Walking the King Arthur Way
In 2017 I conceived of a long-distance trail connecting Tintagel in Cornwall (conception place of King Arthur Pendragon, according to legend) with Glastonbury in Somerset (site of Arthur and Guinevere’s ‘graves’, and the Isle of Avalon to some). I intended it as a pilgrimage route, enabling walkers to experience the Arthurian legend in an embodied way, while at the same time reflecting upon, and possibly awakening, their own inner sovereignty – whether king, queen, or other noble archetype. In a world which suffers from many bad leaders, I saw it as a way of empowering positive leadership qualities in oneself. However esoteric or optimistic those goals may seem, I have actualised elements of that in the creation and completion of the King Arthur Way: in its initial vision, research, planning, and instigation. By physically walking the route – with a full forty pound pack, semi-wild-camping along the way – I have led by example. Literally, walked my talk. I know now it can be done. We’re not talking the north-west passage here, of course, but it good to check whether a route is not only viable, but enjoyable – with clearly-marked and passable footpaths, stimulatingly varied terrain, interesting landmarks, fascinating folklore and local history, and practical infrastructure (shops, pubs, campsites, transport links). As with any worthwhile project there was fine-tuning needed. In my first reconnaissance of the Cornish section of the route in late summer 2017, I discovered that trying to include too much was too ambitious. Then I walked from the north to the south coast of Cornwall, covering 60 miles. I found it a slog, with a lot of road-walking and miserable weather. So, I recalibrated the route, generally heading upcountry, in a north-easterly direction – this I found to be ‘easier’ (still an effort, with a full pack, especially on a hot day). I made good progress until a day of relentless rain and hard-walking (roads, urban areas, and the suitably-named Granite Way) gave me a badly-blistered foot. Fortunately, a friend lived nearby and so I appealed to her hospitality and allowed myself a rest day. I hobbled about, and realised trying to complete the rest of the route would be unrealistic. I was faced with a choice: I could abort, and complete it another time; soldier on; or compromise with a shorter version of the route – taking a train between Crediton and Taunton where I had been unable to book a campsite (many had closed for good, or were only taking caravans and motorhomes). I opted for the latter. The prospect of 3 more days wild camping without hot shower, or even a pub to hole up in did not appeal in my weakened state – so skipping those sections was a good idea. Also I booked a lovely airbnb for one night, which was a wonderful halfway ‘treat’. This was, after all, meant to be my holiday – not a SAS training ordeal. Having already walked 60 miles of (an early version of) the route in 2017, plus another 60 ‘extension’ (from my home, near Marlborough to Glastonbury) in June this year, I more than covered the ‘missing’ 40 miles and then some: by the end of the walk I completed 110 miles of the route – with the 2 other sections (60+60), 230 miles, a folkloric wildlife corridor connecting Tintagel to my home in Wiltshire.
There were, as on any long-distance walks, days of real challenge and days of reward. I am still recovering and processing my experience, but some of the highlights include:
- Waking up on the coast overlooking Tintagel.
- Stumbling upon the ancient rock-cut mazes in Rocky Valley.
- St Nectan’s Glen.
- Brent Tor.
- Wild-swimming in the Tamar, Dart, and Shilley Pool.
- Castle Drogo.
- Burrow Mump.
- Walking to Glastonbury across the Somerset Levels.
I intend to write up the route with accompanying notes, which I may make available as a paperback or pdf download (or both), but for now I have charted the route, so that others may also walk the King Arthur Way if they wish.
KING ARTHUR WAY
Section 1: Tintagel to Wilsey Down (13.66 miles)
Section 2: Wilsey Down to Greystone Bridge (17.07 miles)
Section 3: Greystone Bridge to Lydford (12.96 miles)
Section 4: Lydford to South Zeal (13.04 miles)
Section 5: South Zeal to Crockernwell (12.46 miles)
Section 6: Crockernwell to Sandford (11.87 miles)
Section 7: Sandford to Bickleigh (14.13 miles)
Section 8: Bickleigh to Sampford Peverell (11.91 miles)
Section 9: Sampford Peverell to Taunton (17.36 miles)
Section 10: Taunton to Meare Green* (8.15 miles)
Section 11: Meare Green to High Ham (10 miles)
Section 12: High Ham to Glastonbury (10.87 miles)
Section 13 *alternative across Blackdown Hills, avoiding Taunton (18.97 miles)
PS this walk was intended as a group pilgrimage this year, but Covid-19 put paid to that – however, I may lead one in the future if there is sufficient interest.
King Arthur Way Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 17 July 2020