Somerset lays claim to both the main court and the burial place of King Arthur. In setting off ‘in search of Avalon’, however, I need to issue a disclaimer. The legend of Arthur is hard to unravel.

The problem is that we might be talking about two Arthurs. 

Great British Life: Excalibur is the famous sword in the legend of King ArthurExcalibur is the famous sword in the legend of King Arthur (Image: Getty images/iStockphoto)

There is a real Dark Ages hero of the late-fifth, early-sixth centuries AD who fought a rearguard action as the Romano-British struggled to withstand a tidal wave of Anglo-Saxon invasion. 

But there is also the legend –  who emerged thanks to the likes of clerical chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth; an Arthur fit for the Crusading era replete with Knights of the Round Table and a quest for the Holy Grail. A fact morphed into a fantasy.

Cadbury Castle has often been posited as Arthur’s ‘Camelot’, or his main court. It’s a massive Iron Age hill fort at South Cadbury which first became linked with ‘Camelot’ in Henry VIII’s reign,  when antiquarian John Leland mentioned the two places in the same breath. 

The year was 1542. He actually called it ‘Camallate’ which is close enough. There are local Camel villages and the River Cam, which may have prompted Leland, and there are lots of Arthur’s ‘this and that’ today so the connection has stuck. There’s plenty of signage about leaving you in no doubt you’re in Camelot. There is some currency to all this as excavations confirmed a significant refortification of the hill during Arthur’s time.

If Cadbury really was Camelot please get knights of shining armour out of your imagination for this was nothing of the sort. This was a Dark Ages stronghold and it may have been from here that Arthur launched his guerrilla attacks against the marauding Anglo-Saxons.

We’re told he fought a dozen battles against them, the famed one being Mount Baden where Arthur’s victory was so decisive it halted the western expansion of the Anglo-Saxons for a couple of generations. We know Baden’s name but not its location. One contender is Little Solsbury Hill, overlooking Bath.

Bath, of course, was one of Roman Britain’s major towns, ‘Aquae Sulis’, so the Romano-British presence around here was palpable. 

Geoffrey of Monmouth suggested Badon occurred here, most likely placing the battle, or siege as it’s also described, on the surrounding hills, which sent me scampering up Solsbury Hill where I found an info board, National Trust sign, and stone recording the hill’s acquisition by the Trust (1930). 

There’s a plateau atop the hill with splendid views over Bath. It’s another Iron Age hill fort, like South Cadbury, many of which were reoccupied during Arthur’s time as the Ancient Brits fought their rearguard action. 

There are other claimants for Badon so I make no assumptions but I can’t help pondering whether great events occurred here about 1,500 years ago.

Great British Life: King Arthur’s possible tomb site in Glastonbury AbbeyKing Arthur’s possible tomb site in Glastonbury Abbey (Image: Veronika Roosimaa/Getty)

Next I rock up in Glastonbury where I visit the Abbey ruins. The whole Arthurian story took an unexpected twist in 1191 when his remains were ‘found’ well over six centuries after his demise. There’s a plaque telling us the bodies of Arthur and his queen were ‘said to have been found on the south side of the Lady Chapel’ and that ‘on 19th April 1278 their remains were removed in the presence of King Edward I and

Queen Eleanor to a black marble tomb on this site’. There is no tomb today thanks to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries which saw Glastonbury Abbey swept away in 1539. How should we view this?

Glastonbury is purportedly the ‘Isle of Avalon’ where Arthur was taken to have wounds tended after his final battle. He was the ‘Once and Future King’, of course, a hero who never truly died but would return in the hour of this nation’s greatest need.

Glastonbury certainly has the presence for Avalon, with Glastonbury Tor adding further evocation and mystery to the one enacted at the abbey.The Glastonbury connection to Arthur, the Grail et al, came suddenly in the late 12th century: There is no evidence that place and person were linked any earlier. It may just have been canny PR on the abbey’s part to attract more visitors. If you want to find some of the real Arthur I’d suggest a clamber at South Cadbury.

READ MORE: The myths and legends of Glastonbury