Camlan and the Grave of Osfran’s Son
The purpose of this essay is to prove, once and for all, where Arthur’s Camlann battle site was located. Or, more accurately, where Welsh tradition happen to place it!
It is fairly well known that the Welsh record seven survivors of Camlann. Yet, to my knowledge, no one has sought to plot these personages out on a map. To do so may help us pinpoint a geographical region in which Camlann was believed to be situated.
One of the seven – Geneid Hir – it a difficult and otherwise unknown name. P.C. Bartram (in “A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000) suggests the name may be corrupt and offers an unlikely identification with a personage named Eueyd or Euehyd Hir (often rendered Hefeydd). However, I would see in Geneid ‘Cannaid’, “white, bright, shining, pure, clean, radiant,” an epithet substituted for the original title Ceimiad, ‘Pilgrim’, of St. Elian. Elian had churches on Mon/Anglesey and in Rhos, Gwynedd.
Sandde Bryd Angel looks to be a pun for the Afon Angell, Aberangell, etc., places immediately to the south of the Camlan on the Afon Dyfi in Merionethshire.
Morfran son of Tegid is from Llyn Tegid, now Bala Lake in Gwynedd.
St. Cynfelyn is of Llancynfelyn in Ceredigion just below the Afon Dyfi.
St. Cedwyn of Llangedwyn in Powys, while somewhat further removed than the rest, is still in NW Wales.
St. Pedrog of Llanbedrog is on the Lleyn Peninsula in Gwynedd, just opposite the three Camlans in Merionethshire.
St. Derfel Gadarn is at Llandderfel near Bala Lake in Gwynedd.
Needless to say, if we “triangulate” with all these names/places, we find at the center the three
So which one is the right one?
Only one way to know for sure: we must find the Camlann that is claimed as the gravesite of Osfran’s son. This reference comes from the ‘Stanzas of the Graves:’
Bet mab Ossvran yg Camlan,
Gvydi llauer kywlavan…
The grave of Osfran’s son is at Camlan,
After many a slaughter…
[“The Black Books of Carmarthen ‘Stanzas of the
Graves’, Thomas Jones, Sir John Rhys Memorial
Lecture, 1967, Critical Text and Translation.]
While –fran of Osfran looks like Bran or ‘Raven’, the Os- does not look at all right for a Welsh name. I suspected Ys- and after a first search failed, I defaulted to bryn or ‘hill’ as the original of –bran. Thus I was looking for an Ysbryn.
And I actually found him – or, rather, it! [See “An
Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire: VI – County of Merioneth”, p. 98, RCAHMW, 1921.]
On the Mawddach River in Merionethshire there is a Foel Ispri. It used to be Moel Ysbryn and was the legendary residence of Ysbryn Gawr or Ysbryn the Giant. If we go north on the Mawddach we run into its tributary the Afon Gamlan, i.e. the Water of the Crooked Bank.
In a section of my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON, I included the following note detailing one of the supposed sites for Arthur’s grave. As it happens, this tradition matches the one that places Camlan on the Afon Gamlan.
A Note on Northwestern Wales as the Site of
There are a few Camlans/Gamlans in northwestern Wales or Gwynedd. The presence of these sites has prompted various Arthurian scholars to propose that Arthur fought his last and fatal battle in this region. The modern champions of this notion are Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd, whose book PENDRAGON: THE DEFINITIVE ACCOUNT OF THE ORIGINS OF KING ARTHUR, was released in 2003 by Lyons press.
We cannot ignore these Camlans or Gamlans (the most noteworthy being the Afon Gamlan, a river) when searching for a historical Arthur. Unlike the placement of Camlan (or Camlann) in
Cornwall, something done by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his HISTORY OF THE KINGS OF BRITAIN, Gwynedd can claim to possess real candidates for Arthur’s final battle site. The only other known site that qualifies linguistically is much further north – Camboglanna on Hadrian’s Wall, which I have discussed above in Chaper 3.
Blake and Lloyd place their trust in a very late medieval source, the VERA HISTORIA MORTE DE ARTHURI, a work dated in extant MSS. to c.
1300, although perhaps to originals dating between 1199 and 1203. According to Blake and Lloyd, the VERA HISTORIA probably was written in Gwynedd. I will not contest this point, as it may well be correct.
The importance of the VERA HISTORIA lies in its placement of Arthur’s interment – and thus of Avalon – in Gwynedd. Although Blake and Lloyd are familiar with the Gwynedd tradition which places Arthur’s grave at Carnedd Arthur near Cwm-y-llan or Cym Llan (an error for Cwm Llem, the Valley of the river Llem), they choose to ignore this bit of folklore and instead settle on Tre
Beddau near Llanfair, well to the east on the Conwy River, as the actual burial place of the king. They deduce this from the fact that the VERA HISTORIA states that the grave is near a church of St. Mary (in Welsh, Llan-fair), and that archaeologists have recently uncovered a Dark Age or 6th century cemetery at Tre Beddau.
[Note: Cwm Llan is a very clumsy attempt at rendering Camlan, and is obviously spurious tradition.]
Unfortunately, the authors of PENDRAGON also choose to ignore the description of the burial place of Arthur as preserved in the VERA HISTORIA. In their own words, the burial of Arthur after Camlan is told as follows:
“… the VERA HISTORIA describes the funeral of Arthur as taking place at a chapel dedicated to the Virgin, the entrance to which was so narrow that the mourners had to enter by first forcing their shoulder into the gap and then dragging the rest of their body through the opening. While the funeral took place inside the chapel, a large storm blew up and a mist descended, so thick that is was impossible to see the body of Arthur – which had been left outside, as it would not fit into the chapel. Following the storm the mourners came out to find that the body had gone and the tomb prepared for Arthur was sealed shut, ‘such that it rather seemed to be one single stone’.”
Now, this passage quite obviously DOES NOT portray a 6th century Christian cemetery. Rather, it is a fitting description of a ‘chapel’ comparable to the “Green Chapel’ of SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT. In other words, the said ‘chapel’ is a Neolithic chambered tomb, whose passage is so tight as to barely allow the entrance of the mourners.
Furthermore, we are talking about TWO conjoined passage tombs – one that is the chapel of the Virgin, and the other which mysteriously receives the body of King Arthur. In all of Gwynedd, there is only one such ancient monument: that of the double chamber tomb of Dyffryn Ardudwy not far west of the Afon Gamlan.
One of the two chambers of Dyffryn Ardudwy is actually known as Coetan Arthur or Arthur’s Quoit. The “Virgin” is here a Christian embellishment on what would have been a pagan goddess associated with the Otherworld site.
The grave of Arthur discussed in the VERA HISTORIA is thus a product of folklore only. It can thus be dismissed as an actual grave of Arthur.
Granted, we cannot so easily dismiss the Camlans/Gamlans in northwestern Wales. Since writing this, Dr. Jessica Hughes of CADW has sent me information via snail-mail that adds important details to the description of the Dyffryn Ardudwy chambered tombs. To quote Dr. Hughes:
“The Chambered tomb at Dyffryn Ardudwy has been known as Coetan Arthur in the past, indeed antiquarian reports of the site refer to
Dyffryn as ‘Coetan Arthur’. However, the name appears to refer to the whole of the monument as opposed to a particular chamber. Interestingly (and maybe somewhat confusingly), one mile to the east of Dyffryn lies another chambered tomb known as ‘Cors-y-Gedal’. This was also known in the past as ‘Coetan Arthur’… Regarding whether there is a church of St. Mary in proximity to Dyffryn Ardudwy, I have found a church 4 miles north of Dyffryn in the village of
The enclosed Detail Report on this Church of St.
Mary states that Llanfair was dedicated to Mary “by at least the 12c when Gerald of Wales and Archbishop Bladwin stayed there in 1188…”
Here is the COFLEIN listing for the second chambered cairn:
“A rather tapering rectilinear cairn, c.31m NESW by 14.5m, showing at its eastern end a number of orthostats, partly supporting a tipped capstone, c.3.6m by 3.0m & 0.45m thick: a spindlewhorl, thought to be IA, is said to have come from under the capstone.”
Both of these chambered tombs are directly west of the Afon Gamlan.
Conclusion Regarding Arthur’s Welsh Camlan
The next question, of course, is what Arthur was it who died at the Afon Gamlan – assuming the
Welsh tradition is historical in nature? It can’t be a Northern Arthur. It could be Arthur of Dyfed, but if so, the 537 A.D. date given for Camlann in the Welsh Annals is a gross error.
There is an Arthur son of Bicoir ‘the Briton’ in the Irish sources, but this may well be Arthur of Dyfed, whose father’s name occurs in a number of variants, including Petuir, which could have become Bicoir. Complicating all of this is the presence of a Dark Age Beccurus stone a couple dozen kilometers NW of the Afon Gamlan at Gesail Gyfarch, Penmorfa. It is tempting to see in this Beccurus the Bicoir (genitive form of the name?) father of Arthur.
The problem is that both Arthur of Dyfed and Arthur son of Bicoir, whether the same man or different, have floruits well after the Badon and Camlann dates claimed for Arthur in the Welsh Annals. The most logical explanation for this is not that the Welsh Afon Gamlan is the wrong location for the Camlann battle, and that the Welsh have relocated the site here from Camboglanna on Hadrian’s Wall.
Numerous such relocations have been found in the early Welsh sources. To cite merely one example, Rhydderch of Strathclyde is said in the “Stanzas of the Graves” to lie at Abererch on the Lleyn Peninsula in Gwynedd.