Cadbury Castle is not a castle at all, but an enormous hill fort in Somerset which was one of the British strongholds against the invading Romans. The Romans eventually overran it, slaughtered the inhabitants and left it in ruins. Unlike most such hill forts, however, it was reoccupied and rebuilt later, after the Romans had gone, in the so-called Dark Ages. Reoccupied by who? Well, by none other than King Arthur and his knights, is the romantic theory. Archaeologists have found a lot of valuable objects of just the right period to establish that it was the headquarters of someone very important, and certainly when you stand on top of Cadbury Castle and stare across the plains to distant Glastonbury Tor, it is easy to ignore the buzz of the A303 below you and tune in to other more stirring times.
I was first taken up to Cadbury Castle 15 years ago by my father-in-law, Nick Carter, who was fascinated by all things Arthurian. Unfortunately, Nick lived in South Africa, where they don't have a lot of Arthurian remains, so when he came back to Britain in 1991 for his first return in some 40 years, we did some concentrated fort-scrambling. Cadbury Castle was his favourite of the sites we visited, though, and it was there that he said he would like his ashes to be scattered one day.
Nick was British, not South African, but he had ended up in South Africa after an odyssey which took him from one end of the continent to the other. He was in tanks in North Africa during the war, when he gained the MC and rose to Major. After the war he tried to readjust to peacetime back in Britain, even at one time working on a farm in the Isle of Wight belonging to J B Priestley (a man he did not warm to), but wanderlust prevailed, and he rejoined the Army and found himself back in Africa, in Kenya. Here, after his army days were over, he became heavily involved in wild game preservation and became famous at one time for inventing a method of drugging rhinoceroses using a crossbow and a syringe fired from a helicopter into the animal's backside.
He had left his family behind in England, and the first time my wife really got to know him at all was when, as a young teenager, she went out to the Kenyan bush to stay with her father for several weeks. In our kitchen there is a framed photo from that time, showing her sitting smiling on a bench beside the bearded Nick, who is looking very like Ernest Hemingway. Nick is patting an animal on the head. It is a rhinoceros. Only a baby rhino, it's true, but still a lot bigger than the average retriever or Labrador ...
Nick wrote a book about his rhino adventures called The Arm'd Rhinoceros. Then after Kenya he went to Mozambique to look after more rhinos and elephants, and he ended up in South Africa trying to safeguard the last surviving herd of native South African elephants, in Knysna Forest, which is when I first met him. Like most people who have been through a lot, he had adopted a slightly sardonic tone about his adventures, so he never talked about the times he had seen, for instance, best friends die in burning tanks but preferred to tell you about, the time in the desert his tanks were facing the Germans across a valley.
"Before hostilities could start, the Luftwaffe suddenly flew over and started firing away. Luckily, it's hard to tell one tank from another from the air, so we were relieved to see that the Germans had started bombarding their own side. We weren't so pleased when, a little later, the RAF came over and started shooting at us...."
Nick died two years ago. Not a single British newspaper carried an obituary of him. Well done, Fleet Street. But now his widow, Gillian, and his son, Alex, have finally made it back to Britain carrying the casket containing his ashes, and two days ago, on Saturday afternoon, you could have seen a family procession slipping and sliding up the muddy track to the top of Cadbury Castle in order to lay his ashes to rest.
More of this stirring stuff tomorrow.Reuse content