Britain has no shortage of castles. There’s a huge range in size, fame and condition for castle fans to choose from. Some, such as the Queen’s favourite abode at Windsor, are superbly preserved, with well appointed interiors. Others, such as my local – Corfe Castle – is in a somewhat lesser state of repair. Indeed, Corfe is just a small collapse or two away from having its status altered from ‘castle ruins’ to ‘pile of medieval blocks’. But it’s a popular and well maintained set of ruins, run by the National Trust, so I suspect any intervention by Mother Nature would be put right soon after. It’s even just had mainline train services restored to its accompanying train station for the first time since the 1970s
The British Isles are littered with castles. Some are in ruins, many are still in excellent nick. A few have legendary status, such as those at Windsor and the Tower of London. Others are hidden gems. Mrs P and I took a train ride along the south coast to Arundel Castle. Hardly a hidden gem, but it is a little off the normal beaten track for castle groupies.
It was a beautiful day. After two years of constant gray, where the only question would be whether it would drizzle or pour, we deserve some good weather. After the coldest spring on record, summer is turning out to be kind. Temperatures regularly above 20 degrees Celsius, sometimes hitting mid twenties. Today will see highs of 30 degrees. Most importantly, from a photographic point of view, this means blue skies. Britain is beautiful when covered with a blue sky.
Arundel, I am sure, is beautiful in any weather. But I prefer the blue sky option. And the Blue Sky God delivered. Well done him! Parts of the castle have been around for hundreds of years. The interior is as glorious as any other castle I’ve seen, bar Windsor. It’s still occupied by a duke. Most surprising, it’s occupied, as it has long been, by a Catholic duke.
He is also Earl of Arundal, the oldest surviving peerage in England. I suspect he comes from a long line of wise men who knew how to keep their heads down. In the olden days, Catholic nobles had a tendency to lose their heads with a stoke of an axe. So well done to him and his ancestors for their canny ability to know when to duck.
The photo below was embedded from my 500px site. I like 500px. I have decreasing passion for Flickr. You can see my Arundel collection on 500px. I love the layout. I love the slideshow. If you’re a stick in the mud, you can also go see the collection on Flickr too though. Which do you prefer? I’m interested to know.
England is a land full of castles. There are dozens of them, littering the landscape. Hundreds, if you include those where little of them remains. Some are grand, others less so and quite a few in ruins. For castle nuts, there are some choice classics to visit. Leeds Castle in Kent. The Tower of London. Herstmonceux and Bodiam Castles. Mrs P and I went to see one the weekend before Christmas. The granddaddy of castles. We went to Windsor. If it’s good enough for Her Majesty, who calls it home, then it’s probably good enough for us.
It’s an impressive beast that has benefited from the patronage of numerous Kings and Queens, who have taken it on and redeveloped it over the centuries. It might have been founded by William the Conqueror but I suspect there’s little to nothing left from his day. Subsequent monarchs have added/ rebuilt/ restored a splendid palace inside the grounds.
The surrounding area is pretty glorious too, although there is one view that smarts a little. And begs the question – who on earth decided to put ghastly Slough there? Aside from having one of the ugliest towns in the country as a neighbour, Windsor does have another little issue, which begs a second question – who on earth decided to put Heathrow’s flight path directly over the castle? Seriously. World’s most famous castle, right underneath the world’s busiest airport’s flight path. It beggars belief.
Windsor Castle has had its ups and downs over the years. Mostly ups. But there has been a significant down in recent times. Twenty years ago, a fire ripped through some of the most spectacular rooms of the castle, bringing down floors and turning numerous, priceless treasures into smouldering embers. More than a hundred rooms were utterly destroyed. The Great Fire of Windsor. For whatever reason, we British like to refer to anything of magnitude or importance as being great, even when it is quite patently not great at all. This was most certainly an event of magnitude. A national cultural tragedy indeed.
But our dear Royal Family are a resilient lot. I dare say that Phil, Chaz, Eddie and Andy were out and about to hire some tools to restore Windsor to its full glory within hours. That’s how I imagined it happened. It probably required some slightly more sophisticated tools than a few saws and screwdrivers, and perhaps even a degree of expertise. I suspect some professionals were called in. I suspect they brought in some pretty high spec tools with them. And they did a splendid job. It also turned out to be a significant turning point in the restoration of the monarchy itself.
My last visit to Windor was pre-fire, as a school age child. My memories of it are quite dim, to be perfectly honest. I think I may have been more impressed had we been allowed to fire off some cannon balls, or loose off a few arrows. Or had we been allowed to set fire to stuff. Boys in general, and me in particular, are like that. I’ll hasten to add that I had nothing to do with this fire. I have a number of alibis, thank you very much.
Restoring a castle of the grandeur of Windsor is a big ask. The walls were ok. Twenty three foot thick stone can take a few licks of fire without too much trouble. The wooden ceilings and interior fared less well. But no matter how big an ask something is, if you throw sufficient cash at it, it can be done. And a fine job they’ve done. Using unseasoned oak, just as had been done originally, the roofs and panelling have been reconstructed. You can see the cracking and imperfections that come with this old fashioned style of construction.
The restoration wasn’t an attempt to create (or recreate) an aged interior. It was simply rebuilt as new, and will be allowed to age naturally. As it did before. I was mightily impressed. Mind you, anyone who could stroll through the State Apartments with all their pomp, splendour and indulgence without being impressed is a soulless creature. Photos? Of course. You can see much Windsor Castle set by clicking here.
England is riddled with castles, stately homes, manor houses and grand palaces. Many are in fine fettle, although there are also a fair number that have either become run down or were wrecked in one of England’s two civil wars. They must have cost a small fortune to build and maintain – and that’s the pressing issue for those that survive. They still cost a fortune to maintain. Fuedalism is great until it runs out of someone else’s money. 🙂
Old Wardour Castle doesn’t cost so much to maintain, I’d wager. Since a large mine prematurely went off during a siege in the 17th century, destroying two walls of the building and rendering it uninhabitable, it hasn’t cost quite so much to keep going. It’s not a castle you’ve probably ever heard of. But you almost certainly have seen it. It was featured in Kevin Costner’s movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.
There are times that I’ve thought I’d quite like to live in a castle. But there are two things holding me back. Firstly, there is that cost factor. Since coming back to the UK last year, I’ve gradually been building up a credit rating – which was easy enough to check by getting a Credit Report Online. Spending six years out of the country did mean I’d been erased from Britain’s economic map. Things have improved, but I’m still some way off being able to afford a castle. A house boat on a canal is probably more within my financial reach. Which is not a bad thing – I always fancied living on a houseboat too.
Secondly, they get a bit chilly these castles, as this manor house owner admits to. I don’t do cold. So I’ve shelved any plans to buy and restore Old Wardour Castle for now. Photos? On Flickr, of course.