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 inwards 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.

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 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

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 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?

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