Graham Robb: what I actually said about Camelot

27 March 2014

by Graham Robb

After reading a hasty and inaccurate review of my book The Ancient Paths, a group campaigning against a new relief road in Standish near Wigan wrongly concluded that an 'eminent historian', Graham Robb, had identified the true location of Camelot, the court of King Arthur. The new road, they said, would desecrate an ancient site. This ludicrous story has been repeated in several newspapers.

Readers of The Ancient Paths will discover no such claim. Camelot, like the Round Table, Excalibur and the Holy Grail, is fictitious. It belongs to the Arthurian legends cooked up by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century. I do not claim to have found Camelot, any more than I claim to know the true location of Hogwarts School.

The Camelot mentioned in The Ancient Paths was a theme park, now closed, which featured attractions such as the Avalon Arena and Merlin’s School of Wizardry. The passage in question deals with the tendency to treat pure coincidence as a key to mysterious truths. It so happens that the Camelot theme park stood close to an important junction of the Roman road network. Part of that network was laid out in accordance with tangent ratios which had a particular meaning for the native Celts and which are also found in their art.

A Lancashire legend associated the semi-mythical Arthur with the nearby Martin Mere, which, before it was drained, was the largest freshwater lake in England. King Arthur, like witches, demons and Robin Hood, was often associated with ancient Roman remains. It may well be that archaeological treasures are waiting to be unearthed on the site of the Roman settlement, and that the new road will destroy a part of British history. I wish the road campaigners well. New roads generate more traffic, and the money would be better spent on public transport and less damaging forms of locomotion such as the bicycle, the horse or the broomstick.

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