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Posts Tagged ‘locations’

Avalon

Ah, here is where I can really have some fun.

Avalon was the home of the Lady—or Ladies—of the Lake. Mortally wounded at the Battle of Camlann, Arthur is supposed to have been carried off by these ladies to the Island of Avalon for healing. This makes a lot more sense if the Battle of Camlann was nearby–not all the way north by Hadrian’s Wall.

A likely site for Avalon is Glastonbury Island (Ynys Wytryn in Welsh)—and here I’m including the whole of what would have been an island in the fifth century, surrounded by marsh and swamp. The island of higher land that would have been above the level of the marsh comprises Glastonbury Tor (the most visible landmark in the area), a smaller hill now called Chalice Hill just to the southwest, then a long plateau running southwest, now the site of the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, and ending in another rise now called Wearyall Hill. In the fifth century, a causeway reached the Tor from the southeast, protected by a ditch and embankment now called Ponters Ball Dyke which runs at right angles to the causeway, its ends disappearing into what would have been marsh. A gateway? There is a story of another causeway between Glastonbury and South Cadbury Castle to the south.

Glastonbury certainly had associations with healing. Near the base of the Tor on the south side are two springs. The White Spring rises out of a shallow aquifer and carries dissolved calcite which gives it a white color. Only about 110 yards away is the Red Spring (now called the Chalice Well, due to association with the Grail), which rises from a much deeper aquifer and carries iron oxide, which gives it a nearly blood-red color. Both springs are—and were—reputed to have healing properties.

But one of the most striking features of the Tor are the terraces that ring the slopes in giant ovals. There are several explanations for the terraces, but the most appealing to me is that they form an ancient seven-fold labyrinth—a kind of mystical journey. An avenue of oak trees, since cut down, may once led to the entrance.

Excavations have found evidence of structures—and metal-working furnaces—near the top of the Tor. But though it might have been used for some purposes, this just isn’t a sane place for anyone to live. Much too far from a water source, for one thing. More promising are the excavations showing that Glastonbury Abbey may have been built on top of a Celtic village or community.

Oh, yeah. There’s a lot here to play with.

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Camlann

Legend makes this Arthur’s last battle and the one in which he took a mortal wound. And it’s the hardest of all to place.

One suggestion is that the name may derive from Brittonic Cambo-landa, which would mean crooked or twisting enclosure or crooked/twisting open land. Or from Cambo-glanna, which would be crooked or twisting river. I have a lot less difficulty picturing a twisting river. However, that interpretation leads to Camboglanna, a Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall. It’s hard for me to see how that could work. Though maybe not impossible, considering that according to legend Mordred was the son of King Lot and that Lothian (part of Lot’s kingdom) was in what is now southeastern Scotland—on the north side of Hadrian’s Wall. Still . . . .

In the south there are other possibilities. There’s the River Cam (tributary of the Yeo) that flows past Cadbury Castle. And the River Camel in Cornwall, which could be interesting, considering that legend makes Arthur’s successor a “cousin” Constantine, who was king of Dumnonia.

Being a discovery writer, I haven’t yet addressed the question of what this particular battle will be about. Since Arthur was not a king, it clearly could not have been an attempted usurpation of the throne. Though I suppose it could be a younger man trying to take over whatever army or strike force Arthur had built. Or some other kind of argument, possibly egged on by an outside force—that would fit well with the background of my story. (And, on that note, there’s the interesting Welsh story of the mediator sent by Arthur to Mordred before the battle, who actually intentionally stirred things up instead.)

I expect which site I ultimately choose for my story will depend on what the war is about. At least this gives me some options to play with.

On a side note: Starting with those goals I set last week was set back by starting back to work last week–with a more demanding schedule than usual. There were not enough brain cells left functioning at the end of a day to even try to write. However, now things have been put on hold again at least for the next three weeks. So, I need to start up with that goal again.

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This is the site of Arthur’s final and decisive battle against the Saxons and it’s one of the most difficult locations to place. Nobody really knows where this battle took place. No evidence has so far been found. Yet, the earliest and most nearly contemporary account of the time we have, Gildas’s On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, mentions it. About the only other thing we know for sure—again, from that earliest source—is that it was a siege. Therefore, arguably, it must have taken place near a defensible site—most likely a hillfort.

That narrows it down some—not much, but some. The possibilities most often cited are Liddington Castle, Badbury Rings, or Ringsbury Camp—again, all hillforts, not castles. All are in the southwest—either present-day Wiltshire or Dorset.

Liddington Castle:

At only 7 ½ acres, this is a relatively small hillfort to the east of Cadbury Castle. However, it is one of a number of hillforts along The Ridgeway. This is a very ancient trackway connecting the Thames River area with the valleys of the Avon and Severn Rivers—an important trade route. It was also part of or connected to the Icknield Way, which ran from the Salisbury Plain to Norfolk, former territory of the Iceni. That could be interesting to work with. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that Liddington Castle was re-occupied during the Dark Ages.

Badbury Rings:

Badbury Rings is a much larger hillfort to the south and possibly slightly east of Cadbury Castle. The original ditch and embankment enclosed 18 acres, but it was later expanded later to 41 acres with several rings of earthworks. And there was another horizontal earthwork, Brokerley Dyke, to the northeast. It’s part of a string of hillforts in Dorset (territory of the Durotriges). And it was reoccupied during the Dark Ages.

Ringsbury Camp:

This hillfort had a double earthwork that enclosed only 8 acres. Interestingly, the embankment was built with rocks that did not come from the immediate area.

Of the three, I’m most drawn to Liddington and the Ridgeway, with the large Badbury Rings a close second. Well . . . fortunately, that battle takes place fairly late in the story. I don’t have to choose just yet.

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Camelot

This is the site of King Arthur’s Court in the later legends. But, setting aside the issue of trusting later stories, Arthur still needed to live somewhere. And a well-fortified dwelling makes a certain amount of sense for a war leader.

One good possibility is a hillfort now called Cadbury Castle, in Somerset, long associated with Camelot in local legend.

Yeah, it’s not on this map, yet. In fact, I think I’m going to need to redo some of the locations on this map, anyway.

The “bury” part, at least is Saxon, not British and may date to a much later Saxon mint on the site. It’s impossible to tell, now, what the Britons called it in the fifth century, though it is near the villages of Queen’s Camel and West Camel and the River Cam (a tributary of Yeo) runs by it, so Camelot may be a Norman French mispronunciation of it. Something with “Camel” as part of the name is more than reasonable.

Four rings of ditch-and-embankment earthworks encircle the hill, providing access only from the southwest and northeast. These walls protected an area of about 18 acres. The Iron Age hillfort was abandoned during the period of Roman control. Like several other such hillforts, it was reoccupied during the Dark Ages, after the Romans left. Unlike the others, it was not only reoccupied, but refortified—and the new fortification were unusual.

Around 470, a stone wall or ledge was added to the top of the innermost earthwork. Above that, a timber wall protected a parapet and spanned the gate.

Inside these defenses, on top of the plateau, were several buildings, including a timber great hall about 63 feet long by 64 feet wide. And, like Tintagel, there’s evidence of luxury items from the Mediterranean, marking this as a high-status dwelling.

A highly suitable dwelling for a war leader. And, as far as is known so far, Cadbury Castle was the only site refortified in this manner during the Dark Ages.

If you scroll down, there are some interesting photos and artist’s renderings on this website: https://eaglesanddragonspublishing.com/tag/cadbury-castle/

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Tintagel

Okay, so much for the characters and their weapons. Now for the setting.

To a considerable extent, it’s necessary to just make a guess at locations for the Arthur legend. Some can be identified, others guessed at with fair probability of being correct—or at least reasonable. Others . . . well, some are just flat out guesses.

So, let’s start with Arthur’s birthplace, Tintagel. This, at least, is one legendary location that can be placed absolutely—whether or not the legend about Arthur’s birth has any historical basis.

There it is on the northern coast of Dumnonia . . . Cornwall, now. (Well, as nearly as I could place it, anyway.)

Of course, in the fifth century, Tintagel would not have been a medieval-style castle. More like the coastal version of an Iron Age hillfort, a promontory fort, substituting steep cliffs and the sea for embankments around most of the protected area. Though the current ruins are of a castle built after the Norman Conquest, there is archaeological evidence of a high-status late or post-Roman dwelling at Tintagel, possibly a trading center with ties not only to Gaul, but also to the Mediterranean and North Africa, judging by the luxury items found during excavations. There seems to have been a path down the eastern cliffs to a small cove.

In fact, it’s a little hard to see why anyone would have wanted to build a castle there. It was hardly necessary. By itself, Tintagel would have been supremely defensible.

Now an island, Tintagel would have been on a headland, connected to mainland Cornwall (Dumnonia) by a narrow ridge. And, during the Dark Ages, a ditch and embankment earthwork narrowed the approach to the ridge. Although the area within the defenses ran for half a mile from the gate and about a quarter mile across, the usable space was more likely to be between ten and twenty acres—within the same size range as most hillforts.

For a bit of fun, a sea cave, called Merlin’s Cave, runs right through the island near the landward side.

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