In 2008, I began following the itinerary of Malory’s Roman War campaign. In that journey, I traveled from London to Winchester where Arthur held a royal feast, interrupted by the demands made by the Roman emperor’s ambassadors. They relayed the demand for Arthur to pay tribute to Rome. Arthur expels the ambassadors and gathers momentum for his planned campaign against the emperor by going to York to marshal troops and money.
From there, he amasses his army at the seaside town of Sandwich, in Kent, and then crosses the English channel with his ships, landing in Normandy in Barfleur.
(If you are interested in medieval ships, see Dr. Richard Unger’s book Ships on Maps.)
I followed the same route as Malory relates in Le Morte Darthur, but via modern transportation–the train from London to Winchester, then to York. Next, a train from London to Canterbury where I found the ancient Watling Road, which Arthur commanded the ambassadors to take as their route out of England (and in a hurry), a road still very much in modern use. From there, I boarded a bus to Sandwich, a quiet and historic medieval seaport that is part of the medieval Cinque ports coastal towns. I then took a train to Dover (with its famous white chalk cliffs) and a ferry across the channel to Calais. I drove from Calais to Barfleur, then visited Mont Saint-Michel near midnight on the evening before Bastille Day, coming upon the island church as the long summer light deepened into night. Eventually, I arrived in Paris. And that is where my marriage ended.
Now, I am resuming the journey in London and, while Arthur and his men sailed across the channel, this time I am taking the sleek and very fast Eurostar.
Financed by a faculty grant (thank you Marylhurst University), my plan is to follow the itinerary to Arthur’s ultimate destination: Rome. And then take the long journey back to the river banks of Sandwich.
But the tale begins at a “ryal feeste” held by King Arthur to celebrate his marriage to Guenevere . . .