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Monday 29 July 2019

A Grand Day Out: Castles, Loose Morals and Dragons



Dear Readers,


Following on from our last Grand Day Out post, today we’re having a history lesson.  We are very lucky to have a country steeped in history, from our pubs to our houses to our castles, history is around every corner, smacking us in the face.


It’s really important, I think, dear Readers, that we appreciate it, and our children appreciate it.


Once again, it very much depends upon where you live, but I would hazard a guess that pretty much everyone in the UK doesn’t live that far from a historical place, be it a cathedral, a castle or a monument.


Of course, history is nothing without folklore and legend.  A Grand Day Out is about having fun and learning something at the same time.  So what better way than to investigate a few castles and their associated legends?!


In the interest of trying to give a good spread, we’re taking in castles in the South East, Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.  Also because I think there’s nothing better than a bit of personal experience to get you really feeling the history, so let’s go back in time, to land of knights and noblemen, to brave armies and beautiful ladies…sorry, getting carried away there…

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Bodium Castle, Sussex


We love Bodium Castle.  It’s so picture postcard castlish, you can’t believe it.  Bodium Castle was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge for Richard II as a defence against a possible French invasion.  Although it never saw action as such, it was dismantled and left as a ruin until its purchase by John Fuller in 1829 for £3000 (£260,000 in today’s money) and subsequently Lord Curzon who, after the 1st Baron Ashcombe, also restored the castle and left it, upon his death, to the National Trust who charge you a fortune to go and see it.  Interestingly enough, it seems to have been some sort of original tourist attraction thanks to its connection with the Medieval period and drawings dating back from the 1750s depicting it overgrown with ivy and a ruin.


It was even used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail!


It had 28 toilets, which would have drained directly into the moat surrounding the castle…basically an open sewer in the Summer, then…

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Why do we like Bodium Castle?  Well, dear Readers, it’s just everything.  There’s still a moat to this day, it’s achingly picturesque and the best thing is you can climb everywhere in it.  Right up each tower and along the top and the views from up there are something else.  Apart from a steam train station, and if you ignore the cars in the carpark, there is not a pylon nor wind turbine to be seen, so it’s really easy to imagine yourself back in the 14th Century, with the threat of French invasion, and all the sights and sounds and smells of the working castle and its 28 loos!Image result for hever castle


Hever Castle, Kent


This is what one might call the direct opposite of Bodium Castle.  It’s “intact” and the destination of many a school trip!


The castle actually dates back to 1270 after which it fell into disrepair (they all seem to, don’t they, dear Readers?!  Although I think it was the time of the Dark Ages when things weren’t too hot in the UK…) until 1462 when Geoffrey Boleyn turned it into a manor.  It was then further renovated by William Waldorf Astor in the 20th Century.


The interesting history however comes from Thomas Boleyn, Geoffrey’s grandson, who inherited the castle in 1505.  He had 3 children:  George, Mary and of course, the famous, Anne.  She became Henry VIII’s second wife but it was all rather sordid, dear Readers, as you well know.  She should have married her cousin, but instead secured a post in court as a maid of honour of Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon (what a cow!).  Henry pursued her but she refused to become his mistress like her sister Mary had been (whaaaaaaaaat?!) and so Henry tried to annul his marriage to Catherine.  Pope Clement VII refused and so, famously, began the breakdown of the Catholic Church’s power in England.  They married officially in Jan 1533 and Anne was crowned Queen on 1st June 1533.  By September she had given birth to what was to be the future Queen Elizabeth 1.  Henry wanted a son, and after Anne had had 3 miscarriages, he had started on Jane Seymour.  He needed to find a reason to end the marriage to Anne, so he decided to accuse her of treason.  She was found guilty of some ridiculous charges, and beheaded at the Tower of London (see our Blog post, London Calling), however, after her daughter, Elizabeth was crowned Queen, Anne as venerated as a martyr.


After Anne’s father died, the castle came into good old Henry’s possession, and he gave it to Anne of Cleaves as part of their annulment (4th wife…keeping up?!).  Fascinatingly, Hever still has one of Henry’s private locks which he took to every dwelling he stayed at for his personal security (necessary I would have thought…).


Once again, it fell into disrepair (!) and was eventually bought by William Waldorf Astor, an American millionaire in 1903, then sold in 1983 to the Guthrie family.

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Why would you want to go there?  History comes alive!  Each room is intact with the original furniture or similar replicas, dress of the time, Anne Boleyn’s possessions, even torture instruments!  Although it’s totally different to Bodium in that you can’t clamber over everything and roam to your heart’s content, it is a monument to history and legend.  There’s even a maze to get lost in!  And a picturesque lake and walks round the extensive grounds.


It’s a full, Grand Day Out.

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Tintagel Castle, Cornwall


Completely different to Bodium, Tintagel in Cornwall is steeped in history, too, and of course, don’t forget, dear Readers, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table!


It’s built on a peninsula called Tintagel Island and is believed to have been habited during the early medieval period (although Roman artefacts have been found there but no actual structure) until a castle was built in the 13th Century by Richard (another Richard) 1st Earl of Cornwall.  It then became a ruin (again) until the 19th Century where, just like Bodium, it became a tourist attraction.

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Interestingly enough, when the castle was built in 1233 in order to establish a connection with the Arthurian legends associated with the area and because it was seen as a traditional place for Cornish Kings, the castle was built in the old-fashioned style so it appears more ancient than it actually is…And of course, we can’t forget the legend of King Arthur and Merlin the wizard…although by many accounts, the stories are tenuous to say the least.


The fact remains that Tintagel is incredibly pretty and extremely unusual with its 148 steps up to the “island” and through a wooden door into what would have been the Great Hall.  Unfortunately, in our research, dear Readers, we note that it is currently closed for the construction of a new footbridge, but you can still go there and access the beach and soak up the atmosphere…

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You want to go there still, though, because it’s most unusual and atmospheric.

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Pembroke Castle, Pembrokeshire, Wales


The Welsh are very lucky as they have a plethora of castles to visit should they so wish.  Even just in Pembrokeshire, there’s actually 21 different castles you can visit!  So if you are a castle fiend, Pembrokeshire is effectively your Mecca…Again, nothing like a bit of personal experience, and we can say, dear Readers, that Pembroke Castle is a must.  Indeed, it’s everything you ever wanted in a castle.  Plus it’s the largest privately owned castle in Wales.


More “intact” than the others we’ve mentioned so far, apart from Hever, where, interestingly once more, Henry VIII bestowed upon Anne Boleyn the title of Marquessate of Pembroke, Pembroke is a fully immersive history lesson.  Probably the best of both worlds, Pembroke allows you to scurry round the turrets and walls but also at the same time, get a real feeling, like at Hever, of how the castle actually was and looked and what it was like to live there.


Dating back to 1093, 100 years later, it was given to William Marshal, by Richard I (Richard, again!).  William was to become one of the most powerful men of his era, and he built the castle in the stone you’ll still exists today.  In the 13th Century a 55 step spiral staircase was built to take you down to a huge limestone cave called Wogan Cavern.  You can still climb down there today, although beware of people coming up and you come down…it gets a bit tense with holiday makers!  It could have been used then as a boathouse or sallyport to the river, but we prefer it to have been the home of the legendary Welsh dragon…

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Pembroke escaped attack during the great rebellion of Wales thanks to the castle’s constable paying off the rebels in gold!  During the English Civil War, although the castle sided with the Parliament rather than the King, it was saved by Parliamentary forces sailing from nearby Milford Haven.  During the Second Civil War, Oliver Cromwell took the castle after a seven week siege and ordered the castle to be destroyed.  Guess what happened next?  See a pattern?!  It fell into disrepair until the good old Victorians and their touristic tendencies restored it.  In 1928 Sir Ivor Phillips began restoring it to the beautiful place it is today, and set up a trust for the continued restoration after his death.


Why would we want to go there?  You couldn’t get a more interactive place, and it’s great for kids and adults alike.  You’ll learn something even if you don’t want to!

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Edinburgh Castle, Scotland


You really can’t miss this one!  It’s so dramatic and beautiful.  It utterly dominates the city and rightly so.


Human occupation has been discovered as far back as the 2nd Century.  The castle was built in the 12th Century during the reign of David I and indeed remained a royal residence until 1633.  Unlike Hever and Bodium, Edinburgh castle has seen more action than anywhere else:  26 sieges in its 1100 year history, giving it the title of “most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked places in the World”!!!!


In the 15th Century the castle was used as an armoury factory for which it became famous.  After siege after siege after siege it last saw action in 1745 during the second Jacobite Rising when the Jacobite Army, under Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) captured Edinburgh.  Despite all its sieges, it’s the only castle on our list that hasn’t fallen into “disrepair” and has been considered even as far back as 1814 as a national monument.  Perhaps not quite as fun as the others for small children, it certainly holds a plethora of historical armaments and war memorabilia.  And guess what:  it's used for all sorts now, even pop concerts.  You literally couldn't have a more picturesque venue!

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There you are, dear Readers, a history lesson and a Grand Day Out all in one!  What more could you want?!


Now, however, it’s time to look at some more “out there” travel trends…keep your eyes peeled for our next post…