Tag Archives: castles

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: http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/j/jackdaw/)

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.


Day out: Dartmouth Castle

14 Oct

Another place on my list: Dartmouth.  Somewhere in the bloggy mists I’ve mentioned that we once lived in Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College.  So a visit to the original Dartmouth in Devon was a must-do.  Without much time to visit, we made good use of our English Heritage pass and spent the afternoon at Dartmouth Castle.

Dartmouth was an interesting maritime town — traffic back and forth through town includes a ferry ride!  The Britannia Royal Naval College is in the background.

IMG_3988edA crazy-making drive through small winding streets brings to mind the tight quarters of a ship.  Even the cemetery slides up and down hills and holds tight where it can.

IMG_3990edThe parish church by the Castle has a simple ship-shape elegance.

IMG_4006edWithin the Castle, one can tour the original battlements, set to defend the mouth of the Dart.

IMG_4030edInside and out, there’s not an overwhelming amount to explore, but it is all well preserved and there are many kid-friendly touch-and-learn stations for extra enrichment, and benches for tired parents to sit while the kids run up and down … and up and down … and up and down …  (You might want to download and print ahead the Step Inside guide.)

IMG_4014edThere’s a pretty-ish view of Dartmouth from here, as well.

IMG_4028edIt’s a beautiful place to indulge in dreams of pirates.

IMG_4021edThe water is an amazing green, due to the limestone in the area. (I believe.)

IMG_4022edaIf only there were a bit of sun, you might believe you were in the Caribbean.

IMG_4043edA beautiful cove facing the Channel, where I like to imagine mermaids and smugglers sneaking in past the guards sitting bored in their towers above.  This used to be a public swimming beach, and remains of the former swim platform are visible on the lower left of this photo.  This day, we got to spend uncrowded moments sorting through the rocks for shells and listening to the waves.

IMG_20140901_143313edCream tea and sandwiches at the nearby Castle Tea Room were surprisingly good.  But our best souvenirs were dainty small shells and a final English Heritage guidebook to add to our collection.

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.


Day out: Urquhart Castle

10 Sep

What a pleasure to finally look back through photos of our spring holiday to Scotland.  Every day really was as sunny as I remember.  And I can finally look back to April without being overwhelmed with memories of my emergency surgery (again … I do not recommend emergency surgery).  We took a day — a very long driving day — to travel to Loch Ness.  We visited the requisite Loch Ness Monster edutainment centre, but even better, we had lunch and spent several happy hours exploring Urquhart Castle.

IMG_3086edThe castle has a large car-park with easy parking (not always the case!) and an excellent cafe with local slow foods — and a pretty good view.  There’s also the typical gift shop full of whisky, tartans, sheep-poop jokes, and some good books and inexpensive trinkets for the kids.

IMG_3087edOnce your tithe has been paid to commercialism, you can walk down to the castle.

IMG_3097edOh, those views.

IMG_3110edCan you tell how windy it is, by the ripples on the loch?
IMG_3115edView from one of the towers.
IMG_3121edOn the other side of the complex, looking back towards that tower where we were just standing.IMG_3122edAnd looking over the outside of the castle wall, towards the draw bridge. (And dock for the tour boat.)
IMG_3126edDown towards the water gate (below the cliff), previously the main access point for the castle. IMG_3134edOne more look, down the length of the loch.  Ahhhh.  Is Nessie out there?  No, of course not, but I could sit here all day looking.

Day out: Dunnottar Castle

7 Jun

I don’t want to rub it in, but all my photos from Scotland are sunny.  It was sunny every day.  All day!  It rained once for a few moments … and then produced a rainbow.  So, if you were hoping for romantically grim and gloomy images — too bad.  It was glorious.

Dunnottar Castle was a forty-five minute drive from our home base near Balmoral.  A few folks had mentioned it to us as a not-to-be-missed cliffside ruin, and I think they were right.  Also, much to my satisfaction, this was my first view of the North Sea.  And it, too, was glorious.


Yup.  Glorious.IMG_2947ed

No real facilities here, aside from toilets, but plenty of room to spread out with a picnic, and soak up the views.

Guidebooks available, or read the not-too-bad interpretive signs all around.IMG_2962ed

Ruins of a chapel building.IMG_2966ed

Views over the coast.

The Castle was as self-sufficient as a stronghold on an outcrop could be.  It was fascinating to see the remains of kitchens, bakeries, breweries …IMG_2984ed

Although I managed to take photos without hordes of wandering strangers throughout, the site was fairly full even on this early spring day.  Families were out with picnics and children ran up and down these inner grassy areas.  Plenty of good fencing by the cliffs, so no heart attacks for me.  (Flashback to Tintagel.)IMG_2985ed

View toward the North Sea.IMG_2992ed

I’ve very rarely seen the remains of a smithy!  This suits any fantasy or historical fiction reader.  IMG_3004ed

The somewhat forbidding silhouette of the main castle building, where The Honours of Scotland were kept safe from Cromwell.  And before that, where William Wallace burned the chapel with English soldiers inside, and Mary Queen of Scots stopped over for dinner.  Strange guests you get out here.20140414_124407ed

There’s that North Sea view, with the daffodils we found everywhere in those sunny April days.IMG_3007ed

Winding down the cliffside, you can visit rocky tidal pools on the beaches. 20140414_131253ed

We searched for shells of all shapes and sizes, tumbled smooth from the waves.IMG_3020edWhat did I say?  Gorgeous.

Crumpets in Cymru

8 Aug

Another holiday, yippee!  Although we have visited Cardiff and many border towns and sites over the past year and a half, we had not yet traveled in to northwest Wales.   A week break is hardly time enough to get to know Wales, but did give us a chance to rest in between car-sickness-inducing drives over beautifully horrible twisty Welsh roads.  Here’s a really quick peek —


That’s our holiday cottage, viewed from in between stones erected by a local farmer to create his own version of a druid circle.IMG_7409Not too far from the power base of the late medieval Owain Glyndwr.


And the beautiful Lake Bala – LLyn Tegid.  At four miles long, it’s the largest natural freshwater lake in Wales.


One can ride the sweet Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid – Bala Lake Railway along the lake.


We spent one day driving north to the seaside getaway of LLandudno – above is the Great Orme – Y Gogarth as seen from the town’s large Victorian pier.  I don’t know what all that means, but my children learned about this in school so they were thrilled to finally see it.IMG_7520

Just down the road, Colwyn Bay, seen from the top of one of the many towers at Conwy Castle.IMG_7533

A view from the highest point on the Conwy town walls, towards the Castle and inner bay.IMG_7554

Our day trip to Angelsey was more rainy, and gave Beaumaris Castle a damply romantic sort of look.IMG_7610

The Menai Strait in the mist.IMG_7650

Angelsey is home to a dense wealth of druidic and neolithic sites.  We visited Bryn Celli Ddu.IMG_7645

Unlike just about everywhere else we visited, there were no other explorers.IMG_7657

The longest place name in the UK, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, is purely a marketing creation and site of a largish outlet store full stuff you probably don’t need.IMG_7698

Another day, and a train ride up Mt. Snowdon.  It was sunny at the base, and misty at the top.  To the right you can see the walking trail up the mountain — ahead is one of the ‘heritage’ steam trains.  We rode one of the more modern diesels.IMG_7723

The final steps to the summit are by foot.  Would you like to guess if I went up or not?IMG_7739

A cruise through Caernarfon Castle, with its fascinating angular towers.IMG_7880There’s both too much to share and too little.  (I’m not being poetical, my camera is acting weird and I don’t have many blog-worthy photos from this trip.)  The memories are good, though.  I’m so glad we took the time to visit this other country right on our doorstep.  Hwyl fawr am nawr!  

Day out: Raglan Castle

14 Nov

This is the castle we ‘swung by’ on the way home from our visit to the National Roman Legion Museum.  Unless you have a special connection to this spot or are a massive Merlin fan (or Time Bandits,  or — unreliable sources tell me — Skyrim — or Dr. Who fans who can travel back in time), this spot is probably not a day out all on its own — but it is a great book-end for a day on the Welsh border.

Raglan Castle is a Cadw site — so bring along your English Heritage passes and get in for half price (or free, depending on how long you’ve been a member).  The Castle was built late, and benefitted from the political wheeling and dealing of the typically ambitious border family who lived here.  Here’s some background.  We have a Norman invader whose descendants supported the English against the Welsh (and fought with Henry V at Agincourt, huzzah) and then a later family who supported the Yorkists (insert obligatory fist shake at sky) and then fought Cromwell and then gave up and left the place in ruins.  I think that sums it up.

Except for the incredible romance and drama of the castle ruins.  Holy Meatballs!  It’s amazing!

Picture me going into a fantasy world coma.  Picture the kids running and splashing in the puddles.

You can get a sense of the wealth of this family and the luxuriousness of the castle — just count the storeys — and the number of fireplaces!

The octagonal shape of the towers are said to mimic the more ancient Caernarfon in north west Wales.

I have the overwhelming urge to cross-stitch this image with “Home Sweet Home” across the top.

One view of the Great Tower, the castle-within-a-castle I mentioned in an earlier post.

A more dramatic view, from the other side.  Easy to see why Raglan would be used as a film location — walk three paces in any direction, and you seem to be in a totally different environment.  The ruins glow and gleam, there are reaching shadows, twisting stairs, wide grassy courts, grand stairs, and windows and views for miles.

And toilets.  Never forget the toilets.  We crossed the drawbridge to the Grand Tower, and while I swooned over the watery stairs to the moat, what did my children find and exclaim over, immediately, loudly, and repeated?  The toilet.

We did manage to climb the stairs and admire the view.

See, on top of that other tower, over on the right?  Do you see the people climbing over and around the walls and rocks over there?  They are insane.

We arrived at Raglan about an hour and a half before it closed, and didn’t feel rushed in our walkabout.  If your interest is pricked by these quick shots of our day out, check this out for a far more detailed tour and history.