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Cadbury Castle...King Arthur's Camelot?

Throughout Southern England there are dozens of hillforts and one of the most dramatic is that of Cadbury Castle in Somerset, located a few miles north east of Yeovil. It stands on the summit of Cadbury Hill, a limestone hill situated on the southern edge of the Somerset Levels, with flat lowland to the north. The summit is 153 m (500 ft) above sea-level.

Cadbury Castle from Parrock Hill

Photo: Roy Nicholls


Formerly known as Camalet, Cadbury Castle was originally constructed around 3000 BCE, in the Bronze Age, as a modest settlement, but by the Iron Age had developed in to a large and impressive hillfort town. The place was probably a ‘capital’ of the Durotriges tribe, whose territory included central and southern Somerset and Dorset. It may have been one of the hillforts conquered by the future emperor, Vespasian, and his 2nd Legion, or it may have been initially left alone by the Roman military. Either way, it was violently cleared by the Roman Army around 70 CE, the inhabitants killed or resettled in other places.


A narrow trackway leads up to the hillfort

Photo: Roy Nicholls

An original entrance to the hillfort

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The first part of the name may either come from the River Cam, as with the nearby villages of West Camel and Queen Camel, while other scholars suggest a derivation from some figure named "Cador" or "Cada". The suffix -bury (from byrig, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "fort" or "town"), is frequently used to refer to hill forts. Regardless of its origins, the site has long been associated with King Arthur's legendary court at Camelot. Local tradition, first written down by John Leland in 1542, holds that Cadbury Castle was King Arthur's Camelot.


From the ramparts

Photo: Roy Nicholls

The ramparts would have originally been faced with wood and stone

Photo: Roy Nicholls

Looking westwards across the Somerset Levels

Photo: Roy Nicholls


After being initially being reused by the Roman forces, the site was abandoned for centuries and then reoccupied again from around  470 CE until sometime after 580 CE. Excavations undertaken in the 1960s and again in the 1990s, revealed evidence of various buildings on the site during the late 5th century and 6th century, including a "Great Hall", round and rectangular house foundations, metalworking, and a possible sequence of small rectangular temples or shrines. If this were the court or military base of a Dark Age leader, militarily, the location would make sense as a place where the local Brythons could defend themselves against any attacks from the east. And if King Arthur was indeed conceived or born at Tintagel Castle, as tradition asserts, he may have been a prince of the kingdom of Dumnonia and used Cadbury as a stronghold on his eastern frontier.


Looking back towards South Cadbury

Photo: Roy Nicholls


Parrock Hill

Photo: Roy Nicholls


Looking down on to the village of Sutton Montis

Photo: Roy Nicholls


Whatever its history, Cadbury Castle is a splendid place to explore. Below the Castle is the little village of South Cadbury, where there is parking for visitors and an excellent pub called, appropriately, the Camelot. A steep trackway leads you up the hill and you pass into the castle through one of the original entrances through the ramparts. The summit plateau covers 18.0 acres and is surrounded by the inner bank which is 0.75 miles long. The hill is surrounded by terraced earthwork banks and ditches and a stand of trees. On the north west and south sides there are four ramparts, with two remaining on the east. The hill fort is overlooked by Sigwells, a rural plateau rich in archaeological remains. The views are spectacular and on a clear day you can see Glastonbury Tor.


Photo: Roy Nicholls

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