Hither and Yon by John Rayburn
Myth, legend, folklore, out-and-out fabrication; how do you determine which is what in England? It’s so impossible we haven’t seriously tried during several trips around the UK. Instead we simply enjoy the sights, sounds and history (pseudo or actual).
For example, visits to renowned Stonehenge, where there are as many theories as there are stones. Initially, we wandered around the massive stones and even leaned gently against a sarsen stone for photos. That was before some idiot spray-painted the ancient Hele stone that brought on a roped off area that prevents such wandering except for Special Access visits.
Of special interest to us was a visit just a couple of miles away to “Woodhenge” where, once again, opinions are rampant. One of the most interesting we heard was that live-in structures were built in a circle on the wooden posts, resulting in the world’s first high-rise apartments, housing those who built Stonehenge itself. Many experts pooh-poohed the notion, some of them probably because they didn’t think of it first.
Something like 50 miles westerly is another of England’s fabled fount of fables and that’s Glastonbury, with a wealth of fact and folderol. You can choose which is which with such stories as Joseph of Arimathea paying a visit, possibly they say, with a youthful Jesus in the period of time when no records show where Jesus might have been. They say Joseph planted his staff and it sprouted into the Glastonbury thorn that flowers in spring and again close to Christmas time. They indicate he may have, sometime or other, possessed the Holy Grail which he may or may not have buried in Glastonbury Tor, or maybe Chalice Hill as some claim. In either case, it’s somewhat surprising that geologists, archeologists, or somebody hasn’t discovered something in the event anything is there.
Just for added interest thereabouts, on the grounds of the abbey there’s a metal sign stating it’s where King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were once buried and that, of course, is based on whether or not there indeed was an Arthur and Guinevere. As for the sword Excalibur, who knows? We certainly don’t. We do know there’s a large round tabletop hanging on a wall of the Great Hall at Winchester Castle replicating the famed Round Table and bearing the names of various knights mentioned in the Arthur saga. In addition, some historians claim they finally located the site of the real thing at the present day city of Chester, the better part of 200 miles north of the purported burial site. One of the historians says it wasn’t a table at all, that it was actually the circular interior of a one-time Roman amphitheater and could maybe have seated a thousand people. What that many would be doing there as the gallant knights planned forays isn’t known but it wouldn’t have been surprising if some of the plans leaked out. At least the story received a smidgen of respectability when a note about the supposed discovery was posted by a writer of the National Geographic Society.
About ten miles south of Stonehenge is Salisbury Cathedral where can be found one of the copies of the Magna Carta (“Great Charter”) issued in 1215 by King John, a work that justifiably became one of England’s most celebrated documents. It was an awesome feeling, just standing and looking at what, to us at least, was a completely indecipherable scroll. Be that as it may, it’s recognized as a work that influenced the majority of the civilized world as a written cornerstone of liberty and freedom.
This historic concept is what led us eastward to where William the Conqueror made his mark in 1066, not at Hastings as often written, but at a spot later called Battle. William had an Abbey built there after he made what was the last successful conquest of England ever.
Before we arrived there we went through the town of Lewes where there’s a building with a sign, “Anne Cleves House.” Who’s that we thought and learned she was sort of Queen for about six months after becoming the fourth wife of King Henry VIII. That didn’t work out, was annulled, she didn’t get crowned and just went on her way, probably much better off by not having to put up with a monarch having a nasty marital reputation.
The story at Battle/Hastings led to disclosure that William, the Duke of Normandy, built a bunch of castles across the country just to show everyone he was the head honcho. Various rebellious groups led to his ruthlessly burning and seizing lands to let any locals know what they were up against, that he was the only power who could help them.
While in that area, we decided to go a couple of hundred miles a bit northwest to Nottingham, hangout for the mean sheriff of the Robin Hood legends, myths, folk tales or whatever. We did get into Sherwood Forest and sadly, while once around 100,000 acres, is now down to barely 450 and the Great Oak where they say Robin and his men sometimes slept in the branches is at least still there. They say the gnarled old tree is a thousand years old and any sleeping accommodations today would be more than meager. What was most disappointing to us in the vicinity was that a statue of Robin in the courtyard of Nottingham Castle didn’t look anything at all like Errol Flynn.