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28 October 2014
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Arthurian Legend in Cumbria
Brough Castle
Brough Castle, about 8 miles north of Pendragon Castle.
King Arthur - a real life hero or mere legend? The curse of the Saxons, he has strong links across the old 'culturally British' kingdom, from Scotland to Wales and Cornwall - via Cumbria.
WATCH and LISTEN
audio As the latest King Arthur film is showing in the cinemas, Gordon Swindlehurst finds out why film makers come to the county.
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The Round Table And Beyond

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King Arthur's Round Table
The earthworks at Eamont Bridge, near Penrith.

Arthur Reborn
The legend states that Arthur will come again when his nation is most in need. One man believes he's the reincarnation of the ancient king.

King Arthur's Knights
Arthur didn't work alone. Find out about the other people in the legends.

Arthurian Legend at the Fell Ponies Museum
Why are there no Black Horse Inns in an area where there are so many black ponies?

Rheged
The name given to the northern kingdom that became Cumbria during the Dark Ages - also the visitor's centre near Penrith.

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FACTS

Arthur is the Anglicised version of the name Arthwyr, which roughly translated means 'bear man'.

A Middle Ages historian claimed Arthur was the High King of Britain, a descendant of the French Bretons' lineage. They arrived in Britain at the beginning of the 5th Century.

Another version of the historical Arthur was a man known as Riothamus, a title meaning 'greatest king'. Riothamus was another Breton, supposedly exiled to Britain after one of Britanny's many civil wars.

The Clan Campbell trace their tribal pedigree back to a man known as 'Arthur ic Uibar', or Arthur, son of Uther.

Excalibur was a two-for-the-price-of-one gift for the king. The famous sword came in a scabbard which was also magical, protecting its owner from injury and illness.

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Before he pulled that sword out of that stone, the young Arthur would have been running about in a country looking less like that of First Knight and more like the one in Monty Python and the Holy Grail - although the knights would have been more interested in staying alive than gadding about singing and dancing. The legend goes that Arthur was kept in the dark about his destiny, although Merlin had foreseen the young lad’s destiny years before.
View of the Roman Wall from Birdoswald
Did Arthur attend 'warrior school' on the Roman Wall?

Young Arthur
Arthur’s father, Uther, was certainly local but whether young Wart grew up in Cumbria is another matter. His adoptive father, Ector, lived to the west of Bala in north Wales. But legend also claims that Arthur was trained in a warrior school on the Roman Wall. By 410AD, the Roman grip on Britain was slipping. The empire’s soldiers were being withdrawn from Britain to help in conflicts elsewhere and local men had been trained and employed by the Roman Army for some time, so it’s quite likely that Arthur could have been trained at one of the Roman forts within Cumbria.

Excalibur
A lot of the Cumbrian claims to Arthur rely in part on the circumstances of his death. Excalibur, and how it came to be in Arthur’s care, is one such part of the story. The legend goes that when Arthur was fatally wounded he asked one of his knights to return Excalibur to the lake it came from. Bedivere, the knight in question, made two trips to the lake and back before the dying Arthur was satisfied and asked to be taken to Avalon. If the lake in question was in another part of the country, Bedivere’s first round trip would have taken days, if not weeks or months.

Bassenthwaite  looking suitably mysterious
Bassenthwaite looking suitably mysterious

Lord Alfred Tennyson was also keen on the idea of Excalibur being found in and returned to a Cumbrian lake. He was inspired to write the description of King Arthur’s final journey and the return of the sword to the water when staying at Mirehouse, overlooking Bassenthwaite.

Directions: Mirehouse is about 4 miles north of Keswick, on the left of the road about half a mile north of Little Crossthwaite. There is car parking at Whinlatter Forest Park and Visitor Centre. Alternatively, you can catch the X4, 555, 73 or 73A buses to the house.

The Round Table
What with his legendary round table, Arthur could have taught modern group psychologists a thing or two. His parliament of knights would have sat in various locations around the country as and when they were needed in different places, but the favourite location in Cumbria is the aptly-named King Arthur's Round Table, an earthworks at Eamont Bridge, near Penrith. The site is a natural amphitheatre, ideal for knights to gather and swap their stories of adventure ad romance - and it's also said that fifty champions of the realm gathered there to fight for the hand of King Arthur's daughter, Gyneth.

Nearby is Giant's Cave - a place associated with two giants called Tarquin and Isir. The pair lived on a diet of human flesh, a practice which might have lost its appeal when Sir Lancelot slew Tarquin in battle.

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