With 2017 designated the ‘Year of Legends’ by Visit Wales, the timing couldn’t have been better for the release of a new movie about King Arthur, partly filmed in Snowdonia.
Storytelling is an ancient Welsh art, and stories about King Arthur are among the oldest we tell in this part of the world.
Guy Richie’s movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, was filmed in Snowdonia in 2015. Scenes were shot in several locations, including Tryfan and Beddgelert. Due for release in May 2017, this version of the Arthur story sees him running the back streets of Londinium with his crew, unaware of his lineage.
It’s quite fitting that the movie was filmed in Snowdonia, as the region makes many claims where Arthur is concerned.
Snowdon itself is the setting for one of the best-known local Arthurian tales. Arthur is said to have killed a giant, Ritta, on the slopes of the mountain after the giant threatened to add the king’s beard to his collection.
And a cave on nearby peak Y Lliwedd is said to be the resting place of Arthur’s knights, who will awake from their slumber when Arthur rises to save Wales in her hour of greatest need. Arthur himself, so the legend goes, lies under a cairn at Bwlch y Saethau, on the spot where he was killed in battle.
The legends don’t always tie up, though: does Arthur lie under that cairn or is he at Avalon, where his battered but still-living body was said to have been taken by boat for healing? Bardsey is one of several locations with a claim to be that mythical isle, and it’s also said that Merlin dwells in a glass tower on Bardsey, awaiting the resurrection of his king. Arthur’s ship is also said to have sunk in Bardsey Sound, which one could argue strengthens Bardsey’s claim somewhat!
At least two of Snowdonia’s lakes – Llyn Llydaw and Llyn Ogwen – are supposed to be home to the Lady of the Lake, and the lake into which Arthur’s sword Excalibur was thrown. Of course it can’t be both of them, so which was it?
Venture into southern Snowdonia and you may see the hoofprint of Arthur’s horse in a stone near Llyn Barfog, where he’d battled against a monster.
And the cromlech at Cefnamlwch, Pen Llŷn, was apparently formed when Arthur threw the capstone from the top of Garn Fadrwn.
Such was Arthur’s popularity in Wales during the medieval period, and such was the strength of the Welsh people’s faith that he would rise to save Wales when she needed him most, Edward I made a great show of reburying the so-called ‘skeletons of Arthur and Guinevere’ at Glastonbury Abbey, where they’d been ‘discovered’ by monks a couple of generations earlier (probably at the behest of Edward’s great-grandfather Henry II, who’d had his own disputes with the Welsh). This was quite clearly an act of propaganda, designed to crush the spirit of those Welsh who believed the ‘once and future king’ would rise again. Whether or not Arthur existed, he was beloved enough by Wales for such a trick to be effective.
There are so many tales of Arthur, his life, his deeds and his companions that are set in our local area, it’s difficult to make sense of them all. Magical though his friend Merlin was, even he would have struggled to put Arthur in so many places at the same time!
But no matter how much truth there is to these tales – or how little, as the case may be – one thing is clear: the Welsh tradition of storytelling is just as popular today as it’s ever been, and if that brings more attention to our local area from film producers and the fans that flock to visit the locations used in these movies, then this strengthens our local economy so it’s something from which we can all benefit.
So long live Arthur, we say, and may he continue to look after Welsh interests for many generations to come!