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Here Comes Treble: A Fairy-tale Visit

Isabel Bradley visits Bodiam Castle - a castle from fairy-tales with its towers and turrets reflected in the wide, still moat, forbidding grey walls softened by the pale-green spring branches of massive trees that waved in the sharp breeze.

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It was a bright and blustery day in April when Leon and I visited Bodiam Castle with Leon’s son, Anton, and our friends Roger and Nina. Nina told us that a visit to Bodiam was always her favourite treat as a child, when her parents took the family there for birthday picnics in the grounds.

We parked, then walked towards the fairy-tale castle. Its towers and turrets reflected in the wide, still moat, forbidding grey walls softened by the pale-green spring branches of massive trees that waved in the sharp breeze.

Looking at this photogenic sight, I was distressed to see that it was already filled with tourists, milling around behind the walls, and drawing attention to themselves in their red jackets and windbreakers. Those in red were the ones I noticed most, standing out in the lens of my camera, and I muttered imprecations against them to my tall stepson as we ambled along the pathway. He was polite enough not to comment. About an hour later, as we crossed the land bridge to the entrance of the castle, I happened to look down and caught sight of the red jacket that I was wearing. Embarrassment made my face match my jacket… I would stand out in other peoples’ pictures, and possibly even be cursed by them.

After watching the ducks in the moat and marvelling at the size of the fish that sailed through the water, Anton and I explored the ruined chapel, hall, kitchen, courtyard and bedrooms of this extraordinary place. I was rather glad of my red jacket, as the breeze contained strong undercurrents of ice. Spring in England is colder than expected for those of us from warmer, southern climates.

The views from the various-shaped arrow-slit windows were beautiful. Thankful for the convenience of digital photography, I clicked away indiscriminately: textures of stone, cracks high up the walls, doors high up that would now open onto a dreadful drop, floors of upper storeys seen from below, a turret viewed through a hole in a roof, graffiti scratched into a window embouchure in 1785, all were fascinating and irresistible. The sun peaking from behind a ruined wall, lighting the emerald courtyard, the voices of children and adults laughing and calling as they climbed spiral stairways, all gave the day a special taste of magic.

Anton and I clambered up every one of those daunting spiral stairways, thankful for the modern addition of steel hand-rails. How, I wondered, could anyone run up and down such tortuous inventions in long skirts, carrying pails of water, or trays of food and drink without falling headlong? The people who lived in castles such as this must have been a lot smaller than we are. Anton, a willowy six foot three, was continually stooping through doorways. Those staircases were extraordinarily narrow as well as steep.

At the top of one of the towers, we paused to cool down after the climb, and looking back across the courtyard, where the chapel had once been, we spied a miniature Leon and Nina sitting on a bench. We waved, and they waved back. My red jacket was at least had its use, making me recognisable at a distance.

The number of ‘garde-robes’ or loos, once opening directly into the moat, astounded me. They were all thoroughly sealed now, but almost everyone living in the upper rooms of the castle when it was occupied, had a loo-en-suite. What luxury… Washing, I supposed, was a little more difficult, particularly considering the presumed state of the water in the moat after the emptying of all those loos... It was with relief that I discovered that water used for cooking, and cleaning came from a separate well near the kitchen. Our ancestors must have been mighty tough, immune to all sorts of nasty bugs!

This beautiful castle, with its ruined insides and almost fully-restored outer walls, was built in 1395 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, with permission from King Richard II. Apparently, permission was given for Sir Edward to crenellate his manor house, but instead he built the castle, the moat and a millpond, down the hill from the original manor. It existed, supposedly, to guard the South of England from the French, but it never actually saw battle, though it was besieged twice. After its occupants surrendered during the Civil War, the inside was deliberately destroyed.

In 1829, John Fuller paid three thousand pounds for the romantic ruin which Bodiam Castle had become. Some time later, Lord Aschcombe bought it from the Fuller family, and later still, Lord Curzon purchased it. Each worked on restoring Bodiam to its former glory, but only succeeded in completing the outer walls. The Castle was bequeathed by Lord Curzon to the National Trust.

Bodiam has been used in several films, the most famous being the part it played as ‘Swamp Castle’ in Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

Anton and I thoroughly enjoyed our strenuous hours exploring the ruins of Bodiam, and I have more marvellous photos than I can use to help me remember our time there.

Our day at beautiful Bodiam Castle took me back to childhood, when Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel lived in castles with towers and turrets, when wicked witches, evil step-mothers and nasty little men took incredible advantage and meted out abuse left, right and centre, but also a time when Good triumphed over Evil and heroines lived happily ever after…

Until next time, …. ‘here comes Treble!’

By Isabel Bradley © Copyright Reserved


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