Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Cadbury Castle

Cadbury Castle refers to a hillfort and archaeological site in Somerset, England. There are several hillforts with the name “Cadbury Castle” in different parts of England, but one of the most well-known is the hillfort located near the village of South Cadbury.

This is another very plausible place for Camelot and is called Cadbury Castle (it is free to explore and accessible by foot and commands an excellent view across the surrounding countryside). The site is located in Somerset, midway between Yeovil and Wincanton, roughly 12 miles from Glastonbury town.

Although it can not be historically proven to be the home of Camelot, archaeologists can confirm that during the sixth-century (some Arthurian researchers suggest this to be the period when King Arthur lived), the hill was turned into a reinforced earth defence with stone and timber, making it a very secure stronghold. Not to the romantic scale that Hollywood movie industry would have us believe though. The warrior chieftain’s name that was behind all the fortification work will probably never now be known, but the folklore tells us some interesting information.

The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
a more congenial spot,
for a happily-ever-aftering than here

in Camelot.

~ Camelot | Lyrics: Richard Burton

Cadbury Castle is an earthwork fort of the Iron Age, which looks over the Vale of Avalon to Glastonbury. The antiquary John Leland, in the reign of Henry VIII speaks of local people who refer to the fort as “Camalat” and as the home of Arthur. Michael Drayton tells us that: “By south Cadbury is that Camelot; a hill of a mile compasse at the top, foure trenches circling it, and twixt every of them an earthen wall; the context of it, within, about 20 acres, full of ruines and reliques of old buildings.”

The hill was according to legend said to be hollow, where King Arthur and his Knights sleep waiting to be called upon by Britain again. It was also said that on Midsummer’s Eve a hole appears in the hillside and the Knights ride their horses down to drink the water from a spring near the church in Sutton Montis although this event according to others actually happens only every seven years. This date is significant in the story of Lancelot a medieval creation but perhaps noted as being knighted on Midsummer Day in legend for an associated reason.

Work undertaken at this site in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s supports such a settlement actually existing here akin to that described in legend. Leland claimed that while visiting the village of Somerset he was told that Camalat was the name of a hill by the village of South Cadbury and that King Arthur had “much resided there.”

Examination of the hill, which rises 250 feet above the surrounding land, has shown that around the summit fortifications some 3,600 feet in circumference lay in ruins. As recently as 1723 the locals referred to the hill as Camelot Castle. In the 1950’s a recognized expert on Dark Age Britain, Dr. Raleigh Radford, examined some pottery and coins found on the hill and determined that they belonged to Arthur’s period. This lead to the formation of the Camelot Research Committee in 1965.

Under the direction of Leslie Alcock the hill was excavated in the 1960s and 1970s. At the south-western gate exploration disclosed several successive chronological layers. The top levels were identified by pottery and coin to be Saxon. Digging in the lower level unearthed the bones of some thirty men, women and children jumbled together along with burnt weapons, pottery and Roman coins. The hill was apparently the sight of a massacre in the first century A.D. when the Romans attacked and overcame a number of hill forts in Britain.

In between the pre-Roman and Saxon layers were the remains of a fortress built in the Celtic style. The castle had been built around 450 to 500 A.D. during the Saxon advance across Britain. It had a number of large buildings suggesting it was an important center of commerce. The largest structure, a rectangular hall some 63 feet long and 34 feet wide, could have served as the feasting hall and home of a great Celtic chieftain, like Arthur.

No definite link between the hill at Cadbury and Camelot and Arthur has been found, but some of the circumstantial evidence is impressive. Nearby the hill is the river Cam, possibly the site of Camlann, the battle where Arthur received his fatal wound. Twelve miles to the north is the abbey at Glastonbury Tor which is considered the traditional resting place of Arthur and his Queen Guenevere. There, in 1190, the reputed bones of the King and Queen were found enclosed in a hollow tree in a grave of great depth. The inscription found on a leaded cross above the grave read

Here lies the famous King Arthur, buried in the isle of Avalon.

These relics were lost when the abbey was dispersed during The Reformation, but according to accounts the man’s bones were of great size in keeping with accounts of Arthur’s height. Despite this, local tradition has it that Arthur wasn’t in the abbey, but somewhere in a hidden cave in the hill at Cadbury, protected by golden gates which stand open only one night of the year. Legend has it that twice a year, on Midsummer Eve and Christmas Eve, the ghost of Arthur and his warriors ride down from the top of the hill to drink from the ancient spring that bears his name.

Many other places have been suggested as the site of Camelot, such as Winchester, Colchester and Caerleon-on-Usk, but Cadbury still remains the favorite option for many people. William Camden also identified Cadbury with Cath-Bregion, the site of one of Arthur’s battles against the Saxons in Nennius’s account.

See also
Cadbury-Camelot | The Legend of King Arthur

Britannia | William Camden, 1586
Poly-Olbion | Michael Drayton, 1612