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

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.

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.

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.

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!