The Abandoned Kingdom of Camelot by Andy Butler
I was inspired by the subject of abandoned photography by Anna Cox‘s interview with Mike Hill in Mobiography magazine back in August last year. Mike talked about the theme of the abandoned and showcased a selection of his amazing imagery from several locations including the famous Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and the Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans. The stories behind these atmospheric locations got me thinking about searching for old and abandoned locations that I could explore for myself.
It is the history and stories that lay behind a building or location and the idea that nature reclaims them that fascinates me. Inspired by this idea, I set out to find my own abandoned project. My quest led me to ‘The Magical Kingdom of Camelot’.
Camelot, a local theme park, was once a bustling tourist attraction. It was based on the legend of King Arthur and opened its gates in 1983. It grew in size and popularity before finally closing in 2012, due to a downturn in visitor numbers. This downturn was blamed on a combination of the UK’s economic recession and several seasons of bad summer weather. Personally I feel the extortionate entrance fees played a major role in the parks demise.
During the summer of 1991 I worked at the park so in a small way I have a fond connection to the place or at least some fun memories of doing hand brake turns in milk floats as we stocked up the various food outlets at the end of the day.
My interest in Camelot as the subject of an abandoned photographic project was ignited following a story in the local press about local opposition to the land being developed into a large housing estate. My appetite was further fueled following the discovery of a series of photographs of Camelot on the Abandoned Playgrounds website.
I had to get inside the walls of Camelot and check it out for myself before it was gone forever.
My opportunity came one spring morning which saw the day breaking to clear, sunny blue skies. My dawn raid on King Arthur’s Camelot saw me enter the park through a large hole on the fence at the back of the complex. After a short walk across a field I entered the animal centre. This was the same farm I visited with my son only four years before. Once full of life with all sorts of inhabitants roaming free, I now found it to be a desolate and empty place. An eery ghost town.
Leaving the animal centre, ahead of me stood the towering framework of Knightmare. Once the jewel in the crown and centre piece attraction of Camelot, this landmark was visible for miles around but now it’s steel framework stood proud and rusting.
Photographically Knightmare presented thousands of photo opportunities everywhere you looked but there was an air of sadness to see it in such a state. Four years previously it had been full of screaming and had a buzzing atmosphere but now it was quiet and bleak with its only customers being the birds and rabbits.
As I headed deeper into the kingdom of Camelot I came across the Dungeons of Doom. The dungeons was a small ghost ride of sheer terror which as I remember wasn’t actually a very scary experience. However, in its now abandoned and derelict state it presented a much more eery atmosphere with plenty of photographic opportunities to be had.
Onwards my quest led me to the jousting arena which in its day played host to daily displays of jousting and swordsmanship before a baying crowd of onlookers. King Arthur would sit on his thrown, observing the battles between the red and black knights. Again, four years previously I was part of that crowd. I have fond memories sat with my son as the court jester entertained the crowds.
As the sun broke over the trees I began to make my way back through a small village once ladened with souvenir shops but again an air of sadness engulfed the place as the memories of a vibrant atmosphere long faded into the distance of time.
The thing that struck me about shooting an abandoned location is the unique atmosphere it presents. It has memories embedded into the fabric its being. There is a contrast between something that was once proud and majestic against something that is now decaying and neglected as the passage of time and nature takes over.
This was my first experience of shooting an abandoned project and the first of many I hope. I have since returned to Camelot on several occasions and intend to a few more times before it is gone forever.