Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Uley Bury and the upper River Cam (Ewelme)

Uley Bury Hillfort, Aerial View

When searching for a Camlan (either Camboglanna/'Crooked Bank' or Cambolanda/'Crooked Enclosure') in southern England, we must keep some ground rules in mind.

First, it is very easy to fall victim to a reliance on modern forms of the various Cam names.  The earliest forms (spellings) must be found, if they exist.  Indulging in this exercise helps us avoid choosing the Cam in Somerset (a back formation from Camel, found as Cantmael in 995), the Camel River in Cornwall (Cambula in 1147) or the Cam Brook in Somerset (Cameler or Camelar in 1073; perhaps Crooked Eleri. Thomas, in Enwau afonydd a nentydd Cymru, notes a stream Eleri, in Ceredigion, which has been associated with alar ‘excess, too much’ (p. 142).  Eleri is a girl's name in Welsh. Dr. Simon Rodway has suggested to me that Eleri might have originally been a goddess name.).  

Second, we must avoid opting for an English place-name with a similar or identical meaning, as we have no we of knowing if an earlier British Camlan underlies it.  

And, third, we must seek for a site that lies within what appears to be Arthur's sphere of military action.  

Obviously, it may well be that Camlan is a "lost" name in the sense that this place now bears an English, Norse or Norman name.  If this is the case, then the site will never be found.

Fortunate for us, there remains just one candidate which holds significant potential: the River Cam in Gloucestershire.  This river is demonstrably from British *cambo- (Camma in 1086).  The upper course of this stream is now called the Ewelme.  The following selection is from Water and the Environment in the Anglo-Saxon World by Maren Clegg Hyer:

In other words, a word at first used to describe the source of the Cam later became the name for this stretch of the River Cam.  The Ewelme is simply the river-spring or source of the River Cam.  

One of the springs that feeds the headwaters of the Cam actually lies on the slope of the great hillfort of Uley Bury.  Uley is 'Yew Wood', from the OE, named for what was anciently considered the tree of death.  This fort has a peculiar curved or bent shape (see map and aerial photo above).  It lies opposite Cam Peak and Cam Long Down.  The Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru lists the meanings of cam as: crooked, bent, hunch-backed, distorted, wry, bowed, curved, looped, winding.

I would tentatively identify Uley Bury as the "Cam Enclosure" or "Crooked Enclosure", viz. Cambolanda/Camlan.  One possibility is that the River Cam name derives from that of the fort.   If the fort were originally named after the river, then we must assume a meaning "Enclosure of the [River] Cam."  It is not impossible that Cam Long Down betrays a later English substitution for Camlan Down (although, to be honest, the hill is long).

Uley Bury lies well within what was the tribal kingdom of the Hwicce, and so Arthur could easily have fought here. 

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