Once all my book-business in Dublin was done, Sarah collected a hire car and we took off south to the Wicklow Mountains. It seems that when Irish people aren’t busy getting their hair cut they like to while away the time by building bungalows, and hundreds of these litter the landscape south of Dublin like Monopoly houses, spoiling some beautiful scenery. But once you leave them behind the country soon becomes magnificent; high, heather-covered summits, fast-flowing rivers, deep valleys filled with ancient oaks. It all felt very familiar, and not just because it reminded me of Dartmoor and the Lake District. Among these hills, back in the wet summer of 1980, John Boorman shot his film Excalibur, inadvertantly jump-starting my love of the Arthurian legends and setting me on the path that led to Here Lies Arthur.
I must have seen the film thirty times, yet it was hard to pin down any of the actual locations. I presume it was over the bleak peat-bogs of the Sally Gap that Paul Geoffrey’s Perceval went questing for the grail, but was it on the upper lake at Glendalough or from the private, inacessible Lough Dan that Excalibur rose from the waters? I couldn’t be sure; Mr Boorman chose his shots with care, stitching together a world of magic from fragments and glimpses of the everyday. But even he could not disguise the great Powerscourt Waterfall, and the pool at its foot where Nigel Terry and Nicholas Clay end their furious duel looks just as it did on screen. Arriving there, even thirty years too late, felt like stepping into the landscape of a well-remembered dream. (If I look a bit preoccupied in the photo it’s because I took it myself; Sam and Sarah wisely left me to do my fan-boy pilgrimage bit alone while they went to the play area, which I don’t believe was there in King Arthur’s day.)