Bodiam Castle

Bodiam. The name had been in my mind for a long while by the time I got around to visiting this place. I think the first time for me to come across it was as a map for Stronghold (could be this one but I am not certain, the date looks too recent), and the name stuck with me. It was never there in the forefront, but it was always somewhere in the background.

Hence, when I was wondering what to do with a day in Brighton while my friends were at work and one of them mentioned that Bodiam Castle was nearby, the solution was obvious: go there and check the place out.

Truly, it looks like what a castle is when people mean the word:

Bodiam Castle, look from the rear

A large moat surrounding a multi-towered keep; round towers in the corners and square ones in the centre of the wall with the main gatehouse in the front along with a barbican (not visible on the image above).

I greatly appreciated the way in which the present setup allows people to approach from all sides and to make up their mind about the place on the way there. It was kind of fitting, though one of the things I did not like was that the bridge across the moat had been changed from where it used to be located to a more frontal, direct, approach into the gatehouse.

Bodiam Castle, look from the front

The imposing external nature of the castle is very clear from these images — even if, as the National Trust guides are keen to tell a visitor today, modern research (and not only modern, but originating in the Victorian times) is gradually re-evaluating the role of castles as defensive structures. My introduction into this topic was through Robert Liddiard‘s ‘Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape, 1066-1500’, which was the first work that introduced me to the idea that nobles could have used these strongholds as a sign of belonging to the old boys’ club by building obvious defects into the structure. The local peasants, of course, would not have had a clue that the place is poorly defended by its imposing nature.

I am not certain, however, whether the inside isn’t more spectacular, especially taking into account what I’ve highlighted above regarding the potential for what these castles were for. The place is, in general, very well preserved — perhaps more so considering it’s been derelict since the late 17th century even though built only in the late 14th (finished in 1385), by sir Edward Dallingridge (Dalyngrigge).

One of the minor facts which I picked up at the site related to one of the people sir Edward fought alongside in the Hundred Years’ War, sir Robert Knolles. Apparently, sir Robert was so poorly appreciated by the French peasants (for his methods at extracting loot) so that when they heard of his approach to their villages, they would burn the village themselves and either run to the forests or drown themselves in rivers as being caught by sir Robert was a worse fate.

These bits of history, facts with which the National Trust employees at the site are very happy to part with, make Bodiam a treasure to visit, much like the Hermitage though there one’s conjure the narration of the stories from the placards at the site.

Pevensey Castle (Norman)

The Norman keep, located within a larger Roman-era settlement, is another one of the places which I managed to visit at a very poor time. Namely, as I described in the article that dealt with the outlying Roman structures here, English Heritage had kindly closed the castle for exactly when I was visiting. Oh well, for me this meant that I did some off-roading. Firstly, the only good photo I got of the towers in by the gatehouse:

Pevensey Castle

So, I got to walk around the two flanks of the castle shown on the photo here, go up the drawbridge to the closed gate, snap a quick photo through there, and then wander around the fort for the rest of my time in this place. What I noted, however, was that a track led through to the left of the drawbridge (exiting the castle) and I followed it down and through the ditch.

This carefully executed manoeuvre allowed me to observe some of the areas restricted for normal access although the view didn’t really expand on what can be found inside this place. Yet, the seaward wall in itself, in that state of disrepair it finds itself, was quite an interesting sight.

Seaward wall

And literally none of that interest comes through here, nor does the sense of height from the bottom of the ditch around the motte. Yet, perhaps, this did instil in me the sense which I did not have thus far for most motte and bailey type castles where I had not always considered necessary to circumambulate the structure in question. It is pretty obvious that walking around a place should expand one’s understanding of it, but this was definitely helpful here where so much of what was actually present was out of my range.

Anderitum, Litus Saxonicum

I’ll start with an admission that I spent far less time here than one could have. Not only was the English Heritage owned and operated central Norman keep (to the right of the view here) closed due to winter (or mid-week winter?), but my attempts to think about this place were mostly confined to crossing this expanse and then investigating the aforementioned keep in more detail.

Why? Because I hadn’t done my research! If I had known that Anderitum had a glorious history as, to begin with, one of the Saxon Shore forts, and only later ended up as the centre of the (Anglo-)Norman culture, I might have paid more attention to things I (probably) missed or, at least, didn’t explore as fully as I should have.

An inside view to Anderitum

As it was, the few things I noted inside this building was that one of the gates was called ‘the Roman West Gate’ and that there was a cannon emplacement from the Civil War period. Both of these I explored in some detail, but perhaps without the historical context which makes these places all the more visit-worthy.

And, yet, the sense from this place was very similar immediately to another Saxon Shore fort I have visited in the past —¬†Gariannorum — which I have mentioned plentifully in the past. The walls looked similar and something about the general structure here made me immediately think of that place (also, above other Roman places such as Venta Icenorum though it would seem that Anderitum had a trading presence and indeed was more than a fort).

Overall, well worth a visit though I guess that as the millennia have left their marks, one must know which bit interests them or take the time to explore the Roman, Norman and Civil War periods in similar detail.

Scotney House (Country House)

The new house at Scotney (vis-a-vis the old one) is not the most remarkable of country houses to visit although the obvious reason to be thankful for the original owners is that we have the ruined old castle to cherish.

By design and contents, this is a fairly standard place: lots of art, especially stuff recovered from the Old House and the surrounding moat. Some of these are very unique though admittedly my interests right now are more into general architecture so I did not spend very much time investigating these relics.

Scotney House

The gardens around the main house were also quite bland (though one might suggest that in November quite a few of the English country houses do not have the most exciting gardenscapes). I was, similarly, hoping more from the walled garden but this was somehow especially empty of feeling.

Somehow my sense of this place tells me that the first thought was for Old Scotney Castle, and only after that the rest of it. So that, at present, we see a wonderful lake with its adjoining house, sights truly worthy of everything. Around these is a good pensive atmosphere with plenty of trees and walkways. The excavated quarry area which was also purpose-built is of a similarly interesting nature — or is it just the prevalence of plants in this part of the estate?

The Quarry

Maybe that’s the way about it, and I was expecting to see more life up by the new house? Can’t really say. Either way, even if the new house does not capture you, the old one and the estate itself will.

Scotney Castle (Old House)

My first look at the Old Castle in Scotney, as they call it, was one of wonder and beauty. It looked absolutely amazing in every way! Only later did I learn that was the purpose of the people who owned the house up on the hill: they wanted a scenic retreat, and so they ruined what used to be a perfectly good place. My enthusiasm decreased somewhat, though at the same time it does look amazing…

Scotney Castle

It looks like the archetypal stronghold of a gentryman, or at least what it was before falling into disrepair. The massive tree, half visible to the right, exaggerates this feeling until I truly did feel that the word ‘stronghold’ is what this place was meant to describe, no matter how poorly defensible these places originally were.

I found the inside of the place slightly less interesting, especially as the visit taking place in November also meant that the area near the tree was off limits due to being waterlogged. Oh well, just means I need to go back, and I can’t really lament that…

On the moated-off island…

Another look at this place, now from the opposite side of the house. Does it not look splendid? I can imagine poets finding inspiration here, people seeing something they’ve never before: not in the mundane, indeed, but in the spiritual world where this place fits in perfectly.

And, hence, I have to say that while I might not like that this place was an artificial creation, the ruining has really achieved something!

Caister-on-the-Sea, Litus Saxonicum

Caister-on-the-Sea is regrettably one of those places which has not survived very well — though one can scarcely say that after fifteen centuries or more have passed since it fell into disrepair. Indeed, it is miraculous that scholars have managed to unearth as much as they have: summarised by about three or four buildings, the foundations of which are visible. And, also visible, is a road, or what could have been an important street.

I find this road more important, more poetic, more relevant than the rest of the locations at the site. An image below, before I continue:

The extant road from remains at the Caister-on-the-Sea Roman fort.

Somehow, that its beginning and end are so clearly delineated while in reality it could have led to Rome or Jerusalem or Alexandria (after a short sea voyage), makes this place so much more relevant to me. Yes, somehow indeed this very small site is a place I would recommend visiting, but, truly, if only, that leap of imagination: that a person who stood here seventeen centuries ago could have used this road and not stepped off it to go anywhere in the known civilisation.

Or, perhaps, it’s that the people who lived here and built this place, of what these people did, this is the only bit that retains its functionality? I am uncertain, but I did enjoy it immensely.

Nevertheless, if one has limited time and scope, Gariannorum, is a more worthwhile visit if only because the strength and scope of Rome is more clearly visible there. Yet, none of the Roman roads remain and infrastructure was such an important part of their success. Make your pick, it’s grand either way!

NB! I know that there is some debate as to whether Gariannorum refers to what we now know as Burgh Castle or indeed this fort here. I have chosen the former option for no scholarly reason.

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

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!

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 Andr√© 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…