It was about a half-mile amble uphill. All the way we were surrounded by trees, which provided shade and kept grass from growing except in sparse patches. Where were we headed? Camelot.
No, we weren’t medieval knights or peasants. We were mostly college kids who ended up in Cadbury on the advice of a travel agent. We were in England following the trail of King Arthur. Seeing Camelot should be paramount to the whole experience, right?
Imagine this: twenty Hoosiers walking up a rugged dirt path expecting to find elaborate castle ruins at the top—that was us. As we neared the top we could see the sun illuminating a green field. There were strange, droning sounds coming from the clearing. It was the sort of angelic welcome that you see in the movies—simultaneously foreboding and enchanting.
‘Any minute now we’ll see the castle,’ I thought. I’m sure everyone else was thinking something similar, things like:
‘I can’t wait to see the castle.’
‘Wow, mom and dad won’t believe that I’ve really been to Camelot.’
‘This is so exciting.’
‘Are we almost to those damn ruins? I’m so out of shape.’
When we finally exited the tree canopy and stepped out into bright light, we were amazed at the source of the mystical lowing. It was not an angelic host but a band of bovines. Yes, a choir of cows guarded the seemingly invisible castle. The rolling green hills stretched out across the horizon, filled with brown and black spotted quadrupeds.
Most of the group stopped to rest, but two girls trudged on over the next hill. They were determined to find the castle ruins, and they did. Less than a quarter mile further, there was a small placard planted in the earth. Disappointed, they returned to report their findings.
“It just said that they think the castle was somewhere around that spot,” said one girl.
The other girl agreed, “Yeah, it was nothing special. It was pretty much the same as this…lots of cows.”
We trudged back down the hill, brokenhearted. Everyone wished we would have stayed at Glastonbury Abbey longer, instead of rushing to Cadbury to see some livestock. After all, Glastonbury Abbey still had medieval cloisters and the decaying outer walls of a cathedral. It was real, tangible, and Camelot wasn’t.
Talking to a poet recently, I was impacted by his claim that it’s important not to tell everything to the reader. “The work finishes in the reader,” he said. “It all comes down to whether you believe in imagination or not.”
Although our group was discouraged by not finding the mythical castle of King Arthur, I think there was something that we missed. The image that we create in our heads is the real Camelot. The enduring effect of this event is the impact it had on my imagination.
I think of King Arthur waking up in the morning and going to his window. He looks down on the commons, seeing cows as far as the eye can see. Arthur ponders kingly affairs—pulling Excalibur from the stone, fighting giants, or stealing his wife back from Lancelot—as he listens to the lowing moos.