The Isles of Scilly

Passage Graves, causeways and isles in the west

Second millennium BC – 13th century AD, Cornwall, England.

The Isles of Scilly are littered with old Bronze Age passage graves and cairns, far more than anywhere else in Britain, and the islands may once have been linked by causeways that medieval legend remembered.

'Arthurian legend describes a King of the Outer Isles, whose name is Galehot,' explained Quintin. 'His realm is otherwise known as the kingdom of Sorelois. Scilly? Lancelot tracks down Galehot to a castle in these Outer Isles in the early-thirteenth century pre-Vulgate romance Lancelot, but it seems to be a kingdom of strange islands, some of which are accessed by a causeway, or by two; peculiar underwater causeways in a land that, when Gawain finally discovers Galehot and Lancelot hiding there, they all have to emerge from in disguise! And Lancelot has already proved himself to be adept at emerging from dolorous castles in disguise, castles in which the graves of knights are lying, and even his own.'

Isles of Scilly from the air

The Scilly Isles, from the air.

'Well, the Isles of Scilly are littered with old Bronze Age passage graves and cairns,' replied Miranda. 'These are far more numerous than anywhere else in Britain, and who knows how many more now lie underwater? The Isles of Scilly have been sinking for millennia, just like the rest of southern Britain since the last Ice Age. It was really still one large island in the Bronze Age and it was – probably not until the end of the Roman period that today's islands began to appear. Even as late as the eleventh century AD most of these would have been joined at low water.'

Great Arthur, Isles of Scilly

Great Arthur, Isles of Scilly: satellite image, courtesy of Google Maps.

'Perhaps there has always been something special about this place. Islands in the western sea. A land of the setting sun. Islands of the Otherworld perhaps, remembered in medieval times when causeways linking these islands at low tide were still a living memory in the Scilly Isles. And it says in this little booklet: Place-name evidence hints at the islands being a cult centre during the late Iron Age (water being one focus of religious practice at this time). Couple this with a Sword Bridge and an Underwater Bridge in Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart and perhaps you have an ideal Land of the Dead.'

Story fragment from the pre-Vulgate Lancelot recounted from: Corley, Corin, with an introduction by Kennedy, Elspeth, 1989. Lancelot of the Lake. (The pre-cyclic prose Lancelot). Translated from Old French with an introduction. Oxford University Press. Description of the perilous nature of the causeways into Sorelois, pp 333–4.

Sunken causeways between the islands of Scilly in: Jeanette Ratcliffe and Charles Johns, 1992, revised 2003. Scilly's Archaeological Heritage. Historic Environment Unit. Cornwall County Council. A Submerged Landscape, p 4.

See for yourself

Lancelot-Grail – Wikipedia

Lancelot – Wikipedia

Isles of Scilly – Wikipedia

Scillonian entrance grave – Wikipedia

Chamber tomb – Absolute Astronomy: click further on 'Scillonian entrance grave'

King Arthur – Wikipedia


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