Friday, 13 December 2013

Two castles

Two days ago I collected E---, a natal friend of thirty years' standing whom I meet up with now and then, and took her off to two castles on the Kent/Sussex border, both in the care of the National Trust. Being a Life Member of the NT, I can get both of us in for nothing (Mr Scrooge would approve of that). NT properties are great places for having a tasty lunch, or afternoon tea, and the loos are always excellent - great reasons on their own for dropping in! But the properties themselves are high-quality, beautifully kept, and often highly photogenic.

We went first to Scotney Castle, near Lamberhurst, and had lunch there. Actually there are two castles: the picturesque remains of the old Tudor one, on an island in a lake; and the newer Victorian one, which looks commandingly down on the old. The hilly landscaped gardens that connect the two castles are lovely. We caught it all on a cold but sunny afternoon. Here is E---, looking down from a terrace onto the old castle; then some views of it:

The 'new' castle wasn't open, but we'd seen the very interesting interior on a previous visit. The exterior looks like this:

There was enough daylight left to drive on to Bodiam Castle, which is the epitome of a moated castle:

I'd been to Bodiam Castle several times over the years, but never close to sunset so late in the year. I very much wanted to take photos in this type of golden light. I wasn't disappointed! We weren't the only visitors, but for once people didn't get in the way of the sort of shots I was looking for. We were greeted at the castle entrance by an enthusiastic member of staff named Laura, who was very friendly and helpful. We went first up a steep stone staircase to the upper rooms of the entrance, then along the battlements to one of the towers.

That's E--- taking the lead. It was tricky climbing up! The steps were narrow, and we got puffed out. I kept treading on the hem of my long overcoat, and soon had to hoick it up around my waist, using the strap of my orange leather bag. The view at the top was however wide and well worth the effort.

The castle is built on a slope above the valley of the River Rother, and you have to imagine that when it was constructed in the late 1300s the river valley was actually a sea inlet, up which the French might come (and repeatedly did come) in ships, bent on pillage. The original owner, Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, got a 'licence to crenellate' from the King, which ordinarily meant that he was allowed only to add certain defensive features to a regular house. However, with the French raiding as a kind of justification, he got away with building a full-blooded personal castle instead, complete with a serious moat to counter undermining of the castle walls. Not many private individuals have ever been allowed to construct their own impregnable castle, for obvious reasons. Naturally each tower had cunningly-positioned firing slits to pick off attackers who tried to scale the walls:

Day-to-day life inside the castle would have been fairly snug and civilised, albeit with the inconveniences that come with living in a stone fortress. Inside the walls was a suite of fine private rooms arranged around a courtyard, with separate quarters for the servants, separate (and easy-to-isolate) quarters for the untrustworthy garrison of paid mercenaries, the usual kitchen and utility rooms, and a chapel. Apparently there were in all 33 fireplaces and 28 toilets. A proper little community. All safe and sound behind portcullises, and defended by the cold waters of the moat. Well, one might feel secure surrounded by water, but it would mean extra dampness. It was pretty chilly posing for this shot:

As sunset approached, we saw a thick white mist coming up the valley, very eerie, but perhaps it stayed by the river and never enveloped the castle itself.

On the way out of the castle, we spoke again to Laura, who was doing her final rounds. She said she made a thorough job of it, going up each stone staircase looking for anyone who might still be there, because she didn't want to lock anyone in for the night. It nearly happened once, but fortunately the visitor switched on a light as a kind of signal. That was seen from the nearby ticket office before everyone went home, and so they were rescued. But once it was all closed up and dark? I fancy it would be no good trying to phone for help. I didn't put it to the test, but I rather think the castle would be a poor place to get any mobile phone reception, considering the very rural location and the very thick stone walls. So once locked in, you might have to stay there all night! Spooky!

We walked back to the tea room before the light faded too far. E--- and I had a pot of tea for two and shared a mince pie. Then we headed back to her home. It had been a very nice afternoon indeed.

By the way, there is some controversy about how to pronounce 'Bodiam'. Ah! Bode-ee-am, you might suppose. Not so. It's Bodge-um. It's that crazy Sussex dialect! It's the same all over Sussex. At the other end of the county, on Chichester harbour, we have Bosham - which isn't Bosh-am but Bozzum. It's a minefield.


  1. I love castles so much! Member of NT and English Heritage. Nothing better than a day out exploring castles. My history degree compels me too! :o)

    I always thought of myself as a girl historian though, much better idea!

    Thank you for sharing Lucy x

  2. They're almost as large as my house....'Hassle Castle' lol. Spooky? My dad always used to say to us that there is nothing in the dark that wasn't there when the light was on. I think he was right don't you? About local pronunciation, foreigners to this land must get so confused with local dialects, they are confusing to us too! In my present location for example there is a place name originating from a person's family name, a lord I believe which is Scarisbrick. Most would pronounce it 'Scarrisbrick' but locals say 'Skaysbrick'. There are many examples of this sort of thing, like dropping the 'h' for instance as in Maghull, another location hereabouts or Kirkby where the 'k' is not pronounced and Tarleton pronounced 'Tarlton'. Such is the English language.

    Shirley Anne x

  3. Ah, now that's what I call a real castle, with a nice big moat, bridge and portcullis. Beautiful photos, too - definitely the best time of the day to visit.

    As for pronunciation, when I was in Milton Keynes I recall there was Broughton (brought-on), Loughton ('ough' as in ouch) and Woughton (wuff-ton), all within a few miles of each other. What hope for foreigners like us?


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