Historical figure or myth?

Scholars continue to debate whether or not King Arthur ever existed. Numerous ancient manuscripts and texts speak of a British leader called Arthur who fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons, some time in the late 5th to early 6th century. However, these were all written centuries after the time that Arthur was said to have lived. No proof of Arthur’s existence has ever emerged but his legend lives on. Most people will have heard at least some of the stories associated with King Arthur, as they have been captured in many movies, comics and television series.

It is possible that there was a leader called Arthur who was greatly admired and who achieved successes in battle. Over the years, the stories of his exploits could have been retold and passed down through the generations until they were recorded in writing during the Middle Ages. While the tales could have some basis in fact, they would have been embellished in the retelling. It is impossible to know which elements of Arthurian legend are based on historical events and which are pure fiction. There are historians who believe that every word written about King Arthur is nothing more than fantasy. But there’s something special about those amazing tales and so it is nice to imagine that they might be true! If they are, then much of the action took place in North Wales.

It is worth visiting the locations associated with King Arthur, not least because they are incredibly beautiful. Whether you believe the stories, or not, there is much to enjoy. You can contemplate the fact that you might be following in the footsteps of Arthur, Guinevere and Merlin. Maybe you will discover Merlin’s treasure or even Excalibur.

Below are the wonderful places in North Wales that you should visit to explore the legendary world of King Arthur.



Excalibur Lake

You are probably familiar with the story of the legendary sword Excalibur. At the request of the fatally injured King Arthur, his faithful knight Sir Bedwyr returned the weapon to the Lady of the Lake. When Excalibur was thrown towards the lake, a woman’s arm, clothed in silk, reached up from beneath the water, catching the blade and then pulling it under. The question is, which lake? There are at least three lakes which are claimed to harbour Excalibur – Llyn Llydaw, Llyn Dinas and Llyn Ogwen. They are all in Snowdonia and worth visiting, whether you are in search of Excalibur or not!

Llyn Dinas

The Giant

The evil giant Rhitta Gawr lived on the summit of Snowdon and wore a cape fashioned from the beards of his enemies. King Arthur refused to hand over his facial hair to Rhitta and so the giant challenged him to a battle. Arthur won and cut Rhitta in two. Arthur’s knights then buried the giant at the top of the mountain and covered the burial ground in huge stones. The area became known as Yr Wyddfa Fawr which means ‘The Great Tomb’ and this was later shortened to Yr Wyddfa which remains the Welsh name for Snowdon. Don’t forget to look out for the stones if you visit the summit of the mountain.

Snowdon summit

The Dragons

The Welsh King Gwrtheryn attempted to build a fort on a hill near what is now Beddgelert. But the walls kept falling down. He was told that he needed to find a child “born of no father and no mother” to sacrifice so that the blood could mixed with the mortar. A child was found – Myrddin Emrys. This is who we now know as Merlin. His dreams revealed that the issue with the fort was caused by a white dragon and a red dragon fighting beneath. He informed the king, who released the dragons. The white dragon represented the Saxons and the red dragon represented Wales. A battle ensued and the red dragon won. You can visit the site of the fort at Dinas Emrys.

Dinas Emrys


According to legend, King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, was forged on the magical island of Avalon and this was also where Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. Some say Avalon was the fianl resting place of both Arthur and Merlin. Many believe that Bardsey Island is Avalon. Located 1.9 miles off the Llŷn Peninsula, Bardsey is known as the island of 20,000 saints and many pilgrimages are made there every year. The North Wales Pilgrim’s Way is a long distance walking trail from Holywell to Bardesey Island which passes in front of The Woollen Mill.

Arthur’s Last Battle

It is said that King Arthur left his nephew Mordred to watch over his kingdom when he went to fight a war in Rome. Unfortunately, Mordred then forged a relationship with Arthur’s wife Guinevere. This resulted in a huge battle on Arthur’s return during which he and his knights were struck by enemy arrows. Some say that Arthur died and was buried under stones at a spot which is still called Carnedd Arthur. Others believe that the king was taken to Avalon. You can visit the site of the battle on Snowdon’s Watkin Path where it joins the Rhyd Ddu trail.

Maen Huail

King Arthur’s bitter rival Huail attempted to raid Arthur’s lands and succeeded in stealing one of his mistresses.  Huail was also said to have mocked King Arthur for his limp which was the result of a wound to his knee which had been inflicted by Huail. The inevitable consequence of Huail’s misguided actions was his own death. He is said to have been beheaded by Arthur on a limestone block. The stone concerned is allegedly that which can be seen adjacent to Barclays Bank in the centre of Ruthin. If you are ever in Ruthin, look out for that stone!

Huail stone Ruthin