The Last Wall of the Castle

Posted on 13th June 2011

Back in September 2008, Dan and I were fortunate enough to discover a special event happening at the Weoley Castle ruins. The event was one of only a few open days for the ruins, which allowed us to actually walk around the ruins, as well as being given a walking tour of the ruins.

The event was fantastic, and there was the hope that these sort of events would happen again. In addition there were plans to open a special education centre, so children on school trips could come and learn about the history of the castle and the area. Over the last year, Birmingham City Council have spent £1.14 million on improving the site and completing the education centre for future generations.

All the improvements couldn't have happened without Heritage Lottery funding and English Heritage. In recognition of the improvements, the site has been put forward for the Best Heritage Projects category of the National Lottery Awards. It has been successful enough to now be in the public semi-final.

The site is now looking for public support to reach the final. To support the Weoley Castle ruins, you can vote either online or phone. For further details see the B31 Blog article. Go vote, the castle really does deserve your support.

File Under: birmingham / castles
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Living In The Past

Posted on 2nd September 2010

For a day out during the summer holidays, Nicole and I looked at places to visit that where children friendly, as well as interesting. I was surprised to discover that The Lunt Roman Fort was somewhere we had passed so often, but had never noticed. Although you can see the A45 from the fort, it isn't as easy to see the fort from the road, due to the trees all around now. All those years ago the fort would have had a very good vantage point across the landscape.

The fort itself is in the village of Baginton, which is south of Coventry City Centre and about a mile north of Coventry Airport (hence why its former name is Baginton Airport). However, the fort's biggest failing is advertising itself via road signs. There were very few, and had I not already seen the map of how to get there online, I could quite easily made a wrong turn. I wonder how many more visitors they might get if only they could direct people, as road signs would also help promote the fort to those who drive along the A45 or A46 fairly often. In all the times I've passed by in the last 20 or so years, I only found out about the place because of the internet! Getting there aside, the place is well worth a visit.

The original fort, being primarily wood based, has long since gone, and the buildings there today have been reconstructed based on the original drawings and layout from the roman times. There are stone and earthworks on the ground, so you can still see where many of the buildings would have been, but The Main Gate, Granary Building and Gyrus have all been careful reconstructed, and give a great impression of what the whole layout of buildings might have looked like. The Granary Building is the central museum full of artifacts, replica outfits and games, together with a 3D model of what the whole fort would have looked like. For the kids they have a little booklet to use to search for things around the site. It's well worth using as your guide, as it gave us a reason to have a closer look at the site.

The Main Gate to the south is the main entrance to the site, and on the approach you can see the ditches either side of you that were dug around the fort. The gate itself has a lookout tower, which unfortunately isn't accessible to the public, but it would provide a commanding view of the area. I wouldn't be surprised to be able to see some of the landmarks of Coventry and even Warwick on a clear day. You can climb up to the initial battlements level, and that still provides a great view, although apart from the airport nothing noteworthy is visible from this height, due to the nearby trees.

Next we headed over to the Gyrus. It's essentially a training area, both for horses and men. The ground is extremely sandy, to avoid injuries from falls. There were stables here, which are now only visible by their foundations. There would have been several hundred men posted here too, centurions and officers. The difference between the two clearly marked by the types of foundations of the buildings they would have lived in. The officers quarters looking rather more grand is space, while the centurions would have lived in long buildings that are probably the same as barracks we know of today.

The site was originally discovered in the 1930s when several pieces of Roman pottery were found. Then in the 1960s further excavations uncovered all the foundations to the various buildings. The buildings were reconstructed in the 1970s, when the site was finally opened tothe public.

Although it is a small site to visit, we spent roughly 90 minutes wandering around, there is a lot to discover and understand about the site. The kids loved dressing up in the replica outfits, as did Nicole, and they also enjoyed playing the ancient games. Dan completed the competition in the booklet and won himself an ancient coin. We had a great time exploring the fort, and would definitely recommend a visit. If you wanted to spend a full day out, then there is also the Midland Air Museum about half a mile down the road. We were hungry and heading for pizza, so we didn't get the chance. Combe Abbey Country Park is also very close by too, so taking an hour or so out to visit The Lunt Roman Fort too, is well worth it.

For the full set of photos, click here.

File Under: castles / photography / sightseeing
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In The Court Of The Crimson King

Posted on 31st October 2008

This week is half term, so the plan was to visit a few places locally. On Monday DanDan and I had been left to our own devices, so we headed off to see more castles. This time we ventured into Wales, or at least just across the border. Unfortunately it seems I wasn't checking the settings correctly on the camera, and some of the photos came out a little too over exposed. I was quite impressed with Raglan Castle, aside from being a very reasonable entrance fee, the castle although not huge, is full of hidey holes and cellars to explore. The keep, like many we've visited recently, still has most of it's stairs up to the tower intact, and you are allowed up to look at the view.

Following the visit to Raglan Castle our plan was to visit Symonds Yat Rock then onto Goodrich Castle. Unfortunately we were too late getting to Goodrich Castle so we'll have to leave that for another time. Just a short way back over the border back into England, near Ross-on-Wye, is Symonds Yat. Now there are two Symonds Yat villages, which confused DanDan and I while we tried to find Symonds Yat Rock. We first visited Symonds Yat West, which resides in Herefordshire on the eastern bank of the River Wye. Then upon realising our mistake, we turned around and headed for Symonds Yat East in Gloucestershire, finally finding Symonds Yat Rock. The view across each side of the peak is impressive, though the eastern side is mostly of interest for ornithologists, due to the Peregrine Falcons that have returned to the area. It's a shame you can't quite see the original hill fort any more, although driving out of the car park you do follow between two of the mounds and trenches.

On Tuesday morning we had glorious sunshine, so the plan to go to Dudley Castle & Zoo seemed quite a good idea at the time. By the time we got there it was a little overcast and a bit drizzly, but we figured it would blow over. Having paid quite a substantial amount of money for want amounts to an out-of-season visit, the rain started to get a little heavier. As it was lunchtime we headed for food first, but afterwards it was still raining. We attempted to do some indoor activities, as much as we could, but the rain wasn't giving up. After a few hours of perseverance we admitted defeat and decided to walk back down to exit and the car. At this point the rain turned into snow! Had we known how the weather was going to turn, I doubt we'd have gone for a day out. The castle and the zoo themselves do look like they would be a good day out during better weather, but many of the animals were inside and trying to take photos in the rain is not the brightest of ideas when you have a decent camera. I was considering not include photos here, due to the drops of rain and snow on the lens, but then it was all part of a memorable day out :)

Enjoy the photos.

File Under: castles / photography / sightseeing
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Dancin' in the Ruins

Posted on 21st October 2008

A few weeks back, I took DanDan to visit Ludlow Castle. Unusually for the weather we've been having, it was a fantastic sunny day. On the trip over there were a few view points that we really should have stopped at, as the view looking West as we came over the hills, was much better than those looking East. However, it was easier to stop and look East. At one point where we stopped, the area allows for sheep to run free, as cattle grids either side of the hilltop stop them straying too far. One decided to investigate DanDan further :)

When we finally arrived in Ludlow, we headed towards Castle Square, hoping to find a nearby car park. Our luck was in, as an on street parking spot was free right outside the castle entrance. It also turned out to be market day, but being a Sunday was more or the car-boot kind of market day, than a regular one. As we were here to see the castle, we didn't spend too much time in the town itself. Hopefully we'll get the chance to do that another time, as there looks to be some great buildings around the network of streets.

Ludlow Castle itself is an old medieval castle, that has gone through a few transformations and was once a Royal Castle. Not quite as grand as Windsor Castle maybe, but I can imagine the place was a sight to behold in its day. Much of the stone work has seen better days, but there is enough standing for you to get a good idea of what the castle must have looked like. You explore up the towers and down into the cubby holes, and discover some fantastic views.

I haven't looked at DanDan's photos yet, but he did seem to have a lot of fun with the camera. After we'd been up the first tower, that stands outside of the main fortress, DanDan handed me the camera. He then proceeded to run round the entire outer wall and buildings. I shgould have filmed him, as there were a few other visitors completely bemused by his mad dash! Once inside the main fortress, I took lots of photo opportunities. With the light being so bright outside, those shots have unsurprisingly come out the best. The more darkened pictures I struggled with. It was a shame as some of the hidden rooms tell some interesting stories.

Seeing as it was just DanDan and I, we're hoping to go back again with Nicole and Ethne at some point, so hopefully by then I'll have got the hang of photographing in subdued light. Will also take more time to take photos of other parts of the town. If you're ever stuck for somewhere to go for the day, Ludlow comes highly recommended.

File Under: castles / photography / sightseeing
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Castles and Dreams

Posted on 29th September 2008

Discovering local history can be quite fun at times. I've lived in and around Birmingham for the past 12 years, and there is certainly a lot history I've discovered already. However, there has been one part I never knew existed until recently. While planning the trip to Ludlow Castle and Richards Castle last weekend with DanDan, I came across a page listing Weoley Castle. Now Weoley Castle is an area of South Birmingham, that is slightly North of where I live now, and slightly south of where I used to live when I first moved to Birmingham. I've driven through the area many times between Northfield and Harborne, but never knew that the remains of the castle ruins still existed. Although to be fair it isn't a castle in the grand sense, but a fortified manor house. Not that that should deter you from visiting it.

So on Saturday, DanDan and I took a drive over to the Weoley Castle Ruins. Having read the web page, we were prepared to only see the ruins from the viewing area. But seeing as it's a bit of local history I wasn't too bothered about that. As it turned out, our arrival at the site couldn't have been better timed. We'd just started taking pictures, when a woman walked passed the other side of fence, in medieval attire befitting of the lady of the house. She and the guy walking with her, walked up on to the ruins, where she posed for a photo. As they walked back, the woman paused and told us that if we wanted to come back later at either 2pm or 3pm, there would be a storytelling and we would be allowed into the ruins to have a look round. Not wanting to miss a golden opportunity, DanDan and I headed home for lunch and picked up Nicole and Ethne.

We arrived in time for the 3pm event, and walked with about 40 others up into the ruins by the last surviving apple tree, of those that had originally stood there. Then the show began. The woman we had seen earlier announced herself as Joan de Botetourt, lady of the castle. Over the course of about half an hour or more, she took us around the rooms of the castle, telling us about each room, the history of the castle and the de Botetourt family history. All completely in character. The show and storytelling were fantastic and I was so glad we had happened to come and visit the ruins in the morning. The storyteller turned out to be Anna O'Brien of Annamation, one of a troupe who frequently do this kind of storytelling, particularly at the Barber Institute by Birmingham University, where they re-enact paintings.

I took the opportunity to take LOTS of photos, and it was a wonderful day to take them too. I spoke with one of the organisers, who had come over to ask if I was a professional photographer or did it as a hobby. Reassuring her I was most definbitely an amateur, she told me about their plans for the site. Unfortunately they had been turned down to open a visitors centre, but they now have plans to open a school room. Although some local schools do take advantage of the opportunities to have the children taken around the ruins, not too many do, and occasionally rain means tours get cancelled. A dedicated school room means more schools can plan visits regardless of the weather, and much more planned activities.

It was a brilliant afternoon, and I'm so glad that Birmingham Museums And Galleries put on these sorts of events every so often. If you ever spot the chance to go and tour the ruins, especially if Annamation are doing the storytelling, then go. You will be thoroughly entertained.

File Under: birmingham / castles / museum / photography / sightseeing
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Dans Le Parc Du Chateau Noir

Posted on 21st September 2008

Today DanDan and I went to visit Ludlow Castle for the day. It was a nice sunny day and we had a great time walking round, and there'll be photos of that later. However, afterwards, seeing as it was only a few miles from Ludlow, we headed off to find the ruins of Richard's Castle. It proved rather tricky, and had I done my homework better beforehand we might have been a bit more successful. Our first hitch was getting confused by the two Richards Castle village within a short distance of each other, one in Shropshire the other in Hereford. The one in Hereford is where the ruins are. All I knew was that the ruins were near St Bartholomew's Church.

Heading towards the Hereford village, having just gone through the Shropshire one, I spotted a small signpost heading off down a one-track road. After about a mile we saw a church, and then a hand painted sign saying "TO THE CASTLE AND CHURCH". Great, we found it ... or so we thought. We walked up to the church, and indeed it was St Bartholomew's. But we couldn't spot any earthworks or walls as I'd seen one website. There was a large sign showing how the castle had once looked and the history of it, but no further signs as to where any of the actual castle stood. We walked around the church and apart from the gravestones, drew a blank. We ended up heading back and never got to see the parts of the castle that are still visible. It was only after getting home and reading several other pages on the internet, that I suddenly discovered that we had to follow the path down through the lower cemetary into the woods. We were in spitting distance of the wall ... just the wrong side to be able to see it!

The moral of this story is that if you are planning to visit somewhere that is likely to be well hidden, get as much background as possible. It would have been nice for someone to have added another sign from the church pointing us in the right direction, but at least we know next time we go. Seeing as it's only 30 miles away, it isn't that far. For anyone finding this post who is planning to find the place as well, here are some help hints, so you don't miss out like we did. Here is a map link you might want to open in another browser window first. The church should be in the centre of the map, with a square tower (the bell tower) to the right. On the left, to the upper left and lower left you will see gravestones. Between the gravestones in the lower left part of the cemetary is a path. Walk along this to the woods. Look to your right and the wall should be there.

Further links for the castle history itself are on the Castle Wales site and the Hereford Council site. Even if you don't find it, there are some lovely views along the way. We had a nice drive anyway, and it was still a lovely day out. More on the rest of our adventures later :)

File Under: castles / sightseeing
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