Friday, 5 April 2013

Arthur's Castles - Sepia Saturday

As some of you may know I am taking part in the annual April A-Z Challenge again this year. Last year my theme was Castles and, where possible, haunted ones. This year I had intended to cover the legendary King Arthur and places associated with him. I abandoned that theme as my draft posts were far too long and the A-Z sequence makes the stories about him too disjointed. However I’m pleased to say that I have adapted some for this week’s Sepia post.

There are many sites associated with Arthurian legends. Tintagel in Cornwall is the king’s traditional birthplace.
Tintagel Castle 2002
 Arthur’s father was King Uther Pendragon. Arthur was conceived at Tintagel when Uther had Merlin smuggle him, in disguise, into the Castle to enable him to lie with Igraine, the wife of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall. Uther had besieged the Duke in another castle shortly before.

The ruined castle of today was built long after the Arthur lived. The medieval castle built in 1141 by Reginald of Cornwall, the illegitimate son of Henry I, had little strategic importance and the site proved a difficult building place. At one time owned by the Black Prince, by 1540 it was a ruin, In the echoing chamber of Merlin’s Cave the wizard’s ghost is said to wander, It’s also said that Arthur lives on in the form of the Cornish chough, a bird to be seen perched on the storm lashed ledges of the cliffs.
Pendragon Castle
Pendragon Castle in Cumbria is said to be built on the site of a fifth-century fortress constructed by King Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. He supposedly settled there after killing a dragon-serpent that was terrorising the region. He also tried unsuccessfully to divert the River Eden to make a moat. A local rhyme goes, “Let Uther Pendragon do what he can, Eden will run where Eden ran.” In his old age he took up arms against the Angles; and was to die at the castle from a water supply poisoned by his enemies.

The castle ruins we see are those of a later castle built in 1173 by Hugh de Morville, one of Thomas Becket’s murderers, in the 12th century. It was destroyed by fire twice, but eventually rebuilt by in the 17th century by Lady Anne Clifford. After her death it was left to fall into ruins. With Arthurian links and stories of Merlin living there and visiting Castlerigg Stone Circle there are many accounts of supernatural phenomena. When the moon cloaks the ruins in an eerie glow a ghostly horseman gallops soundlessly towards the castle. We will never know whether the horseman is the mortally sick Uther Pendragon returning from battle, or a messenger or a warrior of the Clifford Clan.

Stories abound about King Arthur and his knights. One of these is associated with a castle within 30 miles of where I live.
Richmond Castle - Curtain Wall from the southern bank of the River Swale
Built by the Normans the Castle overlooks the River Swale in Yorkshire. Richmond Castle shares a similar folk tale with other places. King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table slumber in a cave below the castle, waiting to be called to England’s aid. There are many such legends that he and his knights are not dead but merely sleeping somewhere.

Potter Thompson was a man married to a harridan of a wife. To escape her constant carping he took a walk and eventually finished up below the castle. When pausing for a rest he noticed a gap in the rocky escarpment which appeared to be the entrance to a cave. He looked in and saw a faint light glowing at one end of a long passage. Following the light Peter Thompson found himself in a large cavern where, fast asleep, were a king and knights in full armour.

He recognised King Arthur because on a table in the centre of the cavern were a horn and famous sword Excalibur. Excited that he had found King Arthur’s resting place, Peter decide to take Excalibur to prove his story was true. When he started to take the sword from its scabbard, the knights stirred. Terrified, Thompson ran but not before a sorrowful voice had intoned:

Peter Thompson, Peter Thompson,
If thou hadst either drawn
The sword, or blown the horn,
Thou wouldst have been the luckiest man
That ever yet was born.

Thompson began to feel better and braver once he was outside. If he went back for the sword or the horn all his troubles would be over. He turned back but the entrance to the cave had gone. Despite a frantic search all over the rocky banks of the castle the secret tunnel was never revealed to him again.

Finally we come to the castle that ultimately led to Arthur’s death.

Dover Castle 1887  
 (By David MacGibbon & Thomas Ross)

Dover is associated with the conflict towards the end of Arthur’s life between the King and his son (or nephew) Mordred. During Arthur’s absence in a French war Mordred seized the crown and garrisoned an army at Dover to prevent his father’s return. Fierce fighting ensued before Mordred was driven back. At the end of the battle Sir Gawaine was discovered badly wounded. Before he died Sir Gawaine wrote to Sir Lancelot who was overseas, calling him back to Arthurs’s aid.

Sir Lancelot assembled a huge army and landed at Dover – too late to help Arthur who had been slain at the Battle of Camlann.

For more on castles and monuments cross over to the links at Sepia-Saturday-171.


  • Tintagel - Alan Simkins - CC BY-SA 2.0 - Geograph Project Collection
  • Pndragon - David Medcalf -  CC BY-SA 2.0 - Geograph Project Collection
  • Richmond - David Dunford - CC BY-SA 2.0 - Geograph Project Collection    


Maria Kristina Maano said...

Hi Bob,

I loved reading this post.

I was in Edinburgh late May last year and I visited the Arthur's Seat. Also, I went to Warwick Castle and there's this Merlin temple...

I am trying to get a hold of the BBC's Merlin series now...I wish to see these castles in your post for real. It's sad some are just ruins and not much (or none at all?) effort of rehabilitation.


Susan Kane said...

Oh, to explore such castles! To know the stories behind them!

Thanks for sharing these castles!

Lovely's Blot said...

It always amazes me how many castles there are in such a small country.

Little Nell said...

This has set me off on Arthur again. I remember reading Mary Stewart's Arthur trilogy years ago and being hooked.

barbara and nancy said...

I loved the story about Peter Thompson. What period of time was that?

Jo said...

Ever since I found Morte d'Arthur when I was a kid at boarding school in Norfolk, I have loved the legends.


Brett Payne said...

Despite a childhood fascination with Sir Lancelot and the other knights of the round table, and a visit to Tintagel when I was young, I never really got to grips with the Arthur story. These glimpses of ruins associated with the legend might encourage me to go and do some more reading.

Titania said...

Bob, how poor would we be without all these fantastic, historical tales of imagination. The English tales are as great as the Iliad. Switzerland has great tales like this, The Australian Aboriginal tales are also fantastic.
Great post.

viridian said...

Alas no castles in the USA! To us these ruins are so romantic. thank you for the information on the Arthurian places.
Onwards to F!

Mike Brubaker said...

A terrific post, Bob. The Arthurian legends must been recognized long ago for their commercial potential to improve the property sales. How much of the myth was changed over the ages by the tales told by estate agents?

Karen Tamara said...

Beautiful. I loved reading about this and seeing the pictures. I would give anything to see some of these olaces in person. Maybe someday!

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Nice to meet you! New follower...:)

Sharon said...

A very enjoyable and informative post.

It is amazing that many castles have survived and many ruins remain also. Australia is a relatively young country and I look at the 100 year+ building as historic but this is nothing compared to UK.

Boobook said...

So much of interest in just that one story.

ScotSue said...

A fascinating collection, There are also links with Arthurian legends here in the Scottish Borders near Peebles.

Postcardy said...

Very interesting. I didn't know anything about Arthur or those castle ruins.

Kathy Morales said...

As a girl I fell in love with the movie "Camelot" and more recently I've enjoyed the TV series Merlin. The tales are such fun and I so enjoyed the links you provided to the castles. Maybe it's time for a little Arthurian reading.

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Most enjoyable post with pictures and the legends to go with those castles. Love Authurian stories! While war raged between various kings, castles were the way of life. Of course that was life/war of the blade still.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

I rather like the ruined castles almost more than the surviving stately homes. I know next to nothing about Arthur other than the simplistic overview. Imposing photos Bob

Pauleen at Tropical Territory
A to Z 2013


As an Arthurian myself,
I've much enjoyed this post!!

Kristin said...

My favorite book about Arthur is Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff. I think ruins would be almost as good as an intact castle, showing the passage of so much time. I've never actually seen a castle but in my mind.

barbara and nancy said...

You're so lucky to have so many castles nearby. All we have is "Cupid's Castle" which my sister, Nancy wrote about. Somehow it doesn't measure up.

Tattered and Lost said...

I kept hoping to run into something as I wandered the ruins of Tintagel. I figured I'd climbed those nasty steps and should get something for my trouble. Alas I could only close my eyes and imagine footsteps passing.

Very entertaining and informative post.

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

I love castles, the more ruined the better. My husband always used to ask, "Not another ruin, is it?" when I suggested somewhere to visit.

Jackie/Jake said...

I've visited many castles in the UK but Tintagel is still on my list.

Thanks for dropping by and visiting me.

Wendy said...

I remember your haunted castles from last year -- they were indeed interesting. And now the King Arthur castles - equally fascinating! I think it would be fun having Pendragon for a last name. That'll be my castle name.

tony said...

We Dont Realise How Lucky We Are In Britain To Have So Many Mighty Buildings And Monuments.To My Shame,apart from Richmond and Arthur's Seat (does that count?)I have not visited the ones you mention.Shame On Me,Time To Get My Walking Boots On!