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Archaeologists searching for King Arthur’s round table have found a “circular feature” beneath the historic King’s Knot in Stirling.

The King's Knot in the grounds of Stirling Castle

The King's Knot in the grounds of Stirling Castle

The King’s Knot, a geometrical earthwork in the former royal gardens below Stirling Castle, has been shrouded in mystery for hundreds of years.

Though the Knot as it appears today dates from the 1620s, its flat-topped central mound is thought to be much older.

Writers going back more than six centuries have linked the landmark to the legend of King Arthur.

Archaeologists from Glasgow University, working with the Stirling Local History Society and Stirling Field and Archaeological Society, conducted the first ever non-invasive survey of the site in May and June in a bid to uncover some of its secrets.

Their findings were show there was indeed a round feature on the site that pre-dates the visible earthworks.

Historian John Harrison, chair of the SLHS, who initiated the project, said: “Archaeologists using remote-sensing geophysics, have located remains of a circular ditch and other earth works beneath the King’s Knot.

“The finds show that the present mound was created on an older site and throws new light on a tradition that King Arthur’s Round Table was located in this vicinity.”

Stories have been told about the curious geometrical mound for hundreds of years — including that it was the Round Table where King Arthur gathered his knights.

Around 1375 the Scots poet John Barbour said that “the round table” was south of Stirling Castle, and in 1478 William of Worcester told how “King Arthur kept the Round Table at Stirling Castle”.

Sir David Lindsay, the 16th century Scottish writer, added to the legend in 1529 when he said that Stirling Castle was home of the “Chapell-royall, park, and Tabyll Round”.

It has also been suggested the site is partly Iron Age or medieval, or was used as a Roman fort.

Extensive work on the royal gardens was carried out in the early 17th century for Charles I, when the mound is thought to have taken its current form.

The first known record of the site being called the King’s Knot is from 1767, by which time it was being leased for pasture.

Locals refer to the grassy earthworks as the “cup and saucer”, but aerial photographs taken in 1980 showed three concentric ditches beneath and around the King’s Knot mound, suggesting an earthwork monument had preceded it.

The new survey — funded by Historic Scotland and Stirling City Heritage Trust — used the latest scientific techniques to showing lost structures and features up to a metre below the ground.

It also revealed a series of ditches south of the main mound, as well as remains of buildings, and more recent structures, including modern drains which appear at the northern end of the gardens.

Mr Harrison, who has studied the King’s Knot for 20 years, said: “It is a mystery which the documents cannot solve, but geophysics has given us new insights.

“Of course, we cannot say that King Arthur was there, but the feature which surrounds the core of the Knot could explain the stories and beliefs that people held.”

Archaeologist Stephen Digney, who coordinated the project, said: “The area around Stirling Castle holds some of the finest medieval landscapes in Europe.

“This investigation is an exciting first step in a serious effort to explore, explain and interpret them. The results so far suggest that Scotland’s monarchs integrated an ancient feature into their garden, something we know happened in other countries too.

“We are looking forward to the next stage in September when we hope to refine some of the details.”

Dr. Kirsty Owen, Cultural Heritage Adviser at Historic Scotland, added: “The project has the potential to add to our knowledge of the landscape context of the medieval and early modern occupation of Stirling Castle.

“The ditches identified may intriguingly be part of historically documented earlier garden features, or if prehistoric in origin could add to our scant knowledge of prehistoric activity at Stirling Castle.

“We look forward to seeing the results of the next phase of investigations.”Futher work including a ground-penetrating radar survey, is now planned to take place next month to find out more.

A small display of the interim results can be seen close to the site at the Smith Museum.

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Stories of yokels getting the better of townies pepper British folklore – perhaps the best known being one reading of the Nottinghamshire legend The Wise Men of Gotham .
Wiltshire MoonrakerRivalling that tale is the Wiltshire story of The Moonrakers, so dear to the heart of the county that to this day anyone born in Wiltshire is known as a Moonraker.
The story goes that a couple of lads from a village near Devizes were involved in the spirits trade, and were not troubling the Excise with paperwork or duties. Depending on the source they were either distilling ‘brandy’ themselves, or obtaining it through illicit channels. These two entrepreneurs were warned of a raid by the Revenue, so for want of time and better cover they hid their contraband, including a couple of barrels of the good stuff, in a pond.

When the customs officials arrived it was unfortunately a clear night, with a full moon and not a breath of wind to stir the water’s surface. The Wiltshire lads could see the barrels clearly, so they quickly came up with a ruse: grabbing rakes they waded into the pond and used the implements to disturb surface and silt, masking the tuns. When the Revenue men spotted them and asked what they were doing, the yokels replied they were raking the moon in the pond in order to gather cheese from it. The clever Revenue men shook their heads at the peasants’ stupidity and searched the rest of the village, then finding nothing moved on.

Wiltshire Tour Guide
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Legends of Glastonbury

There are so many myths associated with Glastonbury that it is difficult

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor

to know where to begin to talk about them. There are two main streams of legend that surround Glastonbury, though they twine around each other to some degree. The two streams revolve around the romantic figures of Joseph of Arimathea and King Arthur. Let’s take them one at a time.

Joseph of Arimathea
Joseph was the Biblical figure who took Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. According to some legends he was actually Jesus’ uncle, and had visited Britain years before with Jesus in the pursuit of his interests in the tin trade. It appears that there actually was a strong Jewish presence in the west of England at that time, and many of the tin miners may have been Jewish settlers.

At any rate, when Jesus died, Joseph thought it prudent to flee Palestine, and after many travails he came to Britain with a company of followers. He brought with him the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Some versions of the legend have it that the Grail contained two drops of blood captured from Jesus’ side when he was wounded on the cross.

When Joseph came to Britain he was granted land at Glastonbury by the local king. When he arrived at Glastonbury, Joseph stuck his thorn staff in the earth, whereupon it rooted and burst into bloom. A cutting from that first tree was planted in the grounds of the later Glastonbury Abbey, where it continued to bloom every year therafter at Christmas time. There is still a thorn tree in the Abbey grounds, of a variety native to the Holy Lands, and it does indeed bloom around Christmas time.

Joseph was said to have established the first church in England at Glastonbury, and archaeological records show that there may well have been an extremely early Christian church here. What happened to the Holy Grail is another matter. Some legends have it that Joseph buried the Grail at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, whereupon a spring of blood gushed forth from the ground.

There is a well at the base of the Tor, Chalice Well, and the water that issues from it does indeed have a reddish tinge to it, from the iron content of the water.

Other legends have it that the Holy Grail was interred with Joseph when he died, in a secret grave. The search for the mysterious Grail emerges again and again in the tales of Glastonbury.

Further legends tell that the church founded by Joseph continued for many years. Eventually it became a monastery, and one of the first abbots was the future St Patrick, who was born in the west country.

King Arthur and Glastonbury

Glastonbury Abbey, where King Arthur is said to lie buriedLegends of King Arthur swirl about Glastonbury like a tantalizing fog from the nearby Somerset marshes. The nearby hill fort at South Cadbury has long been suggested as the location for Camelot. Indeed, excavations of South Cadbury suggest that it was in use during the early 6th century, which is the likeliest era for the real Arthur to have lived.

The association of Arthur and Glastonbury goes back at least to the early Middle Ages. In the late 12th century the monks of Glastonbury Abbey announced that they had found the grave of Arthur and Guinivere, his queen. According to the monks, an excavation found a stone inscribed “Here lies Arthur, king.” Below the stone they found the bones of a large man, and the smaller skeleton of a woman. The monks reburied the bones in the grounds of the abbey, where they were a very handy draw for pilgrims. The site of the grave can be seen today in the abbey grounds.

Glastonbury Tor, the enigmatic conical hill that rises above Glastonbury, has been linked with the Isle of Avalon, where King Arthur was buried after his death. This isn’t so farfetched as it may sound, for a millennium ago the water level was much higher, and the tor would indeed have been an island. Avalon was also called “the isle of glass” which does suggest similarities to the name “Glastonbury”.

The Holy Grail, the object of Arthur’s questing, is said to be buried beneath Glastonbury Tor, and has also been linked to Chalice Well at the base of the Tor.

One final myth of Arthur at Glastonbury: the landscape around Glastonbury is said to have been moulded and shaped so that the features (such as roads, churches, and burial mounds) create a zodiac calendar replete with Arthurian symbology. Like so many of the Arthurian myths, so much is open to interpretation and your own predisposition to believe or disbelieve.

Glastonbury Abbey
Is there a place more steeped in legend and myth than Glastonbury? Glastonbury AbbeyProbably not. Legend holds that the earliest church here was founded by St. Joseph of Arimathea in about 60AD, and that when he planted his staff in the earth a thorn tree burst forth.

In the grounds of the ruined Benedictine monastery there is a thorn tree of a variety common to the Middle East which is given to bloom around Christmas time.

By the late Middle Ages Glastonbury had become the richest abbey in England, due to the heavy pilgrimage trade. It was rich enough to build an inn for well-to-do pilgrims (the George Inn, on nearby High Street, which still welcomes guests 500 years later). The best preserved building in the abbey grounds is the old Abbot’s Kitchen (see photo), a curious square building which appears round due to its octagonal roof. In the abbey grounds are the reputed graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, which were conveniently discovered by the Glastonbury monks in the 12th century, when the abbey needed a financial boost. Outside the grounds are the abbey tithe barn, which now serves as the Somerset Rural Life Museum (well worth a visit), and 4 miles away at Mere is the abbey’s Fish House, were fish was salted and cured.

The abbey is entered through the Abbey Gatehouse  an imposing arched gateway located on off Magdalene Street. Visitors pass through a fascinating museum depicting life at Glastonbury during the Middle Ages, and then enter the Abbey grounds proper. The first building you see on entering the grounds is St Mary’s Chapel, a roofless structure that boasts wonderful architectural details, from the recessed arches of the door to the repetitive arcading that rings the interior. Look up, where the curious small towers at each corner of the chapel seem almost Georgian in style.

If you continue past the chapel you will soon reach the Abbot’s Kitchen, probably the most recognizable symbol of the Abbey, and subject of numerous postcards! This is a peculiar building, with a high octagonnal tower over a square base bedecked with gargoyles. The interior is notable for the very large ovens and the high dome supported on reed-thin vaulting ribs.

Return from the Abbot’s Kitchen towards St Mary’s Chapel and you will pass a small sign on the green lawn. This marks the old burial ground, where, in the 12th century, monks conveniently found bones beneath an engraved stone indicating the burial place of legendary King Arthur. The bones and those presumed to belong to Arthur’s queen, Guinivere, were reburied within the Abbey Church, where a small memorial can be seen.

The grounds of Glastonbury Abbey emanate a sense of calm and peace; it is truly a magical place, and taken as a whole with the other attractions of this ancient town, make Glastonbury well worth an extended visit.

Visitor Information
Glastonbury Abbey
The Abbey Gatehouse
Magdalene Street
Glastonbury
Somerset
UK
BA6 9EL
Web: http://www.glastonburyabbey.com
Email: nfo@glastonburyabbey.com
 
Join us on a private guided tour of the West Country.   Visit Glastonbury, Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle.

Mystical Landscape, Magical Tours……………….
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Silbury HillIN A modest house in Swindon, an 86-year-old man formulates exquisitely-detailed theories that turn conventional Wiltshire arch- aeology on its head.

If retired builder Eric Crook is right – and his belief that he’s right is unshakeable – the remains of a neolithic princess have lain deep beneath Silbury Hill for more than 4,000 years.

Even more startling is his insistence that the stones of Avebury once formed a carved amphitheatre of countless thousands of human and animal faces. These carvings would have appeared to move in flickering firelight; an illusion to thrill audiences of people who were centuries dead before Christ was born or the invading legions of Rome set foot on English soil.

These stone faces, Mr Crook says, can still be found in fragments hacked from the stones down the centuries, whether for buildings or perhaps because the powers that be disapproved of such images.

The reaction from the archaeological mainstream has so far been distinctly underwhelming, but Mr Crook, having spent well over 50 years researching and documenting his subject, is undaunted.

“Archaeologists are trained by other archaeologists,” he said. “But they are not trained in a natural learning process going through building technology.

“They learn only through what they can see. I heard of a professor who was asked the question, ‘when do you think you’ll get the answers to Silbury Hill and Avebury?’ “She said it would be another generation, but I thought to myself, ‘The answers are already there and you’re the generation behind.’”

Wiltshire, A Journeyman’s Tale, is £9.99 and can be ordered from Amazon and bookshops, ISBN978-0-7223-3900-8

Well worth touring Avebury and Silbury Hill at the moment.  There are several amazing crop circles in the area

Stonehenge and Avebury Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wiltshire

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 The weather may not be anything to write a postcard home about – but the West’s tourism industry enjoyed a twin boost yesterday.

Key visitor attractions featured prominently in the first global TV adverts for a decade and new research showed up to 17 million Brits will holiday at home this year.

VisitBritain, the national tourism agency, yesterday unveiled its international TV campaign to attract overseas visitors to the country.

The adverts will be screened around the world, and include Stonehenge, Glastonbury and the Cotswolds.

Stonehenge is already in the spotlight because of the summer solstice, and VisitBritain say the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most important prehistoric monuments on the planet.

As well as the 5,000-year-old site, there are money Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in the surrounding landscape, and Avebury, the largest stone circle in Europe, is nearby.

Glastonbury is synonymous with the annual music festival taking place at the weekend, with international superstars such as U2, Coldplay and Beyonce, as well as theatre and circus performers and much more.but VisitBritain also point to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, and the iconic Tor, along with myths and legends about the Isle of Avalon, King Arthur, Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail.

The agency adds: “For many visitors, the Cotswolds represent everything that is quintessentially ‘English’, with villages and churches of honey-coloured limestone set among gentle hillsides, cottage gardens, beech woods and drystone walls.”

Historic sites include Sudeley Castle and Chedworth Roman Villa, while VisitBritain urges tourists to sample local produce such as Gloucester Old Spot pork, Tewkesbury mustard and the famous Cotswold cheeses.

Other locations in the TV adverts include London landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral, the Lake District, Snowdon in Wales, Edinburgh Castle and the Highlands.

Celebrities such as actress Dame Judi Dench, fashion icon Twiggy and chef Jamie Oliver – who has restaurants in Bath and Bristol with another opening in Cheltenham this summer – star in them.

The campaign kicks off a major marketing push that seeks to build on the global impact of the Royal Wedding, with the Olympics next year also guaranteeing the international spotlight.

It will concentrate on the current most important tourism markets, such as the US and Western Europe, and the big growth areas for the future, including China and India.

VisitBritain chief executive Sandie Dawe said: “This is our first global TV campaign for 10 years and marks the start of an ambitious marketing programme. With the eyes of the world on us, we have an opportunity to showcase Britain and then to close the sale with great travel deals and offers from our partners.

“This campaign aims to inspire visitors to come and explore for themselves. Over four years, we aim to attract four million extra overseas visitors, who will spend £2 billion across Britain.”

Meanwhile a new survey has found nearly 40 per cent of Britons will stay at home this summer as families strive to balance household finances.

Many of them will instead enjoy ‘staycations’, with the West sure to cash in.

The poll was carried out for savings bank ING Direct, and chief executive Richard Doe said: “It’s not surprising that the summer holiday is often being sacrificed.”

Visiting Britain ? Visit the West Country!

Wessex Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – the Best Tours in Wiltshire

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What was there before Stonehenge?

Stonehenge is a multiphased monument ie built in phases over a long period of time. It was built between 3000 and 2000 BC, but is part of a much larger ceremonial landscape which dates back somewhere up to 10,500 years ago. The earliest monuments in the landscape are markedSite of mesolithic post holes in the car park at Stonehenge by 3 small white discs on the tarmac at the lower end of the car-park. Chances are you will drive over them if you visit! The white discs mark where wooden postholes stood during the early mesolithic – the hunter gatherers – at least 3,500 years before the first phase of Stonehenge.Later features which predate Stonehenge that can still be seen are the Cursus and barrows or burial mounds. You will need more time or to go on a specialist tour to see these features.

Early ditch and bank at Stonehenge.

Though people had been meeting and using the landscape for some considerable time beforehand, the first phase of Stonehenge dates to between 3000 and 2920 BC with the creation of a ditch with internal bank. The bank has the appearance of a ‘…string of sausages’ and may have been upto 2m high though it is now much eroded.The dating of this part of the monument is believed to be fairly accurate because of the large amount of good dating evidence from antler and bone found in the ditch. After that the date for every other stage of Stonehenge is somewhat tenuous and subject to great debate.

Was there a timber phase at Stonehenge?

At the moment the theory is that from its beginnings to around 2600 BC there was a timber phase at Stonehenge. This included 56 timber posts just inside the bank and the post holes were later filled with cremated human remains and now known as Aubrey holes.In 2008 Aubrey hole 7 was opened by the Stonehenge Riverside Project and it looks more like a hole for a stone rather than timber. It may be that stones were here from the start rather than later. The results from the most recent dig are due out in 2011 so we may have the 3rd major rewrite of the Stonehenge story within 20 years!

Early stone phase.

Current dating assumptions suggest the first stones to arrive were the ‘bluestones’ from the Preseli Hills in west Wales. Bluestones inside StonehengeBluestone is a generic term for several types of volcanic rocks and each of them at Stonehenge weighs 4 – 6 tons.They are the ones that stand about man height as one looks into the stones. They don’t look blue until dressed (ie shaped) and the outer covering of the stone removed.You can how blue on a tour out of hours to the inner circle.
The bluestones were originally set in double concentric arcs with the open end facing the south/southwest. When removed they were filled are now known as Q & R holes.
Artist's impression of bluestone henge discovered in September 2009.In its final layout there are estimated to be 79 or 80 bluestones. An exciting discovery in September 2009 at the end of the Avenue where it meets the River Avon was a series of stone holes possibly holding bluestones. This ‘Bluestone’ henge may have held 24 stones. If the 56 Aubrey holes held stone rather than timbers it may be that there were two separate monuments that became united as the finishing phase of Stonehenge.

Late stone phase.

Around 2400 BC sees the arrival from 19 miles to the north of 75 sarsen stones. A very hard form of silicified sandstone it lies on or just below the ground surface. A circle of 30 uprights were erected in the outer circle each weighing around 25 tonnes. These were topped with 30 lintels each weighing 6 – 7 tonnes. Jointing to sarsens at Stonehenge.The lintels don’t rely on gravity to keep them in place they have mortice & tenon, and tongue & groove joints that we would normally find in a wood setting, but in stone. Each of the lintels also has some shaping on the inner and outer circular face to produce not far off a perfect circle.

The 5 trilithons (tri=3, lithon=stone) stand like a set of croquet hoops arranged in a horshoe shape in the centre of the circle. They step up in height as they go from the outer two to the remains of the Great Trilithon in the centre. Only 3 of the 5 trilithons still stand.

Final phase.

Around 2000BC the bluestones were re-erected. The altar stone was placed in the circle. Some realignments of external stones took place.

What is Stonehenge for?

Hundreds if not thousands of theories abound. A temple to the sun? Probably, but more about winter solstice sunset after which the days get lighter and warmer, rather than the more popularly attended summer solstice sunrise. A necropolis? Certainly. There are probably more than a tousand burials in the immediate area. Druidic temple? Probably not. They were a later ‘priesthood’ and the neo druids are an 18th century invention. A mystery?. Certainly.

Links:  http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/
http://www.StonehengeTours.com#

Stonehenge Guided Tours
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Ancient History

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