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A Discussion of the Eildon Hills' Arthurian Connections
By David Nash Ford

E I L D O N   H I L L S
King Arthur sleeping in the Scottish Borders

The Eildon Hills dominate the little town of Melrose in Southern Scotland, famous for the ruins of its Cistercian Abbey. Beneath them lies a hidden cave, the most northerly claimant for the site of Arthur's everlasting sleep.

The local story told around Melrose is quite detailed. A horse-dealer named Canonbie Dick was, one day, stopped on Bowden Moor by a stranger dressed in old-fashioned clothes. The man asked if he could by the pair of horses which Dick was riding. Having failed to sell the two animals at a local fair, Dick eagerly struck a deal and received several ancient gold coins for his trouble.

This encounter reoccurred several nights in a row, and Dick became intrigued by his mysterious companion. At last, he suggested that the two should retire to the stranger's home for a drink. The unfashionable fellow agreed, but warned the horse-dealer to show no fear or there would be trouble.

Together they rode to the hillock of Lucken Hare where a magic door opened to reveal a torch-lit passage. This led the two men deep beneath the hills to a vast cavern under the Eildon Tree, the largest peak of all. All around the astonished horse-dealer slept the ancient knights of old, with Arthur, their leader at their head. On a nearby table sat a great sword and a horn. The stranger explained that Dick must now choose. Should he draw the sword or blow the horn? If he chose correctly, he would be "King of All Britain".

Dick considered carefully. He felt that to draw the sword might be seen as an aggressive threatening action, and decided to blow the horn instead. Arthur immediately arose and Dick was afraid. The great knight told the horse-dealer his actions had not been those of a warrior, but those of a man summoning help.

"Woe to the coward, that ever he was born
Who did not draw the sword before he blew the horn!"

A terrible wind arose and swept young horse-dealer right out of the cave and back onto the moors once more. The exhausted Dick just managed to relay his story to some local shepherds before he dropped dead. Of course, no-one ever found the cave again.

 


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