Ah, Travel…


If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.
– Lewis Carroll








the beautiful way to abandon your life
for awhile…


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Autumn is Harvest Time

Put together enough of the right elements and you can improve everything by taking it in the context of this special time of year we call fall or autumn. To me, there is something more special about this season than any other. The scents are heady outdoors and inside in the warmth there is brewing, baking and dessert making that will fill your head with the rich scent of all the harvests- what we reap from summer. The colors of our lives become earthy and vibrant and the environment feels more healthy and alive. The tapestry of autumn is rich and magnificent. Enjoy !
- The Castle Lady


In Harvest-time, harvest folk
servants and all,
Should make all together
good cheer in the hall,
And fill the black bowl
Of blyth to their song,
And let them be merry,
all harvest-time long.

Thomas Tusser
an Elizabethan farmer-poet

want to know more ? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Tusser

CastleLady_tn_spring_2013The Castle Lady

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Keep Calm…

U.S.A.This is an anniversary date for me. For many Americans this is Patriot Day- the day we keep in remembrance of one of the greatest catastrophes of the 21st century and a horrible beginning to it. I happened to be on THE castle tour of Europe when it happened. There were only a few more days left of the tour which started in Paris and that day we had just finished a tour of three schlosses in Bavaria. Those were Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenschiemsee Castles which were all started (and only one finished) by Mad King Ludwig. That day a black cat crossed my path at Linderhof, showed up in the reception hall and was promptly tossed out on its ear. If it was an omen then it was also vengeful.
By then, 9/11 had happened nearly a day ago but we were not to hear about it until weT.T. cloud got to our hotels that night and turned on our T.V.s. I couldn’t get English on mine and several other tour mates said they couldn’t get English either. We all saw the towers in flames and then collapse. I was horrified and everyone else looked like they were in shock at dinner that night. We all decided to finish the tour, bravely and many Germans including two friends of mine who live in Nuremburg were very empathetic and compassionate about it when I communicated and/or encountered them. I stayed on for another week in Germany because, of course, my flights home were cancelled and rescheduled for a week later. I speak German so there was no difficulty in navigating and getting along by myself in Munich where our tour ended. I investigated some more castles- Nymphenburg just outside Munich on my own and Nuremberg’s Kaiserburg citadel, with its massive towers, and Albrecht Durer’s house with my long time friends. They showed me around and made me feel quite at home but most of that week I wandered around like a love-struck expatriate in Munich wondering what was next. I had spent nearly two weeks in a grand fantasy world that I’d always dreamed of and then came down to a crushing reality that no one wants to encounter.
Plane_NewI remember feeling as if home was light years away and several times the thought crossed my mind that I may never make it home. I started looking around and wondering if the whole world would change because mine already had. I was unsettled for sure but by the time I was on a plane and headed for home (on the same flight path as one of the planes which had been flown into the towers) I felt a new feeling that I had never experienced before. I was resolved that no matter what happened I would bravely forge ahead. That is what it means to be an American. Our bravery cannot be denied.
For Americans, security will never be certain again. I remember people talking about how no one would ever have the guts to attack us on our own shores. That is now a myth we all wanted to believe and is gone and blown away. No American will ever be the same since 9/11, who remembers it, and we will now look behind us in apprehension on that premise.
There is one reassurance, however, that I hope everyone will take to heart. It is simply that this country was established on the basis of trusting in God and our forefathers urged us in word and deed, written and spoken, to preserve that basis at all costs. They set up a fine government but without God on our side it would still be for naught. It doesn’t say In God We Trust on our coins for no reason. The bravest of us have In God We Trust stamped on our hearts.

see: How Did You Die? on my February 25, 2008 entry

“The task ahead of us is never as great as the power behind us.” R.W. Emerson

Castle_o_ice_cakeSeptember 5, 2014

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Even Summer Days are Too Short

coastI still find
each day too short
for all the thoughts
I want to think
all the walks
I want to take,
all the books
I want to read
and all the friends
I want to see.

-John Burroughs

Here’s to long summer smiles…

The Castle Lady

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My Summer Reading 2014

This summer became a bit of a blur because I wasn’t as engaged with my reading as in past summers. There were too many tasks that needed to be done and everything fell to myself because it’s only me now. If I don’t do it, then it doesn’t happen or it doesn’t get done. Period. At some point I was supposed to become a millionaire. What happened to that ? Well, I hope I get to that point and sooner rather than later. Anyway, the following is a poem that my mother kept by her station for many years and is actually the truth. Before I could read a word, I remember my Mom reading my books to me and I could read at a third grade level before I started kindergarten ! True story. As you read on you’ll get my account of the reading I managed to do this summer and hopefully will be interesting for you. - The Castle Lady

499073Mother Read To Me
When I was just a little girl
My mother read to me
First Mother Goose, then fairy tales
The classics, poetry.

She sat beside my bed each night
Reading stories old and new.
She instilled in me a love for books
Because she loved them, too.

A mother, now, I love to read
Here in my rocking chair.
A little one held in my lap
What special time we share.

I wouldn’t trade my childhood,
For wealth or royalty.
Because when I was growing up
My mother read to me.

Dawn E. McCormick, TX

Cacklefur_G_StiltonOccasionally I check out children’s literature just to see what’s hip in the 8 and under realm and I found a cute book titled The Secret of Cacklefur Castle written by Geronimo Stilton who writes prolifically on many subjects in story form. The plot is tight but uncomplicated and extremely interesting for children and the illustrations are absolutely wonderful and includes a cartoon plan of the castle which will delight children and adults. Its humor is definitely in the accelerated range for children so keep a dictionary handy if you read to your child and I highly recommend that you do that for those children who are only starting to learn how to read. Don’t worry about keeping a child engaged if the words seem big. All children will rise to the challenge if the illustrations keep the story exciting and this is definitely the case. Don’t be surprised if your child becomes a Geronimo Stilton fan.

I chanced upon finding a copy of Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune which was written by a relative and another author who was keen on researching and writing about Huguette and her father who seemed to be opposite sides of a vast amount of money. W.A. Clark, a 19th century copper multi-millionaire, is unknown to most people today but he was right up there with the Astors and Carnegie with one of the most beautiful mansions on Fifth Avenue. As a person who lived the privileged life of sole beneficiary to a vast fortune, Huguette became a very generous person to those she felt she knew but her wealth seemed to stymy her talents and she became trapped in an acquisitive lifestyle that is the fate of the super rich. Before the book came out I had seen a write up in the paper when she passed away at the age of 104 on May 24, 2011- only two weeks prior to what would have been her 105th birthday.
She had occupied a hospital bed for twenty years at the time of her passing even though she was not ill and was infamous as a recluse who patronized the arts. This book strips away what was known and opens up a third person narrative that showcases what an incredible life she had led and also gives us a good idea of how her father amassed his fortune from simple prospecting to acquiring businesses and land. Huguette was fascinating in her true persona rather than the one which was supposed by photojournalists and paparazzi. Those people who managed to get close reveal a warm-hearted, compassionate and generous soul who was as devoted to her doll collection as she was to her small and close circle of friends and those she patronized. To those who are fascinated by great wealth, this book will delight you no end!

Obtaining a copy of I am Malala this year proved to be a bit of a struggle but I did manage to finally borrow a copy from the library. It was not an easy read in that the subject matter of what happened to Ms. Yousafzai when she dared defy the extremist Islamic faction in her town came to blows. She had received attention in Pakistan by encouraging other girls and women to get an education and had been very vocal about her opinions and views. Only days after my mother passed away back in October 2012, I remember hearing and reading the news reports that she had been singled out, on a bus she was riding with her best friend to school, by the Taliban and was shot in the face at point blank range. From that point, she was whisked out of the country in critical condition and she tells all of her tale with such aplomb that I was extremely impressed with her courage. All women in the free world should read this book to understand what other women face in third world countries when they dare to defy the stereotypes and forge their own path. It made me understand what I’ve been taking for granted.
Novels_Stories_Jackson_120x174_LOAI also managed to find time to get a hold of a copy of the LOA anthology of Shirley Jackson’s best known novels and stories. I have been a Shirley Jackson fan from way back and adore almost everything she ever wrote. Her most famous novels are included in it such as We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House both of which I read as a teenager. I was most interested in reading some of the stories which were published in this book for the first time and was pleasantly surprised at the volume of stories I had never read before. For all of you who have not so much as been introduced to her, do please check out this book at the library or go to LOA’s web site and obtain this book. Ms Jackson was one of the preeminent literary novelists of any time period in the English language and Queen of the Unordinary because she could illuminate mundane lives and use a bizarre but completely plausible twist to set you on your head.
I could go on and on but I think I’ve given you a brief idea of where my head’s been at this summer. This has been light reading for this year and I hope to have some big reports for you soon on my favorite subject. Castles.


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Gloucestershire’s Grand Castle Hotels

Thornbury_south range_garden

There are two castle hotels within Gloucestershire’s boundaries which serve their respective areas very well. One, Thornbury Castle in South Gloucestershire, is a genuine late medieval castle which once accommodated Henry VIII and there is Clearwell Castle, in the Forest of Dean, which is a late medieval renaissance castle with some very convincing gothic features and equally as comfortable for guests as Thornbury. Both are price-y but wonderful for a castling tour envisioned by each and every castle lover. -The Castle Lady

Thornbury_Castle_Raving_LoonyAs the ‘last true castle built’ and the ‘only Tudor castle to operate as a hotel and restaurant’ in England, Thornbury Castle Hotel is in an elite class owing to its genuineness and excellent current condition. You will be intrigued by its appearance from any photo you will view and the architecture is eclectic and lovely. Seated on the west side of town in its own park and of the castle’s three reception areas, fronted by grand bay windows on the south side, you are given a chance to literally drink in the refreshingly brilliant atmosphere upon arrival. For starters, you are greeted to your room with a full decanter of sherry and strolling the medieval grounds in the 21st century is no less exhilarating than it was when Henry VIII toured Thornbury’s gardens and grounds. Originally built in 1511 by Edward Stafford, the third Duke of Buckingham, it was not to be entire for a number of centuries for several reasons as you are about to find out.
Thornbury_receptionAnthony Salvin, the 19th century restorer of Warwick and Caernarfon Castles (among many others), finished some of the work begun by the second and third Dukes of Buckingham, for Henry Howard in 1824. Salvin expanded and restored the chimneys in a style very similar to those of Hampton Court Palace (the haunted, gigantic one in Surrey) and added a wing in 1850. The tower and gatehouse appear in their original early 16th century form and adjoins the privy garden which encompasses a 500 years old vineyard- exclusive to the Muller Thurgau grape- and makes an excellent white wine diners can enjoy at meals ! Inside this flagstone paved courtyard, the east side is bereft of a Great Hall (where it would have been seated) and the remainder has rooms to one side which are partly ruinous and roofless and were, in part, Salvin’s unique restorations. The library extends into the five-lobed two-story bay window with a view over the restored privy garden and a good part of the furniture, portraits and tapestries are reproductions.
Thornbury_Howard_bedroomAccording to the Domesday Book, a manor house known as ‘Turneberie’ had 103 residents and was owned by Matilda of Flanders (William the Conqueror’s wife) and there is earlier documented evidence of the town itself from the 9th century as a settlement called Thornbyrig. A town charter was created in 1252 and even earlier buildings, such as St Mary’s Church, still show evidence of having been built in the 12th century. Extensions to the church were most likely built during or after the time of the charter. Thornbury was listed as a small market town so the castle and town probably co-existed long before the Norman invasion. As a matter of fact, a hoard of 11,460 Roman coins dating from 260 AD were found here in 2004 !
Thornbury’s coat of arms bears features for four families relevant to the town’s history. Those were Attwells’, Howards, Clares and Staffords. John Attwells left £500 in his will for the establishment of a Free School which merged with what is now known as Marlwood School in 1879 and his coat of arms was later acquired as their badge. Three families held the manor at Thornbury over several centuries. It bears the motto Decus Sabrinae Vallis which means Jewel of the Severn Vale.
Today, the estate is comprised of fifteen acres which includes the vineyard, high walls and the oldest (unchanged) Tudor garden in England. The castle’s appearance does not belie the sad history of the inhabitants, however. Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke was betrayed by a servant in the 15th century and was executed for the charge of treason against Richard III. (This phenomenon was contagious, by the way. Richard may have been a bit paranoid about Stafford’s lineage!) Edward Stafford, Henry’s son (the 3rd Duke) also endeavored to restore Thornbury, becoming a favorite of Henry VII and came to be Constable of England but he was also betrayed by a ‘retainer’ and was executed meanly in 1521 with dubious evidence of treason against Henry VIII. (Once again, Henry’s political clout and lineage was a greater motivation.) Hence, the King seized the house, of course, and managed his brief, albeit thorough, visit of Thornbury accompanied by his then wife, Anne Boleyn. At the time, it probably was not quite comfortable enough for her majesty as it had not been completed but its basic quadrangular courtyard configuration was in place. The Duke’s Bedchamber where they slept is available to guests.
thornbury-castle_interiorThornbury Castle is like no other in that the interior is posh with rich furnishings, paneled walls, beautiful and large open fireplaces throughout and has twenty-six bedrooms modeling period furnishings and accessories. The Tudor Hall has some original features along with suits of armor (an array which are practically everywhere you look in the castle), tapestries and underfoot heating which wafts through the oak floor boards. It is often used for private dining but two adjoining rooms to the hall, the Great Oven and the Boyling House, are utilized as additional accommodation for weddings and functions making capacity up to a hundred guests. The cuisine offered has included such fare as Sunday Roasts, Marinated Field Mushrooms glazed with Goat Cheese, Carpaccio of Blue Fin Tuna and Glazed Barbary Duck Breast with Carrot Mousse or Butterscotch Pudding and traditional English cheeseboards- AA Rosette quality food.
Thornbury_Castle_dining_GloucestershireThere are two more dining rooms which cater to smaller groups- the Baron’s Sitting Room which seats 22 and the Tower Dining Room for 30 people, maximum. The Chancellor Lounge is an addition to the Baron’s Sitting Room where you can sit apart to enjoy a drink or aperitif before sitting down to your meal. The Baron’s Sitting room looks out over the vineyard, castle walls and courtyard so it’s especially thrilling to dine there but the Tower Dining Room, with its polygonal tower walls, sports arrow-slits and a wonderful open fireplace. Medieval atmosphere spills over at Thornbury.
If you need complete privacy in your accommodations, a charming Victorian gatehouse on the castle grounds has two bedrooms and separate, secluded gardens but with full access to the castle and all its facilities- great for a bride and groom before and after the ceremony ! However, all the rooms are en suite so everything you will need is available whether you stay in the Gloucester Bedchamber which looks out over the two Tudor gardens or other rooms with a spectacular view of the historic parkland. All are well appointed with televisions, four poster or coronet beds, tapestries, ornate carved ceilings, luxuriously warm fireplaces with comfortable furnishings and opulent bathrooms with full amenities.
thornbury-castleCroquet lawns, archery and falconry, fishing, quad biking and other activities are available nearby and the castle is ideally situated for exploring the west country. Picturesque High Street in the town brings visitors from around the area and the museum provides quite a bit of information on Thornbury and its history. The town is a Britain in Bloom award-winner and now has its own competition, Thornbury in Bloom. There is a walking heritage trail, starting at the Town Hall, with 40 waymarkers indicating places of interest. Thornbury is the ideal base from which to explore the actual Cotswolds and the charming villages and towns there, such as Northleach, Stroud and Nailsworth. To the east, you’ll find Westonbirt Arboretum (near Tetbury) planted in the heyday of Victorian plant hunting and home to one of the finest tree collections in the world. With some 18,000 trees and shrubs, carefully laid out over 600 acres of beautiful Grade One listed historic landscape, you’ll find plenty to explore! Castles to be visited and are very near include Berkeley, Beverston, Blaise and Bristol (in North Somerset). Gloucester and Cheltenham aren’t far either.

T: 01454 281182 info +44 (0) 844 482 2152 

(from £175 to £615, prices are for two persons sharing a room)

Access to the castle is left of St. Mary’s Church at the very end of Castle Street in Thornbury, off the A38, five miles from Junction 16 on the M 5


Clearwell-Castle-EdClaytonphotogrWhen you head north and west you will want to check out all the castles and ringworks thrust up in what was once the Royal Forest of Dean. Clearwell is a very close neighbor to St Briavel’s even though they are world’s apart in nature.

Clearwell_Court_Castle_HotelClearwell Castle sits right on the border of West Gloucestershire where today’s Forest of Dean makes contact with south Wales. It is a great home base for a castle lover in this area and is a sheer delight as a castle hotel in every sense of the word. It has its own history and is blessed with being in proximity to a few of the most enigmatic castles on British soil. Contrary to popular local belief, Clearwell Castle is not a folly castle. Its history began as Clearwell Court back in the 15th century, built by Robert Greyndour. Its interior comprised of a hall, chapel and twelve rooms at that point. It was not built as anything more than a family residence and when Robert’s widow passed away in 1484 the house came into possession of the wife of the first Thomas Baynham. A descendant, also named Thomas Baynham, rebuilt a good part of the house when he took possession in 1580. The estate passed to the Throckmortons by marriage during the 17th century and through outright sell, Francis Wyndham of Uffords Manor in Norfolk, took possession of the estate in 1684. Clearwell_entrancehall

Clearwell_CastleFrom that time the residence remained in his family until 1893. Under the direction of Roger Morris, Clearwell received crenellation and Gothic features in 1727. Morris was an 18th century architect who also was responsible, in part, for Inveraray Castle in Scotland and Clearwell’s exterior appearance, as it stands today, is his work. Restoration was carried out over the centuries with a ha-ha (terraced gardens) being added late in the 18th century. Walking around the estate you’ll see statuary, a gatehouse, stable block, gateway with twin three-storied towers, gate lodge and piers from centuries ago. The castle shows no obvious signs, inside or out, of former devastation and it’s a great retreat for a weary traveler.

ClearwellCastle_May2008Until 1908 the house was known as Clearwell Court and after it was purchased byClearwell_interior Henry Collins became known as Clearwell Castle and sold a few years later to Col. Charles Vereker. This neo-Gothic tower house was restored in the mid-20th century after a devastating fire in 1929. During WWII a housebreaker stripped off the lead roof, wood floors and fixtures. By 1952 the castle was facing demolition but was saved by Frank Yeates, the son of a former gardener of the estate, who restored the castle to its former glory alongside his family and friends. He sold his own bakery business in Blackpool in order to save it and worked tirelessly, room by room until it was completely refurbished. Work stopped upon his death in 1973. The Yeates family did one last thing before the castle was sold in the 1980s to become a hotel and wedding venue- they put in a recording studio specifically for Ozzy Osborne’s band, Black Sabbath.
Through the 1970s it was used as a rehearsal and recording studio by many famous rock bands which included Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Badfinger, the Sweet, Mott the Hoople and Bad Company. Peter Frampton recorded his 1975 self-titled album at Clearwell.

Besides the castles and ringworks to which it neighbors, the Clearwell Caves are some of the very oldest underground workings in Britain and a visit will give you a first hand look at caverns created by forest miners through the centuries who made their living digging for iron ore and ochre. On a typical tour you descend 100 feet clearwell_cavesand meander through nine caverns filled with equipment and geological displays. For the more adventurous visitors, a range of extended trips with caving experiences explore the warren of deeper workings revealing the caves as the miners left them centuries ago. There is a gift shop, visitor center, a café, picnic areas and free parking as well. Nearby castles include St. Briavel’s, Lydney’s Little Camp Hill, Little Dean Camp at Cinderford, Newnham-on-Severn and Chepstow and Caldicot Castles in Wales.
T- 01594 832535

Clearwell is 1.5 miles south of Coleford. Take the B4228 road towards St Briavels and Chepstow. After one mile, turn right for Clearwell village (immediately past Lambsquay Hotel). The car and coach park is clearly visible after a few hundred yards.

TheCastleLady_April_2013The Castle Lady

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Castles in the Forest of Dean

gloucsThe loveliest and most enigmatic area of Gloucestershire, the Royal Forest of Dean, is wonderful to visit just about any time but is especially stunning in Spring and Autumn when everything is renewing or changing before winter. There is a plethora of iron and bronze age hillforts to be visited here along with interesting Roman ruins. In the 18th century visitors to the area around St Briavel’s exclaimed over the “beautiful and romantic scenery that surrounds these ruins.” Along the far west and running in a southward direction, this gateway to south Wales had to be used, in a fashion, to fend off retaliatory Welsh raids. Gloucester was considered vulnerable and so you’ll find very little of medieval military leftovers even though the evidence was once as thick as the forest itself. Don’t forget that some castles were once quite formidable but possibly abandoned early rather than late.Dymockcastletump

Castle Tump at Dymock, directly ten miles west of Tewkesbury in the northwest corner of Gloucestershire above the Forest of Dean, is a motte all of 14 meters high with a bailey along the southeast. It was eradicated during the Anarchy when the castle was given to William de Braose ( son-in-law of Miles de Gloucester ) by Henry II circa 1160. Today a farm is located near the site.
English_Bicknor_village_signSome miles south and right on the Wye River border which separates Wales from England, English Bicknor Castle’s remains consist of a motte at the center of two concentric outer bailey walls, producing a circular castle 150 yards in diameter seated near Symond’s Yat and Lower Lydbrook. The existence of Bicknor is documented in the Domesday book of 1086 and once known as Bicanofre but was recorded as a hamlet in 1066. (There is a Welsh Bicknor indicating a division of the city.) The motte was placed against the southwest corner of the site, where the ground slopes as a natural embankment rampart. A square stone keep may have been built at a later stage atop the motte. At the beginning of the Anarchy the castle was controlled by Miles de Gloucester but Bicknor miraculously escaped destruction and was still in full use at the beginning of the 13th century. Further conflict is undocumented as is the castle’s certain demise. For age and location, the castle is literally neck and neck with a small Norman parish church dedicated to St Mary which has beautiful English_Bicknor_Castlesiteinternal stone masonry along with sculpture from the beginning of the 12th century and loaded with interesting 14th and 15th century artifacts. The original church tower was seated centrally and built from the soft local sandstone which became unsafe but was sited within the outer courtyard of the motte and bailey castle. Only the exterior stonework of St Mary’s 13th century west tower is original, however. Norman masonry has been found within the motte, suggesting at least part of the castle was builtin stone and while nothing is left of the castle’s actual structure today, the location is still identifiable. This typical early Norman defense work may have been built in the reign of Henry I of England or King Stephen during the first half of the 12th century and was demolished or destroyed by the late 14th century, but why and how is not documented. Legend has it that it may have faced destruction during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr.
Head southwest, a short distance toward the north bank of the River Severn near Cinderford and you’ll find Littledean Camp, Glasshouse Woods and Howle Hill Camp. Littledean and the rest were Norman castles constructed to protect local villages and they worked as a type of screen to also protect the city of Gloucester from Welsh incursion. Littledean was concentric but small- sixty feet in diameter- equipped with an inner and outer bailey with a high vallum (rampart) wall originally fifteen feet in height with the motte integrated with the outer wall. Diversely, Glasshouse Woods was an 11th century ringwork designed most likely as an outpost to Littledean and Howle Hill.
Newnham-on-SevernAnother site along the north bank of the River Severn, a short distance away in a south direction, Newnham-on-Severn is a quiet and pleasant village which claims a good example of a platform motte of a castle. Location of this motte is questionable because the Severn would have provided more than enough protection, very much like a wide moat so it’s presence would have been unnecessary. It may have had a small tower with an outer wall at some point. You’ll find it located near the village church and the view from the river bank is idyllic.

Lydney_Park_GardensA 12th century Norman stone castle, Little Camp Hill, located within beautiful Lydney Park high on a hilltop above a floodplain, was uncovered back in the 1930s during an excavation revealing a curtain with an entrance flanked by a small tower keep with inner and outer baileys. Laid out to the natural shape of the hill, nothing was above ground but the outline was pentagonal with uneven angles and had a rectangular tower with a gateway, an additional tower and curtain walls. Its construction is attributed to William FitzOsbern and the entire park has been under the ownership of Benjamin Bathurst since 1719. The remains of a Roman temple also grace the site along with gardens, deer park and 17th century Lydney House. Some people believe that features of Lydney Park, such as Dwarf Hill, were inspirational to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books describing Hobbiton! info, call: 01594 845497



a. gatehouse  b.King’s chambers and chapel  c. keep d. Hall range

e. the Peel   f. tower  g. moat (yellow)

St_Briavels_Castle_-_geograph_org_uk_-_520136Overlooking the Wye Valley near Tintern Abbey in Wales, you’ll find the remains of St Briavels Castle which occupies a spur right on the edge of the border built by royal mandate of Empress Matilda for Miles de Gloucester, the Earl of Hereford, in 1141. As a moated Norman enclosure castle of the 12th century it has much more to show us than most castles today and the fact of its formidable appearance is also a miracle considering its proximity to Wales. As a matter of fact, nothing English is quite that close and is still, technically, English except for English Bicknor ! By sight, it’s best known for its massive round twin-towered gatehouse which was built by Edward I in 1292 and 1293 costing what was then a huge sum of £477. The royal architect, James of St. George, carried out the planning and building of the site as it was at that time. During the time of Henry II a square great tower keep was added but began to collapse by 1752 from stone pilfering and finally completely fell down in 1777.
St_Briavels_Castle_1823_BrayleyandTomblesonOriginally built as a royal administrative center for the Forest of Dean it was under construction for fifty-four years during the 11th and 12th centuries and became a favorite hunting lodge, of course, for King John who visited every November for that purpose. He built the stone curtain wall between 1209 and 1211 complete with a tower and gateway. The king’s lodgings were also built during his reign and were almost finished before he passed on. By 1228 the castle was used as a factory for constructing quarrels for crossbows and as an arsenal for iron crossbow bolts which were manufactured in the iron forges within the forest. During Edward II’s reign in 1300, the old wooden chapel was rebuilt in stone and in 1310, an extension to the castle wall was constructed at a cost of 40 with a new tower referred to as the Peel which followed the line of the old motte affording extra protection to the keep. Many Kings and their royal favorites had their chance at custodianship, especially during the War of the Roses and as the centuries passed it eventually became a court and notorious debtor’s prison. The conditions became bad enough that a prison reformer by the name of John Howard documented the outrages going on in the castle in 1775. After riots broke out there was a parliamentary investigation in the 1830s and eventual reforms, such as the Debtors’ Act of 1869, closed the castle’s use as a prison although it ceased being used as a prison by 1842. Before the turn of the century extensive renovations started and were finished by 1906. Today, ironically enough, it is a youth hostel and has been so since 1948. As an English Heritage protected site it is open to the public and the castle is listed as a Grade I listed building and a scheduled monument.
St_Briavels_castleSt Briavels is a must see for true medieval castle enthusiasts because even though it has been rebuilt many times through the centuries, it was never rebuilt for familial comfort and there was no attempt to make what was essentially a utilitarian castle more ‘fashionable’. It is essentially, therefore, what it was and that’s extremely rare among medieval castles still standing. Considering that Lady Anne Clifford did not have a hand in the rebuilding, it is awesome to see. The former in-filled moat is now a garden, portions of the stone curtain wall still stand where the 66 feet tall polygonal keep once stood along the south side and domestic buildings including a hall, solar and chapel remain along the northwest directly behind the gatehouse. Henry II rebuilt the castle keep in stone by 1160 and used it as a metalworking center. By 1172 he received huge quantities of building materials from the castle! The domestic range was reserved for a castle constable and of course, the King. All of the just mentioned were restored to their current condition in the 19th century. Some remnants that appear to date from the 13th century include a hall range, fireplace and capitals. The hall and solar, as the largest unit in landmass, are two-storeys in height and sit opposite the chapel which dates from the 14th century. These were updated with 17th century features, such as window treatments and the chapel was refurbished. An interesting feature is the Forester’s Horn chimney, set at the end of the domestic range and can be viewed best outside the castle walls. It is a type of sculptured crest of the forest warden’s horn which signifies the castle’s authority through forest law (which is much more severe than regular English law). Some buildings used for imprisonment still stand and show graffiti that dates from 1671 !
St_Briavels_Castle_Gateway_PassageThe most celebrated feature of the castle, the gatehouse, was described by Pevsner as “magnificent…a very fine example of the royal masons’ work of the period.” It is the most massive and sturdy gatehouse I have seen with two large D-shaped towers flanking a 48 feet deep passage linked above by a large room for a garrison. Defenses with such gatehouses were inside as well as outside and mirrors those at Caerphilly, Tonbridge Wells and the Edwardian Welsh Castles, of course. Edward I took gatehouse security quite seriously so St Briavel’s was equipped with three sets of portcullises. More than likely the huge stores of ammunition and money on the site necessitated the internal security of the castle. By comparison, several Welsh gatehouses such as those at Harlech and Beaumaris had slots for three portcullises but generally only made use of two. Smaller portcullises were installed here to prevent passage to the porters’ lodges. Both towers are reduced from their former height and the drawbridge is sadly gone having been removed sometime in the 20th century.
St_Briavels_Castle_Forest_Horn_ChimneyIf you take a good look at the bases of the twin towers you’ll see triangular darkened areas where the defensive spurs once stood and are now removed. These provided additional security by preventing or discouraging undermining during sieges. Goodrich Castle near Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire has quite a few such spur defenses on many of the towers, which look like little or tall pyramids at the bases of those round towers, giving the castle a rugged medieval aspect that is difficult to forget. St Briavel’s spurs were obviously much smaller and may have been added strictly to prevent undermining whereas Goodrich had to face down siege engines hurling large stones. Chepstow in Wales, not far away, also has the same type of spurs and may have been the model for St Briavel’s- being neighbors, after all! The southeast of the gatehouse was rebuilt after collapsing some years ago and may appear almost new by comparison to the rest of the castle.

stay at St. Briavels Youth Hostel T-0845 3719042

Castle_Wild_Emily_SenkoThe Castle Lady

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North Gloucestershire Glories

glos_mapThere are faint remnants of motte and baileys throughout Gloucestershire which do not concern most people except for the possible history attached to these apparitions and only a few of those converted to stone castles have substantially visible remains. Many mottes were built or plowed over or leveled but Roman remains fared much better in Gloucestershire. A prime example is Castle Hale, aCastle_Hale_former_site 12th century motte which was located at the city of Painswick. It was a small castle built by John fitzPain, who was a supporter of Empress Matilda. The castle was most likely heavily damaged at some point by Stephen but the final blow was its razing in the 16th century to make way for a new courthouse. The Anarchy put a quick end to many motte and baileys, regardless of their lords, but I would remind everyone that castle ruins which are still visible on their sites were redeveloped at some point and at various times in history usually from the humble beginnings of a motte with a ditch.
Gloucester_Castle_former-siteDirectly north of Gloucester, Tewkesbury has numerous historic buildings to see, however fortifications or military architecture has been reduced to one. This area shares a part of the Malvern Hills with southern Worcestershire. Northeast lies the Cotswold Hills and all roads lead into late 18th century Cheltenham (a spa town that shows off multitudes of terraced houses built in Neo-Classical style on wide avenues- one called The Promenade) which is holding its annual music festival this month. If you stay over you’ll want to visit the Museum and Art Gallery and Cheltenham Imperial Gardens which were laid out in the early 19th century. Further northeast is Chipping Campden and Stow-on-the Wold. In the area of Winchcombe most of the castles are simply gone but quite close to Sudeley Castle which I will cover soon on a separate entry. The just mentioned towns are delightful to visit, in any case, and offer their own unique delights and some interesting Landmark Trust properties to stay in, as well.
King_Johns_Castle_Mythe_ggrph_993266If we head north to Tewkesbury, situated between the Avon and Severn rivers, we’ll find quite a few interesting alternatives to our usual fare. King John’s Castle, close to The Mythe (which overlooks the town) has an interesting tower which may date back a thousand years! It has no connection to King John nor is it part of a castle but once formed part of a residence of the Abbots of Tewkesbury. Overall a rather pleasant-looking Tudor structure, the upper portion of the semi-detached tower appears to be medieval, while the bottom half has more lias stone coursework. It’s a curiosity to be sure! Nevertheless, the main attraction of the town is St. Mary the Virgin church, a Norman abbey, which was saved by the locals when they produced L453 in pay-off to Henry VIII who would not have spared it otherwise during the Dissolution. It rather dominates this pretty little half-timbered and Cotswold stone housed riverside village. Tewkesbury itself is an exceptional town. All along the main street and connected narrow lanes, you’ll see both medieval and Tudor buildings interspersed with more modern buildings!
On Church street you’ll find the Merchant’s House, a restored medieval shop at numbers 34-48 and you can also tour the ancient houses flanking the Abbey grounds which were saved by a doyen, Jeremy Benson, on behalf of the Protection of Ancient Buildings. He saved them from certain destruction back in 1965 after local trustees had given up and were prepared to do their worst. The medieval row was built by the Abbey before Henry VIII’s Dissolution and were obviously left forgotten and derelict- with their oversailed upper storeys and lean-tos. Now completely restored to glory they (possibly) never had- are let to regular tenants. One is a botanical museum and another 15th century structure is the Merchant’s House and as a one-up, two-down is set up exactly as it would have been as a store-front shop in medieval times. You can visit the downstairs parlor behind the shop which features a ventilated open hearth, stuccoed walls and an adjoining kitchen with all the accoutrements of long ago. Wood-block stairs lead to the bedroom, which is not as authentically furnished but left largely as it was with no embellishment.
Tewkes_StMarysTwo Landmark Trust properties worth occupying are located right within the town. St Mary’s Lane boasts an 18th century set of houses at numbers 30 and 32 which doubled as studios for framework knitters and stocking makers (once the chief employment of Tewkesbury) for more than a century! Upon first glance you’ll notice that the second floor windows are very unique and illuminate the actual work studios. These two houses, one which accommodates four and the other, six people, were saved from dereliction back in 1969 as the only such kind still in existence. Above and below those second floor windows were the actual living quarters for families and each has a small yard in the anterior. A third similar unit was placed into the possession of the local preservation society.
The Landmark Trust completely reconstructed caved in roofs and repaired the restTewkes_StMary'sLan_PWatson_03-10_26 of the building from the results of roof damage- such as new stairwells and added bedrooms. Number 32 is particularly charming with a steep winding corner staircase and wonderful view of the nearby abbey from a third storey bedroom. Both houses are filled with light, cheerfully decorated and the upper floors look out over the unique domestic landscape of Tewkesbury. They are very close to the River Avon which is lined with boatyards and other aquatic activities.

Tewkes_StMarysLaneAbbey_gtehse_extNinteriorVery close by is another Landmark Trust property which is leased from the Abbey’s trust. Late medieval Abbey Gatehouse, once part of the Abbey Church, was restored in 1849 by James Medland who replaced quite a bit, but not all, of the stonework. It’s impossible to tell the difference between restored stone and the originals and has a very medieval atmosphere on the outside but is so authentic but fresh, beautiful and comfortable inside you may forget you’re sleeping in an ancient gatehouse ! Imagine your surprise in the morning when you look out the west window and notice the abbey is your next door neighbor! Accommodations include a beautiful first floor room with a gallery on one end which houses facilities and up top you sleep beneath the molded beams of the roof, painted in matching colors to the choir vault of the abbey!
The sole genuine castle for Tewkesbury, Holme Castle was at one time the manor house of the earls of Gloucester at Tewkesbury in the 12th century and became a royal household when King John married Isabella, the Countess of Gloucestershire. It has been speculated that it was nearby the site of the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. Today’s limited earthworks do not boast Holme’s once magnificent structure but the castle was destroyed for a second time rather early in the 13th century and rebuilt to greater proportions, most likely in stone, by the 14th century. I would venture to guess that it may have been a courtyard castle. An historical stone marker erected in 1932 was placed further southwest of the actual site stating that the castle was burnt down in 1140. This most likely was the first Holme motte and bailey built in wood, if the marker is to have any credence at all and the attack of 1140 was a retaliation of Waleran de Beaumont on behalf of King Stephen being as how he was one of the king’s supporters.

As a Saxon and Medieval manor it was built atop the southwest side of the town on Holme Hill just above vineyards where the scant ruins of masonry and foundations were still visible in 1836 to Leland and abuts the banks of the River Swilgate. Excavations carried out in 1974-75 revealed and yet destroyed the remaining foundations of a chapel, dovecote, gatehouse, apartments, barns, stables, furnaces and waste dumps.
A moated area which is supposed to have been eventually used as fishponds are now barely visible as earthworks with historic aerial photographs but have been leveled and are not immediately apparent from the ground. Bronze age artifacts were found at the site as well.

WinchcombeVery close to Stanway village, just northeast of Sudeley Castle, two more motte and baileys, Winchcombe and Hailes are located within the area near the town of Winchcombe. The area’s nominal castle, built on the northeast edge of the city of Winchcombe was built during the period between 1140 and 1144 by Roger, Earl of Hereford (a charge of Empress Matilda) but was destroyed during the Anarchy and after being abandoned suffered the same fate as Castle Hale. Hailes Castle was built near St Peter’s church right within Stanway village and though it was moated and strengthened by Ralph of Worcester during the most difficult years of the Anarchy it only survived in ruins until it was replaced by Hailes Abbey in 1240. Even the moat was filled in leaving no trace of its existence.Hailes_Abbey




campden-house-old_wbh-2In the far northeast corner of the county Chipping Campden is a pristine relic protected by the Campden Trust. From 1929 they set out to keep the town as a model Cotswold town and have managed marvelously. The local stone is beautiful and rustic- a wonderful combination if you enjoy historic towns and their pride and joy is the remains of Italianate Campden Manor of which building commenced in 1613 by Sir Baptist Hicks, 1st Viscount Campden and of the same family as Michael Hicks who’ll you remember as the owner and restorer of Beverston Castle. Both men were ancestors to the Earls of St. Aldwyn.
Campden_EastBanqHseWhen approaching the town from the northwest along B4035 visitors will see ruins which are the remainders of Campden Manor in the form of Old Campden House, the Italianate North Lodge gateway, West and East Banqueting Houses (with buttresses!) and the Almonry- all protected and maintained by Landmark Trust, so you’ll be able to actually stay in these properties which are always livable. I highly recommend doing so because once you look around you’ll definitely want to stay awhile and take in the treasure trove of historic buildings. It will be just like you stepped back in time!
Campden_W_Banq_HseThe old Campden estate was finished by 1620 at what was then an enormous price of 29,000,-eleven acres of buildings and gardens! By 1645 a devastating fire destroyed quite a large portion of the original buildings. It is not known whether it was done by design or accident but it happened on the eve that the Roundheads approached and it was not rebuilt but what remains today was saved and restored. When limestone is burned it takes on a pink hue and if you pay attention on your CampdenWestBanqH_CS_june03tour of the city you’ll see where materials from the original Campden Manor was reused for other buildings. The remaining aforementioned buildings survived the fire and all still retain their solid stone roofs and Sir Baptist Hicks’ coat of arms. The banqueting houses and magnificent gatehouse with its ogee domes are let to guests and there is much still left to see on the estate, such as the Almonry, some scant remains of the old manor and wonderful gardens which feature intricately built, raised walks.
Grevel_House_02The links below will give you a great guide to the town for a walking tour which starts with Grevel House, the oldest house on elegant medieval High Street and concludes at the 15th century Church of St. James built by the town’s wealthy wool merchants with a tomb of William Grevel who was described as ‘the flower of the wool merchants of England.’ You’ll want to pay particular attention to the 17th century Market Hall on the tour because it was built in 1627 by Sir Baptist Hicks and the interior is as marvelous as the exterior with its pediments and gables and wonderful roof timbers. Grevel House is also quite elegant and distinguished from its neighbors with a double-story bay window and original gargoyles. Set aside some time to go to the top of Dover’s Hill and take in the magnificent view of the Vale of Evesham.

Chip_Weston-Park_JenniferLutherThomasNot far away, Weston Park, south of Broadway (in Worcestershire) has a sizable motte and bailey from the 11th or 12th century. It was built on the end of a ridge at Saintbury and imparts great views along the north. This sandy knoll rises about ten meters along the outlay and has been artificially scarped with a relatively shallow ditch. Along the southeast traces of wall have been found and the summit of the hill are two circular hollows which indicate that they were made at a much later date. Quarried at some later time, it has been speculated that this was a Giffard manor house and most likely was a hundred court house.
stow_centreIf you head a little further south you’ll find Stow-on-the-Wold which is 800 feet above the surrounding countryside atop what was once an Iron Age hillfort. Many roads converge there including the Roman Fosse Way (now the A429 within the county) and it has been a market town since the Norman lords planned the town. Regular fairs have been held there since a royal charter was set up in 1330 and you’ll be charmed during your visit with tales of the heavy wool trading which has taken place. An annual horse fair is carried on to this day on the edge of town. It’s a great English village in which to stop, stroll around and drink in the history and culture. I have no reason to believe a stone castle ever stood on the spot but I’d be surprised if no one ever tried to build one there.
Upper_Slaughter_ChurchJust a little further south are the Slaughters, Upper and Lower. A motte and bailey built upon a promontory fortification during the Anarchy in Upper Slaughter was incorporated with a part of the church of St Peters. Only faint earthworks remain of the elongated motte but it’s the only castle I’ve heard of utilizing a church!

with lots of great views and news,

Castle_Sonnalp_jpg_2The Castle Lady

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Earth: The Undefended Fortress

Imagine this….

Earth-Orb6The earth started out as a round land mass with one very large continent.

The ocean surrounded the continent like a moat.

Comets are like siege missiles hurled by an unknown enemy.

Over the centuries comets and the terrific storms which have been hitting the land mass
eventually broke up the continent into smaller continents.

(Hint: Get a really good wall map of the world and look at the continents. If you bring them close together on the map they fit together as if they were once joined. See how South America fits together very well with Africa and the east coast line of North America comes together with Europe like a missing puzzle piece ?)

At first the continents were like towers because the force of some of these space missiles made a mess of the continent. The Grand Canyon appears to have been split wide open.

Eventually, the fragmented continents got flattened. People built towers.

According to the Bible, on one continent a tower was erected called the Tower of Babel. (Genesis 11:1-9)

All these super intelligent men tried to figure out their world
and all the time they had it right,
they just couldn’t see what was on the other side of all their knowledge.
Try as they might they could only fathom the natural world as they knew it.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into the tower and are saved. (Proverbs 18:10)

There is no time to analyze the tower or the heavens.

Get inside!

CastleLady_tn_spring_2013The Castle Lady

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All about the Hits !

It’s been a long time in between the present and the last time I posted the hits on this blog since it’s been a WordPress blog. So, here’s something on the stats Papillon_16especially for all my faithful followers. This blog started out as an MSN Live Space only eight years ago but it accrued a lot of hits before I ever migrated to WordPress in 2011. At that time I had built up 67,375 hits which was very high considering what average hits for blogs were in those days. If you scroll down the entirety of this homepage you’ll find the hits I’ve accrued since migrating and you can add that to my migration stat up above to keep the numbers fresh. That amounts to 130,143 hits right now as I’m writing. In a couple of seconds it will be more! Nice !

Just to be different this time I thought I’d add a few more fun facts which might interest my readers:

Papillon_20On December 17th 2012 this blog clocked a milestone in the most hits ever in one day at 177 ! That’s pretty high considering that the average day of hits for this blog is between 40- 50 ! Before that day my all time high number of hits in one day remained at 148 from February 17th 2011 only a short time after migrating my blog! It took awhile to beat that stat but I remember that my first post on WordPress was on Valentine’s day and the title of my entry was Red May be My Only Color ! Apparently everybody loved it.

My recent Berkeley Castle entry got the most hits ever for a single entry in one day at 133 on May 7, 2014, two days after it was posted ! We’ll see if anything ever tops that- and if it does I’ll be sure to let you know.

Toodles !

CastleLady_yoga_lotusThe Castle Lady

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