Tag Archives: castles

Not quite peaceful countryside: Ilford Manor and Farleigh Hungerford Castle

You can get the train to Freshford, I don’t know why we had never done this, for it looks like there are several lovely walks to be done from here. There is also a lovely pub with the best lemon crumble I have ever had in my life. It is, you know, redolent of rich people, but for a day that’s quite all right. And really, this walk was all about the violence hidden in the tranquility of the countryside, made possible by wealth inequality really.

You follow narrow lanes from the station to Ilford Manor — I didn’t think the gardens would be open but they were. A description from the website:

The Grade-1 listed gardens were designed by Harold Peto during his tenure at Iford from 1899-1933, and represent one of the finest examples of steeply terraced hillside gardening in the UK. They are characterised by colonnades, pools and steps, and offer magnificent rural views over the valley.

They are beautiful gardens though a bit small perhaps. I particularly loved the millstones set into the paving stones, the stairs up hillsides with their cascades of daisies, lovely borders, the smell of rosemary, wisteria everywhere. Quite a wonderful sculpture of a dog scratching itself.

Ilford Manor

But behind it you can see the sarcophagus — whose? There is a pond full of waterlilies, wisteria growing in bush form in a great circle around it which is quite beautiful — I haven’t seen it like that. And then suddenly you realise the statue of the old sage is actually holding what looks like a dog and the water pours from the wound in its breast.

Ilford Manor

There is a cloister, and likewise it is full of carvings of hawks and kestrels hunting hares and partridges, that moment of capture and cruel claws seen also in a lion holding a pig, and suddenly this beautiful garden felt quite a cruel place. Not least from the worry over the provenance of these old scraps of carving, columns and statuary collected from around the world…

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From there we followed footpaths down the side of the River Frome to reach Farleigh Hungerford Castle. There is not much of it left, it is true, but more than would appear upon first glance. A quite incredible chapel, I am still not entirely sure how it fits within these ruins, approached as you might the center of a snail shell through a walled garden behind which rise the ruins.

Freshford Walk

Freshford Walk

There are burials here too, but at least you are quite sure that they belong here. The old, unexpected colours restored, but this families disappointing obsession with their own ancestry also on view.

Freshford Walk

Underneath a crypt, rather terrifying lead coffins. The kid who came down behind us legged it.

Freshford Walk

This family has only violence to make it stand out, really. It was built in the 1370s but Sir Thomas Hungerford, steward of John of Gaunt — I do appreciate that he was the first recorded speaker of the House of Commons. Yet he destroyed the local village to make way for the park alongside the castle. The family did well in the 100 years war, made a fortune through kidnapping Frenchmen and demanding ransom. The beautiful chapel had been a parish church, but became a private one when the walls were expanded around it. In 1523, Lady Agnes Hungerford was hanged with two of her servants for murdering her first husband, John Cottell. They waited to bring her to trial until her second husband Sir Edward Hungerford died (a natural death it seems, but his desire to marry Agnes was, of course, her motive). Given her first husband was strangled and burned within the walls of the castle itself — well.

The ‘Lady Tower’ here is so called because it was used to imprison Elizabeth Hungerford, wife of Sir Edward’s son, over a period of months. She also accused him of attempting to poison her. Sadly, this is not the reason he was executed. He was executed on charges of treason and ‘unnatural vice’ (almost makes you like him) after his patron Thomas Cromwell fell from grace with Henry VIII.

His grandson would go on to accuse his wife of adultery and an attempt to poison him. He lost the court case, refused to pay her costs and went to jail. The castle was lost to the family by Sir Edward ‘The Spendthrift’, who gambled and frivolised away the fortune under Charles II and was forced to sell it.

I don’t really know why anyone thought aristocracy a good idea. But someone here did own this lovely little thing created to tamp down tobacco in the bowl of a pipe:

Freshford Walk

I do also love ruins, probably because they are ruins and reminders that all tyranny must pass.

Freshford Walk

Though it felt good and fresh and clean to escape into the countryside, down along the other side of the river.

Freshford Walk

Freshford Walk

We also passed the site of an old priory where the lay brothers once lived attached to the Carthusian Priory of Hinton. Little remains but the practice of farming (pigs, bees, lovely vegetable gardens) and some of the old cottages (now with solar panels) and this sign showing what it once resembled:

Freshford Walk

And then back to Freshford. The countryside is so beautiful here, but sprinkled about with absurd mansions being too close to Bath for comfort.

Freshford Walk

Freshford Walk

But the Inn at Freshford, as I say… incredible cakes, ales, full of dogs and beautiful in itself.

Aberystwyth Castle, Sunset

Built as a diamond-shaped, concentric fortress, this stone piled up by Edward I to maintain control over the Welsh now stands ruined, almost impossible to imagine it as it once was. What better fate for monuments to war and occupation, and yet… my deep love for these bloodied stone skeletons shames me. The original castle on this particular spot was built by Llywelyn the Great (c1172-1240). He built a chain of castles from Tegeingl to Meirionydd — it paralleled the English chain from Cardigan to Montgomery. After initiating his campaign to subdue the Welsh, in 1277 Edward ordered his power solidified and embodied and exerted through architecture–updated to withstand all the new technologies of war–in 1277. But not the pounding of the waves. It was already falling down when turned against the English for a time by Owain Glyndwr in 1404. Cromwell completed the task, pounding the Roundheads within.

The townsfolk very sensibly used the stones to help build their town.

It was chance that brought us here at dusk, with a fierce wind that chased everyone else away. Strange to be so alone in this place huddled up to homes and buildings, open to the public to clamber and crawl. I loved that what remains of this place is so open to all, a breath of history knitted into the town itself in the way it is placed. Only the photographer in me cursed the many welcoming benches. In one hidden corner sat a cluster of teenage girls listening to the radio and laughing, the great stone walls sheltering them from the wind.

I did not mind one three-sided room we could not explore.

I wondered where you could see these same stones made humble and domestic in the town’s architecture, still ringing to the sound of Welsh you hear everywhere here.

Aberystwth Castle

Everything else stopped for a while as we looked up towards Pen Dinas where the Iron Age hill fort stood, and along the coast in either direction until the sea swallowed up the sun.

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Pieskowa Skała and Ogrodzieniec Castle

Ania drove and drove selflessly (if interestingly) until we found hills, then wonderful pillars of limestone and then Pieskowa Skała above a wildflowered hillside.

Pieskowa Skała

Pieskowa Skała castle, built by King Casimir III the Great, is one of the best-known examples of a defensive Polish Renaissance architecture. It was erected in the first half of the 14th century as part of the chain of fortified castles called Orle Gniazda (Eagles Nests), along the highland plane of the Polish Jura extending north-west from Kraków to the city of Częstochowa.

The castle was rebuilt in 1542–1544 by Niccolò Castiglione with participation from Gabriel Słoński of Kraków. The sponsor of the castle’s reconstruction in the mannerist style was the Calvinist, Stanisław Szafraniec, voivode of Sandomierz.

Old and new fortifications blending one into the other into a unified whole.

Pieskowa Skała

A courtyard full of flowers, and below a lovely formal garden to be admired from a height.

Pieskowa Skała

A display of ‘English’ paintings in three rooms, all of them copies of Constable and Reynolds among others, or attributed to most questionably. Wonderful faces staring down at us from the inner courtyard.

Pieskowa Skała

A wonderful collection of gothic art.

Pieskowa Skała

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From there Ania drove us to Ogrodzieniec Castle, a very different kind of place though also part of this same group of fortifications along the Jura. We walked up a long road lined by stalls selling the most wonderful and terrible of Polish kitsch — at its best funny painted wooden cats and owls which I rather coveted, at its worst plastic Uzis and AK-47s. There was a house of horrors to the right, a fun fair to the left, the screaming of children, rides, balloons. The castle was crawling with people, and more selling of kitsch in the main courtyard but at times its atmosphere and history were recoverable. It is most beautiful:

Ogrodzieniec CastleEstablished in the early 12th century, during the reign of Bolesław III Wrymouth (Polish: Bolesław Krzywousty), the first stronghold was razed by the Tatars in 1241. In the mid-14th century a new gothic castle was built here to accommodate the Sulimczycy family.

One of its owners created a beautiful marble room for his lady, which was destroyed — among several waves of destruction — by Swedish troops during The Deluge. Fitting, then, perhaps, that I am slowly getting through the first half of the second book in Henryk Sinkiewicz’s trilogy. A beautiful view of what they were fighting for apart from wealth and fame and power…

Ogrodzieniec Castle

The other view is looking down on the gauntlet of consumption, and the miniature park created so you don’t actually have to visit real castles but can see them all in one place.

Miniatures seen from Ogrodzieniec Castle

Pieskowa Skała is castle as national history and heritage, Ogrodzieniec is castle as camp and consumption. As theme park.

Hopeless to feel any of the other famous history of the place among a horde of holiday makers:

According to some investigators of paranormal phenomena, the Ogrodzieniec Castle is a place haunted by mighty dark powers. There have been locally famous reports of the “Black Dog of Ogrodzieniec” being seen prowling the ruins in the night-time. Witnesses have claimed that the spectre is a black dog much larger than an ordinary dog, and is supposed to have burning eyes and pull away a heavy chain. The dog is believed to be the soul of the Castellan of Cracow, Stanisław Warszycki. Interestingly, his soul also haunts the ruins of the Dańków Castle, where it appears as a headless horseman.

They did try, however. Perhaps.

Ogrodzieniec Castle

Ogrodzieniec Castle

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It has been a funny time, days spent listening and coming to grips with this entirely-new-to-me new materialism, speculative realism, weird realism and object-oriented ontology — theories that I think are sometimes useful, sometimes so not useful. I am so grateful, though, that I was able to come to this conference, and even more so for a lovely weekend  spent with new friends and getting to know such a beautiful place.

And yet the news. God the news. The shootings of the police in Dallas, two more black men killed by cops, latinos killed by cops, violence soaring so this from facebook on Friday:

news relentlessly unfolds and violence and injustice and death and lives twisted by this world we’ve created, and hearts breaking and so my love goes out to everyone but especially to all those whose skin is darker than mine, I am thinking and worrying about you so much, every day, I hope you stay safe and stay whole. Take care of one another, know where we stand and who we stand with and fight to change things for the better in ways big and small wherever we are…I suppose that is all we can do?

It is hard to know even how to react anymore. Much of our conversation here has been about the turns to the right, the rising of violence. Poland has its own worries…it is good to find people who stand against this tide.

More posts on Poland:

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