Cabo da Boa Esperança

Ele dobra o Cabo da Boa Esperança.
He is rounding the Cape of Good Hope.
— Portuguese proverb

The Cabo das Tormentas, or Cape of Storms, as it was originally known after being named by Bartolomeu Dias was a monumental place for Europeans, and especially the Portuguese. But, before delving further into this story, I will note that I am not a linguist of the language nor do I have that good a sense of their culture or life — I am, quite simply, a master of conjecture. And, my mastery could be entirely misled. 🙂

The meaning of this phrase is something I’ll return to before espousing this wild conjecture I have in my mind. Namely, it signifies that the person in question is in the final phase of their life and that nothing else of significance will happen for them.

João II, o Príncipe Perfeito, decided to rename the cape from the Cape of Storms to that of Good Hope — his reaction, no doubt, signifying that for him the passing of the cape was the signal of divine providence he had hoped and looked for. He had been financing journeys to the distant lands for a long time, hoping to hear that the ships made progress towards India and yet thus far, all they had been able to do was to make their way further south. Yet, where they really had to go was north. This cape provided the first base after which they were likely to move further north, and hence this was a sign.

The rounding of the very same cape, therefore, was one of the most important moments ever. Who could guess that another few thousand kilometres remained before their carracks could reach the Malabar coast, and who could even guess what sort of difficulties they would find when they got there. Fortunately, when that time came they were up to the challenge as they had men of sufficient quality to lead in those troubled times.

So, my conjecture: what seemed to be an easy task would be such in the eye of the person in the old country. For them, the rounding of the cape made for that final stretch, even if unknowingly the stretch could take twenty years to conquer and be a few thousand kilometres long. They were *almost* there. And, with that mentality, the rounding of the cape was defining moment.

And, as such, it has remained in the language even though history shows otherwise for the country as a whole.

The Sea…

O mar com fim será grego ou romano: O mar sem fim é português.
The sea without limits is Greek or Roman; the sea without limits is Portuguese.
— Fernando Pessoa

This quote was first brought to my attention by the wonderful history of Portuguese expansion in the 15th and 16th centuries into the Indian Ocean, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, which I recently read.

I find it such a powerful sense of showmanship: what is ours, is ours, and it will not be anyone else’s. Yet, this is an incredibly poetic statement at the same time. The original source is a poem (Padrão) which I am keen to read and understand, as it seems to display the penmanship of Pessao to a wonderful degree.

And, indeed, for a while this was very true. The Greeks knew their sea and its shores; the Romans likewise though theirs was immeasurably greater than the Hellenic expanse. Yet, the ways opened up by Diego Cão were nothing less or more than limitless for how the Portugal of the day may have looked at it (even if India was still a step away).

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

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.