By Amanda Little
Wales can lay claim to being the home to one of the best known epics: the Legend of King Arthur. Will you find the one true king sleeping in a cave? Maybe you’ll find the Lady of the Lake and be granted Excalibur. There’s only one way to find out: go.
There is some debate on whether or not King Arthur was real. Was there a king who led a conquest across the British isles? Actually, it’s very likely there was. Did he slay dragons, pull a sword from a stone, and have a wizard in his employ? Probably not. If you’re looking for some Arthurian excitement though, you may want to start in Caerleon, the present day town that was once Camelot, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. You can find this charming little town just a little ways away from Cardiff, Wale's capital. There is even an old Roman fortress that has been turned into the national Roman Legion Museum and boasts the most complete amphitheater in Britain.
Have a drink in the King Arthur pub in Reynoldston before heading out to one of the many Arthur’s Stones in Wales, perched within walking distance on the hills of Gower. Looking out over the beautiful greenery, Arthur’s Stone is actually a Neolithic tomb, but the trail to it inspires images of the quests of old as you travel the muddy footpath. The Arthurian legend goes that he found a pebble in his shoe, and threw it to its current resting place where it grew magically in size before landing. It’s also said the rock is thirsty and goes to the stream to drink. With luck you may see it on its voyage.
Acquaint yourself with one of the post powerful of King Arthur’s allies: Merlin. Carmarthen is said to be the hometown of Merlin, and a wizened old oak tree once stood in it, even going so far as to say once the tree fell, then so would the town. In 1978 the last pieces of the tree were brought to the local museum and oddly enough, Carmarthen suffered the worst flood in living memory. Something for the superstitious to consider.
Snowdonia National Park
Finding the lake that houses the great sword Excalibur is nearly an impossible feat, because even if you found it, you would still need to appeal to the Lady of the Lake. On top of that, there is not one, but three lakes all which claim to be the mystical lake. All of them are close to one another in Snowdonia National Park. The park is beautiful and exciting enough to entice visitors on its own, but once there, stopping by the heart of the park to see Llydaw, Dinas, and Ogwen lakes couldn’t hurt.
Snowdon, Snowdonia National Park
While you’re in the park, you should take the chance to scale Snowdon for the view and bragging rights, of course. Looking out over the peaks of mountains and lush green valleys is enough to take your breath away, but while you’re at the peak of Snowdon you might want to take a good look at the pile of stones that mark the summit, because Arthurian legend says a giant is buried under them. Arthur had slain the giant Rhitta, who had tried to kill Arthur for his beard to add to his cape made of his enemies beards, which makes total sense if you don’t think too much about it. Still, you may catch a glimpse of bones that are far too large for a human.
Dinas Emrys, Beddgelert
One of the better known scenes in Arthurian mythology is Merlin’s beginnings. King Vortigern kept trying to build his castle, however his walls kept tumbling down. It was Merlin who told him about the red and white dragons fighting in a pool beneath the castle. The red one won, giving Arthur the symbol of the red dragon in the fight against the Saxons. Not much is left of the ancient hill fort, but the ruins are worth the visit, and the nearby town of Beddgelert has its own tragic legend as well.
Maen Huail, Ruthin
Sitting innocently in town next to Barclays Bank, this limestone block was the execution block for Huail, a young and ‘cheeky’ Pictish warrior that Arthur took issue with as he raided Arthur’s lands and also stole one of his mistresses. In a duel between the two, Huail wounded Arthur in the knee, and eventually Arthur beheaded Huail on the limestone block out of bitterness.
Bardsey Island, Llyn Peninsula
Off the beaten track of the Arthurian route, Bardsey Island warrents a visit on its own. Vibrant and thriving wildlife cover the island, and it is the resting place of 20,000 saints. Many believe that this stunning island is the legendary Avalon, the Isle through the Mists where Excalibur was forged, and where Arthur was buried after his death. The idea of a heavenly Avalon began with Arthurian myth, but continues to pervade fantasy and mythology stories.