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Day out: Kenilworth Castle

19 Oct

Kenilworth Castle. Hundreds of years of history wrapped up in one beautiful ruined package. It merits so much more time than I am going to spend on it. I’m in a hurry, you see, with too much to do, and “Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!”

You could rummage through the excellent-as-always English Heritage page for the Castle, and even download some of the research materials or guides for teachers — I did before our visit!  My kids didn’t even mind!  Mostly because I bribed them with cakes in the beautiful cafe!

Take a peek at the Tudor stables.  Inside is an interactive museum and the lovely tearoom.

Turn your back on the stables, which are part of the ancient walls surrounding Kenilworth, and begin to take in the several buildings which make up the castle.  To the right, the original Norman tower, built by Geoffrey de Clinton in the twelfth century.  In the background, the great hall built by John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, and the manly origin of the Lancastrian dynasty.  And here’s your trivia for the day: Chaucer’s wife’s sister was John of Gaunt’s third wife.  Small world.  Small, rich world.

IMG_4059edOff to one side is the Elizabethan gatehouse, later enclosed and turned into a freestanding home.  Downstairs, where the carriages and wagons once rolled through the gatehouse, the rooms are quite large.  That large bay window in the center of the photo is where the gate used to be.  Inside the house, more interactive and interesting pieces of the history of the castle and the families who lived there.

IMG_4072edThe gardens were considered a marvel of their time.  Dudley had them designed and built as a private garden, specifically for the enjoyment of Elizabeth I on her visits.  Really, much of the work put into the castle and grounds during the 16th century were a massive and expensive effort to convince Elizabeth to marry Dudley.  The garden was lost to inattention and decay, but has been lovingly and painstakingly restored to something close to it’s original glory.

IMG_4076edAnd interior view of the Norman keep.  The original windows were all like the small slit in the lower level.  Later owners modernized the keep with large windows (and expensive panes of glass), and even added a ‘loggia’ to the entrance, in Italianate style.

IMG_4104edI love this photo for the lovely woman who is SWEEPING the ruins.  Talk about keeping things tidy.  You also get a good sense of just how fallen about the castle is now, how thick the walls were, and a bit of the scope of the facilities.  Taking this photo, I’m standing near the edge of the castle kitchens, which were the largest in Europe.  There was even a separate kitchen next to the main kitchens (which have a cauldron so large it is built into the foundation of the walls) where the foods for the high table were prepared.

IMG_4111edHere we’re standing on top of the stairs you just saw, looking back over the kitchens, part of the great hall, the old keep, and the inner courtyard.

IMG_4120edAnd here, turning around, you can look over what used to be a massive interior lake — the Great Mere created by John I in the thirteenth century.  The gate you see slightly sunk into the hill would have been a water entrance to the castle.

IMG_4125edDecorative vandalism can be found all over the castle, carved into the soft sandstone.

IMG_4129edIt’s not hard to see how the ruins at Kenilworth inspired so many romantic authors, like Sir Walter Scott.

IMG_4133edIt’s funny because it’s true:

IMG_4142edThe view from the newly scaffolded Leicester Tower (built by Dudley for Elizabeth I) is spectacular.  Here see Gaunt’s Oriel tower and great hall once again.

IMG_4158edAnd hold on tight before you look DOWN.  This view is from Elizabeth’s personal chamber, where she could watch interior entertainments to the left, and look out the window to see entertainers on the lawn.  Dudley pulled out all the stops.

IMG_4160edOne of my favorite things to see was all the jackdaws.  They are a cackling, sociable sort of crow who love rocky ruins like this.  Their call sings “England” to me.  (Click on “audio” to give a listen:

IMG_4162edIt was easy to spend hours wandering the grounds.

IMG_4177edIf you could only see one castle in England, should this be it?  I’m not sure, but … maybe.  There’s a bit of almost everything here, architecture from the Norman conquest to today, cultural history, fascinating personalities, human drama, literary inspirations, wild examples of humans shaping and reshaping their environment, and, of course, fairly tasty cakes and tea.

Sudeley Snapshots: Tithe Barn

9 Oct

Another installment in the occasional series of photos from lovely Sudeley Castle.  Built in the fifteenth century by Ralph Boteler, to the side of Sudeley Castle, is the Tithe Barn.

IMG_4207edThe building was largely destroyed by Cromwell’s forces during the English Civil war, but the romantic walls remain.

IMG_4193edThe interior has been re-imagined as a sweet and almost secret garden, with wild roses, hollyhocks, hydrangeas, wild clematis, wisteria, foxgloves, and more.  It’s like a Shakespearean sonnet, really.

IMG_4195edEvery doorway and window has its own character, its own sense of being a magic portal.

IMG_4185edEven in autumn, with most of the blooms past their prime or gone entirely, the Tithe Barn retains a sweet beauty.

IMG_4190edTake a walk through and around the barn, and check out views perfectly framed by both architecture and vegetation.

IMG_4201edTurn around and see the upright silhouette of Sudeley Castle itself through the flowers.

IMG_4196edOr stand clear and enjoy that graceful view — almost cozy, when it comes to castles — reflected in the carp pond.


Crathes Castle Spring

4 Oct

My final Scotland post.  We’ve been ridiculously lucky over our spring holidays these past three years.  First year on the Isle of Skye.  Second year in Paris.  Third year, back to Scotland, this time in Royal Deeside.  My mind will always see Scotland bursting with sunshine and raining only to show off rainbows.  Crathes Castle was no different.  Sadly, we were not permitted to take any photographs inside, but I promise you, IT WAS SUPER COOL INSIDE.  I’m talking ghosts, Jacobean rooms, Renaissance painted rooms, hidden staircases for mistresses, the works.

The outside was pretty cool, too.  Here is the (massive) sixteenth-century tower house.
IMG_3203ed A guide did tell me I could stick my camera out the window and take photos of the gardens.  So I did.IMG_3204ed On this warm sunny day in April, the grounds were full of families with picnics.
IMG_3205ed Oh, that view.IMG_3222ed Flag atop the castle shows the heraldry of the Burnett family — the hunting horn.  NO idea the significance of the rooster, except that he’s pretty groovy.
IMG_3224edAnd really, really gold.

How will our next spring holiday compare to these past three?  Well, I have some ideas, but I’m not telling you, yet!

Day out: Chepstow Castle

25 Sep

Along the English-Welsh border, you’ll find many dramatic ruined castles (Raglan Castle), religious complexes (Tintern Abbery), and Roman fortifications (Caerleon).  One beauty we hadn’t seen before — Chepstow Castle.  (Free if your English Heritage pass is more than 12 months old, discounted if it is less.)

IMG_3739edThe massive main gatehouse and Marten’s Tower give a strong first impression.

IMG_3743edA wander through the lower bailey presents you with various wall walks, towers, and open spaces.IMG_3744edIn a side corridor near the service passage and kitchen, the oldest wooden castle doors in Europe — 800 years old — are on display, out of the elements.  IMG_3753ed I’m always interesting in looking UP.  Here you are seeing a slice of the Great Tower from inside the barbican around the middle bailey.IMG_3754ed How do those flowers get there?  What would it be like to step through that dark doorway?IMG_3756edA view back down the middle bailey.IMG_3761edThe marginally brave can walk up to the top of one of the remaining towers for a view over the town and the walls.  I don’t remember if this is peeking through a musket loop, a window, or just general falling-down-ness.IMG_3766edThe shell of the Great Tower remains, including the very sides of two dramatic Norman arches.  This is the oldest part of the castle, and may have been used by William the Conqueror as an audience chamber.  (HOW COOL IS THAT.)  The round-arched niches in the back (there are four, one is just out of frame) contain remains of their original 11th century decoration, and are considered to the be oldest surviving secular decorations in Britain.  So, that’s pretty cool, too.IMG_3767edAlong with picturesque views toward the river through the lower windows.IMG_3771edHandrailings on the walls — that’s more than we usually see at ruined castles.IMG_3774edOn the other side of the castle, views over the muddy Wye. That little iron bridge is fun to drive over — it’s one lane, and controlled by a traffic light allowing one direction of traffic to flow at a time.  It also marks the boundary between England and Wales.  Here be dragons.IMG_3776edClimb the south-west tower of the upper barbican at the very end of the castle, and look over the upper bailey and Marshal’s Tower. IMG_3782edClimb down past the cellars, and find the remains of an aristocratic private garden and the water gate under the river cliff.IMG_3785edAnd, from along the walls near Marten’s Tower, and get a better sense of the various levels and styles all sealed within the membrane of the Chepstow Castle walls.

To my very great sadness, the Earl’s Chamber was closed for renovation during our visit.  The chamber was a gloriette and is the only surviving, accessible example of this type of indoor architecture and design in Britain.  (I say ‘surviving’, but it has been totally rebuilt, recreated, and restored.  Either way, I was eager to see it.  Oh, well.)
IMG_3789edAfter exploring the castle  (take your time — bring dress-up — bring wooden swords — bring a picnic) don’t forget to wander through the hilly medieval town of Chepstow at the foot and side of the castle, or wander off on one of the many hikes through the area.

Or enjoy tea in a local tea room.

10559832_10203701525392789_6170788621271042918_nThere’s a special magic about coming in from a drizzle to a warm cup of tea in a cozy tea room.  And if you’re very lucky, there’ll be cakes.

Day out: Bletchley Park

5 Sep

From the (photo) archives — a day trip to Bletchley Park in the springtime.  But keep that intelligence MOST SECRET!  (If you don’t know anything about Bletchley Park already, read up.)IMG_3273edOne can play with virtual enigma machines. 158 million million million combinations, how will you do?

IMG_3275edMany of the heroes of Bletchley Park remain unnamed and unsung.  Nice to see this memorial.

IMG_3360edIt’s fun to imagine the strange atmosphere the campus might have had during WWII.  Like a super weird summer camp for cryptologists.

IMG_3364edOr a super-elegant stenographer pool.

IMG_3293edA loving restoration.

IMG_3291edCups and saucers, pencils and papers, purses and spectacles, all are set out on desks to give the impression of sudden emptiness — like everyone just walked out for a moment, and will return just as you turn around.

IMG_3298edThe ballroom, which was used for parties, or for quiet reading, or for movies.

IMG_3341edIt’s funny because it’s true.

IMG_3349edTuring has a memorable statue commemorating his life and work.  In the background, his teddy bear is preserved.

IMG_3332edA look into one of the ‘huts’ — where the action happened.

IMG_3330edPicturesque vintage bicycles.  The whole place has a Day After feel.  Evocative.

IMG_3322edInside the hut, the effort continues to make these spaces live with the sounds and sights of men and women working to solve puzzles and save lives in WWII.

IMG_3315edOld school!

IMG_3312edI have complicated and not-well-enough educated thoughts about the many women who worked at Bletchley Park.  We visited just after I had read “Life After Life” and “Code Name Verity” — both full of history and ideas which colored the way I viewed these spaces.  Watching the series The Bletchley Circle after our visit added yet another dimension to the experience.

IMG_3352edOh, dear, that looks complicated.  Here are the guts of a working Bombe — read more about it.

IMG_3308edThe Polish Memorial.

IMG_3366edThe gift shop has the expected mugs, tea towels, and books — and puzzles.

Worth a day out?  Definitely, but only if you’ve read something about it before hand.  There are interpretive signs and an audio guide which does a pretty good job, and some fun hands-on interpretive exhibits for the kids (and the kids-at-heart). As we’ve found in many spots, a day ticket can be converted to a 12-month pass for no additional fee.  There’s a minimalist cafe on site with cakes and coffee or tea, a good bit of walking through all the buildings, and an outdoor play space for kids – plan to spend several hours here.


Chedworth Roman Villa, part two

28 Apr

We’ve been here long enough that I really do have my favorite spots.  The Shakespeare Houses.  Blenheim Palace.  Bourton-on-the-Water.  Places I visit and re-visit, and after a point it seems silly to keep re-posting journeys made in the same place.  So do check out my first Chedworth visit for more of a description of the place … then hop back here for more views around the place on a sunny day.  On a sunny Mothering Day, in fact, or as we described it at Chedworth: Matronalia.  (Come on groovy Romans, let’s dance!)  My family knows exactly what I like by now!


The Helix Pomatia are still hanging around, two thousand years after the Romans brought them over — hibernating at this time of year.IMG_2806ed

The entry area of the formal baths have a looping rhythm.IMG_2809ed

An example of the curatorial work ongoing here at Chedworth.IMG_2811ed

Visitors get to have a go with their own tesserae.IMG_2816ed

Volunteers discus daily living — and FOOD!IMG_2817ed

The changing room.

On this visit, I was particularly struck by the small designs on this floor.  You could be forgiven for thinking these are hearts, but these shapes signify ivy.IMG_2827edAnd I do like the color and shape of this sweet bird.


Check out that hypocaust!  Sexy.IMG_2828ed

More baths, outside the larger, more formal bath house.IMG_2836ed

Religious artifacts in the museum on site — last time I showed you some of the Roman glass.IMG_2840ed

And one of my favorite things — yes really — the latrines.  May your spongia be ever fresh.


And after a rummage through latrines and hot tubs, what better than a full Sunday Roast, sat in a beer garden?  Best tradition ever, England!



And, as we made our way home, we found the cherry tree in our neighborhood fully, finally, in bloom.

That in season grows

12 Dec

Rummaging through photos from last holiday season, I found a few from a winter visit to Shakespeare country.  (It really is my favorite place to visit!)  Here, then, are a few holiday postcards from Shakespeare’s birthplace, and from Anne Hathaway’s cottage.

IMG_3190edCaput apri defero / Reddens laudes Domino

IMG_3192edThe parental bed … with Tudor rat.

IMG_3194edShakespeare’s cradle.  Or something like it.  Fortunately rat-free.

IMG_3198edPrep area in the kitchen.  With another rat.IMG_3226edAt the cottage, there is always an effort to share pieces of Shakespeare’s plays and poems.  Last year, there was a holiday theme.

IMG_3238edThe gardens are put to bed for the winter, but the festive tree was a fun addition to the scene.