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How Lancelot became ‘Of the Lake’, at Le Châtellier

Postcard of the megalith bridge over the river Varenne in the Orne Normandy
Match! Megalith bridge over the river Varenne in the Orne Normandy
Match! Megalith bridge over the river Varenne in the Orne Normandy

If you walk north along the greenway just north of Le Châtellier, then take the right hand path between markers 11 and 12, you will find an unusual bridge crossing the Varenne river.  This bridge marks a place vital to the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. The legend goes a little like this:

The legend of Lancelot and the Lady of the Lake

Lancelot, the beautiful knight of Arthurian legend and our own past, was born between Gaul and Brittany the only child of King Ban de Benoïc.

King Ban de Benoïc, 1438 illustration
King Ban de Benoïc, 1438 illustration

This king owned a grand castle on one side of the Varenne river in an impenetrable marsh, and on the other side a fortress with look-out tower. For many months of the year the river could be crossed at the fiord. But in winter the river was too high. So then they used two megaliths, hewn in a time ancient to even them and laid down as a bridge, to cross the river.

The family lived peacefully in their remote fortress, surrounded by swathes of forest and hidden valleys. Then as the white blossom of the aubépine, hawthorn, fell an early summer baked the marsh around them and dried the darkest forest corner.

The centre of King Ban's land, the river Varenne by the megalith bridge
Fiord over the river Varenne dividing King Ban’s land, by the megalith bridge, to the left

Attack by the Frankish King

The look-outs first saw the army approaching from the south; dusts thrown up, metal glinting in sunlight, trees swaying not from the wind but by men forcing their way through.  Next they would have heard the thunder of many hooves and footsteps and the clanking of armour. King Ban’s enemy the Frankish King Claudas and his vast army were hunting down King Ban de Benoïc. There was a terrible battle.  King Claudas had chosen his time well, all around the castle was like tinder and his men set fires everywhere they could.

King Ban, his wife Helaine and Lancelot escaped the furnace but they had lost everything; a lifetime’s work and generations of pride.  The injured King was overwhelmed by the loss. His heart broken, he could not see beyond the pain.

The lady of the lake

Somehow the little family made their way to a lake and Helaine carefully laid Lancelot down while she tended to her dying husband. The forest around them was silent but in the distance desperate cries of an ending battle could be heard as flames and sparks shot up high above the trees.

Silently the Lady of the lake, the fairy Viviene slid out of the water and seeing distracted Helaine weeping over her husband decided with her fairy logic to take the babe to a place no man could harm him.  Unseen, she held Lancelot close and swam with him through the murkiest depths of the lake down into an unbelievable place, a crystal palace whose very mythology rendered its walls opaque.

The Lady of the Lake spirits Lancelot away - 1898 illustration by George Wooliscroft & Louis-Rhead for Idylls of the King
The Lady of the Lake spirits Lancelot away – 1898 illustration by George Wooliscroft & Louis-Rhead for Idylls of the King

Here Lancelot would live happily for many years with the Lady of the Lake and her companions, leaving as a young man unskilled in knightly ways but destined to become one of the greatest knights of all.

And that is how Lancelot earned the name ‘Lancelot du Lac’ Lancelot of the lake.

Greenway walk along the Varenne
Greenway walk along the Varenne

Some sources

Normandy Region Info.

Free walking guides to the Orne region of Normandy

The bridge

Our match reveals how the megalith bridge has had a little restoration with concrete to set the stones but it is only a little changed, still the bridge walked over for hundreds, possibly thousands of years by ordinary man and by legends.

 

Megalith bridge over the river Varenne, Normandy
Megalith bridge over the river Varenne, Normandy

Le pont mégalithique over the river Varenne, Normandy

Le pont mégalithique over the river Varenne, Normandy 

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