[Saturday - 05/08/99] Cadbury Castle is an impressively large hillfort, originally built in the Celtic Iron Age and briefly overrun by the Roman army in the first century AD. There is no actual 'castle' here, the hill, itself, being the fortification. It has the longest record of occupation of any hillfort in Britain, for its defences were repaired in two later periods. The first of these periods, the late fifth century, has traditionally been associated with the legendary King Arthur, and the second, the eleventh century, is firmly attributed to King Ethelred the Unready.
The rich and complex archaeological evidence for these `Arthurian' and Ethelredan phases was revealed by excavations in 1966-70 under the direction of the author Leslie Alcock. In the `Arthurian' phase, the scale of the refurbished rampart and its gate tower, the building of a lordly hall and the evidence for importation of Mediterranean wine all reveal that Cadbury Castle was a major seat of power and provide testimony to the emergence of kingship in Britain out of the ruins of the Roman political system. In the eleventh century, in the face of great danger from Viking invasion, the Cadbury hilltop was refortified by King Ethelred as a town with a coin-mint. This account of the defensive walls and one of the gates, and of the plan of an unusual church, makes a major contribution to our understanding of the achievements of Ethelred's reign.
It was the sixteenth century antiquarian John Leland who first establsihed Cadbury as being the site of Arthur's famed citadel Camelot (1542 AD). While still a much debated issue, the foundations of the extensive timber hall and what appear to be the beginnings of an unfinished church, add further to the speculation, as does the closeness of the site to Glastonbury Tor. A causeway, known as the King's Track, links the two sites. Local tradition still retains a memory of Arthur and his knights sleeping under the hill.
We climbed the path to Cadbury Hill while it was windy and raining and the mud and stones were quite treachorous. At several points we thought of turning back. But the pull of the legend was too strong here and every one of us made the trek successfully. Still, only Stephanie braved the summit while the rest of us huddled inside the lower ramparts and I tried wiping mud from my hand in a patch of stinging nettles. Not one of my more inspired moments. Still, today's adventure was just beginning!
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