Britannia's Magical History Tour
Stop 13: Cadbury Castle, Somerset
In southeastern Somerset, about 4 miles from the Dorset border, a tree-shrouded hill rises some 500 feet from the surrounding countryside. As you drive by on the A303, the hill is noticeable, but hardly dominating. From visual clues, alone, one would never guess that this hill might be the famed Camelot, headquarters of the great King Arthur.|
This hillfort certainly isn't the Camelot we see in the movies (ie. stone battlements, fluttering pennants, armored knights, fair damsels, etc.) but when we consider when Arthur flourished (late 5th, early 6th century), it is entirely possible that he made one of these earthen strongholds his headquarters. We know that during Arthur's time, many hillforts were refurbished and put into use, as they had been centuries before the Romans came. The Saxon expansion of the mid to late 400's pushed many native Britons out of their urban dwellings and it made good sense for them to redevelop the hillforts for housing as well as for protection.
All across the country, these fastnesses were being reoccupied, but the hill at South Cadbury seems to be a special case. In the 1530's, John Leland, Henry VIII's chief antiquarian, said that local legend claimed that Arthur came to Cadbury Castle, often. In his 16th century English he wrote,
The people can telle nothing ther but that they have hard say that Arture much resortid to Camalat.
It wasn't until the 1960's, though, that serious archaeological attention was paid to Cadbury Castle. The Camelot Research Committee, headed by archaeologist Leslie Alcock, did extensive excavations on the 18 acre hilltop during the period 1966-70 and came up with some surprising findings. The researchers discovered that massive refortifications took place sometime during the latter part of the 5th century and were on such a vast scale, that they would have to have been ordered by an important leader.
No petty chieftain could have done this; someone of special significance had to be behind it. When we ask the obvious question,"who did do it?," we naturally want to respond, "King Arthur." But, was he really the one who refortified Cadbury Castle? We don't know for sure, but from all the evidence, it's possible that he could have been. And saying that he "could have been here" may be as close as we will ever get to locating the elusive historical Arthur.
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