Greetings. I am Shiyi from 2018-19 MA ICHM students. The legend of King Arthur is always attractive to me and I’ve read and watched nearly all the derivative works of the legend since I was in primary school (such as ‘Le Morte d’Arthur‘ by Sir Thomas Malory, ‘Idylls of the King‘ by Alfred Tennyson as well as the BBC drama series ‘Merlin‘). Maybe from then on, I’ve always been dreaming that one day I could have a chance to come to England to visit the place that had given birth to this legendary British leader. It is argued by Dumville (1986, cited in Higham, 2002) and Higham (2002) that the basic personal figure of King Arthur can be originated from Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) and Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals) in 9th century. In this two documents, Arthur was described as a leader against the invade of Anglo-Saxon in the late 5th to early 6th century (Higham, 2002). Then in the Medieval Age, the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia Regum Britanniae, History of the Kings of Britain)and Sir Thomas Malory has gained great popularity among people and thus gradually brought and spread this name of ‘the Matter of Britain’ to all over the world so far (Feng, 2003). Therefore, when I came to Durham for the pre-sessional study in April 2018, I’ve planned to go to these heritage sites with possible references of King Arthur. After finished our journey to Glastonbury Abbey in June 2018, which is regarded as the ever sleeping place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere since 1191 by the monks there (King Arthur, 2018), the trip to ‘Camelot’ was added into our diaries. In September, I finally made it with my friend.
It is argued by Evans (2006) that the Cadbury Castle in Somerset was firstly regarded as the capital of Arthur’s kingdom Camelot in 1542 by poet John Leland. Then Ashe (1981) put the opinion in his article that the site might be the fundamental place for ‘Arthur’ in real history but it hasn’t been mostly acceptable by scholars at that time. Indeed, the Cadbury Castle is an archaeological site that can be derived from Neolithic Age and most evidences found there (remains of ramparts and foundations of buildings and temples) show that it used to be a hillfort castle in (pre) Roman Britain period (Barret, Freeman and Woodward, 2000). Anyway, back to the trip, before setting out I only searched the route to the site from Google Map and was confused about people’s (very few) comments since someone said it was a 24-hour open site and suggested we’d better not go after rain-does this mean that it is a non-management site?
On the Way
I first went to London to meet my friend (it’s a little bit far if I just go straight to Somerset), who’s also interested in King Arthur’s tale, and stayed in her accommodation at night. Then we got up very early in the morning next day and hurried to the Paddington Station to catch the train. As the Google Map shows to us, we had to go to Castle Cary Station first and then take bus to the castle. Actually we got confused because the name of the castle showed on Google Map is ‘Cadbury Camp’ (there will be nothing if you insist searching ‘Cadbury castle’). Although I compared the latitude and longitude coordinates carefully for the two names and concluded they were the same place, we just couldn’t relieve ourselves (afraid that we might go to the wrong place) until we got off the bus and saw a sign showed ‘Camelot Pub’:
Photo 1: the sign showing ‘Camelot Pub’ across the bus stop (taken by author)
Then we just followed the route showed on the Google Map and soon we went straight into a small village where the pub located. There were few people in the street and made us felt we were in a remote wildness. After 5-minute walk we found a rusty board written ‘Access to Cadbury Castle’. It was covered by grass at the bottom, which made it a little bit hard to find.
Photo 2: the board showed ‘Castle Lane’ and ‘Pedestrian to Cadbury Castle’ (taken by author)
Photo 3: the only accessible road to Cadbury Castle (taken by author)
Photo 4: a very old and vague description of this site in a (maybe private) house yard-the only information board we’ve found around the site (taken by author)
After we got to the so-called entrance, we were surprised to find that the door in photo 3 was closed. I looked at the Google Map several times and confirmed that we were surely in the right place. Then my friend suggested there might be another way to the hillfort so we headed into the road surrounding the hill. However, except a board showing the same message as the rusty one mentioned above, we haven’t found other ways to get in and we started to feel worried and frustrated.
Photo 5: another signs in the opposite direction (taken by author)
Visit to Cadbury Castle (Camelot)
We nearly gave up just as we saw there were two people with a dog on the top of the hill – there must be a way! That’s the only thought in our minds at that time so we back to the original entrance again and waited there. Fortunately, a couple with their dog finally appeared in our sights on their way down to the bottom and they told us that we could open the door by ourselves-it was not locked and it’s legal to go to the top! (we were worrying if the area was bought by private stakeholders and didn’t open to the public after we saw the closed door). Finally, we climbed to the top of ‘castle’ via a muddy path (at that time I understood why the comments didn’t recommend visitors go there after rain).
Photo 6: views from the top of the hill and remains of ramparts (taken by author)
Photo 7: views from the top of the hill (taken by author)
Photo 8: Myself on the windy top of Cadbury Castle (taken by Yuchen Mei)
The views on the peak were very beautiful. We spent a lot of time hanging around and taking photos from every direction (and paid attention not to step into cow dungs). I was trying to find the sight of Glastonbury Tor since I’ve heard from other comments saying that it is possible to see a view of Glastonbury Tor from the top of Cadbury Castle. Unluckily, the weather was very cloudy that day so I failed at last. According to Sources of British History (Retrieved in 2013) that the Glastonbury Tor is also believed by some people to be the Holy Island of Avalon associated with King Arthur’s legend, which is a final end stop of the ‘eternal’ king after the Battle of Camlann. When I was standing at the top of ‘Camelot’, I just thought of that if I could catch a sight of the Tor from the mist then it would be really close to what was commonly described in the legend: Avalon is a holy island surrounded by mists, forests and swamps and can only reached by boat (Feng, 2003).
Due to the cold and windy weather we went down to the ‘Camelot Pub’ in the village to have a rest before the bus came. The staff in the pub seemed to be surprised when seeing us because there were always not too many visitors here just for the Cadbury Castle (especially foreign visitors). After coming back to Durham, I was still thinking about the stewardship and management of this site after its last archaeology project since 1992 and I’ve tried to find some documents about that. Indeed, what we’ve experienced that day in Cadbury Castle was just like an adventure but we were very happy to find and visit the court ‘Camelot’, which gave us a chance to imagine what it was like in the past (if there’s a true ‘King Arthur’ who used to rule here) when we were standing at the top of the hill.
P.S. My mentor heard our ‘adventure’ story and said we were very brave to go to a very remote and distant place just for a legendary figure.
Ashe, G. (1981) ‘A Certain Very Ancient Book: Traces of an Arthurian Source in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History’, Speculum, 56(2), pp. 301-323. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2846937?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents (Accessed: 20 September 2018).
Barret, J. C., Freeman, P. W. M. and Woodward, A. (eds) (2000) Cadbury Castle, Somerset: The Late Prehistoric and Early Historic Archaeology, English Heritage. Available at: https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-1416-1/dissemination/pdf/9781848021808_all_72dpi.pdf (Accessed: 20 September 2018).
Evans, D. M. (2006) ‘King Arthur and Cadbury Castle, Somerset’, The Antiquaries Journal, 86, pp. 227-253. doi: 10.1017/S0003581500000123.
Feng, X. (2003) Ynis Witrin: King Arthur and I in three thousand years (玻璃岛：亚瑟与我三千年), Beijing: Joint Publishing.
Higham, N. J. (2002), King Arthur, Myth-Making and History, London: Routledge.
King Arthur (2018) [Exhibition]. Museum of Glastonbury Abbey, Glastonbury, Somerset, England.
Sources of British History (2013) Available at: http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/artdocs.html (Accessed: 3 February 2019).