Caister Castle

I didn’t actually get to step into this one. I went there early this morning, hoping to go by the place before work and explore quite freely. Regrettably, this was thoroughly thwarted by what was going on at the castle — namely, it is on private territory and access is granted between May and September only.

Nevertheless, from the one side facing the road I did as much exploring as one manages — which is some but not much at all, especially as of the four sides of this rectangular castle one manages to note only one! I would, however, still not consider this visit to have been wasted — I liked the layout and there’s plenty remaining there; plenty enough indeed to go and investigate this place in more detail at some point in the future.

Lastly, I did not end up getting much of a vibe of this place for the abovementioned obvious reasons. Still, there was something: perhaps this was the juxtaposition of the old and the new, with a minor road leading to West Caister bypassing the castle less than twenty feet from the moat and towers; perhaps this was something else. It could have been the elusive sense of the Norfolk ruins which so often accompanies these places in the slightly wet and rainy days as today was.

One of the better views I was left with is below:

A look towards Caister Castle from Castle Lane

Contradiction is the essence of the universe.

A essência do universo é a contradição.
— Fernando Pessoa

As my previous post from half a month ago shows, Sr Pessoa’s statement is so very true. Even though I verily planned to write more, it hasn’t happened — now, however, I am writing about not writing. What a contradiction in every way.

Yet, fortunately, over the last few days I have managed to visit a few places so I’ll be able to put my thoughts on paper regarding those — and during that time, hopefully formulate some other expressive thoughts.

October

October was a good month for me but less so for this blog, as can be observed from the fact not a single post was written in that time. Indeed, as the two main methods of what I used to post about have become more complex (more on that below) I’ll need to think of something else or replace those with other similarly topical posts.

But, to be more concrete… I used to write about places I would visit and how these were, and, secondly, forward reviews from Goodreads as I do tend to write something on every book over there.

The first of these has fallen a bit to the wayside as a month in Norwich (October) did not allow for much exploring (read: I did not choose to spend my time discovering new places or rediscovering the old) and the month before that the sea was quite limiting in what I could see. The one option is to look back in time and write of my memories of the places I visited before Scotland, and I might go for that — we’ll see.

The second one — Goodreads reviews — have become more complex as the direct link between the two services was severed by Goodreads some time ago. I have seen mention of scripts and such which can still convert a review from one to the other, but I have not really taken the time to explore these in as much detail as I should have.

In other words, I hope to write more or at least ensure that what I write will end up here, but the plan for getting to that stage is pretty weak.

How I Write of Castles

I realised, after having reviewed castles (and, actually, historic sites of all types: palaces, temples, hills) that I have not said what I look for when I visit these places. While it is not that difficult to get the sense of what I say and don’t say, this might not be too helpful for people looking for some concrete facts or a detailed picture-overview.

Neither of these is in the realm of what I aim to do here. What I aim to do is to offer some snippets of historic curiosities, events which made me laugh or think or cry when I read about these places. That Tantallon’s lords liked going shooting on the nearby granitic outcrop, the Ailsa Craig of the eastern coast, or that James VI heard of his accession at Falklands and made it into a local title, or that a lord Cassilis of Culzean went and shot his umbrella-holder in the rainforests of Gambia…

These are stories which bring these places to life. They illustrate how living people treated each other and themselves in times gone past. What they laughed about and what they might not have enjoyed as much. All of these snippets help me build a better, clearer, window to look into history.

And I visit these places mostly to expand my understanding of history. This understanding takes many shapes. I do not particularly like reading about places and not being able to visualise them in my mind, and yet not many a text would describe Dunnotar Castle as well as the effort of climbing those steps to reach the peak of that peninsula. But this understanding also takes the form of the farmers at Alpsee who have ever lived looking at two or three castles on their nearby peaks. How do they relate to these? Is it a symbol of hope and strength, or does it merely represent wasted fortunes?

Naturally, all of these could be answered by other methods in the modern day. Yet, the feeling of going to somewhere and seeing it in its natural climate — no matter whether the result is a wintery Schloss Linderhof, sunny Mull of Galloway, or a rainy Rothesay — helps put that place into its natural context.

So… what I look for is emotion, a feeling, any feeling, that would relate to this place I am writing about. How this place fits into the world I have seen and into the lives of the people who were involved with it. How a representation of this place can carry the message that was dearest to my heart. How the inhabitants of this place would have looked about in the beginning of their day or at the end of their toils.

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar was recommended to me by a person, I think, in Falklands Palace. He also recommended Hermitage Castle, and once I visited that place and loved every inch of it, I knew I had to get over to Dunnottar as well. Unfortuitously I moved out of Scotland before I made my way into Aberdeenshire this year. And, then, fortuitously, I had to go past Aberdeen and had about four hours to spare — which is quite enough for the train down to Stonehaven, walk up the coast (about two miles, train station to the castle), check out the castle, walk back, and adios.

Now I have been to Dunnottar I can say it was absolutely spectacular. The perched headline which it occupies is one of those typical wonders on the Scottish coast; the fact that some laird a long time ago decided that his keep will also be *the* representative power in this area was obviously a good decision.

It is quite a mighty climb down and back up from the coast-side cliffs that one has to take to get up to the castle. It’s not quite worthy a charge, and I would not like to have been in the position to have to attack this keep.

The site up on the headland is quite wonderful as well, there’s plenty to look around. A local legend (fact? story? who knows…) is that a lion used to be kept in the suitably named Lion’s Den. Another one of those historical factoids you can use at a dinner party.

I quite liked the central area as well, beyond the old main keep. There’s a very small garden, and plenty of ruined walls. It all had the sense of centuries gone by, and it was absolutely amazing to walk around there. I was most surprised by the cistern which I had not expected in any way or form. Nonetheless, there’s a cistern for watern that was built. You have been forewarned…

What made my visit more spectacular was that it was a gloriously sunny day in Scotland’s September. While these come by every now and then, the weeks gone by since would like to prove that I was very lucky indeed. I don’t think that this place would be any worse in the rain though, as it is a more typical environment no doubt. And, the sense of those North Sea storms rushing against Scotland with all their might would have been a typical occurrence to the local lairds…

The one thing I would caution is that after having become used to the level of service and signposts that Historic Environment Scotland, or whatever it calls itself now, and the National Trust put up, the independent owners here had very little (or, at least, considerably less than what I was hoping for) of the history of the place (though plenty of the “this is a kitchen” type signs).

Nonetheless, that’s less important than the sense of being there!

How I Review Books

Books can be looked at from many points of view. My one most strenous belief is that when I talk about books, you should not hear the plot in too great a detail (unless the author intends the ending to be known before the book begins). Hence, I rarely comment on plot devices or any story development as I feel I could be shortchanging the reader of the review.

So, I have to look (and like looking in any case) at the other aspects of the book instead. One of these is the writing — very important indeed for me, and I hope for most people, but I need to feel comfortable reading the book. It should not feel forced (again, unless that is the intent), and it should feel good. I should get the sense that the author enjoyed writing it, and if their words are put to paper with such skill that I lose myself in their world, even better.

Part of the above is how well the characters come out. I think I here quite often contradict what some other people say, or at least when I have compared reviews on Goodreads it is quite obvious that characters I liked very much were considered incomplete by others and vice versa. I cannot quite explain it, except perhaps I look for the establishment of the character in something more than the written person. They must feel consistent throughout, and they must feel logical. They must have culture (if that is their background), and they must act as if they belong to wherever they are from.

The above is not always the case. However, I have also noted a lot of people have preference with respect to how much text is descriptive vs dialogue (say Tolkien vs Asimov for an easy one here). I think both of these can be similarly splendid, but they must be appreciated for what they are and how they are. The being of Asimov’s characters will come through their words, while Tolkien’s characters get constructed perhaps even before they say their first sentence. That is the difference between various authors.

Next, I am always partial to an interesting story which is interlaced with enough background for it to feel real. This includes an aspect which is not directly related with either of the above, but which is indirectly connected to both of them: there should be some wisdom in the book. No matter what form or method it takes to come across, either the narrator or a character, whether or not it is picked up on and used or not.

But, lastly, and most importantly, the writing must be good enough for me to feel what is going on. This I’d term as emotion. And, indeed, in my reviews I often go with whether something feels right or wrong and what other emotions the story created. How the characters felt and whether they were right is another aspect. This, for me, that a book feels a certain way, is maybe my own classification, but very useful in the sense that if I am feeling a certain way it is quite nice to pick up a book which complements it. There is, after all, no point in reading a fact-oriented history (as opposed to a story-oriented) when looking for amusement or philosophy, or looking for sarcasm from high fantasy.

The above is not perhaps the most perfect description I could give, but I know that my book recommendations follow this. I know my friends well enough and try to recommend books to them if what I felt in that book seems to match what that friend is like. Sometimes I am wrong, sometimes not. Nonetheless, I have always taken great care if I recommend something (or, at least, I would like to think so).

And, I hope, that derives from me considering more than just the plot. For, indeed, the plot is just the first glazing on the house that is the book, and that is also why I nearly always recommend picking an old book up after years have passed to read it anew.

Schloss Linderhof

Linderhof I liked. It carries the same burden of Neuschwanstein — it is new. It is so very recent indeed. But, nevertheless, it has spirit (and it has a fountain which could have been the deciding factor). Therefore, visit this place in the summer as the careful Bavarians cover up the fountains in the winter so that the water would not freeze and cause damage to the masonry.

In any case, back to the schloss. I find Linderhof beautiful. It is delicate and it is so very precise in what it wants to be — an exquisite retreat for an introverted person. I cannot fault Ludwig for wanting a place like this, and I guess on of the things to lament is how little time the King was finally able to spend in places like this which would have probably satiated his wanderlust for quite some time.

Yet, even as I say this, I am not the best of friends with the Alps, and Linderhof lies under this mountain range. One can see the mountains visible in every direction from here, and there is no sea, no lake, no river. I so prefer places with water of any kind — one of my regrets that I have not made it to Herrenchiemsee yet. But, that’s what the future is for…

Back to our wonderful palace. I of course also appreciate the name though it does not come from my favourite tree, but an eponymous family. Nevertheless, I find it a pleasant name and a joyful one, as indeed this palace is. I can imagine André Rieu’s Johann Strauss Orchestra playing the very best of waltzes in this courtyard, for this is what it was meant for.

What else to say? The grounds are good to walk around in, with small gems litterred around the area. The Moroccan/Moorish house is one such place, but there are many others. The fountain at the back of the palace is something I quite like, and it is worth climbing all of the nearby hills to see what the view is like from there.

I think this option of appreciating the palace from so many different view-points is a very good thing to have here, as one can replace the missing historical depth with one’s own emotional sense. The mountains here, the castle there, the castle here, a pond there (as there actually is, despite my above lamentation, a small swan pond near the castle though not near-near)…

Having not been to Herrenchiemsee, this is my favourite of Ludwig’s palaces — and probably also my favourite palace I have visited in Bayern (Bavaria) though I have only had a very limited reach into there thus far.

Although, as a last note, I’d definitely try to miss the tourists if I was to visit…

Schloss Neuschwanstein

As one of King Ludwig’s palaces, Neuschwanstein has the sense of grandeur one might expect. Other than also having developed into the archetypal Disney-castle model, this schloss is a beautiful example of the Bavarian mountain-building style and the elegance which they could put into these difficult projects (though one should probably steer clear of discussing the fiscal arrangements projects like this demanded).

Fortunately — or perhaps unfortunately, to add a point of conversation — Neuschwantstein can be a contentious name. As it stands, the castle presently known as Hohenschwangau approximately a mile from the Disneyesque citadel used to be called Neuschwantstein until being renamed in the late 19th century. This castle replaced two earlier (Mediaeval) castles when Ludwig started its construction, and presently the Neuschwantstein citadel is definitely the one to leave a mark on the landscape.

However, on a closer investigation, though the castle looks magnificent from far away, it is less so on a personal level. Or, rather, it’s perhaps more impressive, especially when viewed from the Marienbrücke where the low-lying Bavarian countryside is visible behind the castle.

What I meant is that this place is so recent — and, yes, plenty of country houses, even my much-beloved Anglesey, have been built or rebuilt considerably later — that I was not particularly moved when I walked in this place. Naturally, the mediaeval feel is more of the make-believe kind, with the 19th century people trying to put their own touch into what they thought the ‘rugged 13th century’ must have looked like, and in this they obviously exagerrated.

But it is not just this… This recent construction, the enhancement of the picturesque instead of the graceful, has led to places which I would recommend one visit, but perhaps without expectations. The beauty in these places lies in what the viewer’s eye — your eye — can make of the place for yourself. There is not sense that for more than a thousand (or, for some especially long-standing places, two to four thousand) years this has been a culturally important site. It is new, and you know it when you look at it.

Nevertheless, go and take a look. It is inspiring, though of course Ludwig had it easier than many of us today (though, his personal life is one of the greatest tragedies amongst the 19th century royalty). But what would the castle of your dreams look like?.. Would it be as sleek, as delicate, as excquisite as Neuschwanstein?

Memories of Tōkyō

One of my most favourite moments of 2016 took place on September 7th. Why? What? Where?

This was in Tōkyō, the capital of the State of Japan. More precisely, it was in the Imperial district and by the entrance to the Imperial Palace. The sun was setting with its last rays still casting a faint light, bringing the park to life in an unique way. There were not many people present, the tourists had come and gone though it was not yet late (twenty to six) — but the Sun was setting and people move with it, so for that day, they had passed on.

The setting was beautiful in every mentionable way. It is still in my mind, the Sun’s quiet descent as daylight slowly receded, as it left the Imperial District, and as its last rays illuminated the former heart of the Shogunate.

Overall, I did not see much of Tōkyō as I had barely 24h there, but I am incredibly happy that one of the places I decided to go to was the Palace. Having the limited time to explore, I had started out without much of a plan and with a very limited grasp on which options were plausible. Chance ruled. The providential decisions which made me exit the underground in that station and walk down the street to arrive in the nick of time to see the day pass away are worth pondering about on their own. How much of what happens to us is chance, and chance alone? How much of this was indeterminable by anything I did?

But, with regards to this post, I mostly wanted to share this image:

Kōkyo

I can still remember the serenity. Can you sense it?

Kellie Castle

I have to begin by saying I did not like Kellie much. Kellie has a very good garden, but it is severely disadvantaged by some aspects of the house as it seems to me. There is a section which supposedly remains directly from the Medieval period — or, rather, two sections of the house are from the Medieval period with the inter-connection having been built later.

Or maybe I actually did like it?… Difficult to say now. I had some good discussions about the Covenanters and the Jacobites with whom the family in this house was involved (/not involved). Some of this family history was absolutely phenomenal and the people working here know it to a very good level for all four of the families to live here.

However, the stuff I did not appreciate as much — and this is strongly personal as I just don’t have that much of an interest in certain modern arts — is the reconstructions organised by the Lorimers. They also turned the original Medieval guard tower into an art salon, which is probably the worst offense to my conscience.

Nevertheless, the garden at Kellie is absolutely wonderful and definitely deserves a wander around. Better yet, even if the castle itself is closed, you can go for a walk in the gardens…

The walled garden at Kellie Castle