Oh my – time flies especially when one travels – and if the weather is so hot that it fries the brain or so cold that it freezes – or in my case – both and anything in between:-)
Back to this catching up business now – after Abbey’s and Romans – now it’s the castles turn – not really in chronological order but I felt that this makes the most sense.
So in terms of castles there is a bit of a difference between the ones in England and the German ones – the English ones sometimes (actually mostly) started life as Norman “Motte and Bailey castles” and the German ones to my fragmented knowledge basically started on promontories overlooking and protecting rivers and being protected by them (at least more often than not this is the case).
So what is a Motte and Bailey castle? Essentially its a artificial earthen mound with a deep ditch around it (topped with palisades) and a keep in the middle and the bailey (or courtyard) in between the two – or surrounding the keep.
The earliest ones of those where wooden structures but where followed rather quickly by stone build more solid structures – to my limited knowledge there are only two semi intact circular keeps left in England – one at Orford Castle in Suffolk (I wrote about that one last year I believe) and Conisbrough Castle in South Yorkshire which I visited this time around. English Heritage recently “renovated” the keep and upgraded the entrance area which also houses a small museum. The keep itself stands proud in the middle of the inner courtyard as if not even 100 years have passed – hard to imagine that it is in fact 800 or so years old.
There are of course other types of castles in England – they may have started life back in the 12th century but had their heyday in Tudor times or even later (begs the question if they really deserve the name “castle”) – one of those is Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire which started life back in the 12th century but hardly anything of that early live survives. Nevertheless it is a rather enchanting place with various buildings in stages of either ruin or completely preserved. I personally found the interior most intriguing – the wooden wall panels seem to conceal hidden cupboards or even doors – who knows what was going on in there over the years.
The views from the wall walkway are breathtaking and that would explain why it was build in this location in the first place.
Another castle that started life shortly after the Norman Conquest is Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire. I actually did not intend to visit this one but Easby Abbey – one of the Premonstratensian Abbeys that I visited and wrote about in my earlier post was close by and it seemed a sacrilege not to visit the castle as well – especially since my Heritage NZ membership gives me free entry into any English Heritage (or National Trust) property.
So the first thing one notices is how the present town of Richmond is almost hugging the castle – even to an untrained person this suggests that the town itself was founded during the building of the original castle, the Barbican (or gateway) is still visible today and the main street bends around the former castle wall – easy to see from the top of the (this time square) keep.
The castle itself fell into disrepair in the 14th century and many painters used the ruins as a backdrop for their romantic creations – Turner being one of them. It is still well worth a visit though – in particular since the keep is usually open and there are also medieval wall paintings in the church in the main town square.
I did not manage to actually go inside of yet another early castle Barnard Castle in the town with the same name – despite the fact that I spend two nights there as a guest of dear friends – but the time just was not enough for that. But I did visit another stately home – Audley End House – build on the grounds (and I suspect foundations) of a former Benedictine monastery in Essex – not too far from Stanstead Airport (which is why I went to visit – needed to kill some time). There are worlds in between a castle and a manor house but they are both part of English history and therefore interesting to me:-)
One could think that medieval castles are all the same the world (eh… Europe) over but not so – when I went back to Germany we again used our SCHLÖSSERLANDKARTE to get free entry into some of Saxony’s best castles. You may remember I did the same thing last year but with well over 50 properties that one can get free or reduced entry to with this card we did not nearly see them all – so this year we tried a few more.
Now – as I mentioned earlier in Germany or Saxony it seems the castles where built on rocky platforms that either overlooked river crossings or sometimes where surrounded on 3 sides by that river so they did not need to artificially build a motte – but just needed to defend the side of the castle that was “weak” – usually where the entrance is.
Some of them made use of a rather tiny space whilst others dominated the landscape (such as the mighty fortress Konigstein, Most of those smaller ones also started life as early as the 12th century and may have looked rather similar to those Norman Motte and Bailey ones in England – with a stone keep (here they where usually round), a bailey – or Zwinger in German and a outer courtyard surrounded by a moat or just sheer cliffs.
Some of these got transformed into hunting lodges or even small palaces or palatial homes complete with vast parks and gardens such as the grand park created by Hermann, Fürst von Pückler-Muskau (Unesco World Heritage Site) that spans over the border to Poland. Most of these at some stage passed into the hands of the local government – be back in the middle ages or more recently after WW2 when most wealthy land owners and the aristocracy lost their assets to the communist state.
Visiting one of these great places that are hundreds of years old still makes me wonder what life would have been like in their prime.