Close enough to hear the continuous buzz of the nearby A303 (as the crow flies, the dual carriageway is barely more than a mile away), Cadbury Castle in Somerset is steeped in history, has links to the Camelot of King Arthur, and is home to a wealth of interesting features worth discovering on your next British trip.
The prestigious vestiges of history are never too far away when it comes to Somerset, a history filled county in South West England. So much so, that architectural writer, Pesvener devoted not one, but two books to the pint-sized region. When wandering around the county today, you can expect to stumble upon countless ham stone churches and various prehistoric sites…
A brief history of Cadbury Castle
First things first: Cadbury Castle of Somerset should not be confused with the Cadbury Castle of Devon. Though both historic sites have ties with King Arthur, that of Devon is on a hill overlooking the Exe Valley, and the two locations have nothing in common.
The history of the fort goes all the way back to the Bronze Age. In time, the hill has also been known as ‘Camalet,’ hence the King Arthur of Camelot connection. Furthermore, the site is alleged to be the Mount Badon of the Arthur tales.
Excavations of the 19th and 20th-centuries have revealed that the site was occupied continuously for hundreds of years, with Neolithic pottery, Bronze Age pottery, and Iron Age finds all being discovered on location. During 500, like many such hill forts in the area, large wooden fences were erected around the many terraced earthworks, providing extra defences for the population within.
Today four banks remain on the North, West, and South sides, while two remain on the Eastern side. From around 50 CE, the fort was attacked and then occupied by the Romans, who ventured even further West than the Devonian city of Exeter when it came to the occupation of South West England.
Further excavations have uncovered evidence of a temple, various houses, and even a forge. Following the Romans, the site remained a prominent fort in the region, which undoubtedly eventually gave way to Camalet’s association with Arthurian legend. What is perhaps most interesting of all, is that Camelot was not associated with King Arthur in Britain before the 12th-century, when French texts made reference to the castle.
During circa 470-580 CE, Great Hall could be found at the top of Cadbury Castle, with shards of Mediterranean pottery from the period discovered on site. Meanwhile, the 11th-century, saw a Saxon mint operating on-site. Many finds from Camalet can now be seen on display in the Somerset Museum in Taunton.
How to visit Cadbury Castle
As the ancient hillfort is inevitably set atop one of the largest hills in the area, the walk up is fairly steep, muddy, and is moderately difficult to walk up in places. Parking in the surrounding area is limited, though there is one dedicated free castle car park on the fringes of South Cadbury Village.
For the most part, however, parking around the base of the castle (what is now essentially a grassy hill with a few trees planted there by the Victorians) will involve leaving your car in an equally mud-filled space on the side of the road.
The location is free to visit and open 24 hours a day, though descending at night would be tricky. Walking shoes are highly recommended, as are bringing snacks and some water for enjoying once you reach the top and can admire the view of the surrounding countryside. Bird watchers will be pleased to know that many species can be found in abundance atop Cadbury Castle.
Standing some 150 metres above sea level, once at the top today, it’s possible to spy a plethora of famous landmarks, including many in the Somerset Levels and that of the impressive ley line Glastonbury Castle, on the very further peak in the horizon… Now, Cadbury Castle is owned and managed by the National Trust, who look after many hillforts and coastal pathways in the region.