Capturing the Castle

Castle Tioram 2Nicola here. There are a lot of old buildings in the UK and a lot of different names for historic types of buildings, whether it’s a castle, manor, hall, tower, mansion or cottage. A castle, though, conjures up very particular ideas of what a building looks like. The dictionary definition is “a fortified building as in medieval Europe” or “a large, magnificent house especially if the home of a prince or noble.” However, I think fortifications – crenelations, towers, turrets etc are essential for it to be a proper castle. Often a castle, which has been around for hundreds of years, is in ruins, either through age or because it was destroyed in a war or battle and has never been rebuilt. There is definitely a special aura about a castle.

Castles in novels tend to be creepy. Whether it’s the Castle of Otranto by Walpole or The Red Keep in Game of Thrones they are designed to be intimidating The castle of otranto and the gothic atmosphere just adds to the sense of menace.

How lovely it was, then, to visit a real castle last week that was both impressive but also had quite a homely atmosphere! Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire has been in the same family for over 800 years. It’s been mentioned in Shakespeare and it fulfils the “Gothic horror” element because King Edward II was murdered there in 1327. It looks like a fortress from the outside but inside it has a warmth and charm. Although the guide book insists it is “savage,” I didn’t get that vibe from it. Even the fact that the stone it is built from looks pink and purple in the sunshine makes it beautiful and the gardens are glorious.

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The Joy of the Letter

Butterfly cardNicola here, talking about letters and cards, letter-writing and research. Last week, a friend who lives a few doors down, put a hand written card through my door to fix up a get-together. She could have texted or used any one of a half dozen other ways of getting in touch but the card really thrilled me because it feels so unusual to receive hand-written cards and letters these days. Despite this, cards and other beautiful stationery are very popular and I’m always tempted to buy some when I visit historic houses or other lovely places that sell smart stationery. As a result, I have an ever-increasing pile of cards in my desk and seldom seem to have the chance to send them to anyone, though I do my best to find those occasions when I can.

At the same time, I’ve been researching the book I’m writing about the history of Ashdown House, and have been reminded of how important letters and letter-writing was to our forbears as a way of sharing news (and gossip!) and consequently how useful letters are to historians. In fact, my new fiction timeslip book also underlines this, as the heroine and her sister are both illiterate, never having been taught to read or write as children because they were poor (and girls). Learning to read is one of my heroine’s ambitions.

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Ruined Castles Tour Part II

WW pic 1Christina here and as Nicola was telling you the other day, we had a lovely day out at the ruins of Goodrich Castle recently. I had never visited before and it was a fascinating place. What was more, it had so much in common with my favourite castle ruin nearby – Raglan. Both were established in the 11th century, both held by the Royalists during the English Civil War, then fell to the Parliamentarians in 1646 and were subsequently destroyed. A sad fate for such lovely places! I hope you will indulge our obsession for castle ruins a second time this week as I continue by telling you a little more about Raglan.

Raglan Castle is about 12WW pic 2 English miles (19.2 km) from Goodrich and built on the same sort of principles with a keep, a courtyard, towers, living quarters, a great hall, a chapel and a moat. However, in its final incarnation, it was almost twice as big, and more of a palace than a castle fortress.

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Ruined Castles Tour Part 1

Christina and NicolaNicola here. On one of the last hot days of August, Wench Christina and I met up for a mini-Wench get together at Goodrich Castle, on the border of Wales and England. It was one of my first trips out after Lockdown and such a treat to be able to visit a historic site and even better to be able to chat about history and writing with a fellow Wench!

Goodrich is one of the finest and best-preserved of all English medieval castles but it isn’t very well known. We approached it the way that visitors would have done in the medieval period, on a path along a deep cutting in the rock. Here, the guidebook tells you, you could admire the red sandstone tower and the green stone of the keep – whilst being in range of the bowmen stationed on the roof (fortunately not a feature of a 21st century castle!)

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The history behind strange sayings

SherrifmuirNicola here, talking about odd historical phrases and sayings. The topic came to mind this week because I was reading an article about how the UK is awash with peculiar sayings and I’m sure that other countries and other languages are exactly the same. In fact many families share special phrases that have meaning only for them. Many of these have their roots in historical events. In our family, for instance, there are several sayings with Scots origins, reflecting my husband’s Scots roots. "Save your breath to cool your porridge" is one and, “There were bigger losses at Sheriffmuir” is my all time favourite. This is trotted out frequently when things go wrong in an effort to gain a sense of perspective.

Sherrifmuir was an engagement in the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. It took place on 13th November so we are almost at the anniversary of it. It was an inconclusive fight between the Jacobite army and the British government forces and in fact losses were relatively small compared with Culloden, for instance. In total there were just under 1000 men killed, wounded or captured but the bigger loss was the failure of the 1715 Jacobite rising. My mother-in-law went to school near Sherrifmuir and I wonder whether this was a local phrase. The famous poet Robert Burns, a favourite in our family, wrote a song in honour of the Battle of Sherrifmuir. “Mony a huntit, poor Red-coat / For fear amaist did swarf, man." Indeed.

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