Armchair travelling

Camelot by Aubrey Beardsley, detail from How Queen Guenever rode on Maying

Neil Fairbairn
A Traveller’s Guide to the Kingdoms of Arthur
Evans Brothers Ltd 1983

Geoffrey Ashe
The Traveller’s Guide to Arthurian Britain
Gothic Image 1997

Neil Fairbairn’s 1983 Traveller’s Guide inevitably invited comparisons with Geoffrey Ashe’s A Guidebook to Arthurian Britain (1980 and 1983, confusingly reissued as The Traveller’s Guide to Arthurian Britain in 1997). This would be unfortunate as the two are different animals, each with its own particular strengths and weaknesses, though both include illustrations and maps.

The first obvious thing about Fairbairn’s Guide is that it is not only a hardback but also larger than Ashe’s paperback Guidebook, not pocket-sized. Certainly it is glossier, and this may commend itself more to the armchair traveller, especially as the evocative monochrome photographs by Michael Cyprien are more of a delight than Ian Newsham’s often risible line drawings in the Guidebook (which include the mortally wounded Arthur, en route in the barge for Avalon, in the anachronistic 14th-century armour of the Black Prince).

Secondly, Breton Arthurian sites are included by Fairbairn (hence the “kingdoms” of the title), and though many of these are historically dubious, to say the least, they make for a sense of completeness. However, Ashe stuck to Britain, and did so in the 80s with the authority then of well over a quarter of a century’s study.

It would be difficult to make a choice between Fairbairn (Alderley Edge to Wookey Hole) and Ashe (Aberffraw to Zennor). If faced with this dilemma, do as I did and buy them both. But do make sure you get the 1997 Gothic Image retitled edition of the Ashe book also with, yes, monochrome photos as well as new location maps.

Review first published 1984, here updated and revised

3 thoughts on “Armchair travelling

  1. Am especially struck by the Beardsley image. It has reminded me of a years-ago lecture by Prof Brian Morris at Sheffield Uni. We were reading Mallory in the first year, and the Prof did a virtuoso exposition on how Mallory’s version of the tales was mirrored in Beardsley’s illustrated version of the work – both sharing a similar fin de siècle decadence. Whether one agreed or not, it was highly memorable, and thought provoking. Your piece has also made me see these guides to Arthurian landscapes in a new light. They are titles I know but have not read.


    1. An interesting approach, though the fin-de-siècle parallels I suspect can’t be taken too far. Yes, Malory was writing at the tail end of the Wars of the Roses and a time of great lawlessness (which he seems to have contributed to), but that doesn’t seem to me comparable to late 19C ennui. But that’s my superficial impression–based on little or no reflection! Further thought needed, thanks to your stimulus!


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