Archive for King Arthur

The Fountain of Barenton, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Fairy Tales, Fountain, King Arthur, Woods with tags , , , , , on November 3, 2015 by mysearchformagic

One of the undoubted highlights of my recent visit to the Forest of Brocéliande in Brittany was the Fontaine de Barenton, a mythical fountain long associated with the region’s Arthurian legends. Not only was the fountain itself rather magical, but the journey to get there, which involved following a winding path through the autumnal woodland, was pretty wonderful too.

Entering the mythical forest of Brocéliande, Brittany

Entering the mythical forest of Brocéliande, Brittany

As I set out, the path was wide and flat, not particularly taxing. As I got further into the forest, however, it became narrow and muddy, crossing rocky outcrops and traversing knobbly tree roots.

The winding path through the forest towards the Fontaine de Barenton

The winding path through the forest towards the Fontaine de Barenton

The autumn leaves were just begining to fall, and the ferns and bracken were turning a rich golden hue. From time to time I spotted huge red mushrooms which had sprouted up from the loamy forest floor. A small stream appeared to my left, trickling its way gently through the undergrowth.

Magical mushrooms on the floor of the Forest of Brocéliande

Magical mushrooms on the floor of the Forest of Brocéliande

Finally, after about twenty minutes or so of pleasant wandering, I arrived at the Fontaine de Barenton itself.This spot is mentioned in a number of medieval literary texts, including the twelfth-century Roman de Rou, and for many centuries it has been said to be the place where Merlin taught the magical arts to the fairy Viviane, a sorceress who is perhaps better known as the legenday Lady of the Lake.

The legendary Fountain of Barenton, Brittany

The legendary Fountain of Barenton, Brittany

To the left of fountain’s source can be found a huge stone slab known as the “Perron de Merlin”, or “Merlin’s Step”. Legend tells that whoever sprinkes water from the spring onto this slab will not only bring about a huge thunder storm, but also rouse the Black Knight who is said to guard the magical fountain. Twelfth-century poet Chrétien de Troyes tells how Arthurian Knight Calogrenant visited the fountain, and was defeated by its fearsome protector. Later his cousin Yvain followed in his footsteps, but ended up defeating the Black Knight, and thus became the new guardian of the magical fountain. Arhur himself is said to have been intrigued by this wonderous place, although whether he ever visited it or not is unclear.

Merlin's Step, the Fountain of Barenton

Merlin’s Step, the Fountain of Barenton

In the fifteenth century, one Guy XIV, Lord of Montfort-Laval, claimed to have inherited the ability to bring about rain by dropping water on the step, although we can assume he did not invoke any pugnacious knights in the process. In more recent times, local people would dip the foot of a cross in the water in times of drought, appealing to Saint Mathurin for rain. And in case you are wondering, I didn’t attempt to awaken any storms – it was a long walk back to the car park after all, and since I was not dressed for rain, I didn’t want to tempt fate.

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Stanton Drew Stone Circles, Somerset

Posted in History, Legend, Somerset, Standing Stones with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2015 by mysearchformagic

If you’ve ever visited the world famous stone circles of Stonehenge or Avebury, you will know how incredibly popular they are with tourists. You will also quickly realise that bustling crowds of visitors are not particularly conducive to an atmosphere of magic at these ancient sites. On a recent visit to Somerset, I discovered the stones of Stanton Drew, which despite lying only a few miles away from those more famous circles, seem rather overlooked. As a result, these marvellous megaliths retain a strangely magical atmosphere.

The Cove, Stanton Drew

The Cove, Stanton Drew

There are in fact three stone circles in the fields around the village of Stanton Drew, as well as a group of three huge stones known as ‘The Cove’ in a pub garden next to the church. Recent geophysical surveys have uncovered evidence that the surviving stones are just part of a huge ritual site which is believed to be between four and five thousand years old. Today, although much of it has disappeared or lies hidden below the earth, Stanton Drew is recognised as the third largest collection of standing stones in England.

Stanton Drew Stone Circles, Somerset

Stanton Drew Stone Circles, Somerset

On the day that I visited, the dramatic sky definitely added to the magical character of Stanton Drew. It is impossible to get a sense of the scale of these circles from a photograph, as they stretch across a huge area, disappearing into dips and over a ridge. Some of the stones are huge, massive lumps of licheny rock which cast long, dark shadows. Many have tumbled over and now lie pitted and mossy on the ground.

Dramatic skies over the standing stones of Stanton Drew

Dramatic skies over the standing stones of Stanton Drew

Like many ancient sites, Stanton Drew’s impressive stones have some interesting myths and legends attached to them. For centuries they were attributed to King Arthur, who was supposed to have set up the stones to commemorate a military victory, a story no doubt inspired by similar links made between the nearby village of Camerley and Arthur’s celebrated Camelot. Another myth tells that the circles are the remains of guests at a wedding party who unwisely decided to celebrate with dancing on a Sunday. Their punishment for breaking the sabbath was to be turned to stone, inspiring the site’s local nickname of “the fiddlers and the maids”.

One of the largest megaliths of Stanton Drew, Somerset

One of the largest megaliths of Stanton Drew, Somerset

Le Val Sans Retour, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Legend with tags , , , , on March 12, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Do you believe in fairies? Even if you don’t, you’ll still be enchanted by le Val Sans Retour (The Valley of No Return) which lies near the village of Tréhorenteuc, on the edges of the mythical forest of Brocéliande in eastern Brittany. This whole area has long been associated with the stories of King Arthur, and dotted around its delightful and mysterious landscape are many locations and monuments linked to these ancient tales.

The road to the Val Sans Retour

The road to the Val Sans Retour

According to local legend, the Val Sans Retour was the spot where Morgan le Fay trapped unfaithful lovers, hence its modern name. Her spell was finally broken by Lancelot, whose true and faithful love for Guinevere defeated the wicked enchantress.

In fact, as the signpost at the bottom of the valley unashamedly states, the Val Sans Retour was historically linked with another valley nearby, but when 19th Century industrialists spoiled it with an ugly factory, it was coincidentally ‘discovered’ that the position of the Val Sans Retour was probably in its current location. Ever since then this spot, originally known as the Rauco Valley after the stream which runs down it, has drawn tourists keen to discover a bit of Arthurian magic.

The still waters of the 'Fairy Mirror'

The still waters of the ‘Fairy Mirror’

In the early 1990s the area was ravaged by fire, an event which has been commemorated by a stunning gilded tree which sits at the foot of the valley next to the lake known as the ‘Fairy Mirror’. The trees have been replanted, and twenty years on the forest is now flourishing again.

The Gilded Tree, Val Sans Retour

The Gilded Tree, Val Sans Retour

There are two routes up the Val Sans Retour; the easier option is along a track through the trees to the right of the stream, the harder (but much more rewarding) route follows the crags on the other side of the water. The vistas over the valley are magnificent, and the journey is littered with bizarre, almost lunar rock formations. The further up you get, the quieter the place becomes. By the time you arrive at its higher reaches, the only sounds you are likely to hear are the rush of the breeze and the impatient clatter of unseen woodpeckers in the distance.

Stunning views across the Val Sans Retour and beyond

Stunning views across the Val Sans Retour and beyond

The Val Sans Retour has a wonderfully remote atmosphere, and if visited off-season is still generally crowd-free. The stories attached to it might not stand up to much historical scrutiny, but even so I can guarantee you will be captivated by its wild, barren beauty.