TOWARDS TWILIGHT

My Camelot

evidence is there to link Cadbury-Camelot with the "Arthurian" campaign against the Saxons? And why should it be better favoured than the many other claimants?

Archaeology
Cadbury has undergone several archaeological digs.

The first one was in 1913, and this established that Cadbury was a fortified hill, dating from the pre-Roman Iron Age (so, nothing to do with Arthur). Even then, however, there were indications of later occupation. It was the work of Leslie Alcock, beginning in 1966 and going on for some 15 years, which established the scale of this later re-occupation - and its date.

He found that the re-fortification could be dated to a decade either side of 500 A.D., and that the work involved was far from trivial - particularly on the top-most rampart, surrounding the hill-top.

This rampart was about 15 feet wide, and made up of a timber frame, filled in with dry-stone walling. It circled the entire fort - some 1,300 yards in all. In short, this was a major piece of work, intended for a serious purpose, at precisely the time we're interested in. But this wasn't a hasty, emergency measure; it was built for a long-term campaign.

Evidence was also found for a number of timber-framed buildings on the hill-top, including one large structure, 60 by 30 feet in floor area, and suggesting a high, pitched roof. Its internal layout is consistent with what we know of a noble - or even royal - entertaining hall, with a private apartment at the back.

There were no trinkets, jewellery, weapons found, but that doesn't mean much - most sites of this era tend to be tidy.

History
There's record of a mint at Lindinis or Lendiniae (modern Ilchester) which lay a few miles to the South-West. This settlement was known to be an important regional capital. At the time in question, it is recorded that this mint was moved to Cadbury (of course, it wasn't called Cadbury then - that's an Anglo-Saxon name), during a time of danger. It seems likely that the whole administrative control of the region arrived along with the mint.

The history of the "Arthurian" campaign is sketchy and confused, but it is a strong likelihood that its climax (the battle of Mons Badonicus, or Mount Badon) was in this territory, probably near modern Bath (about 40 miles away).

Tradition
Cadbury is an Anglo-Saxon placename - not surprising since there is further evidence that this site was refortified once again as a Wessex burh (a garrison against Danish raids), about 300 years after the time in question. But there is a long tradition of the name Camelot. The locals told John Leland - a 16th century antiquary - of Arthur's palace here. The river flowing to the North & West of the site is called the Camel, and two of the villages on its banks are called West Camel and Queen Camel. (There's no suggestion that Camelot took it's name from the river - rather, it was the other way around.)

In short, this place seems to be the subject of the earliest and longest Camelot tradition.

Setting
As has been said, this site commands tremendous views of a sweep of territory from the North-East to the South-West, but it is not an isolated hill - easy to surround and put to siege. To the South is a protecting scarp. At the highest point of the scarp (The Beacon) a viewpoint gives astounding views round 270°.

At night, a red light flashes on The Beacon, warning pilots flying out of nearby Yeovilton Naval Air Base where the sky ends.
Between the scarp and the hill is a broad slope of good land. This might have been designed for corralling livestock, storing supplies, housing large numbers of men, maybe even growing enough food to feed them all.

Not only was this a terrific strategic stronghold, it would also have been virtually self-sufficient, and able to support a relatively large population - with a relatively high level of sophistication.

Feeling
It may seem silly to introduce feeling as evidence for an historical thesis, but in the matter of Arthur/Camelot, we are on the borderline between history and legend. The archaeology, the written record, even the local tradition, can only take us so far.

The Arthur of legend exists because we need him. Particularly in this corner of England, we would feel poorer if we had no Arthur. Feelings matter. Well, they matter to me.

Come with me to the North-Western corner of this plateau. Stand on the edge of this crumbled rampart. Feel the strength of this hill, enhanced by the sweat of Celtic artisans, perhaps with some flourishes of Late Romano-Celtic embellishment, firm beneath your feet. Now, look out over the Somerset plain. What feature dominates the Somerset plain?

Glastonbury Tor lies about 24 miles to the North-West. Even at this distance, it is unmistakable. It wouldn't have had the nipple-like erection of St. Michaels' Chapel on top in Arthur's day, but it would still have meant something. In fact, at the time in question, Glastonbury was probably the site of a monastery, and one of the most holy places in Britain. Much of the time, it would have been an island, the Somerset Levels being prone to frequent flooding - so that earthy/unearthly shape would have been reflected and enhanced by the glassy surface.

I don't know about you, but as I stand here, I feel closer to Arthur than anywhere else in Britain. I feel him behind me, discussing his next move against the Saxons with his lieutenants, wondering if the fragile alliances he had built up amongst the Britons would hold, whether they could ever be enough to stem the endless influx of barbarians.

He barks out orders to his men, who rush purposefully to obey. He glances over to the Great Hall, and wishes fervently he could retreat into his private apartment with his warm woman.

And then, gazing out toward Avalon, he ponders the lonely fate awaiting him at the end.

This is my Camelot. I happen to find it much more vivid and engaging than any of the mediæval confections - the Round Tables, the White Knight, the Grail quest.

But you can have any Camelot you want. There are plenty to choose from. If you don't like any of the ones on the shelf, the whole thing comes in kit form - you can build your own. All you need is imagination.

The Beginning.
© David Craig Send me a message