Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Road to Stonehenge and Winchester

Avebury Stone Circle
Emily and I started our father-daughter Arthurian road trip in Devon (Plymouth) and travelled via Cornwall (Tintagel) and Somerset (Glastonbury) to arrive in Wiltshire and some Neolithic marvels. Avebury seemed to have at least three identifiable Stone Circles – one massive one and two smaller ones. What was remarkable was how intimate you could be with the stones, how up close and personal.
Much more controlled was the environment around Stonehenge with a shuttle bus to take us closer and then a guided walk which brought us pretty close indeed to the monumental ring. The absolute truths about the construction(s) of and the purpose(s) of Avebury and Stonehenge are unlikely to be discovered. What is certainly true is how astonishing they are in “real life” – very familiar from photographs, films and paintings and yet monstrously alien too. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain that Merlin had constructed the stone circles in the time of King Arthur with the help of giants, hence the legitimate inclusion of Stonehenge in our Arthurian pilgimage. Writers from the past had a healthy approach to mixing history and legend (healthy in my opinion.)
Merlin and the Giant constructing Stonehenge

Winchester Great Hall
Our fifth county on the trip was Hampshire and a visit to the cathedral and the Great Hall where hangs the Round Table. Yes, the actual Round Table. King Arthur’s Round Table. Yes, the very one. Well, at least, the Round Table constructed in the 13th Century and repainted in Tudor times.... (If you look closely at the image of Arthur on the table, you can tell it looks like Henry VIII…!) Apart from the glory of the table, we enjoyed visiting Queen Eleanor’s Garden with its medieval layout and admired the impressive Hall itself.
Winchester Great Hall, Round Table, Cathedral and statues of monarchs past and present

A pair of philomythists
Did I learn anything new about the Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? Maybe not, but I certainly got a feeling for the geography of these famous sites. The trip ticked off a couple of items on my bucket list but looking back at it now, the thing I most valued was just spending time with a fellow philomythist (a lover of myths and legends.) Emily and I both agree with the author of Les Misérables, Victor Hugo:
“History has its truth, and so has legend…. history and legend have the same goal; to depict eternal man beneath fleeting man.”