As a Medievalist and former resident of England, there is nothing more enjoyable than being able to share memories of travels throughout Britain. Below I have compiled a list of places I recommend traveling to within Britain, all of which are associated with what I studied through my Master’s Degree: Arthurian Legend. But, additionally, these locations are personal places I love for their mystical qualities and their supernatural ambiance. I have divided this article into two parts since it is fairly lengthy. Part one will cover "fairly central England" while part two will cover "the outskirts" of Britain and Celtic Nations. If you wish to learn more about Arthurian Legend, there are still two classes left in my Arthurian Workshop Series at the Goddess and the Moon. And, if you have any locations or stories you would like to share, please do so in the comments section. I hope you enjoy the humor, the images, and the tips for a truly unique travel experience in one of my favorite places in the world!
The nice thing about visiting Britain is that there is a sense of familiarity there. Beyond speaking the same language (although one could argue barely in some locations), the commodities and customs are much like Americans. Both of our countries rule the world with celebrities and musicians, and actor Anthony Head links us diplomatically through his acting skills in the American Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the British Merlin television series. And, although I expose my love for fantasy by citing Buffy and Merlin, I believe Mr. Head embodies all that we love about Britain. He is fantastical, sings songs by the Who, understands the joy of California as well as the culture of the Welsh castle. He comes off as serious and a bit uptight, yet is cheeky enough to play Frankenfurter in Rocky Horror Picture Show and the Prime Minister in Little Britain. So, when experiencing doubt about whether or not you can easily assimilate into the life of Britain, think, “What would Anthony Head do?”
Part I: Fairly Central England
London is a great starting point for a trip, as London Heathrow is a hub for transatlantic flights. Flights usually arrive into London during the morning hours from the US, so you will be on a red eye the evening prior. While foggy London Towne has many different activities to keep you occupied for weeks, I will suggest a couple which would go along well with the fantastical theme of this trip. Many claim that the Tower of London is one of the most haunted locations in all of the UK. With sightings of inhabitants from another time and age, the likelihood of getting spooked at the tower is probably. Additionally, ravens perch in the yards of the Tower, watching over its safely and happily ignoring on-looking tourists. Beside the spooky and enchanting, Tower of London has some great things to see while you are there. The Yeoman Warders will (hesitantly) pose with you for the cheesiest of tourist photos, and if you have heavy metal on your iPod, be sure to turn it on while viewing the impress weapons collection in the Fortress. If you like a little bling in your life, the Crown Jewels are on display. And, if you are easily amused, you will enjoy the conveyor belt that takes you past the encased jewels. And, if you are anything like me, you’ll take a couple trips on it for a personal chuckle. The British Museum is also a wonderful place to spend a day. The massive museum holds artifacts from antiquity to modernism. My personal favorite is the Sutton Hoo collection. The Sutton Hoo room highlights the finds of a Saxon settler’s ship burial. Treasures include his incredible mask, weapons, and jewelry. And, if you are a fan of Celtic and Norse myth, runic relics and cauldrons abound are held within the same area of the Sutton Hoo exhibit. Finally, be sure to visit the deer headdress from Star Carr in Yorkshire, as it is an incredible treasure, exhibiting the shamanic and magical culture of the early Mesolithic inhabitants of Northern England.
Although you will not find the Leaky Cauldron at Charring Cross, it seems that this neighborhood convincingly inspired JK Rowling’s descriptions of Diagon Alley. Dotted with bookstores and lined with cobblestone streets, the sense of mystery and magic will inspire you in this historical neighborhood of London. Treadwell’s certainly has one of the most captivating of esoteric book collections, including rare and collectible books from authors such as A.E. White. Additionally, they have tarot readings and events on all topics that surely have grazed the works of Harry Potter. To see Treadwell’s collection, visit http://www.treadwells-london.com. Another shop worth mentioning is The Atlantis Bookshop, an old haunt of Gerald Gardner’s. Located in Camden Town, you can learn more about their collection and history at http://www.theatlantisbookshop.com.
Even though this place is a little on the touristy side, it still offers one of the best castle experiences in all of England. Warwick has a rich history, beginning around the 11th century when William the Conqueror established a stockade at the site. To this day, you can still visit this portion of the castle – though merely ruins, the stones and hill mound contain stories that changed the history of England. During Medieval times, the castle began to take shape into what we now see when we visit – timber was replaced with stone, towers and dungeons were constructed. The castle was inhabited through the Victorian Era, and touring the castle allows you to visit different periods of time. There are rooms set up as it was during medieval times, an impressive hall of arms, a Tutor dining hall, and a creepy dungeon complete with chambers that’ll make the hair rise on your arm.ms Warwick Castle has a reputation for being haunted, and was even featured in the melodrama, er, paranormal show Most Haunted. The heaviest presence is most certainly in the dungeons, where an eerie and heavy feeling is commonly felt by its visitors. Many will say that in recent years, conversely, the tours in the dungeon take way from its genuinely paranormal ambiance and turned it into a production complete with screaming children. However, one can escape from the horror of misbehaving minors into the vast grounds and gardens of the castle, which offer a splendid view of the land around the castle and also feature pretty and proud peacocks casually strolling the yard. Warwick castle is northwest of London, and could be reached via train in less than two hours. If you wanted to make a connection in Birmingham, the train station in Birmingham drops you off in one of the best shopping centers in England: the Bull Ring. It’s just something to keep on the backburner, if you are interested in shopping at chic Euro-shops which also reside on the Champs Elysees. The webpage for Warwick Castle is http://www.warwick-castle.com, which is worth checking out to read about their events. They had a Merlin event last May, which I was about to pawn my boyfriend’s guitars off for the funds for a quick red eye to Birmingham.
http://www.avebury-web.co.uk. For information on Manor Farm, you can visit: http://www.manorfarmavebury.com.
The Roman Baths of the appropriately named town Bath are a time machine view into the public bathing customs of Rome and the worship of mythological heroes and gods. The springs within the Roman Baths are still generating warm water, and temples and courtyards honor the goddess Minerva. After experiencing the Roman Empire, you can experience a literary empire at the Jane Austen Center. After honoring the goddess of British Literature (this lady deserves a shrine for creating Mr. Darcy), enjoy a proper English tea time at the museum’s tea room. There is a wonderful website to visit on Bath at http://www.bathsbloggers.blogspot.com which has some incredible inside accounts of life at the Roman Baths.
New Age hippies of America have Sedona; New Age hippies of England have Glastonbury. Ley lines, faeries, crystals, and a place where Arthurian legend flourish, Glastonbury tends to be a shamanic pilgrimage for New Agers. There are three sites of great significance worth checking out in Glastonbury: the Tor, the Abbey, and the Chalice Well. Glastonbury Tor is located atop the 500 foot high Glastonbury Hill, which is speculated by some to have been the location of the Isle of Avalon, the land of legend in Arthurian tales. Avalon was a mystical island where priestesses learned their magical craft and Arthur took haven in after his final battle. It is said that the priestesses took him to Avalon where they could heal him; and there he waits, until he is ready to return as king again. Archeologists have suggested that at one time floods from marshes in surround lands of Glastonbury would have risen around the hill, giving it the appearance of an island in the mist. Many enjoy the hike up the hill, and see it as a shamanic experience in itself due to the spiral path towards the summit. At the top of the hill are the remains of a Norman stronghold –turned monastery. According to Welsh legend, Gwyn, lord of the Underworld, would use the Tor as the entranceway to his otherworldly kingdom. Glastonbury Abbey is the final resting place of “King Arthur” and “Queen Guinevere,” and although archeologists have ruled this out as credible due to dating of their gravestones. However, if you totally geek out over anything associated with King Arthur, a feeling of giddiness will overwhelm you while exploring the ruins of the Abbey and seeing the stones with inscriptions for England’s legendary royal couple. Chalice Well contains the remnants of a natural spring that one ran between Glastonbury Hill and Chalice Hill (a lesser hill in Glastonbury). Many legends center around the well, but the most famous is the one about Joseph of Arimathea hiding the Holy Grail within the well. The well itself is within a peaceful garden, and many enjoy its calm and quiet atmosphere. For those who wish to bring home water from the well, there is a station where you can take as much water as you’d like. Beyond the major tourist sites of Glastonbury, there are plenty of new age shops, yoga centers, retreats and holistic healing services throughout the town to satisfy all of your crystal and tarot needs. To read a wonderful, nerdy article on the magical aspects of Glastonbury, please see http://www.britannia.com/history/glastonb1.html, which is a phenomenal article by my favorite Arthurian scholar and enthusiast, Geoffrey Ashe.
South Cadbury Hill
Please recognize that even though it seems I am listing a mere hill as a location, there is so much more to this location than presently meets the eye. This location has seen the presence of civilization dating back to 3500BC. Bracelets, rings, and pottery excavated from the site also suggest that earlier inhabitants used South Cadbury as a place for religious ritual. By examining archeological evidence, it is apparent that it was a place of significant political importance during the “Arthurian Age,” when timber and cobblestone roads were used to build up the fort. More curious, the people who occupied this fort followed the Celtic ways of masonry, as opposed to the Roman, showing a devotion to their own land’s building style, courageously during a time of Roman dominance in the land. Perhaps a patriotic chieftain of Britain resided here? Or, a wealthy political leader of the Celts? No one is truly sure, but many speculate this as a place where Camelot may have resided. Those who visit, yes even muggles, say that there is a heightened energy at the site. Some envision that within the surrounding forests are spirits of knights riding on horseback or that one could witness faeries sing as etheric balls of light playfully float through the air. In one documentary, Geoffrey Ashe said of South Cadbury noted that there was a feeling that something mysterious presided in the surrounding forests. In June 1995, a witness said he saw an armored knight on horse disappear around a corner. Some say this occurs every June 20th, when a door opens every seven years within the hills, so Arthur and his company can leave Camelot to feed their horses. Coincidentally, the date of June 20th is synonymous with Midsummer, a time when legends say that the veil between our world and the world of fairies is said to be open. Certainly not a tourist attraction, nor a place where much meets the eye, it is here where visitors must connect with an invisible yet very present Otherworldly Britain: one of Camelot, faery tales and hidden secrets from ancient civilizations. For more information from Geoffrey Ashe on Cadbury, please read: http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/cadcast.html.