On the trail of Arthur

Alt Clut Dumbarton

Dumbarton Rock: an Arthurian site? (Photo © B Keeling)


It’s just over a year since my blogpost Is King Arthur Buried In Scotland? which looked at a theory (proposed by Damian Bullen) that the Yarrow Stone near Selkirk marked Arthur’s grave.

The same blogpost also mentioned another theory, set out by Simon Stirling in his book The King Arthur Conspiracy, that Arthur came from Dál Riata.

Well, we now have an additional theory to consider, in the shape of On The Trail Of King Arthur, a book by Robin Crichton which sets out the case for Arthur being a warlord from Strathclyde. As someone who has more than a passing interest in the early history of Clydesdale, I’ll be grabbing a copy of Crichton’s book before too long. When I do, I’ll write about it here at Senchus (and maybe also at Heart Of The Kingdom). What has caught my attention in the meantime are some recent newspaper reports about an Arthurian tourist trail being planned for Scotland, using sites pinpointed in Crichton’s book.

I’m not sure what to make of this, but it’s an interesting development.
Anything that promotes wider interest in early Scottish history is surely a Good Thing. And if the trail attracts more tourists, especially to areas off the beaten track, then that’s a Good Thing too.

The trouble is, there isn’t any proof that the ‘real’ Arthur (if he existed) had any connection with Strathclyde. The Arthur of folklore, on the other hand, has enough Scottish connections to make a fascinating itinerary for tourists. This makes me wonder to what extent the trail will distinguish between historical/archaeological evidence and the various legends that associate Arthur with Scotland.

Take a look at these two newspaper articles…

The Herald: On the trail of King Arthur
Lennox Herald: Arthur trail route to boost tourism

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I am grateful to Steve Holden for bringing this item to my attention.

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10 comments on “On the trail of Arthur

  1. kevin halloran says:

    This is frankly ludicrous and a disservice to serious history. It reminds me of the famed ‘Brunanburh Trail’ on the Wirral where a bunch of enthusiasts aided by local tourism and media interests have established beyond doubt that the actual battle site is under a golf course. I’ll be interested to see the ‘evidence’ in the book but if it’s along the lines of that mentioned in the press releases it is laughable.

    • Tim says:

      I just hope the information boards for the new Scottish trail begin their blurb with ‘According to legend….’.
      The Wirral equivalents should likewise say ‘According to one group of historians….’

      • kevin halloran says:

        A book, however well written and researched, cannot establish historical fact. It can only present arguments and evidence that over time can be tested against different interpretations. Particularly in respect of such an early period when there is no contemporary documentation and no certain corroborative evidence from archaeology or other disciplines it is extremely doubtful if any theory could even satisfy the balance of probabilities. I don’t object to this book in principle at all but to use it to justify a tourist trail is quite wrong. However, the dual purposes of boosting both local tourism and sales of the book have probably already been achieved. Unfortunately, neither purpose is, or ought to be, relevant to historical study.

        • Tim says:

          Crichton’s book should probably be read alongside Guy Halsall’s Worlds Of Arthur, which is also on my list. I’ve just seen the following at Goodreads, where Halsall’s examination of the ‘real’ Arthur is summarised:

          The big problem with all this, notes Halsall, is that “King Arthur” might well never have existed. And if he did exist, it is next to impossible to say anything at all about him. As this challenging new look at the Arthur legend makes clear, all books claiming to reveal “the truth” behind King Arthur can safely be ignored.

  2. Clas Merdin says:

    Shameless tourism?
    Seems ok for Wales and Cornwall – after all there is a good case for an ‘Arthur’ type figure of the North,

    • Tim says:

      Quite so, Ed, and both Scotland and Northern England can make valid claims on the legendary Arthur. If the end result is more tourism for areas that need an economic boost, then a bit of compromise on historical accuracy might seem (to many people) a price worth paying. I just hope the designers of this trail try to present a balanced view.

      • It’d be nice to see some more attention given to the historical kings of Dumbarton as a result of this, is all I shall say!

        • Tim says:

          I really hope it turns out like that. The Dumbarton kings from Rhydderch Hael onwards deserve a bit of the limelight and it would be great if the Arthurian trail brings them forward. The trouble with Arthur is that he has a tendency to push everyone else into the background, even if their claim on a place in history is far stronger than his own.

  3. Sounds like clever marketing. Maybe the tourists will gather some real history along the way – or be inspired to research more.
    In any case – lovely picture at the top

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Phil. Yes, I hope the tourists get a taste for the real history of the so-called ‘Arthurian’ period. Dumbarton Castle could benefit from all this, being the most visually striking historical site in Strathclyde. At the moment, most visitors barely snatch a fleeting glimpse of it as they rush past on the main road to the Highlands.

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