Arthurian England Tour Part 5: Cadbury and a Tarot Writing Spread

“The rain may never fall til after sundown. By eight the morning fog must disappear.” – “Camelot” from the musical of the same name

The earthenwork ramparts around Cadbury castle

The earthenwork ramparts around Cadbury castle

Learner and Loewe obviously didn’t have Cadbury Castle in Somerset in mind when they write these lyrics, because not only did it rain on us, it stormed and HAILED when we were at the top. Cadbury is one of many places thought to possibly be the actual location of Camelot. It was certainly the home of someone important in Arthurian times. That much we know from archaeology.

The path up to the castle. That's Jamie, our guide.

The path up to the castle. That’s Jamie, our guide.

You get to the castle by walking up a steep hill through some trees. When you get to the top, the view is unbelievable. It’s one of those things that photos will never do justice, no matter how panoramic our cameras get. You can see for miles in every direction, even to Glastonbury Tor. Whoever lived there would have known of any invading army long before they got anywhere near the castle. And it’s well defended, too, ringed by five earthenwork ramparts, which are still impressive today. At the time, there likely would have been wooden stake walls (possibly some dry stone walls) to defend in addition to the earthen banks, making it no doubt a formidable sight.

A view from the walls. No army is going to do a sneak attack on this castle!

A view from the walls. No army is going to do a sneak attack on this castle!

Our guide, Jamie, told us that land behind the hill was thought to have been the real Round Table, and is the area Guinevere brought to Arthur as part of her dowry. I’ve not heard that about this location before, but I have heard a similar theory about land south of Stirling in Scotland. But, if it is true about this land near Cadbury and if we assume Cadbury was Camelot, then Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere certainly makes strategic sense.

Another shot of the ramparts. That's hail in the photo.

Another shot of the ramparts. That’s hail in the photo.

The plan was for us to walk all around the top rampart to really take in the view, both inside and outside of the castle walls. We did that for maybe 10 minutes. Judging from the land on top of the hill fort, the castle would have been massive. I really wish I could have seen it in its glory. But we hardly had time to take it in before the rain and hail got so bad we had to turn around to take cover in the trees sheltering the path back to the car.

The slippery, muddy path on the way down.

The slippery, muddy path on the way down.

The path was very muddy and slick, with rivulets of water running down the hill. We were soaked to the bone. A normal person might have been upset by this, but I thought it was cool, since in my pivotal scene at Cadbury, it’s raining. This gave me real-life knowledge of how hard it would have been to flee the castle in the rain. I wonder how it would have been on horseback. Easier? Harder?

If I didn’t already have my books based around Camelot being elsewhere, I would locate it at Cadbury. I haven’t done full research into most of the other possible locations, but Cadbury’s proximity to other Arthurian places like Glastonbury and Tintagel and strong defenses make it a logical choice. Then again, I’m looking at this from a fiction writer’s point of view, not a historian’s, so many people may disagree, and that’s fine. But as the muses would have it, I had already written Cadbury as a major setting in the second book, so it will still be well represented in my series.

Tarot for Writers

Cadbury Inn

Camelot Inn

Before we went up to Cadbury, we ate lunch at the Camelot Inn, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in the area. (They have a fabulous apple and pear cider, the equal of which I have yet to find.) Since we had nothing else to do while we waited out the storm, one of our tour members, Linda (founder of Global Spiritual Studies), taught us a tarot exercise for writing. It can be used to plot a whole book or for a specific scene you’re having trouble with. You separate out our major arcana cards, the minor arcana cards and the court cards. Then, without looking at them, you choose:

  1. One major arcana card for the theme.
  2. Court cards for your major characters.
  3. Three minor arcana cards for the plot.
I just liked this sign, which is at the base of the path leading up to the castle. The inn is just across the street.

I just liked this sign, which is at the base of the path leading up to the castle. The inn is just across the street.

The major arcana card will give you a deeper sense of the theme you’re working with (consciously or subconsciously). The court cards will give you insight into hidden aspects of your characters. Then, with the three minor arcana spread out in the order in which you drew them, you start telling a story that begins “once upon a time” using the symbolism of the card.

I’m making this up off the top of my head, but let’s say you have The Lovers as your theme card, with a young female main character (represented by the Page of Cups) and a young man (represented by the King of Cups). You draw the Ace of Cups, Three of Swords and Eight of Swords.

You would say something like, “Once upon a time, a young girl leaves home (the optimism of the Page of Cups), determined to find a husband (Ace of Cups = beginning of relationships). She meets a handsome young man, but then learns he is not what he seems (duplicity of the King of Cups) and is heartbroken (Three of Swords). She feels powerless to escape her situation (Eight of Swords), but knows there must be a solution.” And then you would write the story from there. Or if you have an established plot already, you would look to see how the definitions of those cards may impact it.

(Feel free to disagree with the interpretation, as it’s only a quickly written example, not meant to teach the meaning of the cards. I used this site to help with the card interpretation: http://www.ata-tarot.com/resource/cards/) I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems like this exercise could really be beneficial.

What are your theories on the location of Camelot? Is Cadbury in the running for you? What do you think about the tarot exercise? Do you plan to use it? Have you used anything similar?

On Site in England: The Next Best Thing to Going Back in Time

The area of my trip.

Where I’ll be for the next 2 weeks

By the time you read this, I’ll either be in the frantic final throes of packing or blissfully winging my way across the Atlantic. That’s because I have the opportunity of a lifetime: taking a tour of England that is all based around Arthurian legend!

I’ve been dreaming about taking this tour since I first heard about it a few years ago. The leader is the guy who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research the Mists of Avalon (which is what inspired me to write my books). We will have special guests on parts of the tour, including internationally renowned Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe, modern-day Bard Kevan Manwaring, and other scholars on mythology and ancient sacred sites. Poor Mr. Ashe has no idea what he’s in for – a whole lot of questions about how to attack and defend a hill fort, plus anything else I can think of. His is a brain I can’t wait to pick!

Anyway, since I’m going to be gone two weeks, there will be no new posts here until June 16, which is our two year blogiversary! After that, I’ll do a series on sites from my trip and things I learned about the legends. Here’s a preview, by way of the itinerary of my trip:

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor

Day 1: Travel to London, then to Whewell on the way to Glastonbury (which will be in all three books of my trilogy).

Day 2: Tour Glastonbury, including Wearyall Hill and the Holy Thorn, drinking from Chalice Well, climbing the Tor and visiting Glastonbury Abbey.

Day 3: Visit Cadbury castle, one of the sites thought to be home to Camelot. (This is one of the settings in book 2.) See the ancient Druid oaks of Gog and Magog.

Day 4: Travel to Cornwall, stopping at the holy well of St. Clether. Tour Tinagel castle and Merlin’s Cave. (I can’t wait for you guys to see where we’re staying in Tintagel. It’s breathtaking!)

Day 5: Visit the faerie glen of St. Nectan, the village of Boscatle and Rocky Valley (which has two Bronze Age carvings in a Cretan labyrinth).

Day 6: Head to Penzance and St. Michael’s Mount. Quality time by the sea.

Day 7: Take in the stone circles of Boscowen-un and the Merry Maidens, along with the stone monoliths called The Pipers. Visit the holy wells Madron and Sancreed.

Day 8: Visit haunted Bodmin Moor and the area made famous by Daphne Du Maurier. (I’m very excited about this because I want to write a gothic fantasy someday and am hoping to get the thread a of plot based in local legend.) Spend time in Dartmoor and Marlborough.

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Midwinter Solstice by Mark Grant (Souce: Wikimedia Commons)

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Midwinter Solstice by Mark Grant (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Day 9: Journey to Stonehenge for private access inside the stone circle to witness a real Druid sunrise ritual. Meet J.P. Reedman, who I interviewed, and whose book, Stone Lord, I reviewed. Visit Avebury – the largest stone circle in the world – West Kennet long barrow – the largest burial mound in Europe – and Silbury Hill.

Day 10: Travel back home, no doubt in awe and incredibly grateful for all I’ve seen.

This trip includes several items on my Bucket List. There are no words for how excited I am. I can’t even believe this is really happening. This is invaluable research for my books, a precious networking opportunity with Arthurian scholars and just plain fun for a geek like me. I won’t have Internet access while I’m there, but you’ll get plenty of photos and stories when I get back. I hope you all have fun while I’m gone. I’d tell you to behave, but I know my readers better than that!

What Did Camelot Really Look Like?

Think this is what Camelot looked like? Think again.

Think this is what Camelot looked like? Think again.

When I say the word “Camelot” what do you think of?

Probably a grandiose medieval castle made of stone with turrets and spires, something out of a fairy tale. And that is how it has been portrayed in drawings, movies and TV shows.

(Full disclosure, my Camelot does have some of these elements, but I’ve also given you a logical explanation of why it could be possible. In that, I’m invoking the fantasy side of the genre of historical fantasy. But all of the other castles in my books are true to the time period.)

But the reality of Celtic castles, if we assume King Arthur lived somewhere in the late fifth to early sixth century, is very different. In fact, the word “castle” really doesn’t even accurately describe them. They were more like fortifications than homes. For the most part, rulers didn’t have permanent residence there. The castles were protection for the surrounding populous and their livestock in case of attack.

Cadbury Castle in Somerset, which some believe to be the real location of Camelot. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Cadbury Castle in Somerset, which some believe to be the real location of Camelot. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Most Celtic castles were likely hillforts, which kind of resemble what would later become the motte and bailey style of castle. They were based on large earthenwork hills. The castle itself was at the top in the center, surrounded by one or more wooden palisades, and usually at least one earthen wall or ditch. There are many where the hill is terraced and each terrace has wooden walls and earthen ditches or ramparts to make it even more difficult for the enemy to succeed in siege.

The castle itself was likely to be wooden because timber was readily available. The exception is that stone was plentiful in Highland Scotland, and some British rulers, especially on the western coast, were thought to have fortified their wooden castles using stone. But they didn’t build them the way we picture until the 10th century. In fact, castles as we think of them didn’t come into prominence until the reign of Edward I, who is credited with building the great castles of Northern Wales.

These hillforts would have been defended with arrows, swords, axes and spears, along with sling shots. In order to conquer one, the enemy (depending on what technology they had available) may have used ballista bolts in addition to pure manpower.

Examples of hillforts in Arthurian legend include Traprain Law (King Lot’s capital in Lothian), Badon (if one takes Solsbury Hill outside of Bath to be the location of the battle of mount Badon), Maiden Castle (which is linked to several Arthurian stories), and Cadbury (which Geoffrey Ashe and many other scholars believe is the true location of Camelot).

Tintagel, long thought to be Arthur's birthplace. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Tintagel, long thought to be Arthur’s birthplace. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

But what about Tintagel, you might ask?  It’s the most famous surviving castle linked to Arthurian legend (Arthur’s birthplace) and it’s made of stone. We know the site was occupied during what I’ll call the Arthurian period, but the castle itself dates to the 13th century. I’ll be visiting Tintagel in less than a month, so I can tell you more when I get back.

PS – Scholars can’t agree on if Camelot existed, much less where. Someday I’ll do a post on some of the possible locations. What I’ve described here is typical of the time period, but we may never know for sure what Camelot really looked like.

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Sources
British Forts in the Age of Arthur by Angus Konstam
Strongholds of the Picts by Angus Konstam
Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World by Matthew Bennett and Jim Bradbury, et al
There are probably more because I wrote most of this post from memory. Please check my research page for more possible sources.

How do you picture Camelot? What have you seen portrayed in movies, books or TV? Are there any other Arthurian castles you’re curious about?