Burcht van Leiden

Leiden is a small city which is situated between the Old and New Rhines. The same applies to the castle there, which as the story goes, is built upon a man-made hill, and was probably originally used as an escape in case of the very same rivers flooded.

Burcht van Leiden

So, this very same castle was built on this hill, and though it has not seen extensive military action it has stood there since the 11th century. Passed through many an owner’s hand to get to the modern day, it does not retain much of those former lords in its present state. Indeed, the inside shows where a well once was and a few trees illustrate the rest of the barren hilltop.

Nevertheless, the structure itself is so different to the surroundings, the aspiration of the original man in this area to conquer Mother Nature, that it is worth climbing up there. Though not particularly high or mighty, it was high and mighty enough to serve the purpose that those Dutch passed onto it.

And that is all it needed to do.

Claxton Castle

Don’t visit this place. It’s not worth it. I mean, it could be… but it isn’t.

I tried to go and take a look in December of last month during the day (it was still light) and during reasonable hours, and… — firstly, let me say that most (read: absolutely all) of this site is on private property these days, but it is a farm and there’s a road from that leads onto the main farm building which is in what (I interpreted to be) the new Claxton Manor.

All that can be seen by the public

So, I took a few steps around the place once I arrived, and it didn’t take more than a few minutes until the occupants of the farm came to talk to me. Quite instructively, one of the things they said was that “If you go that way, you will get shot.” Interpret that as you will… That way was not even onto their farm grounds, but along the front of the Manor/Castle building.

Hence, these photos represent more or less all that could be investigated by a(n) (intrepid) member of the public. For what it is, I wouldn’t say that the visit will give anyone much of an experience.

And, for what it is worth, if I owned a part of a castle, I would be happy for people to visit and to share the living history. It is a pity not everyone has a similar mindset.

One of the almost intact towers (one really wasn’t meant to approach this place from this side)

Raveningham Hall (Old)

Raveningham’s an interesting one: other than the moat, nothing remains insofar as I could see. Indeed, a modern complex is situated in the middle of the moated area though no one was home when I visited — I imagine it is not every day the occupants get asked how they like living in the middle of a moat.

The moat to the right of its crossing

A minor detail to note is that I am speaking of the place where the old hall structure used to be located, and not of the new Raveningham Hall which is probably better known.

There’s not very much to see, but there are some interesting puzzles to think about. Especially looking around, the moat is considerably higher than some of the surrounding landscape suggesting that layers of soil have accumulated in the centre of the moat where people have lived and that the “island” has grown on top of the exploits of the previous generations.

Indeed, though, as there was not much else to explore, the moat was the main experience and is also why I would have been particularly keen to talk to the people who lived there. Alas, it was not to be… One can only ponder, in this case, what they themselves would think in this situation.

More moat

Mettingham Castle

I am not sure I understand Mettingham. Or, at least, I wasn’t in the position to get up close and personal with all the walls and remaining towers as my poor level of research had failed to note that a street goes to the very back and probably allows some better access to the keep than the front road which I ended up using.

Gatehouse at Mettingham

What so confused me here — or at least puzzled — was that the entirety of the inside area in the castle seemed to be dedicate to private housing. This seems like an exceptionally poor use of such a monument though no doubt my opinion on this would be the opposite if it was me living there!

However, my failure to note the rear side meant that most of my observations were from quite far away. While I did note the strength of the main front-facing wall and saw some parts of the moat, the actual feeling of this place was lost for me. And yet, it could be that this synthesis of old and modern I mention above is what made it disappear: the memories of the people who were here before have fallen deeper into the ground beneath the multitudes of people who are here daily.

Look towards the keep

Yet, another thought at this site makes me think that it is the absence of stories relating to this place which has made me lose that sense where I can recommend it. I don’t know about the inner grounds and all, but at least the outside facing side which I saw did not mention anything about the place or its owners while it is the stories about the people who lived here and did things here what I appreciate most.

I will give Mettingham another chance if I am nearby, but won’t be recommending it above everywhere else before then.

Baconsthorpe Castle

Baconsthorpe is the gem of Norfolk, the one place I would say that everyone should (could) visit if they have the opportunity to do so. It is suitably ruined while maintaining enough of the previous encircling fortifications to create a very good impression.

The first thing one who comes onto the site sees is the former mansion building which was occupied until the 1920’s:

Outer gatehouse

This is one of the noticeably newer parts of the complex even though there’s not much of a difference (about a century) between when the outer gatehouse was constructed and the main mansion building to the back of this bit. The other noteworthy thing, barely shown on this image is the road which leads up to it, both sides of which are very nicely delineated as a garden area. The singular tree adds character which would otherwise be missing.

Inner gatehouse

The inner gatehouse is also quite well preserved, and definitely worth considering. The picture above absolutely ignores the moat which to the right of this image develops into a small scenic mere. Indeed, it was this which — when I first visited — created the most English scene one can imagine: a light drizzle, derelict masonry, and swans paddling along.

A look on it all

This picture tries to capture the width of this fortified manor house, and yet doesn’t quite get there. I had a lot of trouble here, to be fair, with the system I was trying to use and that did not work for me. A lot of my pictures ended up very dark and those are not as good to use — and, yet, I would like to, as it was only my fourth visit which motivated me to try and walk around the place!

I think you can see how much I like this place from the random imagery I have managed to gather of this place over the years (2011 September being the first time I visited). This truly is one of the places I would always recommend, mostly because there is a lot to experience here though the site is quite small.

Inner gatehouse from inside the manor house

Go, friend, and take a look…

The mere

Holy Trinity Church, Bungay

It is rare of me to dedicate an entire post to a single church; nevertheless, having learned of the interests of a colleague of mine, Bob Mitchell, in (Saxon) round tower churches, I figured that this post would be a perfect way to show some appreciation to a fellow history enthusiast. Namely, this old church in Bungay was the first place for me to visit after learning a bit about round towers carrying a special meaning (even if this meaning is under debate).

I’ll let the intrepid explorer discover more about round tower churches themselves while I mention a few things about the Holy Trinity at Bungay.

The round tower at the Holy Trinity in Bungay

Interesting stories about this church include that the time when nearly the entirety of the market town of Bungay burned in the fire of 1688, this church was where the ‘the Fire was Stayed’. The church also escaped the Black Dog Incident of 1577 which was quite damaging to some of its neighbours.

A word on the round tower itself will potentially place it to the early Norman times though round towers could also originate during the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. My colleague’s site notes a probable Saxon origin, but I’ll cautiously point out that the plaques near the church itself only point out that possibility and remain vague.

The one bit of information to append is that the octagonal expansion of the upper tower is definitely more recent, but in a way it suits the original. It’s not much to consider how the resident priests here may have looked out at the trying times that Bungay passed through in its long history, no matter the style in which the topmost layers of the tower are built.

Bungay Priory

Finally a place with a story or two to tell though mostly because of the tragedies that have struck Bungay in times past. Yet, are ever the stories people remember different? As Tolkien wrote:

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”

Hence, the stories associated with this place: firstly, on August 4th, 1577, a massive thunderstorm struck Bungay. During this storm, a black dog appeared in the church and two men were killed immediately with others wounded. An apparition of the devil? Mayhaps…

The second story is perhaps a bit more helpful as it tells of how the Church of St Mary (the former Priory) was alighted by “helpful” people during the Great Fire of 1688 when local people were dragging their furniture into the place while trying to save their belongings. Didn’t go all that well, clearly.

Look towards the former Priory and the new adjoining St Mary’s Church

I liked this place; the ruins on the ground were such a clear indication of the past and all that has gone before while the adjoining modern structure was a wonderfully refreshing look into the present and all that has happened since.

So, while some might say that this many posts on Bungay are superfluous, I am less certain. This place has some charm, and is indeed quite special in what it offers: there’s military history, there’s cultural history. Also, as we are in Norfolk, there’s the sense that this place was so much more though indeed I am not an expert in the Waveney and how it has evolved over the years, but it must have looked so different to allow Bungay access to the sea — which was still the case not too long ago. But, times change…

And where do you lead?..

Bigod Castle

I think Bigod Castle could be wonderful. Regrettably, I could not explore the inner courtyards as, predictably, when I visited, it was closed. Don’t visit on a November’s Sunday…

Either way, I did my best to trace a path around the castle to see what shows up. That again is not as easy as in some other places, as Bungay has grown quite close to the castle and access is limited. Furthermore, the Sunday visitation also meant that the Castle Link, connecting Bigod Castle to the Waveney and further, was also closed. This clearly makes no sense (why close a public footpath?), but one’s options at this point were limited.

View from the outer courtyard

Bigod looked interesting and it certainly played a part in history. Signs in the city pointed towards a rivalry with the nearby Mettingham but I am not absolutely certain about this detail. It would make sense, and Mettingham was owned by a different family.

Other than this bit, common knowledge is that Roger Bigod was the first lord of this keep though the modern structure derives from a different Roger, this time from the latter part of the 13th century, as the descendants of the original one sided with the wrong people in a revolt to the end of the 12th century and their home got demolished. The 13th century Roger was similarly disingenuous and after his death the castle slowly fell into disrepair.

None of this is admittedly particularly interesting despite the historical facts — where are the inspiring stories, and where are the important details? My only reply at this time is that I know nothing more about this site, though if I can think of anything — or visit again — I’ll let you know.

The Desolation of Chang’an, Wei Zhuang

Chang’an lies in mournful stillness: what does it now contain?
— Ruined markets and desolate streets, in which ears of wheat are sprouting.
Fuel-gatherers have hacked down every flowering plant in the Apricot Gardens,
Builders of barricades have destroyed the willows along the Imperial Canal.
All the gaily-coloured chariots with their ornamental wheels are scattered and gone.
Of the stately mansions with their vermilion gates less than half remain.
The Hanyuan Hall is the haunt of foxes and hares.
The approach to the Flower-calyx Belvedere is a mass of brambles and thorns.
All the pomp and magnificence of the older days are buried and passed away;
Only a dreary waste meets the eye; the old familiar objects are no more.
The Inner Treasury is burnt down, its tapestries and embroideries a heap of ashes;
All along the Street of Heaven one treads on the bones of the State officials.

This is from ‘The Silk Road‘ by Valerie Hansen to cap the chapter dealing with Chang’an, detailing the sacking of the old capital in 881 by the rebel armies. I found the poem incredibly evoking, mostly due to the very vivid description brought forward.

Retyping it I was also astounded by the note that it goes from a very specific point out to general and then focusses in again for the end note. It gives the sense that Wei Zhuang had a particular interest in the Inner Treasury and the Street of Heaven, and that their destruction is especially harrowing. Or, perhaps, as a conscientious poet, he noted that the destruction of the Street of Heaven was synonymous with the destruction of the Mandate of Heaven and the permission to govern?

The typical response to the above would be the classical statement:

An empire long divided, must unite. Long united, must divide.

Nevertheless, that the story of Chinese history can be summed up beautifully and poetically does not make it any easier to live through. And, yet, it was no doubt easier for Wei Zhuang to evoke sentiments by the destruction of glorious places, much like ‘Ruin’ did (and still does) for its Anglo-Saxon audience.

Denton Castle

When one goes to investigate a place which no longer exists, the sense of self must be strong and rooted in the present. It would be so easy to concoct a story that reaches through millennia but grasps at all of the wrong branches and leads one in the wrong way. Or, at least, that is what I find: whatever we imagine in a place which used to exist, this should be as grounded in the reality of then as now. Could Denton have been the Norwich of today if things had been different? Who knows…

It is an interesting site and an absolute pain to get to: I found the best set of instructions on the Gatehouse site, but essentially one should park by the Darrow Green Farm and cross the field to the visible enclosure of trees. There are no National Trust signs or directions, or at least, there were none when I visited in November 2017, and one is easily liable to drive too far. Either way, making one’s way across the fields to this site is an interesting moment as the scope of the castle is not visible until the very last moments of the journey.

Naturally, nothing other than the earthworks remains at this point. The motte and bailey structure is heavily forested, which has perhaps helped its survival, but either way it is a beautiful place. Regrettably, the absence of National Trust signage also means there is no information locally about the castle, its owners, or conjecture into its usage.

The lack of this information can be appreciated for the main site, even, as the information is available online after a few quick searches. What is less available are ideas on the origin and sense of some of the other features at the site: there are two mounds of very minor stature, which can be — perhaps — identified by the descriptions at the Gatehouse site, but as it gives no distances, this cannot be confirmed. One of these two is illustrated here:

Remains of something at Denton Castle

Moving on to the castle structure itself, perhaps the best sense of the motte is given by the below:

The motte at Denton Castle

This is taken from a higher vantage point within the bailey, looking inwards to the motte area. The ditch from this side was about a metre deep, and moving on to the motte, perhaps twice that. Additionally, the outer wall of the bailey was easily traceable throughout its border making this site a very good example of theoretical motte and bailey construction — theoretical, as no masonry has survived.

Overall, these thoughts summarise my opinions on this castle, interesting as it is. I really do wish more happened at this site; as it is right now, I doubt it gets many visitors and though the local people might not appreciate the increased numbers of people on their roads, there’s a sense of history at this site which I feel more people should acquaint themselves with.