Arthurian England Trip Part 1: Intro, Glastonbury & Wells

Our tour group: (from left): Maureene, me, Linda, Jamie, Tres

Our tour group: (from left): Maureene, me, Linda, Jamie, Tres

First off, thanks to everyone who entered our two year blogiversary giveaway contest! The winners are:

  • King Arthur magnet: Mary Beth Lewis
  • Location magnets and Cernunnos plaque: Wisher
  • Figurines: Heather

I will contact you by email to make arrangements to get your gifts to you. Now, on to the matter at hand. For those who haven’t yet seen photos from my trip, you can view them on Flickr. I also have some very amateur video on YouTube from the trip. In case you were wondering, the tour I went on was called From Avalon to Camelot, and was conducted through Gothic Image Tours. I waited until now to publicize it because I wanted to make sure it was something I could endorse. I would recommend it to anyone. The accommodations are top notch and the nature of the tour allows for personalized interaction and visiting out of the way sites that a larger group wouldn’t be able to manage. Tour guide Jamie George has been doing this for over 20 years and certainly knows his stuff. He also has the contacts to be able to arrange for guests such as Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe and divination expert Sig Lonegren. My group had some last minute cancellations and was therefore only five people, including Jamie. Besides me, there were three women from Australia – Tres, Maureene and Linda – none of us knew each other before the trip. Now, we’re all good friends and are keeping in touch.

The George and Pilgrim Hotel, built in 1473, where we stayed.

The George and Pilgrim Hotel, built in 1475, where we stayed.

We started the tour in Glastonbury. We stayed at the George and Pilgrim’s Inn on High Street. This hotel has been around since 1475, and has played host to a number of famous guests over the years, most notably King Henry VIII, who stood in one of its rooms to watch Glastonbury Abbey (which is across the street) burn during the dissolution of the monasteries. The hotel is also host to a number of ghosts, including a merry, fat friar. None of us saw him, but Tres did have her TV come on unexpectedly one morning and Maureene was taking a picture of the town when she captured what appears to be a ribbon of energy, which she didn’t see at the time. By the way, some of the hotel’s rooms are named. I stayed in “The Nun’s Cell,” which is really funny since I used to want to be one and was voted Most Likely to Become a Nun in high school.

High Street in Glastonbury. Jamie's shop, Gothic Image, is on the right.

High Street in Glastonbury. Jamie’s shop, Gothic Image, is on the right.

Glastonbury itself is a nice, eclectic town. Somehow I was imagining a place full of frenetic energy, but it’s really not. There are plenty of New Age shops specializing in esoteric subjects, crystals, jewelry, etc. but you can also tell people live there. I guess what I’m saying is it isn’t a pure tourist trap. The Tor and Chalice Well are actually a bit away from the town center, so you either need to drive take the trolley/bus to get to it. Glastonbury Abbey is within walking distance. (More on Glastonbury Abbey in the next post.)

Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral

If you get the chance to take a little side trip, I highly recommend the town of Wells, which is about a 15 minute bus ride from the top of High Street. We went there on the recommendation of one of Maureene’s friends, and I will never, ever forget it. The town itself is cute, but the main feature is its breathtaking cathedral. No photo could ever do it justice, no matter how professional. It gave me a whole new respect for the generations of people who spent their lives building these monuments to God. To think that they accomplished such feats in an age without our modern technology is very humbling. The main attraction is a clock that has mechanical figures that come out every hour and do I little routine. There are many such clocks throughout Europe, and this is the second one I’ve seen, but they never fail to inspire.

The Bishop's palace grounds in Wells.

The Bishop’s palace grounds in Wells.

And if the cathedral wasn’t enough, we also toured the Bishop’s palace and grounds, which adjoin the cathedral. I haven’t uploaded most of those photos yet. The best I can do to capture their beauty is to say the grounds are better than any botanical garden I’ve ever been to. Seriously, if it was possible to die of beauty, this place would do it to you. And, you can even see the Tor from its walls!

Gardens in the grounds of the Bishop's palace in Wells.

Gardens in the grounds of the Bishop’s palace in Wells.

So that’s a bit of the first part of the trip. Next time I’ll talk about Glastonbury Abbey and let you in on what Geoffrey Ashe had to say about it and Arthurian legend. Then we’ll talk about Cadbury, a likely spot for Camelot. There will be a few posts on Tintagel and Merlin’s cave. I’ll probably put St. Clether’s Chapel, St. Madron’s Well, St. Crede and St. Nectan’s faerie pool into one. Then we’ll talk about the stone circles of Boscawen-Un (which is very special to me) and the Merry Maidens, as well as the dolmen of Lanyon Quoit. And of course, Avebury and Stonehenge. So stay tuned for the next several weeks!

What do you want to know about Glastonbury or Wells? Do you have any questions about the tour? What do you want to know more about?

On Site in England: The Next Best Thing to Going Back in Time

The area of my trip.

Where I’ll be for the next 2 weeks

By the time you read this, I’ll either be in the frantic final throes of packing or blissfully winging my way across the Atlantic. That’s because I have the opportunity of a lifetime: taking a tour of England that is all based around Arthurian legend!

I’ve been dreaming about taking this tour since I first heard about it a few years ago. The leader is the guy who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research the Mists of Avalon (which is what inspired me to write my books). We will have special guests on parts of the tour, including internationally renowned Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe, modern-day Bard Kevan Manwaring, and other scholars on mythology and ancient sacred sites. Poor Mr. Ashe has no idea what he’s in for – a whole lot of questions about how to attack and defend a hill fort, plus anything else I can think of. His is a brain I can’t wait to pick!

Anyway, since I’m going to be gone two weeks, there will be no new posts here until June 16, which is our two year blogiversary! After that, I’ll do a series on sites from my trip and things I learned about the legends. Here’s a preview, by way of the itinerary of my trip:

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor

Day 1: Travel to London, then to Whewell on the way to Glastonbury (which will be in all three books of my trilogy).

Day 2: Tour Glastonbury, including Wearyall Hill and the Holy Thorn, drinking from Chalice Well, climbing the Tor and visiting Glastonbury Abbey.

Day 3: Visit Cadbury castle, one of the sites thought to be home to Camelot. (This is one of the settings in book 2.) See the ancient Druid oaks of Gog and Magog.

Day 4: Travel to Cornwall, stopping at the holy well of St. Clether. Tour Tinagel castle and Merlin’s Cave. (I can’t wait for you guys to see where we’re staying in Tintagel. It’s breathtaking!)

Day 5: Visit the faerie glen of St. Nectan, the village of Boscatle and Rocky Valley (which has two Bronze Age carvings in a Cretan labyrinth).

Day 6: Head to Penzance and St. Michael’s Mount. Quality time by the sea.

Day 7: Take in the stone circles of Boscowen-un and the Merry Maidens, along with the stone monoliths called The Pipers. Visit the holy wells Madron and Sancreed.

Day 8: Visit haunted Bodmin Moor and the area made famous by Daphne Du Maurier. (I’m very excited about this because I want to write a gothic fantasy someday and am hoping to get the thread a of plot based in local legend.) Spend time in Dartmoor and Marlborough.

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Midwinter Solstice by Mark Grant (Souce: Wikimedia Commons)

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Midwinter Solstice by Mark Grant (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Day 9: Journey to Stonehenge for private access inside the stone circle to witness a real Druid sunrise ritual. Meet J.P. Reedman, who I interviewed, and whose book, Stone Lord, I reviewed. Visit Avebury – the largest stone circle in the world – West Kennet long barrow – the largest burial mound in Europe – and Silbury Hill.

Day 10: Travel back home, no doubt in awe and incredibly grateful for all I’ve seen.

This trip includes several items on my Bucket List. There are no words for how excited I am. I can’t even believe this is really happening. This is invaluable research for my books, a precious networking opportunity with Arthurian scholars and just plain fun for a geek like me. I won’t have Internet access while I’m there, but you’ll get plenty of photos and stories when I get back. I hope you all have fun while I’m gone. I’d tell you to behave, but I know my readers better than that!

Trinity College Old Library Long Room – Heaven on Earth

Trinity College Long Room, Old Library. No photography is allowed, so this is a scan of the postcard I bought in the gift shop.

Pardon me while I indulge my dorkdom.

But if I could personally design heaven, it would look exactly like the Trinity College Old Library Long Room. For me, this is heaven on earth and I’m sure my fellow bibliophiles would agree.

Built between 1712 and 1732, it houses over 200,000 rare books. Rotating exhibits line the center isle. The ones while we were there were illuminated manuscripts from various time periods, as well as artifacts from the library’s history, including the oath the library guards have to take. Word to the wise: the guards get tetchy if you lean over the ropes to get a better look at the books, even if your hands are behind your back. Really, all I wanted was to see if I could read the titles on the spines…

The library also houses the Book of Kells, Book of Armagh, the Book of Durrow and the oldest surviving harp in Ireland (you know, the one you see on Irish coins and everywhere else). But for me, the real treasure was the library itself. I actually cried while we were in the Long Room. That’s how happy I was. Somehow seeing all those books confirmed my desire to be a full-time author and also get my doctorate in history. I’m a bookworm to my core.

The spiral staircase that greets you as you walk into the library. Also a scan of a postcard.

I could kiss the person who created this: a 360 degree tour of the Long Room Library. (Put it on full-screen mode to feel like you’re there.) I think it will get me through until I can go back again, which it now appears may be sooner than I anticipated.

In all seriousness, it’s on my Bucket List to get to use one of the books housed here in my research, preferably getting to read it in the second floor reading room. Now I just have to figure out what they have that I would need and how to go about accessing it. I’ve also added visiting all the world’s most beautiful libraries to my list. Anyone want to come with me?

I could sit and look at the stacks of books, breathing in that old book smell forever. Yeah, if I was in the world of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, I’d totally be Erudite.  And that’s fine by me.

What do you think of the library? Have you been there? Do places like this interest you? What places in the world take your breath away?

Photos from Ireland

Grab your Snuggies and settle in. It’s time for a couch cruise to Ireland, courtesy of your friendly historical fiction writer. No passport required. For the next three weeks I’m going to share with you a little of what I saw and heard.

I was in the Emerald Isle for business, but I did get a chance to talk to some of the locals about the Irish take on the story of Tristan and Isolde, so I have no doubt that will influence the way I position book 4, when I get to it. Let’s just say I was advised to focus on the story’s mythical origins.

Most of my time was spent in and around Dublin, so I’m sorry to say I don’t have any rolling green hills to show you, but I can share a little of my trip. And yes, I took all of these photos.

We stayed in the Georgian area of Dublin, near the Georgian Mile. You can see the distinctive style of architecture in these buildings. (Do the chimneys make anyone else think of the movie Velvet Goldmine, or am I just mad?)

      Grafton Street at dusk.

The main altar of St. Teresa’s Church on Clarendon Street. I highly recommend seeing this beautiful Carmelite church off Grafton Street if you get the chance.

 

Isn’t St. Stephen’s Green beautiful in spring? I think it’s got Central Park beat.

According to the plaque, this fountain depicts the three fates, but I see the Celtic triple goddess here. She’s alive and well in Ireland!

 In case you haven’t had enough beauty, here’s Merrion Park.

 Reclining comfortably (and somewhat lecherously) in Merrion Park is literary icon Oscar Wilde.

Trinity College. We went there for the Book of Kells, which is disappointing – you only get to see a replica and it’s not very exciting – but found a wonder beyond our wildest imaginations. More to come on Trinity’s breathtaking library next week.

For the armchair tourists, here are St. Patrick’s Cathedral (I didn’t get to go inside) and Kilmainham Jail (I toured that one; very important in the Irish quest for independence).

C'est moi!

Dublin port

View from Howth, which is outside of Dublin. Palm trees are all over Dublin, but they’re not native to the area. I never did find out how they got there.

A peat fire, just because we were fascinated by it. For those who don’t know, the peat forms in low-lying bog areas when trees decay. On the upper levels where it’s looser, it’s peat moss, but from the lower, compact levels it’s harvested as turf. According to our host, it burns warmer and longer than wood. And it also has a better smell, slightly sweet, yet acidic at the same time. You’ll notice this end up in book 4.

Sunset over the Irish Sea. I’m almost positive I’m going to locate Isolde’s home south of Dublin (possibly far south), but this gives you and me both an idea of the beauty she’d look out over while home and long for while she’s in Britain.

As promised, next week you’ll get a short post on The Long Room of Trinity College. Or as I call it, heaven!

Questions? Comments? Do any of you have Ireland pictures to share?

Tyler R. Tichelaar: Searching for King Arthur in Turkey

Note from Nicole: Today’s post comes from Arthurian scholar and historical fiction author, Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. You may remember his name from a review of his book, “King Arthur’s Children,” that I did a few months ago. I’m thrilled to have him with us because he can always be counted on for thought-provoking insight into Arthurian legend. I will be in Ireland when this post runs, but Tyler is ready to respond to any comments/questions you may have.

I am honored to be a guest on Nicole Evelina’s blog. When I told her I was going to Turkey and it had Arthurian connections, she was surprised and asked me whether I would blog about my trip and those connections when I got home.

While I did not find any legitimate evidence that King Arthur ever visited Turkey, Turkey has many connections to the Arthurian legend, including being home to King Arthur’s ancestors and to many stories and relics that later figure in the Arthurian legends. In fact, I could fill many blog posts with the connections between Arthur and Turkey, but I will just briefly hit some of the highlights here and include a few photographs from my trip.

King Arthur’s Ancestors in Turkey

The ruins of Troy (Photo by Tyler R. Tichelaar)

Who were King Arthur’s ancestors? According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur was descended from Brutus, for whom Britain was named. Brutus came to Britain from Italy where he was a descendant of Aeneas, founder of Rome. Aeneas was a survivor who escaped from Troy after the city fell. Aeneas’ tale is told in The Aeneid by Virgil, and he is also mentioned in Homer’s Iliad. Aeneas was part of the Trojan royal family. Therefore, we can say that King Arthur was a Trojan. Today, it is difficult to imagine what the city of Troy must have looked like since the ruins of Troy are hardly more than small remnants of walls that remain, but even so, I found it spine-tingling to visit those ruins and imagine what it would have been like to live in Troy. Had there been no Trojan War, perhaps there would have been no King Arthur.

King Arthur’s bloodline is also often linked to the Emperor Constantine, best known for having made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. Some sources claim that Constantine was father to Ambrosius Aurelianus, and some scholars think Ambrosius was the real source for King Arthur, while more typically he is depicted as King Arthur’s uncle, brother to Uther Pendragon. Since the Emperor Constantine died in 337 and Arthur traditionally is believed to have died at the Battle of Camlann circa 539, it seems unlikely that the Emperor Constantine was his grandfather, but other traditions link Arthur to Magnus Maximus who vied for the throne of Rome, and Arthur might have also been related to Constantine when it’s considered that many traditions claim Constantine’s mother, Helen, was a British noblewoman and also that Constantine was himself born in Britain. Notably, Arthur’s successor as King of Britain is also named Constantine.

Chapel built on Virgin Mary’s House near Ephesus (Photo by Tyler R. Tichelaar)

The British chroniclers of the Middle Ages linked Constantine as a descendant from Joseph of Arimathea; Joseph prominently figures in the Grail Legends and reputedly was Jesus’ uncle and may have brought Jesus to Britain where he spent his “missing” years of childhood that are not documented in the Bible.

If King Arthur were related to Constantine, and therefore, also to Joseph of Arimathea, he may have also been related to the Virgin Mary since Joseph of Arimathea is often believed to have been Mary’s uncle (so technically Jesus’ great-uncle). Mary traveled to Turkey with the apostle John some time after the Crucifixion. She made her home near Ephesus, one of the seven churches of Revelation. Today a chapel is built upon the place where once her house is believed to have stood.

The Grail Legend
What would the Arthurian legend be without the quest for the Holy Grail? One candidate for the true Holy Grail is a chalice in Spain at the monastery of San Juan de la Peña. According to Wikipedia, archaeologists say the artifact is a 1st century Middle Eastern stone vessel, possibly from Antioch in present day Turkey.

Another holy relic associated with the Grail legends is the Lance of Longinus, which pierced Christ’s side during the Crucifixion. It is often featured with the Holy Grail in the Grail legends and is one of the items carried in a procession that Percival witnesses. This spear was brought from the Holy Land to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey) in the seventh century. It was housed in Hagia Sophia. Later it was moved to the Church of the Virgin of the Pharos. The point of the lance, which was now set in an icon, was acquired by the Latin Emperor, Baldwin II of Constantinople, who later sold it to Louis IX of France.

King Arthur and the Roman Emperor

Hagia Sophia (Photo by Tyler R. Tichelaar)

Several versions of the Arthurian legend cite Arthur’s conflict with the Roman emperor as reason for his journey to the Continent, leaving the kingdom of Britain in Mordred’s hands. Of course, Rome fell in 476 and usually Arthur is seen as living after this date. Therefore, it is more likely that it is the Byzantine Emperor who demands fealty from Arthur. The Byzantine Empire was also in decline in the 5th century but reached its greatest extent during the reign of the Emperor Justinian (527-565), placing him as emperor toward the end of Arthur’s reign, so I suspect Justinian’s increasing power may have been reason for him demanding fealty from a former Roman province such as Britain; therefore, I suspect he is the emperor with whom Arthur has a conflict. The term Byzantine was not applied until recent times by historians, while the medieval chroniclers would have thought of the Byzantine Emperor as the Roman Emperor—especially since there would have been no Holy Roman Emperor until Charlemagne in 800 A.D.

Emperor Justinian

In addition, Parke Godwin in his novel Beloved Exile (1984) about Guinevere’s life after the Battle of Camlann has her end up at the Court of the Emperor Justinian in Constantinople. Constantinople at that time would have been the most resplendent and important city in Christendom.

Anachronistic King Arthur Tales in Turkey
Believe it or not, there is a legend that claims that King Arthur piloted an ark (just like Noah did) during the Deluge (see http://stevequayle.com/Giants/articles/giants.of.Earth.html). Noah’s ark reputedly ended up on top of Mt. Ararat in modern day Turkey. There’s no word where Arthur’s ark ended up. Perhaps Arthur was a time traveler, since the Great Flood would have taken place about 6,000 years before Arthur lived.

Another interesting anachronism is the tale of “The Turke and Sir Gawain” which can be read at: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/turkfrm.htm. The Turks were not known to Western Europeans really until five centuries after Arthur’s time when they entered modern day Turkey and defeated the Byzantine Emperor in 1071. They continued as an increasing threat to Christendom and Europe through their conquest of Constantinople in 1453. This poem was composed about 1500 when the Ottoman Empire ruled by the Turks was at its height and a severe threat to Christendom, so the modern day Turkish threat was cast upon the Arthurian legend.

Therefore, a good case can be made for the significant relationship between the land of Turkey and its people and their influence on the Arthurian legend. Finally, if my Turkey-King Arthur connections are not convincing enough, perhaps you would prefer some good cooking. A quick search on the Internet will find plenty of recipes for using King Arthur Flour to make various turkey dishes including turkey and dumplings: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2008/11/29/a-deft-recipe-for-dumplings-a-quest-fulfilled/

Tyler R. Tichelaar

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is a scholar and novelist on the Arthurian legend. You can visit him at his blog http://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/ and his website www.ChildrenofArthur.com.