Upnor Castle

October 13 2020 – Upnor Castle, Kent.

I love a castle and this is the first opportunity I have had to visit one in quite some time, and not just due to Covid. After the disappointment of not being able to get to, let alone get in to, any forts yesterday I was quite excited when I found that Upnor Castle was actually open today, the second of my two day road trip around the Isles of Grain and Sheppey in Kent.

There were plenty of Covid restrictions in place; masks must be worn in all areas, some things were roped off so you could not touch them and there were crosses and arrows all round advising of the correct path to take around the castle and its grounds. I was the first visitor for the day, and for most of my visit had the place largely to myself. A situation I particularly enjoy.

I parked above the village and had a short, but nice walk down this cobbled street to the river front, more reminiscent of Devon and Cornwall than Kent.

The construction of Upnor Castle began in 1559 under the order of Queen Elizabeth I. It was built to help defend the Chatham Boatyards on the other side of the River Medway. As you would expect the fort has undergone many changes and expansions over the years, and was finally called into action in 1667 when the dastardly Dutch sailed up the Medway to attack Chatham and the English fleet that was sheltering in the river. The military action has been described as the worst naval defeat the English navy has ever experienced, with a large number of vessels being destroyed. Upnor Castle was one of the few highlights of the action and the Dutch were finally sent packing.

After the action the English government decided to build further and stronger forts along the coast out toward the North Sea and the castle ended up becoming a storage magazine for gunpowder and shells. It was owned by the military until the end of World War 2 when it became a museum and was opened to the public.

It is now run be English Heritage, and I was pleasantly surprised it was open on an autumn Wednesday.

This graffiti from 1596 was discovered during WW2 when a German bomb landed nearby, causing the plaster to fall off the wall revealing what was hidden behind.

One of the features I love in an English Heritage museum is the mock up.

The castle is pretty small and there is not a huge amount to see and neither is there a spectacular view from the ramparts. It looks out on blocks of flats and cranes on building sites for more blocks of flat on the other side of the river in Chatham, but I did enjoy the 30 minutes I spent walking around, all masked up.

I really liked this stairway, leading down to a lovely dank and mossy tunnel.

Castles and churches, not a bad afternoon!

Saturday 14 May 2016 – Orford Ness, Suffolk.

In the previous post, I talked about how I had spent the morning and the early part of the afternoon visiting the wonderful Orford Ness, a National Trust wilderness area. A beautiful spit of land tagged on to the Suffolk coast, and separated from the town of Orford by the River Alde.

When I arrived back on the mainland from the ‘Ness’ it was only mid-afternoon and though it was cold there was still plenty of day time left, and plenty of things to see in the village of Orford itself.

Like all coastal towns Orford has a long history of fishing and shell fishing, there is still some industry here but I suspect it is now subservient to the tourism industry. Having a few old fishing boats lying around is never going to hurt from a photography tourist’s perspective either!

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The older part of Orford has really embraced tourism; so well that you could drive through and not notice it was there at all. Just how it should be. The village is really pleasant to walk through, lovely red brick houses, nice old pubs, one tiny store, a village hall and a fabulous bakery/cafe. It is all subtle, there are no overt signs, nothing showy. Just a small village full of seemingly very friendly people. They do it well. So shhhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone or they will come along and spoil it.  I must admit I fell in love with it, as I suspect do a lot of other visitors.

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St Bartholomew is an old Norman church in Orford, originally built around the same time as the castle in the 1170s, though there were extensive modifications in 1300s. The chancel was walled off in the 18th century and then collapsed in 1830. The remains were restored in the 60s and 70s and is a charming and peaceful little spot.

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After a invigorating coffee and a totally unnecessary, but delicious slice of chocolate brownie I went to visit Orford Castle. I was surprised at how popular it was, a full car park and a number of other visitors. I thought it was only me who liked out of the way castles !

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Orford Castle was completed in 1173, under King Henry II. The keep, for something so old, is in remarkably good condition and is the best preserved keep in the UK from that period. Though the castle lost favour with the crown after the death of Henry it still had some significance as Orford was a major trading port. More important than  nearby Ipswich, which is hard to believe now! Unlike so many other castles Orford pretty much allows access to the whole building, there are loads of little rooms and hall ways and of course my favourite – spiral staircases. All maintained by English Heritage, who are doing a great job here. 

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I enjoyed my visit, the highlights for me were the old names carved into the walls, I like to believe they are original.

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I am staying in Lowestoft overnight, I thought it was the nearest town with accommodation, but when I walked past I noted that one of the pubs in Orford had rooms. I looked it up when I got home as I thought it might be a nice place for El and I to visit in summer. At £270 a night (including dinner for two) I think we will have to pass! Orford is a lovely village though, and I will return now that I have a car.

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Over my pre-castle visit coffee I looked through my ruins book and decided to check out St Andrews Church in Covehithe as it is pretty much on the way to Lowestoft and looked quite interesting.

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The oldest part of the church remains are from the 15th century. What is unusual about this particular church is that rather than it being destroyed by war or by royal decree it was pulled down by its own parishioners in 1672 when they could no longer afford the upkeep. The smaller church was constructed inside it – and is still operating today.

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 It is a lovely little spot, made a bit moody by some heavy handed editing to make the clouds look a bit fuller than they really were. Though to be fair to me it did actual drizzle a bit while I was there. What I liked about St Andrews is that there was some detail still left in the stone work, you could imagine what the building looked like with the tiled finish on the outside.

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Castillo de Sagunto.

Sunday 28 February 2016 – Valencia, Spain.

With the room nicely pre-warmed last night, along with a late night, red wine and whisky, most of us slept in quite late this morning. Paul managed to sneak out and go to one of the local markets well before anyone else emerged. It was a much warmer morning than yesterday, the wind had dropped and there were hints of a sun peaking through the clouds.

Paul returned soon after we had breakfast and we all set out rather late for today’s adventure. A trip up the coast to the small town of Sagunto and its wonderful old ruined castle.

Sagunto is a port town and the castle sits on a low bluff overlooking the sea and a wide valley. We knew the castle closed at 14:00 on a Sunday and it was after 13:00 when we arrived in town. We drove around for what seemed like ages trying to find the entrance, the first attempt led us completely to the wrong side of the bluff. I had resigned myself (quietly) that this would be as close as I would get to visiting this massive old structure.

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We finally found the way in to the right side of town, but found absolutely no where to park. Paul volunteered to drive off and find a park, so Paula, El and I jumped out the car and went looking for the road up to the gates.

We were dropped off outside The Church of Saint Maria, so I stopped for a quick photo of its magnificent doors. The church was started in 1334 and finally completed in 1730, a rather long build – a bit like the restoration of the escalators at Walthamstow Central! As was common at the time, it was built on the site of the main mosque in Sagunto soon after the Christians under Aragon 1 wrestled rule of the town from the Moors. It was finally finished in what has become the Valencian Gothic style of architecture.

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Just outside the church there was a small road train that took visitors up the hill to the castle itself, for expediencies sake we jumped on the train and took the lazy way up the hill. Outside the main castle is an old amphitheatre, recently renovated and still used as a theatre.

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I was very excited on the final walk up to the entrance, hoping we would be allowed in so late, I am a little boy at heart when it comes to castles and ruins, cannot help it ! Even the outside walls, especially with the un-British sight of cacti growing below had me bouncing…

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We arrived at the gate at 13:30, were allowed in but advised we had 30 minutes. I am going to have to go back and visit another day, it is a big place and worthy of a couple of hours! We did make it in, I was very happy.

There has been a settlement on the bluff for hundreds of years. The Roman settlement was under siege by Hannibal way back in 219 BC, this event was the start of the Punic War, one of the most significant periods of warfare in ancient times, Hannibal’s army was finally stopped just outside the gates of Rome. Any further and the world would be a different place !

In 214 BC the town was retaken by Rome and as you would expect what followed for the next few hundred years was long periods of settlement interspersed with the odd invasion, change of ruler, change of religion when the Muslim Moors ruled this part of Spain for 500 (ish) years, with a brief change in the middle. It was in 1238 when Aragon conquered the area that things pretty much settled down for a while.

All this time the castle on the hill was expanded, modified, knocked down a bit, built up some more, but was never really destroyed. You can see influences from all the different groups who have occupied this vast site.

There is little information about the actual interior of the castle, there are a few signs inside that describe some of the sections, but they were not overly verbose and they were in Spanish so not much use in the short time we had. We only managed to see one side – the far end is over a kilometre away.

The Temple of Diana is pretty much the first thing you see once you are through the gate. There is a lot of renovation work going on, numerous sections are fenced off, and you can tell there is a monumentally large and long project going on to explore and renovate the interior. If it is all done as well as the already completed sections then it will be a fabulous place to visit in the future. There are photos of this building from 1923 and it was looking very similar to what it is like now. It must have been maintained for a very long time.

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As we did not have a lot of time, I left El and Paula to it and nipped off here and there, taking photos where I saw something interesting, there are parts of the castle that can be explored and clambered on, and I am always up for that. I imagine as things become more formally renovated then the clambering will stop, I am not against that of course, but will take the opportunity to explore where I want when I can. Obviously I take as much care as I can, and do not risk either myself or the place I am exploring.

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We explored the eastern end of the castle, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, as you can see the western end is quite a long way away.

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Paula took a photo of me taking the photo….

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I walked around a small section of the perimeter, there were great views down on to the rooftops of the houses below. I really like a good view of rooftops, especially the higgledy piggledy view over a town built on a hillside. Sagunto looks great from up here and the Church really stands out when viewed from this angle, from the ground it is all bunched up in the narrow cobbled streets and much harder to feel the scale of the building.

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The walls are really imposing, and I could see why so much is still standing after such a long time. I also have a thing about walls and trees…

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With time running out I headed quickly back over to the centre of the castle, to try and get a good look at the far end, from a distance it looks even more imposing than where I had just been. I really must come back here and explore again more fully. There is a whole castle up on that hill!

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The walls show building materials and styles from most of the various occupiers of the site, from the Romans, the Moors and the later Spanish.

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There were some great details, in some cases, literally lying on the ground.

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All too quickly it was 14:00 and the gates were going to close, so I reluctantly bade adios to Castillo de Sagunto and walked outside to meet El and Paula.

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We headed back down the hill, through some of the streets and past houses that I saw from the top of the hill. Looking back at this trip, and back further to my time in southern Spain in 2012, these small hillside, ‘white house’ villages are some of my favourite places to wander around. I love the randomness of the streets, the twisting and turning, the ones that end in steps, or just go nowhere, the fact there are few people about and almost no visible cars. Perfect!

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By pure co-incidence at the end of one of the streets we wandered down we found Paul sitting outside Mason el Castillo, a roadside cafe, drinking a beer and waiting for us to turn up. We ordered some food and drinks all round and relaxed there for a while, enjoying the atmosphere and some really nice tapas (again)!

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I went for a quick walk around the area, up and down a few more streets, this part of town is really lovely.

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It was not a bad day so we decided to head back to the car and drive down to sea and hopefully find an ice cream. On the way back we passed this building which looked like it had an old Roman era pillar holding up one corner of a mezzanine. Wonderful.

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On the way to the car, parked in another free train station car park, we passed a real estate agent and was surprised to see that you could by a one bedroom flat in town for 26000 Euros… It probably wasn’t very nice, but that is much less than a car park in parts of London.

We drove down to El Puig, a small beach side town. Sadly, like so many other places in Spain El Puig has its share of failed building ventures and we parked right outside one of them. Liberally covered in graffiti, and broken walls visible through the gaps where doors and windows would have been, this place was a reminder of the failed fortunes of Spain and other places in Mediterranean Europe.

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The beach was still nice, and there was plenty of other far more successful businesses along the strip of beach and the marina nearby. We walked down to the end of the marina and then back again, stopping for an ice cream – just as it started to get cold, before heading back to Lliria and Paul and Paula’s house.

I lit the fire inside, while Paul set up the fire in the outside stove, where he eventually baked a wonderful fresh salmon which we had for tea. It was another evening of wine and The Walking Dead and another quite late one. But we did almost finish season two!

We had another good sleep, before getting up quite early on Monday morning as El and I were flying back to London. Paula dropped us off at Lliria station and we caught what must have been a late rush hour train back into Valencia. It was reasonably full by the time we got in to the centre, though we crossed over to another line for the almost deserted train out to the airport.

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And that was the end of our trip to Valencia. We had a great time, Paul and Paula’s place is fantastic, Paul and Paula are great hosts, Valencia is an awesome city and we are both really looking forward to going back again.

A castle-ing I will go! A day trip to Dover Castle

Saturday 03 October 2015 – Dover Castle.

I wanted to get out and about today, summer has drifted inexorably into autumn, days will get shorter and days out are going to become less frequent, though they can hardly be much less frequent than they have been lately. With the forecasters predicting a sunny but cool day El and I planned on heading across London to Richmond where I was going to show El around my mid-1980s ‘hood before walking along the Thames for a late lunch in Kew. However, El was not feeling well, a nasty head cold on the back of chest infections preceded by a flu meant she did not feel like, or want to go out. She was keen that I made use of the day though, and unsurprisingly, so was I.

As I have been so busy at work for most of the year I had not prepared any sort of a list of things I want to do or see, so I spent at least an hour finding and then rejecting places to visit, before I settled on Dover Castle. Dover suited, not too expensive or too long a train journey and plenty to see, and I would get to be outside in what would hopefully be a sunny day – once the low lying cloud has cleared.

Work has been interesting, the madness of the past 12 months is over and it has become almost relaxing – I do not work in the evenings or weekends anywhere nearly as much as used to, though I cannot help myself at times and have to have a week peek at email. My contract expired while I was away walking and I have renewed it until the end of the year, though I turned down taking on the role permanently when I was offered it on my return.

I am now committed to finding a role outside of London – preferably towards the south west. I want to be able to feel the sand between my toes more readily and not have to quit a run half way through as I cannot breathe due to the pollution. I want to be within a couple of hours of London so El and I can see each other easily at weekends and on the occasional ‘school’ night. Plus, I don’t hate London, I have just had enough of it for now.

I booked my return train tickets for Dover on-line, I wanted to go from Stratford as it saved travelling into central London, but return from Stratford to Dover was 113 pounds, a return from St Pancras, was 30. I discovered once I got on the train at St Pancras that the first stop was Stratford… Go figure.

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The journey was pretty fast, high speed train to Folkestone, however, as I also discovered once I was on the train at St Pancras there was no connecting to service to Dover as the station was closed for maintenance – there was a replacement bus service. This seems to feature a bit on my train trips to the south east! Sitting in front of me were three blokes who worked for the train company talking about their model railway collections and some of the trains they owned or lusted after. It was an interesting discussion from an observer’s point of view. Model trains can be very very expensive! I was also intrigued to learn you can control some parts of a model railway with an iPhone app. The world has moved on since I last saw a train set – or a layout to use their terminology.

I reached Folkestone on time and there was only a short wait for the bus to Dover so I did not get to experience the joys of Folkestone. I have family who lived here for many years and vaguely recall holidays when I was a child. I liked this figurine under the bridge arch outside the station, a little bit of street art.

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It was short hop to Dover and the bus dropped a few of us off at the station before continuing on past the castle to Deal. I thought about asking if the driver would drop me at the castle entrance as it is up a hill, but suspecting a refusal I decided not to. I will reserve my un-informed opinions of the delights of Dover, as I passed straight through it on my way to the castle – it was pretty obvious where the castle was.

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The rail works at Dover Priory Station were fairly obvious too.

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Finding a sign that showed a simple walking route to the castle took a little bit of effort. I suspected there would be a way to get there that did not mean walking up the side of the main road, and I was right. It would have been nice to see more signs in the centre of town that did not just cater for drivers.

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Unsurprisingly it was all up hill – via a delightful alleyway strewn with food wrappers, empty booze cans, and most charmingly, the residue of both. Luckily that was the only downside to the entire journey!

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It is only a ten minute walk to the castle entrance. Last time I was here, I took a shot at English Heritage as the castle was closed, which I found a bit ridiculous given its status amongst southern English castles. I would like to give credit where it is due and say English Heritage have done a fantastic job with the castle though and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit today. Nice one EH !

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Dover Castle is one of the major English castles, from a distance it looks spectacular, and from the sea it must dominate the skyline. It was built to guard the Strait of Dover, the narrowest point of the English Channel (what do the French call it ? The French Channel ? I must ask !)

There has probably been a fortification here for many hundreds of years, though the oldest remaining part – the Roman Lighthouse, “only” dates back to the first century. The main sections of the castle were formed in the 12th and 13th century and the castle has been changed and developed and used continuously until after WWII – when it was a crucial command centre in the retreat from Dunkirk in 1940.

The pedestrian entrance to the castle is through the Constables Gate, built in 1221, it is a mightily impressive entrance in to the grounds.

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It was early afternoon when I arrived so I decided I would head directly to the cafe and get a coffee and something to eat before taking my tour around the castle, the cafe seemed to be in the right direction – i.e. downhill so it seemed like a perfect choice. I loved these old mortars.

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There was a small path up along the side of the battlements so I walked along for a while, taking a photo back up the moat and the outer defensive wall. The banks and ditches all around the castle pre-date the construction of the castle itself and are believed to have been the defences of an old iron age fort that predated the Roman invasion, perhaps over two thousand years old. The builders of the castle certainly made use of them.

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When I got to the other end I saw a sign saying ‘no climbing’. Oops….

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I stopped for a sandwich and a coffee in the cafe, not a great coffee at all sadly, but it had caffeine so that was something. The afternoon was getting on so I carried on down to the far end of the castle to the ‘Wartime Tunnels’. There are guided tours through these every few minutes, but the queue was really long so I carried on going. The tunnels were originally started in 1797 as barracks but had been heavily modified and strengthened during the second world war.

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There was a small section at the far end that could be entered down a long sloping tunnel that had a small display on the castle during the war. I loved this old poster.

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There was a great view from here over the harbour mouth with one of the numerous ferries departing into the mist still hanging over the channel.

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The castle is reasonably open to the public, but there are lots of sections gated off for, I am assuming for safety purposes, but I am always intrigued about stairs and ramps that lead into the ground. I suspect this whole are is utterly riddled with tunnels – more so than has ever been let on.

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The officers new barracks were built at the end of the 19th century and are closed off to the public, they are surrounded by a large car park, so a shot from the slopes of the bank leading up to the chapel was the best angle.

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I started a walk around the northerly walls, stopping to take a photo out of the start of the famed White Cliffs of Dover.

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When I was travelling in SE Asia, I developed a habit of walking the outer walls of the places I visited, firstly to give a bit of perspective to the size of the place, but mainly because other people didn’t do it, so it was less crowded. On rare occasions I found things that other people never got to see. I still do this perimeter walk, so even though time was not big today I did walk the outer boundaries first.

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Looking into the ammo stores for the gun emplacements, and their heavily graffitied walls.

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Past the back of St Mary in Castro.

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And down the view of some of the old cannons facing out to ward of potential threat.

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The inner bailey and the great tower kept appearing in my view and I was saving them to last and looking forward to having a look inside.

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One place I was really looking forward to exploring was the medieval tunnels. The original entrance to the castle was in a different location until 1217 when it was under-minded during a failed siege by the French. Once the siege was over the castle’s constable, Hubert de Burgh supervised a rebuilding of the wall and gate towers and outer towers to prevent attackers getting close. These were all linked together by a series of tunnels, some of the linking tunnels had port gates to allow defenders to mount counter attacks, and much of this 800 year old system is open to the public. It was my favourite part of the castle.

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Dark and smelling of damp, cool and quiet – with the occasional childish shriek and laugh coming from places unknown as family groups toured the tunnels. There were lots of steps and ramps and rooms and it was all quite fun.

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I loved these massive door handles that allowed the opening and closing of the port gates from the protection of solid bunkers.

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After the tunnels, and back into glorious warm sunlight I walked past the massive imposing outer walls of the inner bailey and headed off to see the Roman light house and St Mary’s Church.

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The pharos (lighthouse) was probably built at the end of the first century, it is the only surviving pharos in the UK and its survival is probably due to the importance that Dover Castle had since those early days. It was still used as lighthouse into the 13th century but was roofed and floored in the 1580’s and used as a gunpowder store.

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The Church of St Mary in Castro has a Saxon core and has been dated to around 1000AD, it was heavily refurbished and modified in the 19th century, but the main structure of the building is still the Saxon original.

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Last but not least I headed towards the inner bailey and the great tower. This 12th century construction is massive and solid and stunning to look at. I had lost the angle of the sun, so my photos do not do it justice, but the guide book I have in front of me as I write this has photos that make me want to go back and try again.

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Most of the buildings in the inner bailey are of later construction as military barracks were built in the 1740s.

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Exploring the great tower was great fun, it is large and it seems that visitors can roam most of it, there are a heck of a lot of stairways, and I do love a circular staircase !

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The tower has been modified many times since Henry II commissioned its construction in the 1180s, and it has been used for many purposes – from royal residence to holding prisoners of war and as a munitions store. The interior has been decked out as it would have been set up as a royal residence in the time of King Henry II.

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I was really surprised to find that visitors were allowed up on to the roof, so many of these ancient places are not safe for roof visits. With its great height, and location on the cliff top there were lovely views to be had from the roof!

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And over the hills on the far side of Dover town.

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Back down from the roof, it was time to bid farewell to Dover Castle, I had seen most of what I wanted to see, and the day was drawing to a close – as was the castle. I took a few parting photos as I left, before heading back down the hill to Dover.

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It really is a magnificent looking castle!

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I bought a can of beer from one of the local corner shops and got to the train station about 30 seconds before the rail replacement bus was leaving for Folkestone. The bus arrived just before the train left, so I jumped on and sat down in a mostly empty carriage with my can of beer and my book and relaxed. It was the first time I had sat down in over 3 hours and I was knackered !

I swapped trains at Ashford to get the fast train to Stratford, it was a short wait and I was lucky to walk out of Stratford station and straight on to a bus to Walthamstow. Never has my travelling luck been this good !!

It was a great day out, I really enjoyed Dover Castle, it is a great place to visit and comes highly recommended.

A visit to Windsor Castle.

Thursday 02 April 2015 – Windsor.

I have never been to Windsor Castle; at least not as an adult. It is entirely possible that I visited as a child, but the only memories I have of it are more recent, and mainly come from the TV and movies. As a nearby and important castle, it has been on my ‘must visit’ list for a very long time.

Things have been really manic at work for quite a while now; the implementation of a new system was always going to be intense and stressful and it certainly was all of that and more. With all the time spent working I have not spent any time even thinking about trips away or adventures – big, small or even micro. So when El said she was taking the two days before Easter off of work and suggested we take a day out to go somewhere, I jumped at the opportunity. Actually, what I did do was ponder it for a few days, ask my boss for the Thursday before Easter off and crossed my fingers he would say yes. Which he did.

A day was not going to give us time to do much so we decided to nip down to Windsor the night before and get into the castle before the day got too busy – and then I could finally knock Windsor off of the list.

I will say the week had been pretty average, and average was the best it got before I snuck out the door early on Wednesday to power walk my way to Waterloo Station to meet El and the 4:58 train to Windsor and Eton Riverside. With a few crappy work emails on the hour long train ride I arrived in Windsor with a bit of a grump on. Luckily El had booked us a nice hotel who gave us a free glass of prosecco each on arrival. This certainly helped to smooth over a few of the bumps in my day.

After settling in we went for a walk out in to the early evening for a quick explore of Windsor. It is a lot smaller than I expected and is totally dominated by the castle.

Windsor the town as it is now known was originally known as New Windsor, with the first town of Windsor renamed Old Windsor when the new town was built around the castle in Norman times. Windsor means ‘winch by the riverside’ in old Anglo-Saxon. The town had its boom time in the early 16th century but faded after the reformation and the death of King Henry VIII soon after. Outside of the castle there was really only one building of interest.

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The well wasn’t particularly interesting – though the machine gun toting copper in the background did highlight the seriousness of the castle, the Queen was not in residence at the time.

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I did like the sense of humour in the sign on the well though.

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This is obviously the Long Walk – not the long cycle, or push.

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Viewed from the other end you do get a view of the castle.

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The rest of the town didn’t really inspire, though to be fair to Windsor, I was not in the mood. On another day it could have been great.

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We did have a very nice meal in a small French bistro on the high street washed down with a very tasty bottle of viognier. With a whisky before bed, my day was certainly finishing far better than it had started.

Not having to rush out of bed on Thursday was a real blessing, and following up the late rise with a tasty full English breakfast was even better!

We made it out into the day just before 10:00, and were quite surprised at the amount of people the castle had already attracted. As I said, the castle dominates the town, and it was literally less than a hundred metres from our hotel to the entrance road of the castle.

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The castle was originally built during Norman times to dominate access to a strategically important part of the River Thames, but became more important under Henry II in the 12th century. It is the longest serving royal palace in Europe and is still used as one of the main royal residences today. It is big, it is well preserved, it is awesome in its construction and I found it the most boring castle I have visited so far. It was all a bit disappointing as I had been looking forward to exploring it for a long time.

We had to queue for a while to get in, and pass through airport type security. I sort of understood this given its relevance as an active royal residence. It was expensive, at just over 19GBP each.

It did have its cool bits, I am a sucker for big walls and battlements. It wasn’t even too crowded, busy but tolerable.

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But there was not much to see – there was a moat room. I passed two doors telling me so, I don’t know what was on the other side of the doors though.

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And we were all funneled along certain paths, no aimless wandering around and most disappointingly of all – no walking on the battlements.

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We did visit the royal apartments – significant Georgian buildings, with some lovely art and lots of posh furniture.

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No photos allowed though. But I did sneak this in an oasis of calm in the drawings room.

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And this one out the window while the trooping of the colour was on.

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I sort of liked the Royal Apartments, though it was a bit sterile and knowing that part of this palace is actually the home to a very select few while so many live in poverty does make this seem somewhat obscene.

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Back outside we caught the end of the trooping of the colour and the not small number of fellow visitors gathered to watch. I would hate to be here in peak time, it must be truly, awfully busy.

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While the crowds watched the display I took a quick look around the outside of some of the buildings we were not allowed to enter.

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Our last stop before leaving was St Georges Chapel.

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Like the rest of the interior we were not allowed to take photos inside, which was a real shame as there are not many places with so many royal tombs inside, including some famous one like Henry VIII.

And that was our visit to Windsor Castle over, No wall walks, no poking around, clambering over ruins. No photos of suits of armour, old canon or other historical knick-knacks that occasionally catch my fancy. The fact there are more shops than toilets sort of sums the place up for me. A tourist rip off. It was a bit of a sham really, the Tower of London does this much better.

After such a big breakfast we did not fancy lunch, but we did stop for coffee, cake and a sit down before picking up our bags from the hotel and wandering back down to the station.

The view at least is pretty spectacular from anywhere in town.

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Rye Nature Reserve and Camber Castle.

Sunday 21 September 2014 – Rye, East Sussex – Part two.

Our Saturday in the lovely East Sussex village of Rye turned into a big day with too many things to see and do to fit it all onto one post, so in a very rare event I decided to split the day sort of in half and do two posts. Yesterday’s post had us looking around the village and the very old inn we were staying in and finished as we found a small cafe on the edge of town to stop in for lunch.

We had initially planned on walking out of town, along the edge of the River Rother down to the sea and then northwards across Camber Sands towards Dungeness and its charming power plant. However after visiting the information centre and seeing a map I wanted to visit Camber Castle which is on the south side of the river and in the middle of the Rye Nature Reserve. This also meant a walk down the river to the sea, with the bonus of a castle and a double bonus of no power station – so that is what we decided to do.

After crossing the river on the edge of town we found a narrow and twisting track through about a million nettle bushes that slightly more scenically took us down to the river, the second option was to walk by the roadside, so while this was a little stingy in parts, at least we were away from the traffic.

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It did not last for long and we soon walking on the edge of the nature reserve and some farm land – and I could see the castle off in the distance, which kept me nice and excited.

Just past the village of Rye Harbour we found the first of a string of Martello Towers, these were built to protect the harbour during the Napoleonic Wars in 1809. This one was built on the edge of the sea, which is now, only 200 or so years later, almost a kilometre away… I liked the tower but was disappointed we were not allowed to go near it.

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The walk from the village down by the river was really nice, if very bleak. I loved the clouds and the absence of trees or any life apart from birds.

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This is real birder country and there was a hide on the edge of the marsh land that had half a dozen birders perched over their binoculars, looking out over the water.

On the edge of the beach are a couple of pillboxes left over from the war, a modern rendition of the Napoleonic Martello Towers.

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There is also a long sea wall built that is constantly being extended to prevent the pebbly beach washing across the rover mouth – sealing off the river and the harbour forever.

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I really enjoyed the walk down the beach towards Winchelsea and Hastings, and I took way more photos than the load that I have posted here. I really would have liked to have had my big camera with its wide angle to really capture the immensity of the scene, but then it would have taken all day and I wouldn’t have made it that far.

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There is an old Royal Navy Lifeboat Institution shed on the beach and just before we reached it we followed one of the lovely old and slowly disintegrating groynes to the small path at the top. Which was a bit of a relief as walking on those pebbles for a couple of kilometres was hard work.

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The lifeboat shed on the beach is used as a memorial to the seventeen members of a Rye lifeboat crew who all tragically perished in a storm as they went to rescue the crew of a stranded Latvian ship back in 1928. It was later discovered that the Latvian crew had already been rescued.

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On that cheery note we soon turned inland and followed the path around the far edges of the ponds to find Camber Castle. I was really looking forward to seeing the castle as it is a really unusual design.

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The castle was started in 1512 as a circular tower built to defend the harbour at Rye, it was extended in 1544 with four smaller circular towers built around the outside and linked by walls. It was the first of a series of castles built under King Henry VIII to defend the harbours in Rye Bay. Like the Martello Towers and Ypres Tower in Rye itself, the building of the castle was rendered pointless as it was abandoned in less than hundred years later as the shoreline moved too far away.

I took a few photos as we walked around the outside and was looking forward to going in for a look at this quite different style of castle. I was rudely shocked to find the castle is only open to tours at 2:00pm on the first Saturday of the month in the summer. What bullshit. I was a bit aggravated to say the least and may have said some bad words that reflected poorly on English Heritage….

I was so disappointed, as it is lovely. I really liked the wind and sea air damage to the stone walls, and I can see that the site is potentially unsafe, but nanny state rules gone mad again.

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There were some more lovely squally rain clouds as we walked back towards Rye, and I could not help myself but take some more photos.

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I think El got tired of waiting !

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We crossed over a very tidal side river and were soon back in town, up the short steep road to the Mermaid Inn and sitting in the side outside with a well earned gin and tonic.

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As we had had a very light lunch we decided to eat early and headed out just after six. We had seen a nice looking restaurant as we walked town earlier in the day and this was one was quite reasonably priced compared to most – still ‘west end’ prices though. Rye is very expensive ! We were lucky to get a seat as long as we were finished before 8:00 as it was fully booked out. We did have a great meal and a nice bottle of rose to go with it. Much better than last night!

We had a bit of a lie in on Sunday morning, followed by breakfast in the hotel – I didn’t eat as much as yesterday though ! After breakfast we packed up and checked out before heading back to the station. We had read earlier that the train had been replaced by a bus service to Ashford, we were not sure on how many buses were running and how many people were likely to be there so we took the cautious route and went early. Luckily.

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The bus service was a cluster-disaster, buses didnt arrive, the station attendant had no idea what was going on. After almost an hour of waiting and people coming the other way arriving by taxi the station attendant came out to tell us the bus was half an hour away. It arrived as she walked back into the station…

From there it was an uneventful journey to Ashford, where we managed to catch the fast train into London and home.

It was another pretty awesome weekend away. We both loved Rye.

The old town of Rye.

Saturday 20 September 2014 – Rye, East Sussex – Part one…

September has turned into a bit of a busy month, something I am really pleased about as I had suspected that with work now in full swing I would get a bit tired and lazy and end up not doing too much at the weekends. However, this was a weekend away that El and I booked a few weeks ago, my birthday was on Wednesday and we decided we would celebrate it by going somewhere new, and for no reason other than it looked nice we picked the village of Rye, under two hours away by train on the south east coast.

I would like to say that we picked Rye as it was a coastal town worth investigating for a property, and factually speaking Rye was a coastal town – about 2000 years ago. Since then the shoreline has slowly moved away as the shallows around the entrance to the River Rother have silted up after bad storms in the 1200s and the town is now about two miles from the sea. Isn’t the earth amazing?

We met after work on Friday at St Pancras Station with the intention to get the fast train to Ashford where we would pick up another train that would take us to Rye. We had an hour to wait until the train we planned on getting left, but saw on the board that an earlier train was about to leave so we dashed down to the platform and jumped on the train – only to find it was the slowest of the slow Ashford trains, and it ran slowly as well. One of us was not happy. The train arrived late into Ashford, but with luck on our side the train to Rye was still in the station and we managed to jump just before it left, saving us another half an hour delay.

We arrived in Rye, slightly late, but in time to unpack and settle before the 8:30 reservation we had made in the hotel restaurant. It was dark when we arrived and there was a light fog settling in as well. The hotel was five minutes from the station and it was a little eerie walking up through the narrow streets surrounded by some quite old houses. One of the reasons we chose to stay in Rye is because it had a cool looking hotel – The Mermaid Inn, which we had chosen to stay in. The hotel has a very long – and quite chequered history, originally built in the 1100s it was rebuilt in 1420.

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Our room was on the top floor, up some narrow and creaky stairs, in an attic space under a gabled roof. It was pretty lovely, the first thing I did was take a look out the window, then grabbed my freshly fixed camera and took a time exposure out of the window of the Tudor houses in the street. I was so excited about getting out and about tomorrow morning !

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We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and while the food was good, it was extremely expensive, and sadly in our opinion not particularly good value. If I was paying that much in London I would have expected a lot more for the money. Service, ambiance and food.

The first thing I did when I woke up was to check out the window again to see if last night’s fog was still hanging around, and I was really pleased to see that it was. We decided we would take a brief walk around the village before breakfast to see what it looked like before too many people got up and before all the fog had lifted.

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IMG 0660It was pretty magic outside, though the worst of the fog had gone before got out the door. The old part of the town of Rye sits on a hill overlooking the old harbour. There have been people living here since before Roman times, though most of the buildings are from the 1400’s onwards as the French destroyed the town in the late 1300s.

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I knew there was an old fort – Ypres Tower, in the town and it didn’t take too long to find it, and of course we planned on visiting again later in the day – during opening hours. The fort was originally built in 1259 to defend against the constantly marauding French, in fact the name Rye comes from the French word, Rie – meaning sand bank.

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The view from the canon ramparts was not that spectacular in the fog…

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There was also some great doors and door signs!

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I loved this one…

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After a nice pre-feed walk we went back to the hotel for breakfast before starting out on our unplanned adventure for the day. We started with a quick tour around the inside of the Mermaid Inn. It is a glorious building, home for also sorts of people from ancient pirates to more recent actors and politicians (more pirates !).

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Room 19 is supposed to be haunted, I just had a peak in the door, didn’t see anything. But I noticed the people who stayed there had left….

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We decided to more thoroughly walk the village, we needed some cash and a map of the area, and ended up with both. Along with two pairs of boots for me and a small clock for El – we were not planning on shopping, honest ! We did go into the local, and quite cool second hand record shop -where we didn’t buy anything…

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Nor did we buy anything from one of the two old school sweet shops.

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At the end of one side of town is the Landgate, the last remaining old town gate from what was a fully walled town. The Landgate and the wall were started in the 1340s after a French invasion. To no avail as there was a further invasion in 1370 and the town was largely destroyed.

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The village is really lovely, it is definitely a tourist destination as it has been so well preserved – so many of these buildings are listed and therefore protected by law. Thank goodness.

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We headed back for a fascinating tour of Ypres Tower before stopping for lunch in a small cafe, just as the tourist crowds really started to arrive.

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Wow, so far so good !! It was a pretty packed day, so I will make this my first two part blog post ever 🙂

Bush and beach, sun and sea + castles. A perfect holiday?

Sunday 7 September 2014 – Ryde, Isle of Wight.

It felt like it had been ages since El and I last had a weekend away in England together, so we were eagerly looking forward to this weekend trip to the Isle of Wight. We took a day trip there last summer and had committed to ourselves to returning and exploring some more. I holidayed there on a couple of occasions when I was a child and had retained some vague memories of visiting places on the south coast like Ventnor and Black Gang Chine. I was looking forward to revisiting both locations – though I suspect things have changed in the last forty years…

In a previous life El and her then husband owned a flat in Ryde, one of the larger towns on the island, and the destination of the Portsmouth ferry. El’s ex still owns the flat and we were going to stay there and use it as our base for exploring. In summer the prices of everything on the island increase significantly – as they do everywhere I guess, so it was really nice to have some free accommodation.

For a change we had a weekend away with no rain forecast and in a mood of total optimism I did not pack either my rain coat or an umbrella – even more optimistically I threw my togs in my bag (togs = swimming costume in NZish). I have not been in the sea for well over a year and it was definitely well over due.

We were going to catch the 5:30 train from Waterloo to Portsmouth after work on Friday, but discovered at the last minute that the large Bestival music festival was also happening on the island over the weekend so elected to sneak away from work a bit early and catch the train at 5:00. We made it to the train in time and surprisingly it was not too busy, with only a few festival goers adding to the normal number of commuters heading home. I have no idea how they do it, I find the twenty minute train ride I have in the morning to be enough, how people do the almost two hour trip each way every day I do not know. Though living by the sea must make up for it.

The flat is about 500 metres from the end of the pier at Ryde  so we were inside and unpacked before 8:00. We decided to keep it local for dinner and just headed over the road to a newish Mediterranean restaurant for pizza and wine and then back to the flat to chill. I had a big day planned for  us the following day…

We were up earlyish on Saturday, and as this was a holiday we didn’t bother with making breakfast – just popped over the road to a cafe for, in my case, a bacon and egg roll and a cup of coffee.

We had a bit of an ambitious mission in mind: Catching the train to Shanklin, walking to Ventnor for lunch, then on to Black Gang Chine, catching a bus to Newport and walking to nearby Carisbrooke Castle – then back to Newport and on to Ryde. Sweet, a nice mix of bush, beach and castle!

We headed down to the quay at Ryde and did not have to wait too long for the train to Shanklin, there is only a small line on the island and its sole train is an old London Underground ‘tube’ train.

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Shanklin is on the south side of the island and is very much an old beach town, I loved the old town theatre – still thriving and still showing family pantomimes, just like when I was a child.

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Before I went to New Zealand when I was eleven, I lived in North Cheam, a working class south London suburb. My neighbours on one side were an old couple Mr and Mrs Aubrey – the strawberries as I recall naming them. They were very interested in ancient history and collecting fossils and played a huge part in my fascination with old things, I still have the books they gave me as birthday presents – rare and treasured things left over from my childhood. The island and this section of Britain’s south coast are well known locations for fossil and stone hunters and it was nice to see that this is still the case.

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Like many of Britain’s small towns and villages Shanklin had a ‘new’ part and a historical old part, as we were on a mission we just passed through the quaint old part of the town as we headed for the coastal track.

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We found the coast walk easily enough – by following a map, one made of paper, not one made of Google – it was refreshing to work off a paper map for a change , I didn’t need to keep getting my glasses out to keep track of my location either!

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Soon we were heading out of town and over the cliff tops towards Ventnor, though there was not really much of a view as the horizon just blurred into the grey of the sky.

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It was a nice walk, through a mix of gentle forest and past the back of small villages and through the Bonchurch Landslips, a section of the coast that has been slowly sliding in to the sea for the past thousand of years so. Walking in rural Britain is always such a joy.

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We stopped at the lovely moss laden Wishing Seat and rested our butts on the rock worn smooth and slightly concave through the wear of a thousand butts before us.

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We stopped to admire the complete lack of view of the French coast, before coming into Bonchurch.

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We didn’t head up into the old village itself, just paid our respects to the lovely lovely St Boniface Church between the village and sea. I love the fact this church was rebuilt in 1070!

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Though in fact a lot of the church is far newer, mostly being finished only 500 or so years ago… Inside there is still some of the original fresco left.

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We reluctantly left the church and its grounds and carried on through the last of the landslips till we popped back out into the 20th century (not quite the 21st here !) just outside the town of Ventnor. As I said at the start I holidayed here when I was a child, and have a photo of my dad sitting on the concrete steps somewhere around here, smoking his pipe.

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I kind of like this old fashioned concreted beach front and wall – and I of course utterly hate it. It is part quaint and old fashioned and part hideously ugly and un-necessary. Neither side of the argument in my head particularly held a strong hand, and I left undecided about it. I wasn’t tempted to swim here though, hot and sweaty as I was.

We carried on walking to and then through Ventnor town, past the sort of pleasant beach and sat down for lunch in the pub at the far end of the beach.

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One of the things I loved about Ventor and its beach is that it summed all that is great about parts of the English coast. A kind of average beach, sort of sand, beach huts and deck chairs. Fabulous.

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Realising we would not be able to walk to Black Gang in the time we had left in the day, while we waited for lunch we checked out the bus timetable from Ventnor and then onwards to Newport. Public transport on the island is notoriously bad and off season on a Saturday was even worse, so we decided to flag Black Gang – much to my dismay ! Black Gang is one of the few real memories I have of my childhood holidays and I was quite looking forward to going there. We will just have to come back to the island again.

After a very average, yet expensive lunch we walked up the hill into central Ventnor with leaden legs and full bellies and just arrived in time to get the half hourly bus through to the administrative capital and centre(ish) of the island in Newport. From a tourist point of view there are few features in Newport, but a short walk from the busy bus centre is Carisbrooke Castle and a castle is always something to get excited about in my book.

I got into the habit of walking around the outside of ruins when I was in Cambodia looking at the Khymer ruins around Angkor. There was always less people on the perimeter and it provided a different perspective on what I saw, before following the more usual route through and around the centre.

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There has been a castle at Carisbrooke since Saxon times but construction of the castle we visited today was started around 1100 by the de Redvers family when they were gifted the island by the crown. The outer walls were added much later in 1588 when the infamous Spanish Armada came close to the island.

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Carisbrooke’s main claim to fame is being were the ex-king Charles 1 was imprisoned after his defeat in the English Civil War in 1647. It is a pretty awesome place and we really enjoyed our visit, though due to time pressure and being a bit knackered we did not stay as long as we could have.

Naturally I took a LOT of photos…

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After the castle visit, walking back into Newport and catching the bus to Ryde we did a bit of family visiting before heading out for a tea at a new local Thai place. The service was slow due to a few staffing issues, but we were not in a rush and the food was really really good, some of the best Thai I have had in the UK, it was also incredibly cheap and they gave us a free glass of wine each for making us wait – a very nice touch. I very rarely mention places I have eaten in or stayed at, but Ryde Thai – you were great !! We took a half an hour walk along the Esplanade after dinner to allow all that food to digest a bit before bed.

We were up pretty early on Sunday, the flat is on the main road in Ryde and it a bit noisy at night. With my complete lack of ability to sleep in anything other than ideal conditions I had a couple of restless nights, the street sweeper coming through about 5:30 am didn’t help much either. The streets were pretty quiet when we left for a pre-breakfast walk. The flat was above a shop.

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We walked back up the Esplanade again, looking for somewhere to stop for breakfast while I waited for the sun to crack through the low cloud, giving me a reason to get into the sea. The beach along here has some lovely sections and these are groomed over night to really make them shine.

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As I had damaged my new Canon G16 camera on my microadventure I had brought my increasingly unreliable Panasonic GX1 with me, and after a few moments yesterday it finally stopped working altogether this morning and this was the last photo I got.

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We had an incredibly average breakfast at a place on the waterfront, and then came across a cafe further along the beach at Puckpool that looked really nice, damnit… By this time the sun had finally hit the beach and it was soon time to be brave, take a concrete pill and get into the sea. El grabbed a picture on her phone of me shivering my way in to commemorate the occasion.

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It was a very quick swim, but I did get all the way in and made an effort. My swim for 2014 has been done !!

And that was it really. Weekend over. We walked back to the flat, packed and cleaned and headed back down to the ferry. A lovely weekend away. Sea, sand, sun, bush and beach – and castles. Magic.

Yay – Castles !

Day 261, Friday 21 September 2012 – Rochester

Comfortable as my bed is here I had an awful sleep and ended up not dragging myself reluctantly out until almost nine am. Pretty much when we left to go to the supermarket for the weekly shop. I picked up a few things for my Africa trip as well as a couple of bottles of cheap red to sup on over the week. Back at Jim’s I had a late breakfast, soon followed by lunch – I so love eating!

It was a nice day in Kent, cool but clear and I was keen to visit castles so Jim and I visited the town of Rochester a few miles away. I am reasonably sure I have never been there before, though I am sure mum will correct me if I am wrong!

The castle was started in Roman times and was built on extensively until Norman times in the early 11th century until it was involved in a series of sieges and rebuilds up until the early 14th century. Being quite close to London it was the scene of a number of minor historical events until it fell into disrepair late in the 18th century.

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It is quite cool that it has not seen much restoration.

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From the battlements there was a great view of Rochester Cathedral.

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The old part of Rochester town was quite nice as well and well worth a visit. Jim and I stopped for a cup of coffee, or in my case a hot chocolate as I am not a coffee drinker in the afternoon (or it seemed to my complete ignorance in the morning ) .

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I was deeply tired with a cracking headache and yawned my way back to Dartford and had to go and have a lie down when we got home.

I cooked a basic pasta meal for dinner and we watched a bit of TV before I went to bed.

it was nice to get out into the Kentish countryside.