Friday, 6 July 2018

Corfe Castle Trip

Pack, repack, forget something rush to station. Unhappy sour people, previous train not arrive.  Busy lonely staff tries to help, gives tickets, explains again, surly responses.  Stratford means using lift to avoid stairs, then using stairs to get to right platform!  Fast Jubilee line, London people mix with globetrotters making an interesting sight, but not one to see every day.  Waterloo, miss train as platform to long and train driver ignores late passengers rushing towards it.  First on next train, comfy seat, coffee, read book, look out window at obscene high rise flats/offices then warm green fields, stilted dry crops, country life, blue sky and sunshine.  Arrive, welcome, sun reaches over thirty degrees, eat, rest, settle in, then out seeking life!

Shall we go here, there, here, there, over and on but in the end we go.  On way we change mind and in bout of stupidity stop at Corfe and enter Corfe Castle.  

Broken down by Cromwell during Civil War (how can any war be 'civil?') and left in bits ever since the solid entrance gates indicated a slow gentle wander up to the Keep.

Lies! All lies!  The gentle slope went on for ever.  My knees and his hip indicating displeasure as we climbed ever upwards surrounded by tourists of many tongues and not a few dogs and pre school children, I prefer the dogs!  

The gatehouse has many indications that this was not the most welcoming place.  Built around a thousand years ago with a Keep built of Purbeck Limestone at the heart created by William the Conqueror's son Henry I to defend the entrance to the land from the bay nearby.  The castle stands impressively atop the hill offering clear views for miles around and ensuring a strong defensive offering to any would be invader or local rebel.  The name 'Corfe' comes, as you know, from the old English 'ceorfan' which means 'cutting,' as the hill on which the castle stands cuts through the ridge of chalk hills on which it stands.

The archers view from inside.  I expect the floor was of a lower level in King John's time and that makes me wonder what may lie beneath?  I wonder if they ever attempt to look or will they consider it not worthwhile?  I suspect they know better than I.

Henry I indicated how loving his family was by imprisoning his brother Robert of Normandy in the castle, by then one of the strongest in the land and others were to follow the delight of being held here either in some degree of comfort or in the dungeon.   Both King John of ill repute and Henry III kept Eleanor of Brittany confined here as she threatened their position, typical woman!   She did survive however twenty or so of her Knights were not so fortunate.  

I think this was the medieval manner of keeping fit, you build a castle on a hill and get fitness by clambering up and down stairs and walkways day after day, cheaper than a local gym.

The castle was designed to look good as well as be efficient but Cromwell's men did very well in removing any possible defence capability with their gunpowder and engineering skills.  Massive walls these may have been but they collapsed well enough when pushed.

With too little information, too many visitors swarming around, school classes being educated about the civil war (by a lass of Indian descent) and the lack of breath caused by climbing this high without falling over the edge it gave little time to cogitate on those who dwelt herein during the castle's lifetime.  What was that door upstairs leading to?  Was it merely defence or did a king or queen live there?  If the kings life was somewhat sparse in comparison to 'Buck House' today what was life like for the workers, soldiers and the farmers providing foodstuffs and profit round about?  

Some residents today are doing very well.  In the nooks and crannies of the castle the Jackdaws were happy enough.  This was had been hovering in the breeze (breeze he says!) much of the time when not chattering to his mate.  He (or is it she?) looked contented enough.

A town naturally grew at the foot of the castle and the stone built houses are delightful to admire.  The break up of the castle has led to many stones appearing within these houses, occasional TV programmes venture into such and that which once graced the homes of the powerful now grace the homes of the well off.   These houses do not come cheap.  Is that stone tiles on the roofs?  
In past time these would have held the staff working in the castle, however their homes would probably have been rough stone with earth roofing, earth floor and somewhat inadequate sanitary arrangements.  Passing time brings improvements and the cattle, sheep and fields brought many wealth and comfort.

It would be possible to spend all day taking photos of the castle and searching the history.  One photographer was very keen and worked away taking several shots at various settings to get the right result.  Good for him I thought and later when I realised I had my camera on the wrong setting I became somewhat jealous!  Stupid boy, that means I have had to play with the pics somewhat. Bah!

One teacher had her enraptured class, well most of them, sitting in front of what was called the 'Gloriette.'  Judging by the Gothic type windows I considered this a chapel at first but 'Gloiette' means 'Little room' and this usually goes with a garden.  The 12th and 13th century building works appear to have been for comfort and enjoyment as much as for defence.  I loved the windows however I have no idea when they were added.

In a small dark room of to the side I suddenly noticed deep with the hole that at one time supported a floor beam sat this white dove.  Quietly but warily she watched our movements.  It was much darker than the picture shows and she appeared content while masses passed by unseeing.

Near the main gatehouse stood several huts which employed the castle carpenter and here the stonemason.  The area immediately after the entrance would once have teemed with workers, food areas, horses and soldiers going about or avoiding their business of the day.  At weekends now the castle puts on a variety of medieval or civil war re-enactments.  I wish I could be there at that time.  Speaking to the man on duty he answered one or two of our questions and appeared very knowledgeable and interested in the history and the visitors, it was a good response to find.

I wonder if King John or one of the Henry's ever slipped and fell and cursed as he made his way down to the gate?  The pathway is hardened to make life easier but in truth walking to the side was better, I slipped less!  

The 'Trebuchet' shone here is still used in exhibitions.  This brute can throw stones, balls of fire and dogs and horses collected leftovers over 300 yards, that's about three long football pitches.  The ball when it lands in the castle can be a bit messy.
During the English Civil War the end came for the castle.  Lady Mary Bankes held he castle for her royalist husband, in spite of Dorset being solidly parliamentarian, and withstood a siege during which see suffered two casualties and the attacking for suffered over a hundred!  However duplicity brought the end. One Colonel Pitman arranged to leave the castle and bring in a hundred reinforcements, however he returned with parliamentarian forces and having sneaked in (how do you sneak in and out with so many men?) he waited until the parliamentarian force attacked and then turned on the defenders.  Generously once they had surrendered Lady Bankes and the garrison were allowed to leave and parliament voted to 'slight' the castle leaving it in the present state.

When we set out we had no intention of visiting Corfe let alone the castle.  However as we ended up in that direction, don't ask how, we stopped and then entered.  This was done as they possess the cards from the National Trust and by offering me the son's card I too entered this way (devious I say).
Neither my knees or his hip realised how steep the clamber up would be, normally healthy people would survive and many aged and decrepit folks were up there along with us breathing heavily and hobbling along cheerily.  It was well worth the effort, not just because I could play with the camera on a wrong setting, not just for the views or history but because it was worth it!  We both were glad we made the effort while she wandered the shops and sat in the car people watching which is her latest hobby.  
The National Trust now own the castle and keep it in good shape, considering much of it is falling down.  The staff were friendly and efficient, the work well maintained and the education side clearly beneficial as school parties arrive and can clamber up and down and pretend they are knights, kings and queens and medieval folks.  Rather than than me when medieval folks did not have a microwave!   Corfe Castle is worth a visit however I would suggest going before the kids are released from school.  I enjoyed it.
Then we moved on....

Blurred Blue tit!


Kay G. said...

My goodness, I very much enjoyed this post with the great photos. That sweet white dove, I love you got a shot of her/him!
Hope you were able to rest and put your feet up after all this walking!

Dave said...

A good post and pictures Mr A, very enjoyable. It is a nice spot and Dorset has a lot to offer, its often overlooked, which sometimes can be a good thing. Cheers.

Adullamite said...

Kay, I love the way the birds make use of the castle.

Dave, Cheers Dave! A things in that area point to Corfe Castle, they make a lot of it. Many folks there and you are right it is a good place to be.