Nicola here and today I’m talking about beaches – and history. You may already have noticed that the Wenches love a good trip to the sea, whether it’s a Caribbean island or the Antarctic or the Northern shores of Scotland. There’s something about the water and a stretch of golden sand that is refreshing and inspiring, even if you’re wearing several layers of thermals to appreciate it, as I was last week!
My beach odyssey started in Bamburgh in Northumberland, on the North East coast of England. It’s a favourite spot of mine and the setting for a story I’ll be writing a little way down the line. The whole area is chock full of history from pre-Roman times through the centuries, plus it has castles by the score and at Bamburgh there is the big mama of them all.
Bamburgh’s recorded history begins in AD 547 when it was the royal centre of one of the most powerful of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms, Bernicia. It was known as Din Guayrdi and the first wooden hall was established high on the crag, 150 feet above the sea by King Ida the Flamebearer.
The earliest artefact, a solid gold plaque engraved with Celtic artwork, dates to this period. Known as The Bamburgh Beast, its actual identity is still under debate! Is it an elephant? Is it an octopus? No one is sure.
Two hundred years later, the wooden fortress was replaced by the first stone buildings with an entrance hollowed out of the rock and for a short while Bamburgh was a place of high power and prestige before a combination of fighting amongst the rival kingdoms and Viking raids brought it down.
It was the Normans, those keen castle-builders, who recreated Bamburgh. The great Keep, which is still standing, cost £4 to build in 1164AD whilst the Great Hall was added 100 years later. Bamburgh stood strong for several centuries until it was attacked during the Wars of the Roses, when it became the first castle in England to fall to gunpowder.
As in all good stories, though, Bamburgh castle rises – and falls – again several times over the following centuries until it was finally restored at the end of the 19th century at a cost of over £1 million pounds, a sharp contrast to the original cost of the keep, accounted for by inflation!
Today you can visit all the state rooms and the armoury in the Great Keep, imagine that you are a knight riding in through the bottle-shaped doors or play
some of the medieval games such as quoits and skittles. You can explore the archaeological excavations that reveal the long story of Bamburgh and look out across the sea from the battlements. My favourite bit was admiring the gorgeous golden gown worn by Dorothy Forster, who lived there in the 18th century (shades of my book The Woman in the Lake!) and I loved the beautifully restored Victorian parlour upstairs. This really is a castle par excellence!
Overlooking another sandy beach, this time further to the North East near Dundee in Scotland, is the Red Castle. Shades of Game of Thrones here! The Red Castle is a total ruin but a very atmospheric one. It was built originally to repel Viking invasion and later used as the Scottish monarch’s hunting lodge. However it was destroyed in the 1580s when James Gray laid siege to it after marrying the owner, Elizabeth Beaton, falling in love with her daughter, and being thrown out! That is some acrimonious divorce!
The climb to Red Castle, towering over the beach, is breath-taking and sharing the view with a few seabirds and no one else is very special. So what is it about the combination of castle and beach that is so appealing? Well, for a start it’s very visual. The sky, the sea, the beach and castle rising from the rock, all come together in a romantic and atmospheric way. The place resounds with ghosts and with stories of times past. It’s imaginative and inspiring. Then there is the breeze off the sea, the sun, the sound of the waves and the seabirds… In my opinion there is something magical about it all.
I did have some more photos but Typepad wasn't keen to let me post them up so I'm sorry I can't share more magnificent castles!
Do you love beach? What would be your chosen seaside residence? A little cottage? A grand hotel or a magnificent castle? Or would the tourists – or the weather – put you off?