The Other England

 by Canon E.W. Eyden
daniel_craig_bondBehind the dark Satanic mills that spoil our native land,
Behind the dismal city streets where crowded houses stand,
There lies another country that’s grounded in the past,
Where rootless city folk still dream they’ll find true peace at last.
armathwaiteThe beauty of our country side beyond the urban sprawl,
Still holds a rich diversity to touch the hearts of of all.
From the rugged border country, through northern dales and fells,
To the gentler southern counties it weaves its magic spells.
greattew_estate_oxFrom England’s Garden in the east with rich and fertile ground,
To Cornwall with its storm-tossed cliffs where Celtic myths abound,
In countless, ancient villages another England lies
With church and inn and manor house whose witness still survives.
Our lovely countryside remains in spite of every threat,
To be cherished and protected, lest one day we should forget
That it’s deep in rural England that our roots are to be found
And the land we treat so lightly is really hallowed ground.
english_modern_afternoon-teaFor beside the village churches with which our land is blest,
The bodies of our forefathers were gently laid to rest.
For all of us were country folk, until industrial change
Transformed the face of English towns and rural life grew strange.
Today Saint George, our patron saint, still flies the banner high,
The symbol of the land we love, its earth, its sea, its sky.
Like him we pray that we may stand in hamlet, village, town,
For this other land of England- our pride, our joy, our Crown !

For the love of all that’s English!

 The Castle Lady

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On the greenest of days…

I want to wish you…

a rainbow, for every tear…
a smile, for every care
a promise and an answer for each and every prayer !


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Valentine Castle Poetry

theage_innocence_pfeifferm_ddaylewisLove is the castle

doubt is the moat

desire is the paddle

and hope is the boat.

Kellie Elmore
We built a castle near the rocks,
we built it out of sand.
Our fortress was an ice cream box
with turret tall and grand.
Our men were twigs
our guns were straws
from which we sipped at lunch.
We had the best of wars
’til someone’s foot went crunch.
Jack Prelutsky
from Read-aloud Rhymes for the Very Young
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French Quotes for Valentine’s Day !

Love is a canvas,
furnished by nature and
Embroidered by imagination.

There is only one kind of love
but there are a thousand different versions.
La Rochefoucauld


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A Hymn of Alfred’s

a_hymn_of_alfreds_frankspreyer_artistThe Story of Alfred the Great

“He seems to me a very foolish man, and very wretched,
who will not increase his understanding while he is in the world.”
King Alfred, the Great (849-899)

Leading up to the 10th century, England was divided by four Saxon kingdoms in 865 which warred against each other. All this strife left them ill-prepared for the plunderers from far North European kingdoms. Bands of Norsemen (Vikings), which were actually pirates the English called Danes, were fierce and warlike pagan people who worshipped a god they called Woden. From the Northlands they bore down upon the English coasts in long narrow ships displaying rows of shields along the sides and high curved prows carved with mastheads of beasts such as ravens, dragons and eagles. They plowed through the icy, foaming waves and boldly ran their boats up on the gleaming sands all around the British isle. Swarms of barbarians sprang off the vessels onto the shore and bearing savage horned headdresses they burned, plundered and pillaged while the Saxons fled, terrorized.
england_great_army_map-svgIn the beginning, invasions from the north were primarily motivated by robbing or taking anything they could carry off to their own lands but eventually, as time passed, they began to settle in various parts of England. Eventually, the Saxons were overwhelmed by the power of their savage foes and dropped their differences, uniting in defense, with all eventually acknowledging King Ethelred, of the west Saxons, as their overlord. Ethelred, the third son in line to the English/Wessex throne of Ethelwulf, had fought nobly against the Danes but the chiefs who refused to acknowledge him, Ingwar and Hubba, (sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, the gigantic scourge of the North), took Edmund (the King of East England) prisoner. They demanded that he forsake Christianity and when Edmund stoutly refused, they bound him to a tree, taunted him with cruel jests, shot at him with arrows and finally cut off his head.
After Edmund’s death, King Ethelred died of wounds received in the Battle of Merton in 871, a month after being defeated there. England was suddenly in need of a strong and wise leader who could be a true hero of all the inhabitants. Meanwhile, the Danes were conquering most of Saxon England with only Wessex unoccupied by the invaders. Alfred, a Saxon royal and the last son remaining of Ethelwulf, ascended the throne of Wessex in the same year and he became the greatest King who ever ruled England. They called him Alfred the Great, born in 849 in a Berkshire village called Wanating (in the 9th century) but known today as Wantage within the borders of Oxfordshire. (Wanating was seated very close to the border between Mercia and Wessex.)
Even from childhood Alfred was a remarkable, sturdy, vigorous and intelligent boy. When he was only four years of age his father, Ethelwulf, had planned a journey to Italy to visit the Bishop of Rome. At the last moment, prevented from going himself, he chose Alfred from among all his sons, (one of whom was a grown young man) to go to the Bishop in his place! Alfred, his youngest son was a mere babe! The little fellow was sent with a mighty escort of nurses, servants and churchmen, over the sea to Flanders in an open boat rowed by oarsmen. From Flanders they proceeded on horseback, while Alfred- perhaps- swung in a special basket at the side of a horse. This veritable retinue made their way through the heart of Old Gaul (France) most likely stopping now and again at a warrior noble’s castle, then at a convent, now in a walled town, lingering for a time at the splendid court of Charles the Bald, King of the Western Franks, and from there, on over the towering, snow-capped alps across the Pass of St. Bernard and into Italy.
Northern Italy, at that time, was a place of most unsavory repute by reason of the number of bandit nobles who encamped in the area. Straight through their midst, by miraculous means, the child and his attendants marched by, and at length, in safety and eventually, beneath the great gates of Rome. So, before he was five years old, Alfred had made an incredible journey- tremendously long and difficult- even for adult men in such perilous times.
As a well-traveled youngster and once more at home in England, Alfred was brought to the rambling, drafty building where his father held court. Though he had seen a large part of the world he was still unable to read. For one so young this fact was perhaps not remarkable but his older brothers who were near grown youths, were equally unacquainted with letters. Such learning was disregarded in importance in those early days of England. One day Alfred and his brothers came strolling together into their mother’s room; a handsome chamber with rush-strewn floors and walls hung with magnificent tapestries. Osburga, their mother, was arrayed in a long, loose robe with full, flowing sleeves and sat in a cushioned armchair carved with lions’ heads and claws. On her lap she held a volume of Saxon poetry, and her sons came crowding up around her. Since printing was, as yet, unknown, the book was hand-illumined in richly painted, bright and beautiful letters. All the brothers cried out with admiration of the volume and the mother, hearing their words of praise said smilingly, “As you can see, this book is truly a treasure. I will give it to that one among you who first learns to read.” This challenge spurred little Alfred on to seek out a tutor, without delay and he applied himself so diligently and persistently to learning of letters that he won the volume.
When Alfred’s father Ethelwulf died, the boy by that time grown, served under his elder brothers loyally for a time. His superior talents were faithfully rendered to them in implicit obedience and humbleness. He was only twenty-three years of age when the death of Ethelred made him King of Wessex. All of England was in a panic by then and fearful of the Danes and many Saxon thegns (barons) deserted their homes and fled overseas to escape. Those left behind were far too disorganized, militarily, to offer any solid resistance against these over-proud Vikings. Yet the courage and energy of the young King Alfred lent spiritual strength to the dispirited people and eventually he administered many a sound rapping to these Norse marauders. While he was dealing with the burial, several battles were fought that virtually brought the Vikings to his door.
Initially, he paid off the invaders and they emptied out of Reading by Autumn of 871. During the next five years they moved off to London and other parts of west England. But Alfred had not seen the last of battle with the Norsemen. He had already fought alongside Ethelred through nine battles, beginning in the year 868, many of which they won and the year 871 was called Alfred’s Year of Battles- mostly in Wessex. Under their fierce leader, Guthrum and his men were inhospitable. No matter how faithfully in some hour of defeat, they might swear a strong oath never to plunder or pillage again, they would break their promise the minute it suited them. Following a signature defeat, they swore oaths on the sacred bracelets they wore, supposedly binding their savage pagan hearts but within a short time later they continued to war. During this period Alfred fought not only on land but defeated the Danish in a mighty battle at sea, creating the first naval engagement ever won by the English. He blockaded their ships at Devon and many of their fleet were broken up and scattered by a storm. Their gods clearly had nothing over on Alfred !
Battles continued until the year 878, the most glorious of all Alfred’s reign, albeit with great tragedy, when they swarmed Wessex in such great numbers that, as the old Saxon Chronicle says, “Mickle of the folk over sea they drove and of the others the most deal they rode over; all but the King Alfred. He with a little band hardly fared (survived) after the woods and on the moor-fastnesses.” In January of 878 the Danes made a surprise attack on Chippenham which was a royal stronghold where Alfred just happened to be staying during Christmas. Nearly everyone was killed but Alfred managed to escape and made his way back home by going through the woods and swamps.
a_chronicle_of_england_-_page_050_-_alfred_in_the_neatherds_cottage_jameswedoyleLeft with a few faithful followers, the young King found himself practically deserted. He hid in the marshes and wild bogs of Somerset for months. Though young, he was never arrogant or over-confident in victory and never cast down in defeat. Surely and persistently, steadfastly as ever, he laid plans to drive his foes out of England and from no selfish motives or personal ambition. He sought to save and secure the people over whom he felt that God had called him to rule, engaging him to a mission which he dared not to neglect. It was during this period, that he came to be taken in by a cowherder, who’s wife- not knowing who he was and taking him for a common vagabond- gave him a place to rest by her hearth. She happened to be baking some small cakes of bread and was soon to be called out of the hut on an errand and roughly told Alfred to watch her cakes and see that they did not burn. The King smilingly undertook to obey her but he was working at repairing a bow and arrow and became lost in his thoughts concerning the people of England and their problems. When the cowherder’s wife returned, the cakes were burned to a cinder.
“Now, now, idle dog,” scolded the woman, not realizing she was scolding her liege lord and king, “Could’st thou not even watch the cakes? Thou would’st have been glad enough to eat them!”
This simple but defining moment most likely brought Alfred out of his inclination to think his way out of his country’s problems and finally, to act.
Not long after, Hubba, who was a Danish earl, appeared in Devonshire with his army and awesome raven standard. Woven by the daughters of Ragnar Lodbrog- reputedly in a single afternoon- they believed the banner to be enchanted. They claimed the great raven rose up and flapped his wings before every battle in which they gained victory. However, the soldiers of Devonshire who met Hubba boldly on the battlefield, completely defeated him and took the raven banner as proof. The loss of this standard greatly discouraged the Danes and news of the victory was a source of much comfort to Alfred while he was still in his hideout.
By the time Easter came, Alfred had a sufficient number of men to build a fortress of wood and earthworks at Athelney on a little hillock located on an island in the midst of the marshes. Not far from Bridgwater, he planned to attack the foraging parties of Danes as they roved the countryside. Under cover of night he secretly issued forth disguised as a minstrel or gleeman (a serenader) and entered all alone into the camp of the enemy to find out their numbers, how they were armed and the true temper of their leader. He was received as a strolling gleeman and ordered to sing in the very tent of Guthrum himself. Alfred sat alert, with eyes wide open, singing along to the music of his harp, surrounded by those who, if they had known who he was, would have had his head on a stick.
Later, when Alfred knew his company was strong enough to attack the enemy, he ordered a huge bonfire to be built on a hill near Athelney, where the red flames streaking the sky could be seen as far away as the three lower southern counties, where the English were hidden by riding ground. All his men gathered together and even though they were not huge in numbers his men were deeply devoted and determined in spirit. At Ethandun (Edington) they fought a mighty battle against their foes and against the odds, sending them to flight and finally, closely pursuing all the way back to the fortress they had built at Chippenham in Wiltshire. There, they maintained a siege for fourteen long days and at the end of it the Danes were forced to surrender. Alfred finally had his enemies completely at his mercy and could have repaid Guthrum’s frequent treacheries with the same cruelty. Alfred, however, had a heart of courage and the most steadfast firmness in convictions with a strong penchant for mercy and tolerant charity.
Preferring to win his enemy over rather than annihilate him, he stipulated the return of hostages and for the men of Guthrum to become Christians. Alfred had hoped that the Danes might be led to keep the covenants they made and abandon the sureties of their flimsy pagan oaths. Three weeks later, Guthrum arrived with thirty men from his host which were the most worthy, to Wedmore (near Athelney) where Alfred actually lived. There, beneath a huge wide-spreading oak, the savage, stern, old pagan and his thirty bearded warriors, (all who once boasted descent from Woden) knelt before a cross and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. It eventually became evident that this act, in truth, brought about change in the heart and spirit of Guthrum because he personally never broke the covenant made at Ethandun. He promised to remain within a territory allotted him further north and to stay out of Wessex. This boundary treaty, officially signed in 880, ran north from outside London up to Bedford.

For twelve splendid years England enjoyed relative peace. As bold and courageous a warrior that Alfred was, he became anxious to lay aside his sword and it is remarkable that one so able in war never fought a battle of conquest but solely in defense of his countrymen. Now that he had turned England’s occupying Norse foes into friends, he began organizing the country, bringing order out of chaos, and proving himself greater and wiser in peace than in war. He rebuilt the old Roman walls around London in 886 and added fortifications along the south bank of the River Thames. By 890 Alfred had worked out a definite system of laws (which became English common law) where no system had existed before and saw to it that the legal administration held safe and secure. Well documented with eight surviving manuscripts, his Anglo-Saxon Chronicles which were written by monks, laid down Saxon, Roman and Christian legal codes combined with history. An old English saying goes, “Treasures of gold and silver might be left lying on the streets and no man would dare to touch them.” Also, during this period, Alfred reformed a network of burhs (fortifications for cities) throughout southern England which were strategically placed 20 miles apart. This was true foresight because a network of fortified cities made it possible for the military to oversee any attacks in the kingdom and deal with invasion within a single day in most cases. He made his capital city Winchester and repaired stone walls and added ditches reinforced with wooden revetments or palisades-as evidenced at Burpham, Sussex.
Alfred the Great rebuilt fortifications, monasteries, churches and above all else, promoted the advancement of education. In a country where citizens had been kept in the darkest ignorance, he invited the greatest scholars of the age to England and established a school in his own court for the sons of Saxon nobles. He spent every spare moment of his own studying and translating books from Latin into Anglo-Saxon, thereby laying the first foundations of English literature. His broad and active interest in greater knowledge prompted him to send Saxon monks to the far-off Christians of India and a Saxon whaler to explore all the Northern Countries. He also encouraged great artisans, goldsmiths and jewelers in their respective crafts. One such piece of art was found near Athelney mid-20th century- a beautiful bejeweled artifact appearing to be the crest of a scepter with the figure of a man and likeness of Alfred holding a flower in each hand, wrought in colored enamel on gold under a plate of rock crystal and on the rim are the words, “Alfred mec heht gewyrcan,” that is to say, “Alfred ordered me to be made.”
alfred-jewel-ashmoleanThe keynote to all the King’s unselfish persistence in doing good was his simple, sincere, devout Christianity. Always the thought of God stirred him to noble deeds and his days were filled with the activity of one whose whole life was consecrated to the highest form of religious service. He served his people as an extension of his devotion to all that was right and divine, never wasting an hour. Alfred devised a way to gauge the passing of time when, as yet, there were no clocks. He had candles made and set to burn four hours, notched with four notches at regular intervals. Six candles each day gave him the twenty-four hours of the day but he found them often flickering and burning unevenly in the drafty rooms. He next contrived a little case of wood or horn in which they could be set, bringing about the origin of the first lanterns.
In the last years of Alfred’s reign, further Viking attacks were fought during the last decade of his life. Among the many skirmishes, the Danish pirate Hastings sought to harry the land once more, but the Saxons had become so well organized and strong, that Hastings was defeated with very little difficulty. In the struggle with him, Alfred showed the same wonderful depth of charity that had characterized him before. Once the King captured a stronghold where he discovered the wife and children of Hastings, but he did them no harm whatever, letting them leave in safety.
In 901 Alfred died, leaving behind the England that he had taken on so many years before when the British people lived in terror of invasions. Instead of panic, he left a well ordered, strong and free nation all the better for his reign. Never before had the world seen a ruler who lived solely for the good of his people. Practical, energetic, patient as he was, always fair and temperate, always genial and lovable, always deeply religious and profoundly intelligent. Alfred embodied, as no other man had ever before, all that is best and most admirable in the English character. King Alfred is rightfully called Alfred the Saxon and, most of all, Alfred the Great.



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A New Year and the latest Hits !

Castle_NewYear_2017_sigLooking forward to a year filled with all south England’s castles and a new chance to show you more castles in far flung places you’ve never heard of or seen ! This is going to be the best year ever !  Hurray !
Well, it’s time for a brief on the latest hits which are currently 160,515 as I’m writing this and to welcome you if you’re new to this blog. You’ll want to pay close attention this year and visit quite frequently because I’ll be finishing south England’s castles and we’ll move on to Wales, thereafter- and so on. I have found that the world is loaded with castles and so is Wales! We’re just on the first leg of this tour. Look forward to a year filled with castles ! Our favorite !


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Glad Tidings 2016

CastleCake_Bundt_Christmas  God speaks in every church bell’s chime

And carols sung at Christmastime- 

                         In sounds of Christmas may you hear God’s loving voice and know he’s near. 

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Southern Somerset Strongholds and their Gardens

somerset_south_gdns_mapThe sage enchanter Merlin’s subtle schemes;
The feats of Arthur and his knightly peers;
Of Arthur, who, to upper light restored,
With that terrific sword
Which yet he brandishes for future war,
Shall lift his country’s fame above the polar star!
from Wordsworth’s Artegal and Elidur  lines 51-56
Somerset’s southern portion is brimming with hamlets and villages of which a few tend to the legendary- with some interesting evidence of King Arthur’s Avalon and earthworks which may prove, eventually, to be the remains of Camelot. It has long been a subject of conjecture centered around South Cadbury and Glastonbury Abbey where monks made claim of a discovery of the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. These legends, combined with the extraordinary beauty of Somerset’s southern landscape and gardens, collectively conjure up all those fantastic stories in one’s mind. Let’s go exploring and just see what we find…
cadbury_castle_stukeley_aug_1723 Five miles northeast of Yeovil and just south of the A303 from Wincanton, Cadbury Castle once stood on the summit of the ancient hill fort known today as Cadbury Hill. Composed primarily of limestone, this hill is seated on the southern perimeter of the Somerset Levels in the parish of South Cadbury village near the River Cam and in proximity with the villages West Camel and Queen Camel. Referred to as Camalet, it is associated with King Arthur’s court. Excavations which have been carried out from the late 19th century up to mid-to-late 20th century, by various archaeologists, includes the distinguished Leslie Alcock. He carried out extensive investigations in the 1960s which have revealed evidence that includes a Great Hall, round and rectangular residential foundations, metalworking and even temples and shrines. A visit to the site will reveal terraced earthwork banks and ditches. Along the northwest and south sides are four ramparts and two remaining on the east with the summit plateau of 18 acres.
cadbury_castle_modifiedStudies of the evidence indicate that the original hill fort was most likely created around 400 BC, that the fort was violently taken around AD 43 and the defenses were further slighted later in the 1st century after the construction of a Roman army barracks on the summit. South Cadbury Environs Project has quite a few artifacts taken from the site indicating several metallurgy ages along with a metal-working building and an enclosure along the southeast. The strongest evidence for Arthurian connections are pieces of Tintagel pottery unearthed on the site. Most of the artifacts can be viewed at Taunton Museum in West Somerset.
cadbury-castle According to local tradition, it was John Leland who first documented the possibility that the hill was, in fact, King Arthur’s Camelot in 1542. Geoffrey Ashe wrote an argument for the Journal Speculum that the site was the headquarters of King Arthur of history. Even though Ashe’s strong speculation was not widely accepted in his day, the location of Cadbury is the most likely landmark where the southwestern Brythonic tribes of Dumnonia would have taken up defenses in the fifth century against attacks from the east. Refortifications which have been verified were a response to the great Saxon raid circa 473. If Arthur was conceived at Tintagel, which is only a hundred miles away, he would have been a prince of Dumnonia using Cadbury as a stronghold along the eastern border frontier. Bishop Ussher believed the hill to be Cair Celemion which was mentioned in the History of the Britons as one of the 28 cities of Britain.
     Only fifty miles east, in the county of Hampshire, Winchester was once the ancient capital of the kingdom of Wessex under the Anglo-Saxons and the castle and cathedral there were built by William the Conqueror as one of his very first such edifices. The only surviving part of Winchester Castle is the Great Hall erected in 1235 to replace the original hall and now houses the legendary round table. It is claimed that King Arthur had it shaped round so no knight could claim precedence over any other. Supposed to have been built by the wizard Merlin it has been discovered that the one housed at Winchester’s Great Hall was constructed in the 13th century so it is only a replica, at best. Further reading on King Arthur can be found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (1139) which introduced the legends connected with the king including the story of the Knight of the Round Table.
cadbury_castle_somerset_map It is said, on the top of the summit, Glastonbury Tor can be clearly seen more than 12 miles away! At South Cadbury village the summit can be reached by walking up a short but steep footpath and is considered open and accessible at any time of the day or night.
     Within the same perimeter and northwest of Dorset, Camel Manor located at Queen Camel, near the River Cam on the A359, was an ancient hunting lodge which is now surrounded by Coages Park. This village which is seven miles north of Yeovil remains small to this day with a population of less than a thousand. As a former site of a Romano-British outpost located southwest of Camel Hill Farm in the early centuries, stone foundations of three separate edifices were discovered and attributed to Henry III who owned the land in the area by the 13th century. The Queen referred to in the village name is in reference to Queen Eleanor and many historians, including John Leland believe that the final battle of King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann was in the area surrounding these mentioned villages.
camrivernoldmill_west_camel_gg-uk_693898 By the 10th century much of this land was parceled out by England’s earliest kings ( Edmund I, Eadwig and Edgar the Peaceful) but just prior to the Conquest in 1066 it was held by Gytha of Wessex, which the village school is named after and opened in 1873. Camel Manor was granted to Hubert de Burgh by King John in 1202 but surrendered to Henry III by 1228 who spent £163 13s 2d building a residential hall with a chamber before returning the manor to Hubert five years later. Hubert, in turn, gave it to the monks of Cleeve Abbey in West Somerset. Some time later the manor was returned to the crown’s possession and by 1275 it was known as Camel Regis. The longest retainer of the manor occurred from 1558 until 1929 when it was owned by the Sir Walter Mildmay family who lived at Hazlegrove House in the 17th century which was later rebuilt by Carew Mildmay in 1730 eventually  becoming Hazlegrove Prep School. The remains of the hunting lodge which is referred to as a manor house are those of a very small moat with plowed over earthworks and are, amazingly, still visible but quite degraded.
view of the village from Lodge Hill

view of the village from Lodge Hill

A very important Norman castle site is located at Castle Cary which is six miles southeast of Glastonbury Abbey and northeast of Somerton hidden away a few miles from the A303. This small market town is situated on the River Cary along with River Brue- the former a tributary of the River Parrett. The castle site is east, above the town on a natural steep and grassy mound called Lodge Hill, locally. A substantially large stone keep was partially excavated on the motte in 1890 imparting 258 square feet of rectangular foundational tower ruins surrounded by inner and outer baileys, ramparts and a moat. Only the earthworks remain visible now and part of the western portion of the inner and outer baileys were encroached on by the manor farm in the interest of development. The inner bailey’s steep embankment leads down to Park Pond, a wide marshy area which is fed by springs leading to the source of the River Cary. The keep ruins are situated northeast on flattened ground within the raised level of the inner bailey across a steep curving bank and adjacent to the eastern inner defensive bank. Excavations carried out on July 20, 2001 suggest that a Norman D-shaped ringwork existed first before the baileys or keep were constructed and then summarily removed.

     Believed to be built either by Walter of Douai or later by the Perceval family, after the Norman Conquest, the castle was besieged by King Stephen in 1138, 1148 and again in 1153- its third skirmish. By 1468 the castle had been abandoned in favor of a manor (farm)house which was built near the castle site and was held by the Lovels. Possession of the manor house descended by marriage to the St. Maur (Seymour) family in 1351 and so to Baron Zouche in 1409. The manor house was still in existence by the 1780s when the Noares of Stourhead in Wiltshire purchased it and by then Castle Cary was…you guessed it- history!
     On your visit to the small market town you’ll have access to the Market House, the Round House and the old George Inn with its thatched roof and the town is filled with dwellings of the golden Cotswold stone- many attractive historic buildings which offer delicatessens, cafes, tearooms, outfitters, ironmongers, bookstores, antique stores and produce sellers. Tuesday is market day if you want to get in on the bustle in front of the Market House.
hadspen_house_gatehouse_entrance At nearby Hadspen House, the 17th century romance gardens, one square kilometer in size, were restored in 1987 by two professional Canadian gardeners, Nori and Sandra Pope and removed in 2007 by an heir- bulldozed, in fact- and the future of the gardens was placed in the hands of landscaper contestants. These internationally acclaimed pleasure gardens were walled and expertly planned by an owner of the house in the 1960s. The gardens were displayed with an array of just about any variety of flower, including those of hybrids, to view and the nurseries specialized in the sale of old fashioned roses and herbs in flower which were developed in the gardens.
hadspen_gardenhadspenOriginally a farmhouse built by William Player in the 1680s (a Grade II listed manor house) the house was purchased in 1775 by the Hobhouse family and, until recently, have owned it since that time. The acreage of the parkland is immense and not without surprises, such as the summerhouse which sits only 60 yards east of the house. Recently purchased for £13 million, the future for the house is completely open for debate. Razing of the gardens has been a hotly debated topic for nine years now. The first garden restoration was laid out by Penelope Hobhouse in 1967. She became a garden writer and designer subsequent to her involvement by joint ownership. For more information check out the following links.
22june16glastonburymainGlastonbury, once known as Yniswitrin ( Isle of Glass), was in the news this summer for having the worst traffic jam in the history of the rock festival which happens every year, late in June, just outside the city at Worthy Farm in Pilton and coinciding with the summer solstice. Since this sizable town has always had some sort of spiritual or mythical connections some people cop an attitude toward its oddities. Granted- many of the inhabitants and regulars consider it the Capital of Avalonia but that’s only a portion of what goes on here and if you’re a fan of the 60s you’ll absolutely adore the place. Even that’s a bit of a come down, however, since it was among the most important destinations for Christian pilgrims in England at one time, not too long ago. It was famous as a spa town in the 18th and 19th centuries.
glastonbury-abbey-somerset If I can take you back to reality for just a few minutes I would have you know that all of the conjecture may be based on some facts which cannot be refuted no matter how much lore and superstition has been bandied around by mystics, skeptics, actual religious dignitaries and even intellectuals. What is known for certain comes from William of Malmesbury who wrote De antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae and De Gestis Regum as an apparent authority on the subject. Glastonbury has been reputed to be a religious center of operations from prehistoric and pre-Christian times with the supporting belief that the abbey dates from the time of the Britons early in the 7th century. However, it is commonly believed that Saxon missionaries originated the town in the 8th century. This doesn’t seem to mix with Robert de Boron’s tale of the Holy Grail which ties King Arthur’s legend with the claim that Joseph of Arimathea (Jesus was temporarily entombed in his family crypt) founded the abbey. Carbon dating has probably disproven this over and over but it’s a great story so it lives on. When Glastonbury was invaded by the Saxons and defeated at the Battle of Peonnum in 658, building with stone began shortly thereafter by several important dignitaries including King Ine of Wessex in 712. A good part of these edifices, including the original abbey, were destroyed during the Dissolution. As a matter of fact only the Abbot’s Kitchen and the 12th century Lady Chapel remain feasibly viewable. The ruined abbey gatehouse greets visitors to this parkland of 36 acres because it was restored, to a point, in 1810. The Monastery was destroyed by fire way back in the 12th century.
Abbey Ruins The Abbot’s Kitchen, which can be located on Magdalene St. and southwest of the abbey, is a medieval marvel, really. Glastonbury was rebuilt by the Normans and became quite wealthy. The kitchen shows this splendor even though it is, of course, a recreation which is primarily mid-14th century on a square plan with a fireplace in each corner, an octagonal upper section with twin tier lanterns causing any smoke to escape from a primary working area. On the outside you’ll see gothic transom windows with lanterns which appear to be turrets and three sloping and battlemented roofs imparting beauty it most likely didn’t originally have, in and of itself. In its present incarnation the Abbot’s Kitchen vies with the counterparts of Stanton Harcourt in Oxford and even that of Berkeley Castle.
glastonbury_wenceslashollarstate_1At one time a castle was on this site which was commissioned by Henry of Blois to be built along with many other buildings being as he was abbot of Glastonbury and bishop of Winchester from the early to late 12th century. One chronicler, Adam of Domerham, described it as a regal palace but called it a castle, specifically castellum and this was reiterated as a palace (palacium) by John of Glastonbury some time after Adam. This information has been substantiated by excavations carried out by W.J. Wedlake from 1978 to 1979 when massive wall foundations were exposed near the Abbot’s Hall. Those foundations can be seen in aerial views with the outlines of the buildings in clear view. They were covered in a layer of ash proving the destruction of many of the buildings in 1184 which stood alongside the abbey. Two years after this fire the abbey was rebuilt but not the castle/palace, unfortunately.
glastonbury_klaushoferThe Tor stands a substantial distance away with the tower of the church of St. Michael at its summit. This may have been the original settlement for Glastonbury as it was once flooded marshland with dry areas of higher land and includes most of Somerset. During the Iron Age these water-based settlements (at Meare and Godney) had track ways which were constructed over the marshes and were known as Sweet Tracks, now preserved and displayed in the British Museum. Romans have have been purported to have an anchorage at Wearyall, and also started a vineyard on the south side of the the Tor, which lasted until the Middle Ages. During the Dark Age period – after the Roman legions had deserted Britain – a Celtic Christian church may have been seated at the foot of the Tor. No evidence backs this up and has only come from rumor and tradition, as documentation is quite sparse. St. Dunstan, who was ordained in AD 943 was one of the best known abbots in Glastonbury’s early history. He eventually became the Archbishop of Canterbury.
      The Tor can be seen from the flat Somerset plain and beckoned pilgrims who journeyed to this holiest earth. Legends inform newcomers that beneath the Tor a subterranean Kingdom ruled over by the Lord of the Wild Hunt, Gwynn ap Nudd, (a powerful other-worldly Welsh warrior) was once banished by the Celtic hermit and saint, Collen, but is still believed to haunt the hills around Glastonbury. A recent theory claims the existence of a man-made, sevenfold maze, carved out of the Tor itself. This, it is said, was once a sacred processional way, used by priests and priestesses to reach the stone circle which then crowned the Tor. Modern pilgrims still trace its path to the summit and speak of visionary experiences on the way up. From the summit of the Tor, which rises some 500 feet above sea level, there is a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Cadbury Castle can be glimpsed away to the south, and Brent Knoll rises away to the west, near the Bristol Channel. The Tor was probably once an island, hence its identification with the mysterious Island of Avalon, a place between the worlds, where tradition says that Arthur came to be healed of his wounds and to await his recall in a time of great need. This is the most likely reason for the legend of his grave being found in the abbey ruins below the hill. Be sure to check out the Somerset Rural Life Museum which is housed in the former abbey barn. There is also lignea basilica best known as the Chapel of St. Joseph which is the loveliest of the ruins connected with the abbey and is considered the area’s chief feature. T-01458 832267
sharpham_park_estateDuring the Middle Ages, Glastonbury largely depended on the abbey but was also a center for the wool trade until the 18th century. A Saxon-era canal connected the abbey to the River Brue and nearby Sharpham Park which occupies more than 300 acres of historic parkland. This large estate was granted by King Eadwig to Abbot Athelwold in 957. More than two centuries later the property was conferred by the future King John I to the Abbots of Glastonbury, who kept possession of the park and house until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, was executed with two of his monks on the 15th of November of that year. From that time until 1707 the park was owned by the Duke of Somerset, Sir Edward Seymour, the brother of Queen Jane. The successors were the Thynne family of Longleat (in Wiltshire) and the family of Sir Henry Gould becoming the birthplace of Sir Edward Dyer , an Elizabethan poet and courtier and writer Henry Fielding, and the cleric and naturalist William Gould. Today it is a private residence owned by Roger Saul, the founder of a fashion company, using the estate to grow organic foods and for archaeological and natural restoration.
somerton_night Directly south of Glastonbury and situated on a plateau, Somerton Castle‘s ruins are gone but the site continues to awe and inspire many with the River Cary running beneath it through the moor and into King’s Sedgemoor Drain on the Somerset Levels. From there it joins River Parret near Bridgwater. The castle was last seen during the latter part of the 16th century and still had battlemented walls encircling a round bastion tower which served as a jailhouse. Legend has it that the dungeon incarcerated French royals and it remains in the present day, buried under the Market Square. Apparently, Somerton was only used as a jail from the time of its inception, circa 1280, when county courts were transferred from Ilchester up to 1371 when it no longer held any prisoners. Records show that the castle was privately owned by a baron, one Sir Ralph Cromwell between 1423 and 1433. By the end of the 15th century it was badly in ruins and the only money spent on it in ensuing times was to add bars for the retainer of prisoners during court sessions. There has been some controversy concerning the actual location of the castle because it has been confused with a medieval house which sits close to the market place but the records show otherwise. The actual town goes back much further than the Norman invasion and the records show that Athelheard, the King of Wessex lost control of the town to Ethelbald, King of Mercia in 733. In addition, Ine of Wessex was a farmer in Somerton before his reign for 37 years of Wessex and the town, once the capital of Wessex, was the meeting place of the Witan (in 949) who were akin to Parliament for the Anglo-Saxons prior to the Norman Conquest. Despite its former importance Somerton never grew into a large town and remains village size to this day.
lytes_cary_apostle-house-view-r  Speaking of Ilchester, on an easy four mile jaunt northeast to Kingston, you’ll find a nice garden respite at Lytes Cary. This offbeat late medieval Tudor Manor House was the home of herbalist Henry Lyte which is encircled by an delightful gardens. The yew hedges nearly obscure the vision of the house from a distance but the borders are planted with mixed shrubs, roses and perennials. Hidden paths delineated with high hedges reveal astonishing glimpses of the primarily mid-15th century house.
     Built by Thomas Lyte circa 1450, the house was modernized by John Lyte in the 1530s. Henry, who was a notable Elizabethan botanist, developed the gardens and adorned the house by filling its halls with family heraldry. No three men could’ve been less alike but apparently appreciated each other enough to retain something from each era. Unfortunately, it was turned into a working farm at some point whereupon Sir Walter Jenner took it over in 1907 and restored the architecture and then turned it directly over to the National Trust in 1949.
     One can tour both the house and the gardens, as a result, and it’s a great chance to view 20th century restoration on a pre-Reformation manor house. The Great Hall is included in tours as well as the early 16th century dining hall with a fantastic bay window and a chapel which was built in the 14th century. Further, the bedrooms run along the back as an extensive separate 16th century wing and looks magnificent from the gardens. From the center of this wing you’ll see the Great Parlor and Great Chamber above it. The interiors are heavy and rather dark with the lights from the windows giving some cheer.
     You’ll see much of the workings and artifacts of Henry Lyte’s herbal and horticultural work in the Little Parlor. A quaint and cozy-looking 18th century niche is off to the side which sports a trompe l’oeil shell backing. Other than the one room, much of his work once displayed here is gone. His Tudor garden was completely removed except for one bed, which was restored with Lyte’s herbs. A copy of his book Niewe Herball  is kept on display in the hall.
T-01458 224471
king_alfreds_tower_view_from_westKing Alfred’s Tower, which is known as The Folly of King Alfred the Great and also as Stourton Tower sits just outside the Wiltshire/Dorset border of the Stourhead estate and as a part of the landscape at Warminster. (Wiltshire land officially.) This triangular red brick tower, designed by Palladian architect Henry Flitcroft, in 1765 stands on Kingsettle Hill on Somerset land and belongs to the National Trust which has listed it grade I and offers magnificent views across the three counties. Henry Hoare II planned the 18th century tower to commemorate the end of the Seven Years’ War against France and the accession of King George III locating it near Egbert’s Stone, where it is believed that Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, rallied the Saxons in May 878 before the important Battle of Edington (historically known as the battle of Ethandun). 
    alfreds_tower_top It includes a statue of King Alfred atop with a dedication below and is hollow, allowing visitors to ascend it up a 205-step spiral staircase along one of the corner projections. The viewing platform has a crenellated parapet with Chilmark stone dressings. Ironically it was damaged by a plane during WWII and restored in 1986. Restoration included the use of a Wessex helicopter to lower a 300-kilogram stone onto the top. The statue of King Alfred was also restored at this time, including the replacement of his missing right forearm. The Leland Trail, a footpath laid down for 28 miles, starts from King Alfred’s Tower to Ham Hill Country Park further south near Yeovil.
  kingalfredstowerstatue   The stone panel bearing a dedication inscription (see below) can be seen along the east front. It was drafted in 1762 and installed when the tower was originally completed in 1772: 
‘Alfred the Great AD 879 on this summit erected his Standard against Danish invaders
To him we owe the Origin of Juries, the establishment of a militia, the creation of a naval force.
Alfred the Light of a benighted age was a philosopher and a Christian
The father of his people, the founder of the English monarchy and liberty”
off B3092, 3 miles northwest of the A303 at Mere T-01747 841152  protected by The National Trust
ballands Nearby Ballands Castle between Stourhead and Chiffchaffs, was a motte and bailey castle, probably built after the Norman Conquest in 1066 near the village of Penselwood. It neighbors the Norman castles of Cockroad Wood, just northwest and Castle Orchard northeast as part of a system of fortifications to control the surrounding area. The steep-sided motte of Ballands is now approximately ten feet high and up to nineteen feet wide with two baileys ( inner and outer) both stretching out along the south and the entire site is surrounded by ditches with a stream along the west. This castle site is a scheduled monument.
        Not far away, Blackford Bishops Palace’s earthworks once formed a complex of buildings surrounded by a moat. These included a hall and chapel but the edifices were demolished by John Harewel late in the 14th century. Seated at Blackford Village beside the A303 road and four miles south west of Wincanton it is designated as a Conservation Area. In the Domesday Book of 1086 the manor was recorded as being in the possession of Turstin FitzRolf. As part of the Whitley Hundred, Blackford is believed to have been a bishops palace and there was also a Baron Blackford, and the title was created in 1935 for the barrister William James Peake Mason in 1918. The titles became extinct in 1988 on the death of his great-grandson, the fourth Baron.
hanging_chapel_langport Only 5 miles west of Somerton, Langport is located along the ancient way from Glastonbury to Taunton. Langport Town Defenses began with earth ramparts which were never strengthened by a continuous stone wall. The gates, however, were all rebuilt in stone by the 14th century. Only the east gate remains and is surmounted by the so-called Hanging Chapel erected by a town guild in 1353. Although town gateways were commonly surmounted by chapels, at one time, this is one of the rare surviving examples of such and is comparable to those at Bristol and Warwick. This impressive medieval building was built of square-cut lias stone with a clay tiled pitched roof between coped gables with ball finials. The chapel was first mentioned in 1344 as the Guild Chapel of St. Mary (still dedicated as such) and has been modified over the centuries for a myriad of diverse uses. In the late 16th century it was the Town Hall and Court House, a grammar school in the 18th century, later an armoury, a Sunday School early in the 19th century then privately rented and in 1891, a Masonic Lodge. Currently, it is leased by the town council to Portcullis Lodge.
     Perched atop the gateway, the chapel is surrounded along the north, east and west sides with a wide stone-coped parapet and is reached by an external flight of steps located along the southwest corner of the gateway. During the time that the chapel became a school, a stone extension with a flat roof was added to the south side of the chapel at a lower level. Even though the arched gateway existed first- possibly 13th century in origin- the stone matches the chapel with plain end-walls chamfered at each end where traffic continues to pass through. After an excavation was carried out in the 1990s it has been speculated that the site was an original breach in the defensive bank from Saxon times. As a scheduled ancient monument it hasn’t exactly been protected as it should be- back in 1998 the gateway was sideswiped by a lorry truck which left long scars 0.39 inches to 0.59 inches deep, although, luckily, no basic structural damage occurred.
langporttownIn medieval times Langport was a prosperous inland port and was most famous for cloth making. As a fortified burh (burg or city) it was a part of the south and west network of defensive citadels of the 10th century. There was a coinage mint established by 930 and part of the commercial settlement, agriculturally, with Somerton, by the time of the Norman Conquest although the parishes of Huish, Combe and Pibsbury had been granted to the bishop of Wells one year prior.
     Bow Street causeway was the main trading area in the middle ages and had a bridge with nine tiny arches. Little Bow Bridge was too narrow and low to allow modern ships to pass through by the 19th century so Great Bow Bridge was constructed under the terms of the Parrett Navigation Act of 1836 and was completed in 1841 at a cost of £3,749 replacing the medieval bridge. The first documented bridge on the site was in 1220 and had a total of 31 arches and only nine of them covered the river. Nineteen of those original arches were located by ground-penetrating radar in 1987 underneath the road which runs from Great Bow Bridge to Little Bow Bridge.
     Saxon earth ramparts are still apparent in two areas which once surrounded the town, presumably. Some distance northwest of the Hanging Chapel a steep artificial scarp appears in the garden of the town convent and continues northwest, becoming much less evident where it was modified with a 19th century carriage drive. There are also very tall earthworks along the southeast corner which continue west in an arched direction for about 120 meters finishing at the top of a steep slope that reaches North Street. The latter delineations are very distinct and not destroyed or removed and may have even had a moat or strong ditch. More defenses have been documented around Whatley Hill and stated to be 2400 feet in length and were natural S slopes which look out on the Parrett Valley.
     Just east of the city the Battle of Langport was fought north of Highfields Farm on the 10th of July in 1645, in which a Royal field army was destroyed and the Parliamentary victory in the Civil War became inevitable. When the Royalists retreated through the town many were killed by the bridge over the River Parrett and many buildings were set afire. It has been stated this was an act of the Parliamentary cavalry but obviously the Royalist cavalry set the lower town on fire in the vain hope that it would hinder the pursuit of Cromwell’s cavalry.
muchelneyabbey Two miles south of Langport the Benedictine Muchelney Abbey was largely destroyed during the Dissolution but the foundational ruins have proved it to be on a caliber with Glastonbury albeit a bit smaller in size. The cloisters appear well-preserved as they are still featuring the carved stone windows of golden hamstone. The abbot’s lodgings are a marvelous visit with a truly great chamber and its beautiful fireplace, parlors with mural painted walls, kitchens with a timber roof and living rooms- all quite intact because they date from the early 16th century. Most of these form one side of the old cloister adjoined with the refectory- all in marvelous condition. The cloister walk was a restoration subject with an arcade and if you examine a bit closer you’ll see that the Gothic vaults were truncated and a normal ceiling installed in its place. Upstairs the abbot’s parlor has a fireplace with quatrefoils decorating the overmantel and carved vineage with two lions. Pevsner found this feature quite exquisite and referred to it as pre-Reformation. Four more rooms fill this floor, one with unrestored wall paintings. I highly recommend that you also visit the Priest’s House while you are there as well. It is a very well preserved thatched medieval cottage which was saved from demolition by Thomas Hardy, Bernard Shaw and William Morris’s widow. Most of the original medieval features remain. English Heritage’s interactive displays make your visit a veritable joy !
T-01458 250664
montacute-st-michaels-hill-bw Four miles west of Yeovil, the former site of Montacute Castle sits atop Michael’s Hill with an impressive view in aerial photographs. The black and white aerial photo (above) shows the massive size of this Norman motte and bailey which was most likely built upon although it may have been abandoned relatively early. Today an 18th century monument, referred to as St. Michael’s Tower replaces any vestiges of the original castle but the impressive ancient ramparts remain. In July of 2010 more than 500 trees were removed on and around the spot because of the threat to the integrity of the site. The National Trust and Charlotte Allen (the Gardens and Parks Manager of Montacute House) said the work had to be carried out in order to protect the archaeological excavations, increase biodiversity along a section of the hill and in order to preserve the motte and bailey remains.
montacute_stmicaelstower Montacute was built on the east side of the plateau on Ham Hill, an Iron Age hillfort west of Montacute village, reputedly by Robert, Count of Mortain as his English seat in 1068. (Robert later founded the Cluniac Priory.) Locating his motte and bailey on this peaked hill was considered an affront to the defeated English because a Holy Rood (a black cross made of flint) was discovered there earlier in that century by a village blacksmith. As a result it was besieged only a year later by English rebels locally and from neighboring Dorset. Because of his position it was possible for him to cull garrisons from London, Winchester and Salisbury and along with the Norman bishop Geoffrey of Coutances were able to defeat these rebels utterly and completely.
     St Michael’s Tower was built by Edward Phelips V (of Montacute House) in 1760 and it occupies the place of the former castle known as Mons Acutus from which the name of town and castle were derived. Built of local Hamstone, it is 16 & 1/2 feet in diameter and stands nearly 50 feet high. It can be surmounted by a 52 step spiral staircase.
montacute_house_somerset_elizabethan Further afield you’ll want to see the marvelous gardens and awe-inspiring Elizabethan manor, Montacute House seated on 300 acres on the other side of Montacute village and surrounded by lush and evergreen topiary, trees and landscaping which greet visitors on the long and straight approach to the frontage. This H-plan mansion built of a sunny-colored hamstone is a stunner inside and out with lush gardens of formal mixed borders, roses laid out by Vita Sackville West, fig walk, orangery, cedar lawn and fabulous yew hedges. Inside is a treasure trove of heraldic glass, beautiful plasterwork, amazing mantel pieces, 17th and 18th century furniture and samplers and graced throughout the vast Long Gallery with Elizabethan and Jacobean paintings from the National Portrait Gallery.
montacute_natltrst Montacute has come to be accepted as quintessential Elizabethan grand architecture even though it was built toward the end of the era- so much so that it has been referred to as the Jacobethan revival. When you look around England you’ll see it’s delineations and features duplicated time and again. The house was built at the end of the 16th century for Sir Edward Phelips who was a lawyer, Speaker of the House of Commons and the much-lauded prosecutor of Guy Fawkes. Montacute remained in the same family of Phelips clear into the 20th century.
montacutegardens_73-1 By 1915 the house had the good fortune to fall into the hands of Lord Curzon, who was an obsessive restorer of English castles (including Bodiam, Tattershall and his own Kedleston). After the death of his first wife, he briefly shared Montacute with his mistress, Elinor Glyn, and then (to Glyn’s fury) with his second wife. Curzon spent lavishly on the “preservation of a lovely thing for the nation”. His purse was heavy so he completely overhauled the walls, the floors, rehung fabrics and changed the decor with Tudor furniture.
library_at_montacute_house_4676328238 Following Curzon’s death in 1925, the Phelips family retook possession by 1931 and tried to liquidate the house. Instead, a second benefactor, Ernest Cook (grandson of Thomas) who acquired a fortune from the sale of the family travel agency, used the proceeds to purchase and donate Montacute along with other properties to The National Trust.  on south side of A3088 and 3 miles East of the A303  T-01935 823289
     Originally a Roman settlement, Ilchester was the county town in the 12th century later becoming a market town. At the town hall city museum you can view a 13th century ceremonial mace (a club with a metal head) decorated with three kings and an angel which indicates the oldest staff of office in England. Located right on the River Yeo, the sheriff in 1167 placed a jail for Somerset in the town until nearby Somerton Castle took over this purpose becoming the county town until 1371. Ilchester Castle appears to have suffered the same fate as the one at Somerton which was used primarily as a jail. The listing for it places it outside the town walls and on the opposite side of the river but records refer to the site only as a jail. The Town Walls were in existence from Saxon and Norman times and were refortified during the Civil War. Medieval documents refer to four town gates and foundations of them are still visible in several areas where it has been determined that the remains are of Roman origin. There is only one documented location for the castle but it is still speculation since this would be within the triangular area bordered by Foss and Dorcester Roads and near the marketplace. 
ilchester_bridgeAs a general rule county towns had castles of royal foundation even though some of these were quite small (i.e. Derby and Stafford). Another general rule is that medieval jails (i.e. dungeons) were a part of castles and for that reason most people hated castles- especially in England. Mention of Ilchester occurred in 1086 suggesting that 107 burgesses paid the king 20 schillings (apiece) which was a typical feudal order and requiring the need for an administrative center to collect the revenue. This substantiated that there was, indeed, a small Norman castle for a period of time outside the town walls and on the opposite side of the river Yeo. As a royal administrative residence for the sheriff, a court house and a jail the term castle would not be refuted for any reason.
The medieval town had four gates. East Gate, by which the Limington road left the town, was mentioned in 1242, and still stood in 1426. North Gate, presumably at the southern end of the bridge, occurs in 1304. West Gate is first mentioned in 1200, and was apparently still standing in 1605 and it spanned the Fosse Way, a Roman road and gave access both to the Exeter road and the route to Pill Bridge and nearby Langport. South Gate, built some time between 1230 and 1240 with St. Michael’s church above it, was known as Michael’s Bowe because it was arched and vaulted. Leland proclaimed it “the greatest token of ancient building” in the town and speculation exists that it was probably still standing in 1576.
Richardson documentation disclosed several excavations around the former Roman town walls producing evidence of pilferage on the wall foundation ruins and later construction of a new town wall using the reclaimed stone by the late 12th or early 13th century. The medieval wall was apparently built on the same alignment, outside the Roman wall, cut into the silted Roman ditch. So far excavation has only revealed evidence for the foundations and subsequent robber trenches for both the Roman and medieval walls.
 Mr. Masters T- 01935 840512
east_lambrook_manor_gardens_-_geograph-org-uk_-_419777_beer For more lovely gardens to visit you can’t go wrong visiting East Lambrook Manor at South Petherton. This internationally famous Grade I listed English Cottage garden was designed by Margery Fish. She was celebrated for her wonderfully informal style and has dramatically influenced English gardening in the 21st century. The manor houses a display of the National Collection of Geraniums and for those who linger try the 17th century malthouse for homemade lunches and teas. There is an art gallery and special plant sales. You can check them out online or by phone:      01460 240328
ham_hill_panoramaHam Hill Country Park situated on 390 acres is controlled by South Somerset District Council and is visited by over 250,000 people each year. It is the end of the Leland trail, previously mentioned, which runs southwest from King Alfred’s Tower to this war monument atop Ham Hill. In earlier times, three local farms used the ancient free range grazing rights on the main grass area of the hill. The absence of the sheep over the decades has enabled woodland and worse to overrun and obscure the previously grassed Iron Age earthworks, most noticeably on the northern flank of the hill. A fire along the south (overlooking Little Norton) during a drought in 1976 wiped out the vegetation on the entire side of the hill. In some places this has now given way to woodland, but the fine grassland that existed before the fire has not returned until recently.
ham_hill_stoke-sub-hamdonThe northern end of the plateau is crowned by a war memorial obelisk dedicated to those killed in the village of Stoke-sub-Hamdon during the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. It was designed in 1920 and unveiled in 1923 with four steps which lead to a square plinth and a tapering four-sided obelisk with a flat top. The memorial is clearly visible from the surrounding countryside, including the A303 trunk road which now follows the course of the Fosse Way near the base of the hill.
     The village of Stoke-sub-Hamdon stretches around Ham Hill and portions of it are part of the country park. The Bronze Age and Iron Age hill fort was occupied by the Durotriges tribe. Eighty-six years ago a Roman milestone was found at Venn Bridge and after investigation it was discovered that it was actually a colonnade and later converted to a milestone inscribed with the name of the emperor Flavius Severus who ruled in 305-306 AD. By the 10th century it became part of the estate of Glastonbury Abbey, then after the Norman Conquest was granted to Robert, Count of Mortain and later to Robert FitzIvo.
     The Beauchamps of Hatch took possession of the town becoming known as Stoke Beauchamp for a time. Today it is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall (read: the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla) and has been since 1443. As the parish of Stoke it has been a part and parcel of the Tintinhull Hundred with stoke-sub-hamdon-priory-7661-shistorical edifices such as the 14th century Stoke sub Hamdon Priory which is a former priest’s house of the chantry chapel of St Nicholas, destroyed after the Dissolution and owned by the National Trust since 1946. Then, there is the manor best known as Beauchamp Castle.
     Lord John de Beauchamp had this house built during the reign of Edward I (after 1272). In 1304 the second Lord John founded Chantry House (a priory) as the residence of a Provost and four priests to say mass in the free chapel of St. Nicholas situated nearby. In 1334 license was granted to embattle and fortify Beauchamp. John Leland’s visit to Stoke in 1540, spoke of the ruins of a castle ‘in the bottom hard by the village’ and a very old chapel in the Manor Place. This place written about nearly five hundred years ago, shows remains of an old wall with gateways along the south and east walls. There are the ruins of an old gatehouse on the southwest corner where a 16th century house is built over an older building from the 13th or 14th centuries. West and north of the manor precincts (and the village) are two ancient fish ponds, known as the castle fishponds, with foundations of a boundary wall extending eastwards from the northeast extremity of the east pond. South of the ponds is the site of St. Nicholas Chapel, where tiles bearing heraldic arms were found.
     In September of 1906 excavations revealed the site of the ‘castle manor’ itself in a builders yard. Along the southeast perimeter, compact flooring of Ham stone rubble, overlain by stone tile fragments and substantial wall foundations were uncovered along with medieval glazed pottery and a fragment of a knife. Two gateways can still be seen in the wall but there is no gatehouse. The conjecture of the present is that the fortified manor house may lie under the adjacent farm.
    tintinhull-house_17thc Landscaped gardens at Tintinhull should not be missed because they are marvelous and extensive. As a matter of fact they dwarf the small manor house altogether. Located north of Stoke-sub-Hamdon just up the road off the A303 it is a wonderful way to spend a morning!  As designed by Mrs. Phyllis Reiss, the plan was divided into seven segments with clipped yew hedges and walls. Each segment has its own uniqueness but as a whole it is surprisingly unified and wonderful to see. This photo shows only a portion of the pool garden, fountain gardens, traditional kitchen garden and mixed borders with various color schemes throughout.  T-01935 822545
     market_house_martockA stopover at Martock, a mile northwest off the A303 between Ilminster and Ilchester, will be interesting for medieval survival fans. It is a large town and shows any number of ancient buildings in mild-colored hamstone. There is All Saints Church and Treasurer’s House- the oldest inhabited house in Somerset from early 13th century. Originally, the house was built as a parsonage to the church. Later it was known as Martock Priory when the Bishop of Bath and Wells took possession of it. Originally mentioned in records from 1226, the oldest part of the current building is the Solar Block, built around 1250. The solar block was covered in limewash during the 16th century, and when the limewash was removed it revealed a section of 13th century wall painting depicting the Crucifixion. Later, in 1293, a Great Hall was built at a right angle to the solar, giving it a T-plan. To this, a small kitchen, with an exceptionally large fireplace was added in the 15th century. Most splendidly, the house is surrounded by a medieval garden allowed to grow as it always did, perhaps. You will find entrance through a carved angled arch gateway from the 15th century. Further, the Market House and Market Cross were built mid-18th century but because the hamstone they are built from is so uniform with the town, it would be difficult to tell they are more modern without paying close attention to the architecture.
      croftcastle_castlehill_westcrewkerne  At the southernmost point of Somerset a 14th century tower, known best as Crewkerne Castle and additionally as Croft Castle, sits in low ruins atop Castle Hill at Crewkerne village. This once large tower was part of a castle most likely erected during the Norman invasion, originally. Crewkerne is situated between Montacute and Forde Abbey (in the westernmost corner of Dorset).
     On this isolated outcrop, which reaches a height over 450 feet, 12th century pottery was uncovered along with nails and a piece of hamstone during excavations. A scientific survey conducted most recently in 2010 has exposed a ditch which encloses the hilltop, along with fragments of masonry and has proven to be the foundational remains of a stone tower (or keep) a year later after excavations were carried out. The Time Team went further with six more trenches being excavated and revealed a cellar with a well, preserved mortar and stone flooring. As they continued these investigations the team were unable to provide much more information through the lack of sufficient remains to conduct conclusive dating experiments.
     Historical  documentation suggests that Croft may be associated with the de Reivers who were the Earls of Devon. William de Reivers granted the land to his daughter Joan, which was originally granted to him by Henry I in 1107, upon her marriage to William de Briwere at ‘Craft’, a manor of Crewkerne in the 13th century. Decades later, the Bishop of Salisbury was given the services of knights associated with this castle.
Lower Severalls at Crewkerne is an exemplary original garden with the pastoral visage of a large 18th century Hamstone farmhouse. These informal gardens feature profuse herbaceous borders around the house including innovative features such as a living dogwood basket, a wadi (water landscaping) and scented garden. An on-site nursery specializes in herbs, herbaceous and conservatory plants.

She’s back…


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England’s Halloween…


“Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!”

From the traditional English folk verse, c1870.


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Autumnal Bliss !

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace

As I have seen in one autumnal face. 

-John Donne

autumn_bliss_2016Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

– Emily Brontë

It’s my most favorite time of the year !

The Castle Lady



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