Myths and Legends of Britain
Britain is an ancient country, with people living on the islands that make up the UK for 30,000 years. England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have all developed their own myths and legends along the way, forming the foundation of British culture as we know it. Here are some of the UK’s best known myths and legends.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
An ancient King of Britain assisted by the magician Merlin, Arthur defended the island against invaders in the 5th century. Rising to the throne after pulling the legendary Excalibur sword from the stone, Arthur led the ‘Knights of the Round Table’ as they searched for the Holy Grail.
Although the powerful King was eventually defeated in battle, legend says the ‘Once and Future King’ is lying in rest, waiting to return and unite Britain when he’s needed the most.
If you’re looking for a modern spin on the tale, BBC’s Merlin (available on Netflix) tells the story from the perspective of the magician, and follows Arthur’s rise and fall in the court of Camelot, believed by many to be in Wales.
St George and the Dragon
Probably the most famous British myth, St George – the patron Saint of England – wasn’t actually English at all.
As legend has it, the Turkish Saint arrived at Silene, a village in Libya. Silene was being terrorised by a dragon, who poisoned the nearby countryside. To keep the dragon away, the villages offered it two sheep a day, but eventually, this wasn’t enough. The dragon started demanding to eat the town’s children, who were randomly selected to be sacrificed.
One day, the King’s daughter was chosen as a tribute. St George arrived at the spot and made the sign of the cross to scare the dragon away. Charging at it on a horse, George wounded the dragon, saving the Princess.
St George is known all over the world, but England has made the saint its own, even adopting his cross on its flag. The legend has even been adapted to say that St George killed the dragon in Uffington in England, rather than Libya!
Robin Hood and His Merry Men
Nottingham’s Robin Hood is said to have lived under the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. The outlaw – and his ‘Merry Men’ – are most famous for robbing the rich to give to the poor.
Robin’s most famous friends include his lover, Maid Marian, Little John, and Friar Tuck. Tributes to Robin Hood and his Merry Men are all around Nottingham, where a number of streets are named after the legendary characters. You can even see a statue of Robin Hood – aiming his famous bow and arrow – underneath Nottingham castle, where the bandit may have been imprisoned.
Robin Hood’s arch-enemy was the Sheriff of Nottingham, who helped Prince John overthrow King Richard, the true King of England.
The Loch Ness Monster
Loch Ness – a large lake (or ‘loch’) in the Scottish Highlands – became famous all over the world in 1934 when a photograph appeared to show the neck of a large sea monster poking its head above the water.
The Loch Ness monster, affectionately known as ‘Nessie’, has been spotted dozens of times over the decades. ‘Nessiehunters’ tours to the loch have even been set up to give everyone a chance to spot the monster!
The Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway is a collection of volcanic columns on the Northern Irish coast. According to Celtic folklore, the columns are what’s left of a road created by the Gaelic giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, who built the road across the North Sea on the way to fight the Scottis giant, Benandonner.
Known for its hexagonal columns, the ancient site was named the fourth greatest natural wonder in the UK by Radio Times, and serves as a reminder of the time when giants walked the earth.
This post has been written by Matteo Everett