Camelot

Of the Great British legends, none are better loved than the tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. At the heart of this lore is Camelot, a splendid medieval stronghold where King Arthur held court, and the capital of his realm. It is always described as a beautiful castle, with a thriving community, impressive architecture and a cathedral; a place where peace, chivalry and nobility prosper. While dozens of old towns and ruined forts across England and Wales claim to be the true site of Camelot, the stories do not generally offer any set location, adding to the allure and mysticism of it. Sometimes Camelot is envisioned as overlooking the sea from an impenetrable clifftop, and sometimes it is said to be surrounded by the verdant forests, lakes, rivers and moors that are so often affiliated with the British countryside. According to the myths, though, the castle was destroyed by King Mark of Cornwall after Arthur’s defeat at the Battle of Camlann, and its secrets were buried forever.

Curiously, Camelot is not attested in any of the King Arthur material prior to the 12th century. It is thought that French Romanticism helped it evolve from the previous incarnation of Caerleon, Wales, but even the earliest mentions were no more than a passing reference. Most English and Welsh variations of the legends, however, retained the town of Caerleon as King Arthur’s seat well into the 15th century, but the popularity of Thomas Malory’s work saw Camelot eventually seize prominence, and the magnificence of its descriptions grow. While it remains the subject of much scholarly debate, many historians consider Camelot to be fictitious, and as much a symbol of medieval greatness as a tangible location.

Falias, Finias, Murias and Gorias

In Irish Celtic lore, four mystical island cities existed in the Otherworld: Falias, Finias, Murias and Gorias, collectively known as the Four Jewels. According to the legends, the Celts were descended from a supernatural race called the Tuatha Dé Danann (People of the Goddess Danu) who had sailed to Ireland from Tir na nÓg (Land of Eternal Youth), the home of the gods. They brought with them four magical treasures, one from each of the four island cities where the druids had taught them spells, poetry, arts and more. From Gorias came the invincible spear, Gáe Assail, which was said never to miss its target and be so bloodthirsty that it barely needed a wielder to fight. With this spear, Lugh – the sun god and a fierce warrior – was able to defeat the enemy armies to become the King of Ireland.

Tír na nÓg

In the myths and legends of the Irish Celts, the existence of an otherworldly paradise is a common theme, usually known as TÍr na nÓg (Land of the Young). Tír na nÓg is often described as a magical place of immense beauty, abundance and peace, whose denizens enjoy perfect health and eternal youth. Like Ireland itself, it is generally considered to be an island of verdant grasslands and golden shores, though there are variations in the form of vast plains and meadows (much like the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology) or even an underwater realm. According to the tales, Tír na nÓg can be accessed by mortals by sailing across the western seas or by entering ancient burial mounds.

The divine inhabitants of Tír na nÓg are the Tuatha de Danann (People of the Goddess Danu), who were the deities of order and fertility among other things. They were believed to have come to Ireland from the four legendary cities of Gorias, Murias, Falias and Findias, before returning to the West when Christianity displaced them. There are stories of the Tuatha de Danann inviting Celtic heroes to visit the Otherworld, and even falling in love with them. However, time passes very slowly in Tír na nÓg, and one year spent there can equate to a century in our world, so mortals are rarely able to return.

Ys

In the Celtic folklore of Wales, Cornwall (England) and Brittany (France), there exists a sunken city off the northwest coast of France called Ys (or Ker-Is). According to the legends, King Gradlon of Cornouaille (or Cornwall) built this glorious place below sea level for his ocean-loving daughter, Princess Dahut. The city was described as the most beautiful in Europe, appearing to rise from the water when viewed from afar, and filled with feasting and merry sailors. It was enclosed by enormous levees and accessible to ships via a single brass gateway at low tide, the only key to which was possessed by King Gradlon. However, Ys was soon overrun with debauchery, and Dahut herself was responsible for the murder of any man she spent the night with. While drunk one evening, she stole the key from her father so that she could control Ys, but when she opened the gates, the city was flooded by stormy waves. Dahut was consumed by the sea and turned into a mermaid, while Gradlon escaped on his magical horse. On calm days, it is said that the bells of Ys can still be heard ringing from the deep, and that fishermen might catch a glimpse of Dahut combing her hair on a rock.