Grizel Cochrane’s Ride

Part Two

     “Thou art a true hero,” she said, rubbing his nose with the experienced touch of a horsewoman; “and I’ll give thee a chance tonight to show that thou art as loyal as ever.” Her hands were cold with excitement but she managed to buckle the saddle and bridle upon him, while the huge animal stood in restless expectancy anxious to be gone. She drew on the boots without any trouble and slipped the pistols into the holsters.

  “I believe thou knowest what I would have of thee,” said Grizel as she led the horse out into the yard and on toward the gateway. Frightened, as he half circled about her in his impatience, she undid the unfastening of the great gates but her strength was not sufficient to swing them open. “Ronald,” she said in despair, “I cannot open the gates!” Ronald turned his head about and looked at her with his beautiful eyes. He seemed to be trying to say, “I can.”

     “All right,” said Grizel, as if he had spoken. She mounted the black steed, laughed nervously as she climbed into the saddle. “Now,” she said “go on!” The horse made a dash at the gates, burst them open, and leaped out into the road. He curveted about for a moment, his hoofs striking fire from the cobblestones. Then Grizel turned his head down the Canongate, away from the castle. She knew the point at which she intended to leave the city and toward that point she headed Black Ronald. The horse seemed to know he was doing his old master a service, as he took his monstrous strides forward. Only once did Grizel look backward and then a little shudder, half terror, half remorse, struck her, for she saw her home ablaze with light and heard cries of excitement borne faintly to her on the rushing night wind. They had discovered her flight. Once she thought she heard hoof beats behind her but she knew she could not be overtaken.

      Through the streets, now narrow, now broad, now straight, now crooked, dashed Black Ronald and his mistress. Once he nearly ran down a drowsy watchman who stood nodding at a sharp corner but horse and rider were three hundred yards away before the frightened guardian regained his composure and sprang his discordant rattle. Now the houses grew scarcer and presently the battlements of the town wall loomed up ahead and Grizel’s heart sank, for there were lights in the road. She heard shouts and knew she was to be challenged. She firmly set her teeth said a little prayer and leaned far forward upon Black Ronald’s neck. The horse gave a snort of defiance, shied violently away from a soldier who stood by the way and then went through the gateway like a shot. Grizel clung tightly to her saddle bow and urged her steed on. On, on they went down the firm roadway lined on either side by rows of noble oaks- on, on , out into the countryside, where the sweet odor of the heather arose gracious and fragrant to the trembling girl. There was little chance of her taking a wrong path. The road over which the postboy came was the King’s highway, always kept in a state of repair.

     She gave herself no time to notice the green upland farms or the stately residences which stood out on either hand in the moonlight. She concentrated her strength and mind on urging her horse forward. She was too excited to form a definite plan and her only clear idea was to meet the postboy before daylight, for she knew it would not be safe to trust too much to her disguise. Now and then a feeling of terror flashed over her and she turned sick with dread; but her firm purpose upheld her. It was almost four in the morning and the wind was blowing chill from the sea when she entered the rolling woodlands about the Tweed. Grizel was shivering with the cold and was so tried that she kept her place in the saddle with difficulty.

“We cannot hold out much longer, Ronald,” she said; “and if we fail, we can never hold up our heads again.” Ronald, the surefooted, stumbled and nearly fell. “It is no use,” sighed Grizel, “we must rest.” She dismounted but it was some moments before her tired limbs could obey her will. Beside the roadway was a ditch filled with running water and Grizel managed to lead Ronald down the incline to its brink and let him drink. She scooped up a little in her hand and moistened her tongue; then, realizing that Ronald must not be allowed to stand still, she, with great difficulty, mounted upon his back again and heartsick, fearful, yet not daring to turn back, coaxed him gently forward.

    The moon had set long before this and in the misty east the sky began to blanch with the first gleam of morning. Suddenly, around the curve of the road where it leaves the banks of the Tweed, came a dark object. Grizel’s heart leaped wildly. Thirty seconds later she saw that it was indeed a horseman. He broke into a song:

    “The Lord o’ Argyle cam’ wi’ plumes and wi’ spears,

     And Monmouth he landed wi’ gay cavaliers!

     The pibroch has caa’d every tartan the-gither,

     B’thoosans their footsteps a’ pressin’ the heather;

     Th’ North and the Sooth sent their bravest ones out,

     But a joust wi’ Kirke’s Lambs put them all to the rout.”

   By this time, the horseman was so close that Grizel could distinguish objects hanging upon the horse in front of the rider. They were the mailbags! For the first time she realized her weakness and saw how unlikely it was that she would be able to cope with an armed man. The blood rushed to her head and a courage that was the inspiration of the moment took possession of her. She struck Black Ronald a lash with her whip.

    “Go!” she said to him shrilly, while her heartbeats hammered in her ears, “Go!”

     The astonished and excited horse leaped down the road. As she met the postboy, she drew Black Ronald, with a sudden strength that was born of the danger, back upon his haunches. His huge body blocked the way.     “Dismount!” she cried to the other rider. Her voice was hoarse from fright and sounded strangely in her own ears. But a wild courage nerved her and the hand that drew and held the pistol was as firm as a man’s. Black Ronald was rearing wildly, and in grasping the reins tighter, her other hand mechanically altered its position about the pistol.

 She had not meant to fire, she had only thought to aim and threaten but suddenly there was a flash of light in the gray atmosphere, a dull reverberation and to the girl’s horrified amazement she saw the horse in front of her stagger and fall heavily to the ground. The rider, thrown from his saddle, was pinned to the earth by his horse and stunned by the fall. Dizzy with pain and confused by the rapidity of the assault he made no effort to draw his weapon. The mailbags had swung by their own momentum quite clear of the horse in its fall and now lay loosely over its back, joined by the heavy strap. It was a painful task for the exhausted girl to dismount but she did so and lifting the cumbersome leathern bags, she threw them over Black Ronald’s neck. It was yet more painful to her tender heart to leave the poor fellow she had injured lying in so pitiable a condition but her father’s life was in danger and that, to her, was of more moment than the postboy’s hurts.

     “Heaven forgive me,” she said, bending over him. “I pray this may not be his death!”  She clambered over the fallen horse and mounted Ronald, who was calm again. Then she turned his head toward Edinboro’ Town and hurriedly urged him forward. But as she sped away from the scene of the encounter, she kept looking back, with an awestruck face, to the fallen postboy. In the excitement of the meeting and in her one great resolve to obtain her father’s death-warrant, she had lost all thought of the risks she ran or of the injuries she might inflict; and it was with unspeakable relief, therefore, that she at last saw the postboy struggle to his feet and stand gazing after her. “Thank Heaven, he is not killed!” she exclaimed again and again, as she now joyfully pressed Ronald into a gallop. Throughout the homeward journey, Grizel made it a point to urge him to greater speed when nearing a farmhouse, so that there would be less risk of discovery. Once or twice she was accosted by laborers in the field and once by the driver of a cart but their remarks were lost upon the wind as the faithful Ronald thundered on. She didn’t feel the need of sleep, for she had forgotten it in all her excitement but she was greatly exhausted and suffering from the effects of her rough ride.

  Soon the smoke in the distance showed Grizel that her native town lay an hour’s journey ahead. She set her teeth and said an encouraging word to the horse. He seemed to understand, for he redoubled his energies. Now the roofs became visible and now, grim and sullen, the turrets of the castle loomed up. Grizel felt a great lump in her throat as she thought of her father in his lonely despair.

     She turned Ronald from the road again and cut through a clump of elms. She came out in a few minutes and rode more slowly toward a smaller gate than the one by which she had left the city. A stout soldier looked at her carelessly and then turned to his tankard of ale, after he had noticed the mailbags. Grizel turned into a crooked, narrow street lined on each side with toppling, frowning buildings. She drew rein before a humble house and slipped wearily from her saddle and knocked at the door. An old woman opened the heavy oaken door and Grizel fell into her arms.

     “The bags- the mail,” she gasped and fainted. When she recovered consciousness, she found herself on a low, rough bed. The old woman was bending over her. “Losh keep me!” said the dame. “I did no’ ken ye! Ma puir bairnie! Hoo cam’ ye by these?” She pointed to the clothes of Allen.

     “The bags?” said Grizel, sitting bolt upright- “Are under the hearth,” said the old woman. “And Ronald?” continued Grizel. “Is in the byre we’ the coos,” said the other with a knowing leer. “Not a soul kens it. Ne’er a body saw ye come.”

     Breathlessly Grizel explained all to her old nurse and then sprung off the bed. At her request the old dame locked the door and brought her the bags. By the aid of a sharp knife the pair slashed pen the leathern covering and the enclosed packets fell upon the floor. With trembling hands Grizel fumbled then all over, tossing one after another impatiently aside as she read the addresses. At last she came upon a large one addressed to the governor. With beating heart she hesitated a moment and then tore the packet open with shaking fingers. She easily read the bold handwriting. Suddenly everything swam before her and again she nearly fell into her companion’s arms.

     It was too true. What she read was a formal warrant of the King, signed by his majesty, and stamped and sealed with red wax. It ordered the governor to hang Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree at the Cross in Edinburgh at ten o’clock in the morning, on the third day of the following week. She clutched the paper and hid it in her dress.

     The disposition of the rest of the mail was soon decided upon. The old lady’s son Jock- a wild fellow- was to put the sacks on the back of a donkey and turn it loose outside the gates at his earliest opportunity. And then Grizel, clad in some rough garments the old lady procured, slipped out of the house and painfully made her way toward the Canongate.

     It was four o’clock in the afternoon when she reached her home. The porter at the gate could scarcely be made to understand that the uncouth figure before him was his young mistress. But a moment later her mother was embracing her, with tears of joy.

     All the male friends of Sir John were hastily summoned and Grizel related her adventure and displayed the death warrant of her father. The hated document was consigned to the flames, a consultation was held and that night three of the gentlemen left for London.

     The next day, the donkey and the mail-sacks were found by the sentry and some little excitement was occasioned; but when the postboy came in later and related how he had been attacked by six stalwart robbers and how he had slain two of them and was then overpowered and forced to surrender the bags, all wonderment was set at rest.

     The Cochrane family passed a week of great anxiety but when it was ended the three friends returned from London with joyful news. The King had listened to their petition and had ordered the removal of Sir John to the Tower of London, until his case could be reconsidered. So to London Sir John went; and after a time the payment of five thousand pounds to some of the King’s advisers secured an absolute pardon. His lands, which had been confiscated, were restored to him; and on his arrival at his Scottish home, he was warmly welcomed by a great concourse of his friends. He thanked them in a speech, taking care, however, not to tell who was so greatly instrumental in making his liberation possible. But we may be sure that he was secretly proud of the pluck and devotion of his daughter Grizel.

Re spect !

The Castle Lady

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     Poems by Edgar Allan Poe tended toward the genre of most of his popular fiction- that of the haunted, solemn, morose and insane. Ulalume is one which seems to keep to a lilt more in the light-hearted spirit of Halloween but this one is rarely published in its entirety. For today this is presented fully with the frightening end and is appropriate to Poe. In the fifth stanza the word Lethean refers to Lethe in Greek mythology, which is a river in Hades and drank from produces forgetfulness. An interesting concept that was held in his day of drowning in a sea of forgetfulness is lost on the people of today. We hold memorials unaware that most people will walk or drive past them and later forget the sight altogether. This was originally titled, thus: To _ _ _ _ . Ulalume: A Ballad. – The Castle Lady

The skies they were ashen and sober;

The leaves they were crispéd and sere—

The leaves they were withering and sere;

It was night in the lonesome October

Of my most immemorial year;

It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,

In the misty mid region of Weir—

It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.


Here once, through an alley Titanic,

Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul—

Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.

These were days when my heart was volcanic

As the scoriac rivers that roll—

As the lavas that restlessly roll

Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek

In the ultimate climes of the pole—

That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek

In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,

But our thoughts they were palsied and sere—

Our memories were treacherous and sere—

For we knew not the month was October,

And we marked not the night of the year—

(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)

We noted not the dim lake of Auber—

(Though once we had journeyed down here)—

We remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,

Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent

And star-dials pointed to morn—

As the star-dials hinted of morn—

At the end of our path a liquescent

And nebulous lustre was born,

Out of which a miraculous crescent

Arose with a duplicate horn—

Astarte’s bediamonded crescent

Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said—”She is warmer than Dian:

She rolls through an ether of sighs—

She revels in a region of sighs:

She has seen that the tears are not dry on

These cheeks, where the worm never dies,

And has come past the stars of the Lion

To point us the path to the skies—

To the Lethean peace of the skies—

Come up, in despite of the Lion,

To shine on us with her bright eyes—

Come up through the lair of the Lion,

With love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,

Said—”Sadly this star I mistrust—

Her pallor I strangely mistrust:—

Oh, hasten! oh, let us not linger!

Oh, fly!—let us fly!—for we must.”

In terror she spoke, letting sink her

Wings till they trailed in the dust—

In agony sobbed, letting sink her

Plumes till they trailed in the dust—

Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied—”This is nothing but dreaming:

Let us on by this tremulous light!

Let us bathe in this crystalline light!

Its Sybilic splendor is beaming

With Hope and in Beauty to-night:—

See!—it flickers up the sky through the night!

Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,

And be sure it will lead us aright—

We safely may trust to a gleaming

That cannot but guide us aright,

Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,

And tempted her out of her gloom—

And conquered her scruples and gloom:

And we passed to the end of the vista,

But were stopped by the door of a tomb—

By the door of a legended tomb;

And I said—”What is written, sweet sister,

On the door of this legended tomb?”

She replied—”Ulalume—Ulalume—

‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober

As the leaves that were crispèd and sere—

As the leaves that were withering and sere,

And I cried—”It was surely October

On this very night of last year

That I journeyed—I journeyed down here—

That I brought a dread burden down here—

On this night of all nights in the year,

Oh, what demon has tempted me here?

Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber—

This misty mid region of Weir—

Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber—

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

Said we, then—the two, then—”Ah, can it

Have been that the woodlandish ghouls—

The pitiful, the merciful ghouls—

To bar up our way and to ban it

From the secret that lies in these wolds—

From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds—

Had drawn up the spectre of a planet

From the limbo of lunary souls—

This sinfully scintillant planet

From the Hell of the planetary souls?”


by Edgar Allan Poe

The Castle Lady  :  )

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Gracious Glen Eyrie

This past weekend I went on an excursion which included Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado Springs in the itinerary. I’ve wanted to visit this castle for decades now and so have fulfilled a long time wanderlust urge. I’ve been to Colorado Springs numerous times in my life from childhood clear into adulthood but the fact is that there is so much to see in Colorado, in general, that it almost boggles my mind and I wonder if I’ll ever totally explore it- leave alone see every castle in the world, personally. In any case, I’m especially glad this particular foray was available to me in this space and time.

  I went on a tour with long time good friends and a few strangers who have now joined the rank of friends based on our love of travel and exploring new places. We couldn’t have picked a better place to explore. Now, I know you’re thinking, ‘A castle in a small American Midwest town that very few people around the world know?’ Hear me out. I’m not exactly a castle-defining purist who thinks that a castle has to have been built back in the Middle Ages in order for it to be considered or called a castle. For me, it’s more the spirit of the place, than if it fits my criteria of being authentic and historic. I’ll let you in on the dates, the names and the location and then you can decide for yourself if it’s a real castle. All I’ll say at this point is that Glen Eyrie feels so warm, welcoming and fabulous at the same time- if it isn’t authentic then I’d rather it not be! I really enjoyed this visit and I’ll go there again as soon as I can.

    Glen Eyrie Castle was originally built for William Jackson Palmer’s wife, Queen. This railroad tycoon/engineer cum Civil War brigadier general discovered the location while he was surveying for the Kansas Pacific Railroad in the Pikes Peak region, which is a hundred and fifty miles south of Denver, back in 1869. The valley he broke ground to begin is a piggy back neighbor to Garden of the Gods, a natural red rock formation area that draws thousands of tourists and Colorado residents every summer.

     Originally, the General purchased 10,000 acres of land at $1.25 per acre and a good part of what he bought became the town of Colorado Springs, eventually. At that time he called it Fountain Colony. The first building to go up was the carriage house and he bought an additional 2,225 acres to finish his plans. They lived in the large carriage house, which still stands today, until the large 22-room frame house was built. Construction continued through the years with added wings, a large frontal tower and even later expansions included a Great Hall which was finished last in 1903. From my tutorials on castles you would know that this castle was built in reverse since a keep with a solar was most often built before any other part of a castle. Eventually, many of the original parts of this house were dismantled for the improvements and expansions but the central chimney remains to the present.

     During the 1881 reconstruction, a Scots landscape architect by the name of John Blair was hired. This Chicagoan gave the castle its name- Glen Eyrie- because he declared it when he spotted an eagle’s nest high up in a rock formation closest to the castle. It literally means Valley of the Eagle’s Nest. Mr. Blair is responsible for the beautiful grounds and the layout and also the moat that runs along the front of the castle, lined with massive limestone rocks. He also built several arched stone bridges and walkways that are absolutely beautiful to see during the tour.  

     A slightly elevated position of the castle lends strong beauty to this refaced edifice with stone from Bear Creek in Colorado and window casings framed with Indiana limestone. The colors that stand out most in the rock facing are exquisite and there are enough angles to the architecture to keep the eye interested for perhaps hours. Our tour started with a film in one of the anterooms telling the entire history of the castle and we started the tour with a chance to see what most tourists rarely get a chance to see: An underground tunnel which leads to and from the castle with the outside entrance hidden like a sally port. Colorado and Denver are famous for having such features for private and public buildings. There is a maze of underground tunnels in downtown Denver that lead from the Capitol Building to the Courthouse adjacent to it on the west and they even go further afield to the Brown Palace Hotel, some of the theatres and more. It’s a grand secret that I just revealed. Hmmm. At any rate, this was a great beginning to the tour and I believe I most enjoyed the Great Hall which was toward the end of the tour.

     Construction of Glen Eyrie began in 1871 with a comparatively modest adobe and wood frame house which was painted a gilded green and had 22 rooms. The Palmers moved into the house within a years’ time but remodeling began to occur in less than a decade to include three fountains, the great tower, additional wings and rooms and electricity which imparted a special intercom system within the house. Glen Eyrie might be one of the first residences in the west to have telephone service! Yet this was only the modest beginning of the plans to turn it into a castle. Unfortunately for Mrs. Palmer, seeing the eventual transformation was not to be. Queen’s health failed rather early in life while in her young 40s. She and her three daughters moved back east, then eventually, to England in an attempt for her to gain her health back after a heart attack. (It is supposed that the high altitude of Colorado and the fact that they built in the mountains was partially to blame.) When she passed away after Christmas in 1894, General Palmer took Queen’s remains to England for burial and brought his three daughters back home to Glen Eyrie.

     Even though his original reason for building Glen Eyrie had been lost, Palmer recommenced his plan to make a castle of Glen Eyrie and by 1903 the building and reconstruction was in full swing. During the two years in which the house was refaced in the stone as it is today, the General and his daughters traveled throughout Europe searching for fireplaces, artifacts and heirlooms for the castle. Every single fireplace in the castle is remarkable either for size or the beauty of the wood carvings. A year into the reconstruction, the castle was equipped with its own power system with two coal-fired water-tube Babcock and Willcox boilers with 200 hp, combined. These were connected with Chuse engines to DC generators supplying the entire castle.

   Eventually, the extensive grounds were built upon with the Palmer Reservoir (now known as Eagle Lake) added, electric fences and gates surrounding the immediate property, gardens which included two hothouses and a rose garden with arbors and a sundial. A pasteurization plant was installed in the creamery and many technologically advanced improvements (for the times) were put in place. With all these conveniences which were ahead of their time can you imagine what the favorite pastime was outside the household? Horseback riding was it and both the general and his daughters rode over the extensive miles of trails along with guests when they visited. On one ride, with his daughters and a friend, in 1906, they were riding through the Garden of the Gods with the general riding a horse unfamiliar to him. At some point, his horse stumbled causing him to be thrown to the ground, breaking his neck, and he wound up paralyzed from the third rib down. He was always a cheerful and generous man, even though disabled but he only lived a few more years after this tragic accident. His passing was on March 13, 1909 at the age of 72 and his estate at that time was valued at $3,000,000! Two of his daughters married locally but moved away from the castle and the third, Dorothy, moved to England to become a social worker. The estate was eventually sold to two businessmen in 1916 with plans to make the grounds home to an exclusive country club.

    Those plans didn’t work very well and so the estate was sold two more times to wealthy businessmen for much less than the market value and also sat empty for more than a decade during the first half of the 20th century. Right about that time Billy Graham was contacted by a real estate broker about the castle because he was searching for a headquarters for his ministry. A Christian organization called The Navigators who took on the responsibility of counselor training and follow-ups for Billy Graham’s crusades became keenly interested in buying the estate for their purposes. They were given a deal when they stepped up for the bid and were given more acreage- 300 more- for additional plans they had for summer camp and the reservoir. The sale was done in 1953 and they have held and improved the property since that time with a ministry which has become international- headquartering right there in Colorado Springs.

220px-Glen_Eyrie_Castle_tea_room.jpg   Our tour on Saturday included several rooms showing the wonderful features of the former home of General Palmer. My favorite rooms to see were the tea room (which gives a spectacular view of the front grounds and esplanade), the atrium added to one daughter’s room and the Great Hall which appeared to have chapel capabilities. I also adored every single fireplace I had the chance to see. I was intrigued with the general’s telephone booths and safes built into the wall paneling. He liked to keep his phone conversations private and everything secure. A man after my own heart! The topper of the tour came at the end when everyone was given the chance to ring the tower bells from outside, which are not obnoxiously loud. As a matter of fact they were quite sonorous. Not sure what that top note was- which should tell you something!

     Glen Eyrie is not just a place to visit. There are always events- teas, holiday banquets and galas, concerts and you can hold your own conferences and events there, as well, for hire including weddings. Many holiday events include overnight stays in the rooms available within the castle and in the lodges on the estate which intriguingly includes the Pink House. There are regular programs and special retreats and discipleship retreats. With an extensive hospitality staff of hosts, chefs, event planners and state-of-the-art audio/visual teams this castle is ready for anything and everything. One room couldn’t be visited- it was the general’s room!- but only because someone was actually renting it!

     I’m seriously considering on attending one of the upcoming holiday events just to get the full experience of the castle and the atmosphere. You feel perfectly at home here even though, in truth, it happens to be a museum. Go figure! Go!

The Castle Lady

3820 N. 30th St. Colo Spgs, 1-800-944-4536

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Castles Can be Funny…


Be careful with the King- he hasn’t the best sense of humor…

and if it’s political, it’s best unsaid.

Just a bit of royal advice from

The Castle Lady

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West Somerset Strongholds

Somerset’s western sector, delineated by the M5, has quite a few castles of every variety plus, as you progress further west into the county, you’ll find yourself in the middle of one of the most beautiful national forests you may ever see.  For those who love to walk, Exmoor offers 620 miles (or 1,000 km) of footpaths which wind through beautifully dramatic and colorful scenery and landscape. Within the Somerset portion of Exmoor you’ll see Dunkery Beacon (southwest of Minehead), the highest point of the forest and the beautiful Brendon Hills along with seaside entertainments, picturesque villages and ancient churches. You’re liable to run into many small, medium to large natural history museums all over this particular area in part, because of the rich mineral and stone deposits from all periods.

     Two castles that stand out and look almost too good to be true, – Dunster (completely rebuilt alongside its ruins) and Taunton (portions kept up so well that it was converted to a hotel mid-20th century) thrive in spite of their long history. As a matter of fact, Taunton boasts of an eyebrow-raising history, at that, and the Somerset Museum (once the Great Hall of the castle) is a major part of it. Mid-20th century Taunton was converted over to a hotel and is magnificent inside and very well run. Pepperpot Castle in the middle of the aforementioned Exmoor Forest was built only to appear to be a medieval castle and is primarily in use as a wedding chapel. Yet another, Stogursey, a Landmark Trust property, offers lodging in the converted gatehouse. One can wake up each morning to stroll around the grounds and view the ruined walls of a once great castle. These, among hill forts and earthworks of motte and baileys make for one of the best chances to study the diversity of castles in modern England. If you love castles you’ll be very much at home in west Somerset so bring your beach bag and comfy walking shoes and hurry on along…

Bridgwater is located along the edge of the Somerset Levels amid well-wooded country just west of the heart of Somerset and the M5. The Mendips lie to the northwest and directly to the west, the Quantock hills. Beaches along the northern coastline of western Somerset lead west into Exmoor Forest and the River Parrett wends its way southeast ten miles from the inlet of the Bridgwater Bay at Burnham-on-Sea to Bridgwater. As a result, this inlet and town have been a major port and trading center and relatively large industrial base from medieval times, once used to transport Ham Stone from a quarry on Ham Hill.

Bridgwater’s host is Willow Man, a woven sculpture of black maul willow withies around 40 feet tall and 3-tons steel frame of a man which stands just west of the M5 motorway. This creation by Serena de la Hey was installed in September of 2000 and surrounded by a 130 feet circular moat as a security measure after being vandalized. Six years after its installation the willow had to be revamped and rewoven because birds had been using the material to build their nests!

King John granted William de Briwerre three charters in 1200 for the construction of Bridgwater Castle, the creation of a borough around it and a market site. The king rarely visited except on the occasions he wished to hunt at nearby North Petherton Forest. Considering that it was a substantially large quadrangular concentric castle, the entire commission was quite a remarkable achievement given the time frame. Built of red Wembdon sandstone and trimmed with fawn-colored Ham stone, the corner towers were round and the foundation was of blue lias. St. John’s hospital was also built by de Briwerre along with the town’s first stone bridge. Most of Bridgwater Castle no longer stands but even though it was completely demolished during the Civil War there are interesting vestiges to be seen on tour which can give you some idea of its former appearance and size.

One remarkable surviving feature is the archway of the Watergate on West Quay which would have been a well-used postern gate because of its position to the River Parret. The presence of a Borough Seal suggests that there was a portcullis defense for it. Other vestiges around town, in red sandstone quarried from the Mendips, include a stretch of medieval wall along Queen Street (uncovered in 1993 during a reconstruction and thought to be part of a building inside the bailey), the foundations of the northeast tower- now buried beneath Homecastle House and buildings along Fore Street which follow the line where part of the curtain wall once stood. The original castle site occupied between eight to nine square acres of land parked on the highest point which is now called Kings Square. Completely surrounded by a tidal moat, which followed the line of Fore Street, Castle Moat (a street), Northgate and Chandos, the adjacent entrance was the west main gate, opposite Cornhill and the Watergate fronted the river. Inside the curtain walls, besides Mortimer’s Hall, St. Mark’s church was built beside the keep along with a bell tower and dovecote.

The town itself was surrounded by ditches with a depth of thirty feet, filled by the tides of the surging river on all sides and linked with the four town gates- three on the west bank of the river and the East gate across the river. Fortifications and a drawbridge fronted the southwest corner of the castle linked by a medieval stone bridge. Currently, as you walk the solidly Georgian architecture of Castle Street and uphill from the river, you will be walking across what was the lower bailey in medieval times. As you reach King’s Square at the top, the site of Bridgwater’s war memorial comes into view and this level ground is the site of the former upper bailey. It has been suggested that the rather steep slope of Bond Street down to West Quay may be where steps led up to the castle.

Bridgwater Castle Trail

Bridgwater became a royalist stronghold, officially, by being incorporated by a charter of Edward IV in 1468. Garrison capacity is said to have been between 2,000 in troop numbers for peacetime and up to 3,000 men during a siege or threat of one. When the civil war broke out the castle was held by the Royalists under the direction of Colonel Edmund Wyndham, appointed officially and personally by the King. Wyndham’s wife, Lady Crystabella, was in charge when Cromwell showed up and took a shot at him with a musket but unfortunately hit his aide de campe instead. Not only was the castle eventually destroyed a year later but the town had been devastated as well and surrender to the Parliamentarians occurred on the 21st of July of 1645. It is interesting to note that in 1651 it was Colonel Wyndham who made arrangements for Charles II to flee to France following the Battle of Worcester.

The town was redeveloped in 1720 by James Bridges, the Duke of Chandos, who built King’s Square on the former castle site and a manor house for himself and much of the old town but made no attempt to save anything of the castle. The tunnels he installed were rediscovered most recently by water engineers who were excavating to revamp the sewer system. As a result, the foundations of the old castle walls have been revealed and shown to be in excellent condition! King’s Street became filled with houses for merchants. It is not known whether the Duke of Chandos rebuilt the Watergate but speculation suggests that what is there today may have been rebuilt or altered. Castle House, the manor which also no longer stands, was built mid-19th century of concrete, primarily, made to appear as masonry at the former site of the keep. Also sited on the former castle grounds you’ll find Bridgwater Arts Centre, completed and opened in October of 1946 which was the first community arts centre built with financial assistance of the Arts Council of England. It is situated on Castle Street and was designed by Benjamin Holloway for the Duke of Chandos.

At the town center you’ll see a bronze statue in front of the former Cornhill Exchange, erected in 1900, which is a full-size replica of Admiral Robert Blake, a general-at-sea and one-time MP considered to be an historical hero of the town. His former childhood home is the location of the Bridgwater Museum which is a short distance from the statue on the end of Blake Street, a quiet back street, at number 5. You can park at the nearest car park on Dampiet Street and walk to the end to find it- marked by a large sidewalk sign, often. Besides supplying details of Admiral Blake’s life and career you’ll find exhibits of local history and archaeology. An official guide book on Bridgwater can be purchased here and has a good street map for revelers. For more information, check out Bridgwater’s local author and historian Roger Evans.

Blake Museum 5 Blake St. Bridgwater   TA6 3NB   T- 01278 456127

A bit further south, the town is linked to Taunton by the Bridgwater and Taunton Canals. As you move southeast you’ll come to Westenzoyland where the famous Battle of Sedgemoor was fought and James Scott, the first Duke of Monmouth, who escaped the battlefield and eventually captured along with his followers was put down in 1685. He had been proclaimed King on the Cornhill at Bridgwater (and at other localities, as well) by his troops and supporters during his rebellion and on that treasonous impetus he challenged King James II on the night of July 6th. The surprise attack was quelled when a musket was accidentally discharged defeating the Duke. Eventually he was taken to the Tower of London along with his troops and was beheaded alongside nine others.

Just north of Bridgwater at Puriton the earthworks of Chisley Mount, which is now called Bally Field has clearly delineated bailies surrounding a reduced motte on its north side and all formed along a natural ridge known as Polden Hills which run northwest to southeast above the Somerset Levels. Although there is no medieval documentation of this castle, a partial excavation in 1908 revealed evidence of Norman remains and even earlier occupation. Pottery found was identified as being pre-Conquest in origin, possibly Roman. There is, however, no stone in evidence to suggest that there was ever a rebuilding beyond the earliest Norman period.

Athelney is also close which, if you’ll recall from my entry on King Alfred at the beginning of this year, is where the hidden fortress of this Saxon King once stood. It is still referred to as the Isle of Athelney because the Somerset Levels were swampy marshes at that period, usually flooded with water. A monument dedicated to him and erected in 1801 at the highest point here marks the site of the monastery Alfred built. It is on privately-owned land belonging to Athelney Farm just off the A361 and quite visible from a distance, as in this photo.

Further south of Bridgwater and off the A38 and west of the M5, approximately two and a half miles southeast at North Petherton (via North Newton), a 13th century manor, Maunsel House is centered on a hundred acres of beautiful parkland. As mostly Elizabethan additions abound, some early medieval features can be distinguished on the exterior particularly the porch and entrance. The interiors also have some interesting medieval features but have been renovated in a most delightful regency style and as the house is for hire you’ll find it extremely impressive for almost any event or conference with a grand ballroom for large functions and the Oak room for more intimate gatherings.

The park consists of over 2,000 acres of farms with ancient barns, four medieval cottages and lakes, woodlands, walnut groves and orchards, here and there. As the ancestral seat of the Slade family, Maunsel remains the home of the 7th baronet, Sir Benjamin Slade. (Historical visitors to the house included Geoffrey Chaucer who was writing the Canterbury Tales during his stay so many centuries ago!) The beautiful grounds can be admired any time during the day for casual visitors and interiors are filled with spacious rooms, the aforementioned large regency ballroom and dining room and a walled garden provides areas, such as the antique bandstand, for outdoor weddings or events. Thirteen bedrooms, many with four poster beds, crowned by the King’s Room (which holds a massive Elizabethan four poster bed) are also available upon hire and the cottages on the estate are within walking distance of the house affording a further fourteen bedrooms for additional accommodation.  T- 01278 6661076

Five miles southeast of Bridgwater, just off the A361, an historic hill site, Burrow Mump, which is topped by what appears to be a beautiful replica of a medieval church, overlooks Southlake Moor in the village of Burrowbridge. This strategic point is where the River Tone and the old course of the River Cary conjoin with the River Parrett seventy-nine feet above the Somerset Levels. Surroundings are mostly farmland and the hill site is rich in Triassic sandstone and capped by Keuper marl.

Some evidence of Roman remains have been discovered here but the first fortifications were of a Norman motte and there may have been a church on the site from the 12th century. Because of the proximity to Athelney it has been referred to as King Alfred’s Fort, but no proof has been found of his association with this hill site or the church. The medieval church folly, St Michaels, was rebuilt on the hill in 1793 (after a 15th century ruined church) with a west tower, 3-bay nave and a south porch. It was never completed, hence, the folly appearance. The land and ruin were donated to the National Trust in 1946 and a World War II memorial plaque was affixed after that time in honor of the Somerset men who died for their country. Interestingly, the church was occupied during the Monmouth Rebellion by royalist troops.

Barford Park is located on the other side of Durleigh Water only five miles directly west of Bridgwater, a bit north of Enmore. The stone and red-brick Queen Anne manor in the center of the estate had earlier beginnings revealed by the home’s surroundings. The original Barford family, who were documented as owners by 1253, occupied in full ownership up until 1987 with sad undertones of hardship by the heir. This unusual mansion looks out upon a large back-walled garden along the north, across a stone-fortified ha-ha. In addition, the estate is part of a large park filled with beautiful trees.

As a small country seat it is quite peaceful and very comfortable-looking inside, with decent-sized rooms and modern furniture. A medieval garden reveals that this was no common manor but the house- originally meant to be a mere two-storey farmhouse- has additions, such as the baroque wings on each side and the five bay façade added by the Stancombs in the mid-20th century. Although the restorations were late they appear quite authentic for the era depicted by its architecture. Much money spent at some point when Victorian pleasure grounds included an archery glade and racing stables which brought its asking price up to £1,650,000 by 2013! T- 01278 671269

At Enmore, some miles directly north of Taunton, you’ll find the site of a former courtyard castle, Enmore Castle, which was originally the seat of the William Mallet family in the early part of the 17th century. At that time it consisted of a hall, chapel and 20 hearths indicating a great size. The interiors included an armory, music and picture galleries, library and a state dining room with tapestries hung throughout. It stood so for nearly a hundred years until 1727 when it was taken over by John Perceval, the 2nd Earl of Egmont. He is responsible for the appearance of the current architecture which stands today but only in part.

Originally 86 by 78 feet square with square corner towers, relatively low walls and semicircular turrets- all battlemented- on all four sides with a drawbridge entrance over the wide surrounding moat (now dry), it was pulled down by the 18th century. A large mansion built around the moat was put up by 1779 in a more modern style and is but a remnant now of that building. The drawbridge was retained up until the end of the 18th century and the moat is represented by an underground brick lined cellar which surrounds the current house along the east, west and south. Today it is in two three-storied parts surrounded by the Enmore Park Golf Club and privately owned.

One and half miles southwest of Bridgwater, West Bower Manor House has the distinction of purportedly being the birthplace of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife and owned by Lord John Seymour, her brother. Situated on the edge of Durleigh reservoir, (a very lush and green area, by the way) much of the original 15th century manor was demolished after being altered in the 17th century. Except for the gatehouse exterior, West Bower was entirely rebuilt in the 19th century and underwent restoration at the end of the 20th century. What is now essentially a large farmhouse is rendered in decorated Perpendicular along the south front entrance porch on a rectangular plan with an east wing and a modern barn in the anterior of the complex. Primarily of stone and freestone, the main house has the look of a medieval hall surrounded by more modern buildings.

The earliest manifestation of this house was called Durleigh Manor when Richard Coker was given license to have an oratory there for a year, in 1339. This manor house included the chapel of St. John the Baptist by 1462. Eventually it evolved into a courtyard configured house and the south front entrance porch was an actual gatehouse. Its survival is testament to its beautiful construction and is definitely the best feature to examine on a tour. Garden walls which are connected to the complex appear to be original to the 15th century manor house. An amazing circular dovecote stood on the property and had 730 nest holes. Unfortunately, it was torn down in 1967. Of course, the earliest building in the area happens to be Durleigh Church which dates from the 11th century but was substantially rebuilt in the late 19th century and has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade II listed building.

As we head further west, just off the A39, to the village of Nether Stowey where Samuel Taylor Coleridge finished Kubla Khan in 1797, you’ll find a large motte, originally an Iron Age hill fort, which once was the location of a castle owned and most likely built by William fitz Odo. It is known by three different names and is most often referred to simply as Nether Stowey Castle but also as Dowsborough Castle, and Castle Mount. Earthworks that remain are testament to its former size and the motte and bailey was strongly positioned on the hill overlooking the village along with foundations of a rectangular keep tower which were discovered on the summit. This aerial photograph shows its outline clearly which is massive. The original Norman wooden structure is said to have burnt down in 1139, perpetrated by supporters of King Stephen. A later castle, held by the Audleys is said to have fallen into decay by the 15th century most likely built in stone as a square keep of which vestiges of walls over six feet thick have been found on top of a former bailey. Also, a stone cannonball was unearthed on the mound.  Most of the foundation and base-court were formed by scarping rising up twenty five feet above the ditch and ramparts which are natural rock. At one time a mill and pottery kiln existed below the ramparts.

With a bailey along the east and an even smaller one along the north most of the site is covered over by good turf and only low square foundations are exposed from excavations carried out most likely in the 20th century. The bases of towers can be made out among small mounds of masonry along the edges. Most of these remains are a bit of a mystery because there is no documentation of the building but history alone fills in this gap. The castle was destroyed in the 15th century possibly as a penalty for the local lord’s involvement in the Perkin Warbeck rebellion against the Crown. Lord Audley, the lord of the manor, lost his head when he joined thousands of West Country rebels who marched to Wells and then on to London where the rebellion was crushed. He was executed after being paraded round London dressed in a paper coat with his arms painted in reverse. It would have been better for him if they had reversed their decision! There is a fenced footpath that follows the west side which imparts a magnificent view across Bridgwater Bay to the Welsh coast.

Nether Stowey at night

Further west towards Exmoor you’ll find that the forest sits on a high plateau where the River Exe rises and offers almost 700 miles of well-kept foot paths and bridleways. Exmoor National Park is situated along the Bristol Channel coast and occupies two counties with 71% of the park located in west Somerset and 29% on the northeast corner of Devonshire. Simonsbath, the furthest west town of Somerset, is a good starting point for hikers, however, the Southwest Coastal Path can be started at Minehead and stretches all the way from there, all along the southwest coastline, passing along Devon and Cornwall, to Poole in Dorset on a 600 mile marathon trek! 12,500 acres of Exmoor is owned by the National Trust, officially named the Holnicote Estate and includes four miles of the coastline between Minehead and Porlock as part of this estate along with 100 miles of footpaths which go through fields, woods, moors and villages. Dunkery Beacon is the highest point in Somerset at 520 miles high and is just seven miles southwest of Dunster Castle, both west of the Brendon Hills. As an unusually elevated area of southern England, the park supports a great variety of flora and fauna, including wild red deer (which were introduced to the park, a royal hunting preserve, in the 12th century) and Exmoor ponies which are deemed to descend from Iron Age ancestors! Exford, which is centered right in the middle of Exmoor, has been celebrated for stag hunting since Norman times and has a ‘hidden’ Iron Age hill fort referred to as Cow Castle with a single rampart and ditch. Exmoor National Park, plunging into the Atlantic along its northern coast is filled with lush, wooded valleys carrying many rivers from the high moorland down to sheltered fishing coves. Inland, wild rolling hills are grazed by the ponies, horned sheep and deer and curlews (a sandpiper with a curved bill) and buzzards are a common sight over bracken-clad terrain looking for prey! For walkers, the footpaths of Exmoor offer varied, dramatic scenery, while the tamer perimeters of the park have everything from traditional seaside entertainments to picturesque villages.

T-01643 862452

Only a mile off from the beaches of Bridgwater Bay, Stogursey Castle sits to the south of the village of Stogursey, very close to Fairfield House and eight miles northwest of Bridgwater. Stogursey was given to William de Curci (de Falaise) by William the Conqueror some time after the invasion and was recorded as Stoche in the 1086 Domesday Book. (De Curci’s lineage went all the way back to the Carolingian King Charles III of France!) Once called Stoke Courcy, the castle was founded by the de Curcis in Norman times and was rebuilt by William de Curci III in the 12th century during the reign of Henry II. The de Curci’s were stewards to the king so their loyalty was rewarded with enough to keep their castles fortified properly and in order. Unlike the town’s 12th century medieval St. Andrews Priory Church, which has survived the centuries quite well, the castle is now totally in ruins, but quite visible, belying a long and stormy history. The village itself sits at the junction of two ancient routes with one situated between the Quantocks and the coastline and the other from the river crossing at Combwich. (Stogursey’s placement was strategic along with Dunster, Taunton and eventually Bridgwater Castles, along with Corfe (in Dorset) and Sherbourne (in Wiltshire.) The castle can be found upstream and south of the Quantock/Combwich junction and is currently a Landmark Trust property with a completely restored and habitable gatehouse cottage for a small family to rent on holiday!

The castle’s beginnings were a motte atop a ringwork with two bailies built after 1100, rebuilt in 1166 according to documentation and then built in stone in a polygonal configuration by 1204 according to the layout of the foundational remains. King John officially took possession of Storgursey by 1215, most likely in reaction to having to sign the Magna Charta that same year and it was subsequently ordered to be destroyed. The Prior of the church was given the task which was not carried out because there was another similar order made in 1228. The second order was also ignored and by the time of Henry III, Fawkes de Breaute, a robber-baron, took over the castle for a time. His association may have been through his wife who was the daughter of Alice de Courcy- the last of the line in England. Four years before, the castle was held for the rebels against the regents of Henry II and was besieged although it held up quite well but was only repaired afterwards. At that time a semi-circular tower was added to the structure along the east side of the castle.

By the time of Edward I, it was owned by Sir Robert FitzPayne who was already a local landowner and extensively refortified the castle for a number of years after 1300. When the castle was besieged vehemently by Yorkists during the War of the Roses a few years before 1459, it was burnt down and sacked and was not rebuilt or refortified thereafter. The first print above by Sam and Nat Buck shows what the status and condition was by 1733 and even so, Stogursey had been used as a farmhouse in the 17th century. The evidential presence of a post-medieval stable and hayloft are the proof as they were a part of the modernizing which was carried out while the Fitzpayne’s had possession. Timber and stone structures within the curtain were discovered during incomplete excavations carried out in 1981 and 1982 before restorations by the Landmark Trust.

Stogursey Town

Delightfully, the enclosure is still surrounded by a wet moat which is fed by a brook and as reduced as it is now, much of the curtain survives, though deprived of the round flanking towers it once possessed. Foundations of the round towered gatehouse are surmounted by a 17th century Jacobean cottage, which is the habitable part and only one of the cross slits is original. The drawbridge is a modern stone replacement of the original wooden structure from 1983, after the surveys and excavations were carried out.  Vestiges of bastions which were installed along the inside of the curtain walls are visible on the site and the presence of the outer bailey is mostly obscured by gardens, though quite captivating. If you plan to visit the site you will be perfectly safe against any possible sieges and the exterior is visible from a footpath. Along Castle Street you will see the Mill and mill pond once associated with the castle.  2 children give a video tour!

A bit further inland, Dodington Hall outside the village of Holford, a half mile from the A39, is worth a brief look from the outside for its unaltered Tudor remains which appear quite good. The restorations are too obvious but it is still worth a good look, just the same as Stogursey Castle and West Bower Manor are, and in the same vein. This rather small 15th century manor, although given new windows by mid-16th century and further alterations (exterior and interior) in more recent centuries, displays a genuine medieval house much as it was in the day. If given the chance of an interior tour you’ll see a magnificent oak vaulted roof, carved stone fireplace and plasterwork which, in part, displays the heraldry of the Saxon Thane, Dodo, whose home stood on or near the hall. This armorial device of three forester’s bugle horns was kept clear into the 18th century and is still recognized on the stonework of the porch and parts of the interior. This was the home of Sir Francis Dodington, part of the Dodington line descended from Dodo, who was the Forester of Exmoor and a person of considerable importance to the entire region. Wonderful surprises await those who can get a tour of the interior. By the way, Bryan Adams video for the song I do it for you was filmed at nearby Holford Glen! T-01278 741400    Contact: P. Quinn



Further west along the Bridgwater Bay coastline, at a place between Washford and Watchet and not far away from Dunster Castle, Cleeve Abbey is one monastic site you must see because of the portions that were saved from the Dissolution of 1536. Few such sites have a complete set of cloister buildings along with the refectory which has an intact, magnificent timber roof! This Cistercian Abbey escaped the destruction of some of its best features and the site is quite large with a working farm and housing. Don’t skip anything and you’re bound to be fascinated at this amazing late-medieval survival. At Washford it is a quarter mile south of the A39. Owned and protected by English Heritage, the entrance fee for adults is four pounds. T- 01984 640377

A neighbor to Cleeve is Orchard Wyndham near Williton- a manor home that spans the time between the 14th and 20th centuries. This incredible mansion has been a family home for more than 700 years and is a showcase for continuous building from the medieval period up to modern times. Seated one mile from the A39 from Williton, you must call ahead for a tour at 01984 632309 and further details.

South of the coastline and six miles northwest of Taunton, Combe Florey Manor House was once the home of Evelyn Waugh and, later, one of his sons, Auberon with his family. As a manor that dates from 1591, the red sandstone (which shows up primarily around the area of Taunton Deane) is very prevalent in the construction of this unusual and rather interesting manor house. It has been altered drastically from that time but its finest features are the plasterwork on the interiors, the heraldry and its gabled tower. The house was named from Hugh de Fleuri who was most likely the first lord of the manor ca. 1166. In 1086 the village was part of the Bishop of Winchester’s estate of Taunton Deane and the Taunton Deane Hundred. A matching stone gatehouse that was originally four-storied has been altered to two storeys and many of the 16th century fortification features are charming if not quite authentic. Plasterwork by Robert Eaton of Stogursey may take a bow for excellence and maybe that latrine tower. The window work is also impressive and one would have to be intrigued to see a former home of one of England’s premier 20th century novelists!

From here, you can head south down the A358 toward Taunton and just a mile before reaching Taunton, turn back up northward, off the A3259 to discover Hestercombe House and Gardens which is north of Cheddon Fitzpaine. Most famous for their fifty acres of historical landscaped gardens, Hestercombe has received numerous awards and listed Grade 1 on the English Heritage Register of Park and Gardens. A personal visit will prove that you do not need to be enticed with a pedigree, of course, because the sights and sounds of this architectural wonderland is a paradise unto itself. These gardens encompass work started by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, mid-18th century, in Georgian style with large lakes, waterfalls, temples and woodland walks throughout. Formal gardens were designed much later by Sir Edwin Lutyens and planted by Gertrude Jekyll, completing work by 1906, with well-exemplified signature terraces, pools and an orangery graced with Ham stone below the house and up the slopes of the Quantocks. The secret landscape garden was united and reintroduced with the previous work of Bampfylde and were reopened in the Spring of 1997 after 125 years of closure to the public! When the house itself is opened to the public you’ll find it is a test to see what a normal and rather less dignified English country home can endure. Present occupants beside, the house was of the aforementioned Warre family from the 14th century and carried on to the end of the 19th century by the Warre-Bampfyldes. This Queen Anne house in local pink stone is overwhelmed by the beautiful gardens but it holds ground in dignity for what it is- a well-lived in old home. In 1873 the house was bought by Viscount Portman, owner of much of Marylebone and father of the builder of Bryanston in Dorset. His grandson, Edward Portman, commissioned Lutyens and Jekyll to reproduce the dramatic gardens at Hestercombe and the house has some fine features with a classical hall and staircase but the exterior architecture was forced to be restored into its current era with a Victorian tower while the rest faces the garden with a rather plain classical front- displaying bays, pediments and nondescript windows with recesses. At Hestercombe the gardens win the prize, hands down! A tea room and gift shop on the premises is open daily from 10-5 to complete a day in a truly beautiful oasis of green and floral splendour.   T- 01823 413923

While in this particular locale you might want to try actual farmhouse cider which is referred to as scrumpy (for scrumptious?) in Somerset, still made using the traditional methods with a farm close by on the A38. Sheppy’s, not far from Taunton, makes it possible for you to watch the actual cider-making and sample it afterwards. Cider was once so popular that it was part of a farm worker’s wages! While Taunton may be famous for the best cider the most prosperous industry in the region during medieval times was the wool industry which financed the magnificent and massive church of St. Mary Magdalene and its beautiful tower.

Taunton is Somerset’s current county town and while it’s not the largest metropolis in Somerset, it is definitely the busiest and friendliest town of the west area with lots of shopping, restaurants and night life to liven up your visit. Taunton Castle is at the center of it all but is now only a portion of its former self and you may be surprised at its ecclesiastical exterior appearance. For hundreds of years, from Saxon times, the bishops of Winchester were lords of the manor and over the entire Vale of Taunton Deane until 1822 but retained ownership only up until 1648. The charter granted in 904 came from Saxon King Edward the Elder so Taunton’s origins are ancient! Early in the 12th century Bishop William Giffard built the original hall which survives, more or less, but his successor Henry de Blois (Henry I) converted the entire site into a royal castle making Taunton among several Episcopal palaces which he smartly fortified during the years of the Anarchy. Taunton endured three sieges throughout the Civil War on the side of Parliament and the castle defenses were largely destroyed after Charles II’s return.

You won’t find a moat on the premises as this feature was filled in long ago but on the western half of the inner bailey, administrative buildings prevailed and are well preserved or were spared heavy damage. The castle today consists of two converging ranges following the ancient triangular layout. Peter des Roches and William Raleigh, both early 13th century bishops, were responsible for building the south range which consists of a round tower projecting from a corner and a magnificent gate tower leads into the bailey. Between the two stood the chapel and the entire south range has a neo-Gothic appearance due to extensive renovations carried out in the 1780s for judges’ living quarters. Along the north side of the bailey the extended hall range is as complex as its history. The western half, an aisled hall built by Bishop Giffard along with the west wall remains recognizably Norman making it a miraculous survival. As early as 1240, Bishop Raleigh made the hall narrower and it was later extended to the east as late as the 18th century. During what is now referred to as the Bloody Assizes, this makeshift courthouse served as a venue for Judge Jeffreys, best known as the ‘hanging judge’. Following the battle of Sedgemoor in 1685, Jeffreys condemned 508 rebels to death and also doled out fatal retribution on the Duke of Monmouth- all for their part in an uprising against King James II. Not all the sentences were fully carried out but hundreds died by hanging and other means, regardless. This former Great Hall and inner ward now houses the exhibits of the Somerset County Museum and covers Somerset’s history as a whole. A £ 7 million restoration was carried out in September of 2011, paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund. One outstanding exhibit is a Roman mosaic found at a villa in Low Ham which depicts the story of Dido and Aeneas. There are displays of fossils and geological items within the museum and outside, a garden which displays part of the exhibition of building stone including a large sarsen brought in from nearby Staple Fitzpaine.

The north side and gate of the hall overlooks the River Tone and still bears the scars of Civil War bombardment! Henry de Blois’ oblong keep dominated the destroyed eastern half of the bailey. It is gone now, of course, but some of its base foundations have been exposed to view. Originally, there was a large outer bailey referred to now as the Castle Green. All that once stood there has vanished with the exception of a beautifully restored gate tower standing alongside the converted award-winning castle hotel which is simply referred to as The Castle Hotel. A Saxon castle once stood opposite the location of the former Great Hall.

In 2004 the 1100th anniversary of the original charter to the Bishop of Winchester was marked for celebrations during May of that year. The project group who set it in motion drew up a series of events which included historical exhibitions and reenactments which have become quite popular all over England as a matter of course. Much of that is quite fitting considering that Taunton eventually became the center of one of the richest ecclesiastical estates in European history. The overall appearance of the castle and related buildings at present was the work of Sir Benjamin Hammet who made quite a few alterations to all the structures associated with the castle in 1786. The remaining historical buildings were purchased in 1874 by the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society and took over the former Great Hall as its new location for a museum. Since 1958 Somerset County Council has been leasing several portions of Taunton Castle to keep the museum collections available to the public and visitors to the area.

The Chapman family became the custodians of The Castle Hotel starting in 1950 when Peter took over the running of this historic landmark. Currently, his son Kit and wife, Louise are the new proprietors, with Kit being appointed MBE at the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his work in hospitality and tourism and their sons, Dominic and Nicholas are a part of the family board, as well. In 2013 Nicholas took over his father’s position as chairman of the company. You can see the drama of it all on a BBC2 TV show called “Keep it in The Family” which originally aired in 2009 when they were still sorting it all out! Meanwhile, Kit has also become a well-known personality amongst the British hotel and restaurant owners and their personnel. As a writer and television emcee, he champions high culinary standards for the country as a whole. Along with his resident writing duties for the hotel, Kit has written four books- two award-winning volumes of Great British Chefs which illuminates the state of gastronomy in the U.K. and also has had two non-fiction titles published which illuminate his life at The Castle. The latest (his fourth book) being My Archipelago is all about the turbulent history of his family and published in September of 2010. Louise Chapman is a professional interior decorator and has taken on the embodiment of the castle employing all her talents to make the hotel as warm and welcoming as possible for guests and visitors while keeping its high standards intact.

A car park is available just opposite the museum. Try the Brazz Restaurant which is at The Castle Hotel or the Firestone Pub just opposite located at the Castle Bow !

Somerset County Museum at Castle Green (Taunton Castle)

01823 255088 & 01823 355504   T-Sat 10-5

While at Taunton, another place to stay would be Woodlands Castle just outside Taunton at a former house of Sir Benjamin Slade (the baronet of Maunsel House). This privately owned venue is primarily a hireling for weddings and events with their own in-house catering team. As a small secluded mansion located on twelve acres of woodlands but convenient to Taunton they offer period rooms in the house and a garden pavilion seated in the walled garden which overlooks the entire grounds. Accommodation is up to 200 people for events with enough spacious rooms to overnight the wedding party.

2 minutes from junction 25 off the M5 at Ruishton, Taunton   TA3 5LU

T: 01823 444955 contact: Roxanne Stewart

A short distance away, Cothelstone Manor is decidedly early to mid-16th century although an earlier building is likely because one of the same name was given to Sir Adam de Coveston by William the Conqueror and there has been a house on the premises since that time. The present manor has had the good fortune to have been occupied and owned by only two families. The present house, listed grade II now, is believed to have suffered heavily when attacked by forces led by General Blake during the civil war. It was partially demolished by cannon fire but the remains were repaired and for the next 200 years after was used as a farmhouse. By the 19th century the manor was well restored to former glory and its appearance is remarkably authentic to its previous time.

The surrounding parkland has a fairy tale aura and Cothelstone, with its Quantock stone walls, reveals interesting and unusual features during an interior tour. The exterior wows the onlooker with a late 16th century gazebo- an unusual survival- a triple entrance archway and grade I listed gatehouse. A galleried interior hall has been used as a film location. Even though the house is still, amazingly, used as a family home it’s also made available for corporate and social events along with private escorted tours!

T: 01823 433480 contact: Nigel Muers-Raby

     If you enjoy reading authentic historical fiction you’ll definitely want to visit Gaulden Manor at Tolland in the Taunton Deane area. Seated in twenty acres of lush countryside nine miles northwest of Taunton (off the A358 & B3224) you’ll have a chance to see an historic courtyard manor home which most likely inspired the novel of Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. This small but magnificently surviving medieval country home is a chance for a good look at the gentrified English in their humble estate which still displays the wealth of the ages. Gaulden goes back to the 12th century when it landed into the possession of the Priory of Taunton. It is also the past seat of the Turberville family which may have quite a turbulent history of their own, stemming from the fact that the Roman Catholic Bishop of Exeter, James Turberville was offered refuge here after he was released from imprisonment at the Tower of London in 1563. From 1966 it has been owned by the Starkies and kept up extremely well despite the fact that it is a lived-in family home. Tours are given in the summertime but appointments must be made in advance to do so. This is mandatory because the house has been put up for sale in more recent years. The Starkies may be the longest standing owners because during the Dissolution Gaulden’s owners and tenants came and went like fireflies!

The estate’s features include the sandstone manor itself, fronted by a two storey porch and the original casement windows. Magnificent gardens include separate rose garden, bog garden with primulas and other exotic plants and a butterfly and herb garden all surrounding a medieval stewpond from which you can see the house from every angle. Other buildings surrounding the courtyard are traditional former stables, granary, a brewery and a cider cellar and add to the charm of the property. Much of what remains looking Tudor on the outside involves the formal gardens and has been the work and restoration of the Starkies. The interior is a different story, however.

The interiors feature quite a bit of wonderful and beautiful plasterwork commissioned by the Turbervilles upon their return to the estate in 1639 after a buyout from the Wolcotts- specifically the Henry Wolcotts who emigrated to America after a brief occupation of the house. (Oliver Wolcott was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and was a direct descendant of Henry.) Inside, the entrance opens to a grand double flight of stairs leading to the second floor, six bedrooms, four reception rooms, dining room and a Great Hall decked out in Tudor style down to the furniture, drapes and oak screen. Here you’ll see niches and alcoves for bread and salt above the fireplace which is most likely a retained feature. Also, in the Great Hall, is the finest example of the plasterwork worthy of a great house, showing off a giant central pendant. An adjoining chapel has a singular plasterwork example on the ceiling of the Trumpeting Angel of Judgment Day.

Mrs. Starkie is very artistic and the entire house showcases her painting and embroidery which adds quite a bit of color. The walls are not white and the manor has an array of every color well known to man in each room. It’s no wonder that the house has a regular following of return visitors every year because it’s a very welcoming atmosphere of home without looking neglected or distasteful. This may be the best place in the world to take down a copy of Tess and settle in for a good read.

T- 01984 667213

     The remains of Castle Neroche occupy a spur atop the Blackdown Hills high above the village of Curland, six miles southeast of Taunton and the M5. English lore states that Saxon kings and Norman lords alike hunted in these woods and it’s possible to see a great hill of East Devon from this castle area. Earthworks of Neroche can be found by following a signposted nature trail through woodlands. There have been many invasive surveys on these sizable earthworks which are comprised of a partially natural motte and bailey with a triple ditch and rampart guarding one level approach. Excavations have been carried out on the site revealing a layout of three or four phases during building. One phase may date back to the Iron Age (but has not been agreed upon, by any means!) and involves the outer ditch and rampart. After the Norman Conquest the oblong, embanked bailey was very likely installed by Robert, Count of Mortain. A third ditch and rampart followed a few decades later. It has been suggested that the motte was built later in the 12th century as an addition and did not belong in the original Norman scheme, but that is highly unlikely since it was previously determined to be a natural motte with which some scarping was done. This castle site has been compared to Berkhamsted, Launceston and Trematon which all have or had shell keeps. If Castle Neroche had a shell keep there would be evidence of such which may mean that portions of the castle were built later- but not the motte.

(Take the road south from the Greyhound Inn and turn left at the top of the hill. You can park at the start of the nature trail.)

Much further west and close to the Devon border, Cothay Manor nearly appears to be a Wasserschloss at Greenham which is a few miles northwest of Wellington. Termed an Edwardian restoration of a medieval manor, it may well be Eden as far as England is concerned and here medieval and renaissance are delightfully blurred. The romantic classic gardens for which it is famous overtake this tiny mansion by far exceeding the exteriors or interiors of the house. However, the appeal of the gardens is set off by the absolute authenticity of the house and any person who has visited it would quite agree with me.

Cothay is a bit hidden in the background with the encroaching fish pond, bog garden filled with azaleas and primuli here and there, landscaping trees everywhere and a cottage garden, a river walk and a yew walk which seems to go on forever. It is an evergreen paradise with garden rooms which are awesomely beautiful without being overwhelming. The buildings that exist in the present day were rebuilt from 1480 by the Bluetts, the first owners, then transferred to the Every family in the next century but was a mere farmhouse until 1925 when Colonel Reggie Cooper, a bachelor and diplomat decided to take it on and transform the place into his ideal. He did a lot in eleven years with the prodigious help of Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West! Only two decades ago a complete re-design and re-planting was finished by the current owners, Alastair and Mary-Anne Robb who both have family backgrounds in horticulture.

special events at Cothay

Restorations aside, the manor is actually a 12th century hall house with a gatehouse, courtyard approach and porch, screens passage and a Great Hall, all in pink-brown stone. Further along is a parlor and solar, showing its early medieval roots and on the service quarters portion- a gallery with an upstairs guest room and small chapel. During the Elizabethan period new paneling was installed during the construction of a concurrent dining room addition. Most of Cothay is unaltered except for an additional wing added by the Colonel for his personal use. There are surprises which reveal the medieval features retained. Between the solar and the parlor the old undercroft is revealed in what is now used as a library with a rich red decoration which Mrs Mary Ann Robb, a present owner, personally decorated and makes the thick beams, extending from ceiling to walls, all the more interesting in their medieval splendor. Some features appear a bit worn but this is more appropriate, after all. Once you stroll the gardens you may never want to leave. In fact, don’t leave until you’ve seen the Walk of the Unicorn. Nice!     T: 01823 672283 open May to Sept  & /special-visitors-cothay (Mendip Morgan Sportscar Club)

Ten miles south, near Wimbleball Lake and the village of Dulverton at Upton, Pepperpot Castle sits in an enclave of Exmoor National Park and has an appearance of a tiny castellated church rather than a well executed medieval folly, despite its rather small stature. This whitewashed Georgian Gothic folly is believed to have been built by the Earl of Carnarvon for his bride. Up close, this is one of the most unusually conceived folly castles I’ve ever seen. Originally built early in the 19th century it was enlarged late in the 20th century mostly out of necessity rather than for appearance sake. It started as a triangular plan with its hexagonal towers placed on the corners with a single storey porch on the north and stairs in the south turret. A drive was added by Lady Harriet Acland during the period of her widowhood (1778-1815) to connect Pixton Park at nearby Dulverton where her daughter, Countess of Carnarvon lived at her own estates near Wiveliscombe. Set within a large garden, it is used and ideal for romantic wedding weekends and holidays. As a self-catering accommodation it’s suitably spacious for up to five people and has been used as a photographic and film location.                                T- 01398 341615




    A few miles northeast of Dulverton, Bury Castle at Brompton Regis, northwest of Selworthy, is a former Iron Age hill fort where a 12th century castle was built as a promontory fort at the juncture of the Rivers Exe and Haddeo, a tributary. During the Anarchy, approximately 1135 and on, this motte and bailey was erected on the southern side by William de Say. The motte is 75 feet high along the tip of the promontory with the bailey stretching a further 197 feet across covering half an acre, internally. Indications of a single rampart and circular ditch are apparent with ramparts along the north, east and south sides which have been revetted with drystone walls. Along the south some work appears to end well short of the edge which has been suggested as the intended approach. As a scheduled ancient monument and property of the National Trust this castle site has been listed as ‘at Risk’ because of the heavy overgrowth.

     Returning east towards historic Wiveliscombe (which is south and east of Dunster Castle near Gaulden Manor) you’ll find this town full of unexpected and surprising discoveries from an architectural and walking point of view. Set in a landscape of hills and wooded valleys and accessed by ancient greenways and paths, the town is at the center of the circular 23 mile Wivey Way, which can be walked in a day or broken down into manageable sectors with paths leading back. The gentle hills of the Vale of Taunton Deane rise to the Brendon Hills which offer stunning panoramic views of Exmoor, the Blackdown and Quantock Hills and further north to the Somerset coast and across the Bristol Channel to Wales and the Brecon Beacons!

A booklet, Wiveliscombe Circular Walks (ISBN 0-955286-0-0), describes ventures for all abilities- starting and finishing in the town, ranging from short local to long day walks, all culminating at the Wivey Way. Access to Wiveliscombe is possible by public transport from Taunton and several walks and the towns of Bampton, Dulverton and Wellington are on bus routes with bus walks becoming available on the internet soon, detailing the footpaths back to Wiveliscombe. Walking groups meet twice a month and meets are prearranged to fit in with many other activities that go on in this flourishing community.

     On the west outskirts of Wiveliscombe, adjoining the cemetery, the Bishops Palace stood in ruins by the 18th century. It was built (or rebuilt) shortly after 1256 by John de Drokensford and was to be the official residence of many bishops of Somerset throughout the medieval period. A workhouse was erected with the ruins in 1735 on the palace’s former site and all that remains of the palace is its gatehouse with a north arch intact and a south arch which was rebuilt in 14th century. This particular Episcopal palace showed very little use through the centuries according to the closely kept registers. The longest residence by any bishop was that of Ralph Erghum who stayed on a regular basis only during the last five years of his life from 1395 to 1400. Mid-16th century Bishop William Knight’s register listed 17 signed documents there which was the most ever signed by a single bishop at Wiveliscombe! He was the last to die there which was on September 29, 1547. There are, of course, no photographs of the palace but accounts written later in tithe descriptions report outbuildings consisting of stable, coach house, yard, and several types of gardens. By 1883 the palace was reduced and being used as a wood house and garden storage with a close, cottages and service housing built in its stead.  (to see the gatehouse)

Now it’s time to turn back north toward the coast of Minehead, one of four resort areas of Somerset (and nationally famous) so we can check out Dunster Castle which is only three miles southeast of Minehead and accessible from the A39. Owned by the National Trust since 1976, this stunning 19th century rebuild overlooks the lovely village of Dunster and is visible in photos from miles away! The ruins are surrounded by gardens and dense forest on its hill so much so that from some angles it is a bit difficult to see in its entirety but a first look from the coastal road up is truly a fantastic vision. The village was walled at one time but no obvious evidence remains of such. Mentioned in the Domesday Book as the Castle of Tor, Dunster is the conical hill which William de Mohun, among the Lords of Devon, used for his motte when he received the estate after the Conquest.

In 1378 the Mohun heiress, Lady Joan sold the castle to the Luttrell family who took possession in 1404 when Lady Joan passed away. They have been mere tenants since NT took over but their history connected with the castle is long and fascinating. Dunster’s elevated position lends enchantment to the entire region but the occupied castle, as it is today, is a Jacobean mansion given a picturesque castellated skyline by Anthony Salvin in 1868. The original medieval castle is now reduced to little more than the inner and outer gatehouses as a consequence of the Civil War. After resisting an attack on behalf of Parliament, the castle changed sides and became the staunchest Royalist garrison in Somerset! Under Colonel Wyndham it withstood five months of siege and after its surrender in 1643 by April of 1646 the old defenses were slighted but the new mansion was left intact. The only other recorded siege against Dunster was an unsuccessful assault by King Stephens’s supporters in 1139 who built a siege castle next to the old castle in an attempt to take possession.

You will witness authentic late-medieval remains on the steep approach from the village to the outer gatehouse which was added by Sir Hugh Luttrell in 1420. A massive oblong block, it features polygonal angle turrets and windows with tracery to stunning effect. This gatehouse is placed at right angles to the inner gate which is flanked on either side with truncated D-shaped towers. Work for this feature is attributed to Reginald de Mohun (died 1278) with the exception of the iron studded gates which are from the 15th century. Curtain walls which once surrounded the bailey are now reduced to a portion of wall along with one ruinous semi-circular tower. The courtyard which fronts the red sandstone castle is attributed to Sir George Luttrell (great-grandson of Sir Hugh) and its construction began in 1617 (carried out by William Arnold) where the medieval hall range once stood and incorporated parts of the original curtain. The former shell keep was swept away from the tor (a natural motte) in the 18th century to make way for a bowling green. Similar castles compared to Dunster are St. Briavels (in the Forest of Dean of Gloucestershire), Rockingham (in Northamptonshire) and Beeston (in Cheshire) for their large round-towered gatehouses, although Beeston was never rebuilt. Essentially, Dunster is a sister to Arundel, Belvoir and Windsor Castles because the most authentic features of the new builds are Victorian conceptions of medieval castles and palaces. They are Hollywood stars.

The 19th century portion, along the north is Salvin’s work in red Somerset sandstone combined with honey colored limestone to create a marvelous patina to the facade. The terrace of the anterior wall shows off this combination well and is stunning work. Basically the building has two halls. The outer Jacobean Revival room took the place of the former parlor taking a good portion of the castle and is hung with family portraits. There is a Salvin fireplace and a famous Luttrell portrait of 1550 which depicts Sir John Luttrell, Elizabethan commander in Scotland, rising from the waves- dripping with allegory and is a copy of the original which hangs in the Courtauld Gallery in London. Of course, the inner hall dates from Elizabethan times and is Arnold’s authentic work.

Further afield you’ll see an oak Restoration staircase displaying acanthus decoration which runs over ceiling and the nine inch thick balustrades of elm! Hunting scenes and Luttrell military trophies adorn the gallery above and a dining room showcases a ceiling of fine 17th century plasterwork along with dark paneling. Upstairs you’ll see more of Salvin’s work in the completely renovated morning room, a gallery with leather walls and a series of bedrooms. A principal bathroom built after 1880 is said to be the first one in Somerset and the only one to be found in the house.

The Tor

A King Charles Room tells a tale of its own but he actually occupied it as a young prince during his visit to gain support in the West Country during the Civil War. A mantelpiece in the room portrays the Judgment of Paris of 1620. All the rooms have names with each distinct purpose- Cleeve Drawing Room 1 and 2, Cedar Room, Klive, Miss Luttrell’s Room, East Quantoxhead Dressing Room and King Charles’ Dressing Room. On the ground floor there are the billiard room and library, both done by Salvin. When he built a new tower on the site of the former chapel he absolutely hit his stride because the view of the Bristol Channel is breathtaking and the outside terrace that runs along the south affords the same beautiful view.

There are veritable surprises on the grounds that may keep you here for a couple more hours. On the site you’ll find 17th century stables, open to visitors, and garden steps down the side of the tor lead to wonderful gardens along the slopes. They cover more than fifteen acres and the estate is set within an extensive park which has Gothic follies (work of Richard Phelps) and a deer park established in 1747. Sheltered from harsher north and east winds the gardens are very pleasant with soft Channel breezes. There is a working watermill on Mill Lane also owned by the National Trust and it dates back to 1086 as one of the few original medieval buildings on site from Norman times.

                     Dunster Working Watermill (by the castle gardens on foot)

     T-01643 821759  Grounds are owned by  the Crown Commissioners.

From Dunster, if you continue to drive ten miles west along the coastline you are bound to come to Porlock Bay and village where you must visit Dovery Manor Museum which is seated right in the middle of town. This late 15th manor was given additions in the 17th century and was restored late in the 19th century by Edmund Buckle for Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey and is a Grade II listed building at the present time. It is a relatively small manor house but very picturesque on the exterior and a treasure trove of artefacts, photographs, press cuttings, extraordinary paintings and display on local history. You’ll be delighted by the Great Hall and the stone spiral staircase retained from the manor’s inception along with the outside grounds’ medieval herb garden!

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Do They Still Say It?

Do You Respect Our Flag ?

It is time to reintroduce the pledge of allegiance in our public and private schools again. Many people, I have found out, do not have it memorized. Meanwhile, I could say it in my sleep! Immigrants will show respect for a country whose people pay respect by pledging allegiance to it. Let’s start in the elementary schools, like we once did. The United States should be honored for the principles it still upholds- freedom for all, freedom in our schools, of speech, of choice, and in all aspects of ordinary, everyday life. Perhaps the country that pledges allegiance and prays together will stay united. It’s all part of…

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Memories of JFK and the Kennedys

The U.S. has a miraculous coincidence on the holiday calendar that couldn’t be more apropos this year. If you haven’t noticed, this calendar year matches 1978 but more importantly I happened to notice that John F. Kennedy’s birth date (May 29, 1917) coincides with Memorial Day, making that coming date the 100th anniversary of his birth! I can’t think of a better time to celebrate this coincidence than with some of his best and most illustrious quotes along with some of Bobby Kennedy’s as well. Both men being brothers imparted equal doses of humor and wisdom. Without any further adieu here are a few, a sampling if you will, of their quotes starting with Robert F. Kennedy:

“In such a fantastic and dangerous world- we will not find answers in old dogmas, by repeating outworn slogans or fighting on ancient battlegrounds against fading enemies long after the real struggle has moved on. We ourselves must change to master change. We must rethink our old ideas and beliefs before they capture and destroy us.” – Robert F. (a.k.a. Bobby) Kennedy

“When we think of liberty in 1961, let us not be content with the stately periods of the Fourth of July orations. Let us not just talk of liberty: let us act for it. Let us translate our devotion into deeds.” (appeared in Parade Magazine on July 2, 1961)

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” (on the first anniversary of the Alliance for Progress, March 13, 1962)

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

[Commencement Address at Yale University, June 11 1962]

“What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.” – Robert F. Kennedy

Have a blessed and peaceful Memorial Day !

The JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston is marking the 100th anniversary with a new exhibit called JFK 100: Milestones and Mementos. If you are in Boston go experience this new exhibit! Check it out at

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Making the Most of Now

Only one person in a thousand knows the trick of really living in the present.

-Storm Jameson

If you find that you often don’t sufficiently get the right kind of attention from people you meet or even family and friends, you can join a very large club which entails almost all of the human race. It is for this reason that people go about their days feeling unloved or that no one really cares about them. Did you know that it may be partly your own fault? I know this seems harsh but the most likely root of these feelings of despair that you share with the world are not only unfounded, most of the time, but it is the way you conduct yourself in a very specific way that has more to do with this problem. Further, it is something you need to change as soon as possible. The following short essay was written by Mark Van Doren, an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and expounds on what I am saying here:

Of all sad things we tell ourselves, the saddest is: “I didn’t make the most of the occasion.” We go to say goodbye; an old friend comes to see us; somebody does us a kindness; we have an argument; we meet a new acquaintance; and some how we don’t do justice to the moment.
Afterward we try to imagine that we did; we make believe; we hear ourselves saying all the things we should have said; but then it is too late. The most we can do under the circumstances is to resolve that the next time…
The next time, we say, will be different, but the danger is just as great that the next time, too, we shall fail.
Men cannot see into the future and so we shouldn’t lament too much our failures to realize what moments mean before they are remembered. But there is one thing we can do and the happiest people are those who do it to the limit of their ability.
We can be completely present. We can be all there. We can control the tendency of our minds to wander from the situation we are in toward yesterday, toward tomorrow, toward something we have forgotten, toward some other place we are going next. It is hard to do this but it is harder to understand afterward wherein it was we fell so short. It was where and when we ceased to give our entire attention to the person, the opportunity, before us.
Those who have fewest regrets are those who take each moment as it comes for all that it is worth. It will never come again, for worse or better. It is ours alone, we can make it what we will.

As always, I will go one step further on this subject because it sounds easy on paper until something goes wrong and you can’t seem to remove your thoughts from a problem that seems unsolvable or matters that weigh down our better thoughts. Live for the moment people seem unsettled until we realize that those people are usually the happiest. They keep their minds uncluttered by fears, worries and anxieties that the rest of the world retains. These people look you straight in the eye, pay attention to your words and speak up to the moment. Rarely do they change the subject.
If you really want to make the most of now and attract this to yourself, then be it. Be a good listener if you want people to listen to you. If you want people to be more honest with you try being transparent yourself. If you want people to help you in your efforts, ask them if they need help first and then follow up. We teach people how to treat us through our own actions. If that person you connect with doesn’t reciprocate remember that many people go about like this in life. Be glad you’re otherwise.


The Castle Lady

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He abides

by Evelyn M. Wallace
(excerpt from my first book of poetry, Seasons of the Heart)

Night Sky with star

Across a dark, star-filled sky
a shooting star
and falls
like a dying bird
in mid-flight
a wolf cries out his loneliness
to a pensive moon
while the crickets sing to one another
as though their existence
expires at the end of the song.
The day has been short
but the night will be long.
The stars continue a steady course
they sparkle as though
their wink
is the eternal promise
of God.
I believe even in my darkness
his light shines brighter
than ever.
that in my loneliest hour
he abides right
within my very soul.

(My book is still available, through myself, in first edition.
Just leave a comment along with your e-mail address, which will not be published and I will arrange for a book to be sent to you, wherever in this world you live. Promise.)

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A Season of Miracles

For me, Easter and Earth Day are almost synonymous because both signify a God-gifted ability to resurrection, rebirth and eternal renewal. No other time of year is quite the same because the other seasons follow a predictable pattern. Spring is miraculous! You can look at a tree one day and it may appear almost dead and then, overnight, it will be full of budding leaves. By the next morning it may already be blossoming and perfuming the air with a scent so lively it can make you almost giddy.
Many of Spring’s flowers will show up early- like a surprise- and in different numbers. Calla Lilies, Amaryllis, Tulips and Daisies, perhaps even dandelions which can be so prolific and early that they are scorned as weeds by many but not by the bees, however.
The earliest (and sometimes the sneakiest) are the daffodils which are my favorite spring flower. They are so delicate and fleeting that a nursery rhyme has immortalized them forever. It goes like this:

Daffy-down-dilly is now come to town
With a petticoat green and
A bright yellow gown.

Interestingly, the daffodil is a member of the Amaryllis family even though it appears quite different from them and it is referred to by garden geniuses as Narcissus Pseudonarcissus. They are easy to grow but are finicky about location since they like partial shade. They like to hide under trees much like human book worms but need a natural reading light just the same ! They are most prolific in number in well-watered areas or around lakes with lots of tree shade. Mine grow right next to a lilac bush and seem so happy that they haven’t moved for quite a few years!

If you are puzzled a bit about why your daffodils and other spring flowers seem to be in a different place each year you are not losing your mind. Most spring flowers (which start from bulbs) travel by rhizomes which can go great distances over time. Lily of the Valley and Daffodils are just a few of these nomadic spring flowers.

If my daffodils do anything different besides this, they sometimes decide to look like a different type of daffodil as there are several varieties with short or very long stems. In addition to that I get very few and the numbers are always different. I usually don’t get more than three but I got four of them this year. I guess daffodils don’t want to be boring! I wouldn’t be surprised if I found a bunny eating my flowers this year. Those seem to be showing up unannounced, too, these days. Have a wonderful Earth Day filled with the wonder and splendor of Spring !

from The Castle Lady



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