‘Go to Shapwick Nature Reserve. You can walk the bronze age track’.
The Reserve last month became only the second National Nature Reserve in the country, a place of tranquility away from traffic and development.
We easily found not only the reconstructed bronze age path through the marshland, but, unexpectedly, unanounced, at a distance along the path, there was a monument to the sword Excalibur.
The inscription on the monument was drawn from Thomas Malory’s King Arthur and His Knights, ‘Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England’. The man to draw the sword from the stone would be the young Arthur.
No explanation for the presence of the sculpture was offered. No panels of interpretation told the story of the sword in the stone. There was nothing that would have made the monument meaningful to someone not familiar with Arthurian legend. Was this the place where, at the end of the days of Arthur, Excalibur was thrown into the waters of Avalon?
Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, tells of Sir Bedivere’s throwing Excalibur into the waters and of a boat coming for the dying king.
Then Sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took it up, and went to the water side; and there he bound the girdle about the hilts, and then he threw the sword as far into the water as he might; and there came an arm and an hand above the water and met it, and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water.
So Sir Bedivere came again to the king, and told him what he saw. Alas, said the king, help me hence, for I dread me I have tarried over long. Then Sir Bedivere took the king upon his back, and so went with him to that water side. And when they were at the water side, even fast by the bank hoved a little barge with many fair ladies in it, and among them all was a queen, and all they had black hoods, and all they wept and shrieked when they saw King Arthur. Now put me into the barge, said the king. And so he did softly; and there received him three queens with great mourning; and so they set them down, and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head.
Perhaps beneath the soft marshy ground, Excalibur still lies somewhere waiting to be found.