now long gone

It is said that mighty kings earn wealth by grace

and keep it with a hand of stone.

But I know too that here’s the case:

Such work cannot be done alone.

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Filed under British History, British Landscape, Castles, Castles of England, Conisborough Castle, English History, English Landscape, Gawain and the Green Knight, Historic places to visit in Britain, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet, Touring Britain, Touring England

A northern tour to Wensley in Wensleydale


The font at Wensley, Wensleydale

New fangled things - the 17th Century font at Wensley Church, Wensleydale

In late summer when the fields are ripe and swallows with the insects soar, sit calmly on your horse dear friend and let your eyes rise forth…

Ah, late summer, when the harvest’s in, that’s the time to share in the beauties of our land. Should your horse ever take you to Wensleydale, then here too can your spirit rise. If we can ride this vast dale and just take in the land around us then we rise above the commonplace and into the world of angels. We have entered heaven: but, as you know, any Yorkshireman will tell you that…
Wensleydale is a place to go to lose awareness of the troubles of our times: wars, riots, bombs and plots. Here, among the looming hills and ever-changing cloudscapes, you can lose yourself in the sublime beauty of nature.

Of course, in times past – the times I knew well – these lands were far from safe and that is why today you can still see the ruins of the glorious Bolton castle standing proudly on the side of the dale. Not far off is that other fastness: Middleham, a house so strong a thief would need to knock to gain entry.

These lands were strangers to safety then, but no more; today they are the companion to serenity. Breathe this air dear reader and fill your lungs with the bucolic balm of old England – and let me share with you Holy Trinity Church at Wensley, a favourite haunt of mine when resting from my quests.

What can I tell you of this place? Today, it is run by a body called the Churches Conservation Trust – no doubt a sign of our times (or yours). Strangely, since last I was here, there have been new additions. The tower looks new for a start – although I am reliably told it was built in 1719 (new by my standards though). There’s also a striking font bedecked in the puritan style with letters and numbers less complex than in my day. And the Bolton family pew seems a little too modern for my taste.

But looking around I see some older fittings whose place I remember well. Behind the current family pew is a much older and more spectacular fitting, exquisitely carved from oak although sadly, dear reader, a little worse for wear today. I still see the reliquary containing the relics of Saint Agatha where once I bowed and kissed. And on the walls, some remains of the paintings which once filled me with joy and dread at the same time. Our Lord guides us as he frightens us. We are in His hands, but motes of dust on the vision of creation.

But reader, let me tell you more. When I last visited this church over 500 years ago, I remember making acquaintance with some very special friends in the choir and, to my delight, they are still here! Bors the Dragon; Jankyn the Hare; Lancelot the Lion and many more. Oh, what joys! How I used to talk to them in private moments and how they talk to me now, whispering the secrets of the centuries in my ears! They will talk to you too, if you let them.

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What a special place this is! Many years ago, long before your time, a good friend of mine lost a jewel in these lands near Middleham – a very precious golden square jewel bedecked with the names of the saints. I remember him saying to me in tears that he valued his jewel beyond price and even beyond love. Ah, what folly!

I told him then, as I tell you today, that there is greater jewellery in nature than ever could be made by man. Perhaps I was too harsh on the poor soul – today you can judge for yourself: take in the beauties of the dales and go and see a replica of his jewel in the church at Middleham.

It will be the perfect full stop on an exquisite day spent in these most beautiful lands.

Please note: many churches in Britain today are supported by the Churches Conservation Trust. These beautiful buildings are lucky to have such friends in times like these. Should you wish, you can learn more, become a member, and support the Trust here.

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Filed under British History, English History, Gawain and the Green Knight, Historic places to visit in Britain, Historic towns of Britain, King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet, Touring Britain, Touring England, Wensley