The Real Avalon is Appledore


By August Hunt

   The tradition that the Arthur of legend was buried at Glastonbury is a well-established one. But certain problems regarding the account of the exhumation of the great king's bones in 1190 A.D. have called into question the veracity of the tradition. It now seems unlikely that Glastonbury, while still an ancient sacred site, is the real Isle of Avalon, and that we had best look elsewhere in Britain for this Celtic Otherworld localization.


   Some odd details surround the "discovery" of King Arthur's grave at Glastonbury. These details have been discussed at length before by scholars, but the conclusions drawn from them have varied. First, a 6th century Arthur (the usual date ascribed to his floruit) would have had his grave marked by a stone bearing Roman capitals. The formula of the inscription (see Leslie Alcock's ARTHUR'S BRITAIN) would have been something like

"Here buried lies Arthur"
   Instead, the monks at Glastonbury claimed to have found a lead cross buried beneath the coffin cover. Drawings of this cross reveal the form and content of the inscription (HIC IACET SEPVLTVS INCLITUS REX ARTVRIVS IN INSULA AVALONIA/"Here lies buried the famous king Arthur in the isle of Avalon") to be of the tenth century, not the sixth century. This would seem puzzling, were it not for the fact that 12th century monks could easily forge an inscription in such a way as to make it seem to be from an earlier period. We know that they did this with manuscripts.
   An alternate theory has been proposed (again see Alcock): that the grave was originally discovered in 945 A.D., when St. Dunstan, the Abbot of Glastonbury, erected a masonry wall around the cemetary and had the area raised. At this time the original stone marker would have been removed, and the lead cross fashioned and placed inside the coffin. The whole was then covered over and forgotten, only to be rediscovered in 1190.
   The objection to this theory is that so remarkable a discovery in the 10th century would certainly have been recorded. Furthermore, the grave of a worthy such as Arthur would have been marked in such a way as to be readily noticeable to future generations, i.e. it would not have been left unmarked with a mere lead cross placed within the coffin. Furthermore, I been unable to find other recorded instances in which such a cross or similar inscribed memorial object has been found inside an ancient coffin.
   All in all, the theory that Arthur was reburied, but his grave left unmarked, is not acceptable. This being the case, we must reluctantly admit that in all likelihood the Glastonbury burial of King Arthur is a forgery. The possible financial and political reasons for committing such a forgery have been mentioned elsewhere.
   We should also make mention of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Malvasius of Iceland. This Malvasius is the Melwas placed at Glastonbury in Caradoc of Llancarfan's LIFE OF GILDAS. It is strange that no one has asked why Geoffrey would have put Melwas in Iceland if he knew Glastonbury was Avalon. Morgan herself could be thought of as one of the male Morgans found in the pedigree of Glast, the eponymous founder of Glastonbury. But, if so, why is she placed at Avalon, while Melwas is placed in Iceland?
   Iceland is Geoffrey's misreading of the Glas- of Glastonbury as being derived from L. glacies, "ice". Had he known Morgan was associated with Glastonbury, he would have put her in Iceland as well. Thus, Geoffrey's Avalon is not Glastonbury. It has been remarked before that Geoffrey no where in his works identifies Avalon with Glastonbury.


   On Hadrian's Wall, which forms the dividing line between England and Lowland Scotland, there are two Roman forts of particular interest to students of Arthurian legend. One, at Castlesteads, was called Camboglanna. This Old Celtic name lies at the root of the modern Welsh placename Camlann, the site of Arthur's death in 537 A.D. according to the Welsh Annals. If Camboglanna is where Arthur died, then it is certainly not a coincidence that the only place in Britain known anciently as Avalon is located further west along the Wall at Burgh-by-Sands.
   The Aballava fort, now on the edge of marshland near the Solway Firth, was referred to in the early RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY as Avalana. This placename means, literally, the "place of apples". Camboglanna is on the Irthing, a tributary of the Eden River. The Eden empties into the Solway Firth very near Aballava/Avalana. A dedication to the goddess Latis was found at Aballava. She is the goddess of open bodies of fresh water, a literal "Lady of the Lake".
   So, is the Avalon of Geoffrey of Monmouth a memory of the Aballava fort near Camboglanna? Or is there a more reasonable explanation for why Arthur was placed on the Isle of the Apple-Tree?


   In the ancient Irish story of Art son of Conn, King Conn and then his son Art voyage to an island called variously the Land of Promise (Tir Tairngiri) and the Land of Wonders (Tir na nIngnad). This island is distinguished by its "fair fragrant apple-trees", its "wild apples". The king of the Land of Wonders, who Art slays, is named Morgan.
   The Land of Promise name, in the story of Eithne daughter of Curcog, is given as a synonym for Emhain or Emne Ablach, Ablach being the Old Irish word for apple trees.
   Geoffrey of Monmouth, in calling Insula Pomorum/Insula Avallonis/Isle of Avalon the "Fortunate" Isle, would seem to have been evoking an Otherworld identical to that which King Morgan ruled. Might not the name Art have been associated with Arthur's name?
   The only problem with this theory is that we have to account for Geoffrey naming Morgan's kingdom Avallonis, when in the story it is called Tir na nIngnad, the "Land of Wonders".


   To find the real Avalon, it is necessary first to realize that this placename is Cornish and means, simply, "Apple-tree". The Old Cornish form of the word is auallen. Old Welsh is aballen and Breton aualen. The forms auallen and aballenn are recorded from the 12th century (information courtesy Andrew Hawke, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru).
   If we follow the Cornish coast north from the Camel where Arthur supposedly was mortally wounded, we arrive at Appledore, situated on a neck of land or headland jutting out into the confluence of the Taw and Torridge Rivers. According to Eilart Ekwall, this town was le Apildore in 1335 AD. The name is Old English and means... "Apple-tree". The Appledore in Kent has an identical origin, but much earlier recorded forms: Apuldre 893 (Anglo-Saxon Chronicel), Apeldres (Domesday Book).
Obviously, "Avalon" was the Cornish name for Appledore. The "Insula" or island of Avalon/Appledore is being used in the same sense as isle is used in Isle of Purbeck, Isle of Portland, or Isle of Thanet. In other words, the Isle of Avalon is the neck of land or headland of Appledore.
   It was to Appledore that Geoffrey has the wounded King Arthur brought.