Due for release this week, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an upcoming epic adventure film retelling the story of the famous legend. Directed by Guy Ritchie, the cast includes Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey and Jude Law.
And with Arthur Pendragon himself (Hunnam) living and learning in Cumbria as a child, GoLakes explains why there may be more connection between the legendary myth and Cumbria than you think …
1. King Arthur’s Round Table
One of the most famed aspects of the Legend of King Arthur, the Round Table would have stood in various locations around the country as and when his parliament of knights needed to gather. But an earthworks at Eamont Bridge, near Penrith has been aptly-named ‘King Arthur’s Round Table’. The site is a natural amphitheatre and would have been ideal for the knights coming together. It is also thought that fifty champions of the realm met there to joust for the hand of King Arthur’s daughter, Gwyneth.
2. Excalibur in the Lake
The story goes that when King Arthur was on his death bed he asked one of his knights to return the legendary sword, Excalibur to the lake it originally came from, Bassenthwaite. Bedivere, the night in question fulfilled Arthur’s wishes before the King asked to be taken to Avalon. In Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poetry he describes King Arthur’s final journey and the return of the sword to the water. (He wrote about the lake when staying at Mirehouse, overlooking Bassenthwaite.)
Camelot was King Arthur’s base. Although historians are sceptical about the existence of a real King Arthur, it has been suggested that the city of Carlisle would be the place most likely for the king to base his headquarters. Other Cumbrian locations have also been proposed, including along the Solway Firth and a once contested area along the Borders, now known as Longtown.
Some versions of the King Arthur legend say that he didn’t actually die, only that he went into an extended hibernation. A gathering of Arthur’s loyal knights are supposed to have taken the fatally wounded king to Avalon and after returning the sword of Excalibur to Bassenthwaite. The representation of Avalon is thought to be Blencathra, a mountain only 12 miles from the lake.
5. Pendragon Castle
South of Kirkby Stephen lies the ruins of the puzzling Castle of Pendragon. The myths say that it was originally built by Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur. Pendragon supposedly tried to divert the waters of the nearby River Eden to form a moat, but neither his engineering nor the magic of the wizard Merlin could persuade the river to alter its course. Uther is said to have died in the castle, when Saxon soldiers poisoned the water in his well.
6. Birdoswald and Hadrian’s Wall
By 410AD, the Roman grip on Britain was slipping and many of the Empire’s solders were being withdrawn. The legend of King Arthur claims that a young Arthur trained in a warrior school on the Roman Wall, so it is quite likely that this would have been at one of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall in the north of Cumbria.
At the other end of Arthur’s endeavours, his last battle was at Vamlann, also known as Camboglanna. This is thought to be the old Roman name for Birdoswald. Now the longest surviving stretch of Hadrian’s Wall, Birdoswald could quite possibly be the location of Arthur’s last battle as King.
7. Aira Force
The waterfall along the shore of Ullswater, Aira Force was home to Sir Eglamore, a noble Knight of the Round Table. He lived near Aira Force with his beloved Emma. There is a love story, immortalised in William Wordsworth’s The Somnabulist, which Emma missed her knight so much as he was away fighting in the Crusades that she could not sleep. One night she was sleep walking by the falls dressed in white. Sir Eglamore thought what he saw was a phantom. When he realised it was Emma, he called out to her but he startled her and she fell to her death. He was so heartbroken he lived out his days as hermit under the falls of Aira Force.
… But the myths and legends across Cumbria don’t end with just King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
8. Long Meg and her Daughters
Long Meg Standing Stone is said to be a witch, a dancing girl, an earth mother and even a seductress. The unaccountable circle of stones around her are thought to be her victims, her daughters, her lovers or the other girls from nearby Little Salkeld, near Lazonby. The 68 stones make Long Meg and her Daughters one of the largest prehistoric stone circles in the UK.
9. The Witch of Tebay
There are many tales of witches around the old county of Westmorland, but none more famous than Mary Bynes: The Witch of Tebay. She apparently predicted the arrival of the railway and was blamed for every accident in the village. Her lingering influence is thought to be the reason why the village displays an array of ‘witch stones’ – shaped and holed pieces of limestone which were believed to protect homes and families from witches when set on top of a garden wall.
10. The Pagan God Loki
After being undiscovered and used as a building stone for many years in Kirkby Stephen Parish Church you can now find the Loki stone on display, one of only two examples surviving in Europe. Loki was a Norse God and presumably brought to the region by Viking settlers. The carving of Loki shows a figure resembling the devil with sheep’s horns, whose legs and arms are bound by heavy irons, an image symbolic of the overpowering of Paganism by Christian beliefs.
To find out more about visiting these landmarks around Cumbria please visit www.golakes.co.uk or join Lakes and Legends, a brand new tour, as you discover the history of the Romans, Vikings and magical myths of Cumbria guided by either Eric Bloodaxe, Merlin or King Arthur himself.