Cas­tle’s cas­tles

One day, eight Nor­folk land­marks...

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

HER­ITAGE and cas­tles; they go to­gether like toast and mar­malade, gin and tonic, More­cambe and Wise.

As no edi­tion with his­tory as a theme would be com­plete with­out a smat­ter­ing of motte, bai­ley and keep I won­dered which of Nor­folk’s fine mon­u­ments I’d in­clude in this is­sue. And then a light­bulb mo­ment – all of them; and I’d visit them all, in a day, in a 21st cen­tury quest.

I had no mighty warhorse, but I did have a bright yel­low mo­tor­cy­cle; I had no suit of chain mail and bur­nished steel helm, but I did have trews of kevlar and a hel­met of poly­car­bon­ate. I checked the la­bels but they spoke only of re­sis­tance to abra­sion; no men­tion of pro­tec­tion against hal­berd and boil­ing oil but no mat­ter, the quest was on.

Plot­ting the route was sim­ple enough. I’d run clock­wise from my home just west of Nor­wich, spin through the fortresses which are mostly on our county bor­ders and end up at the daddy of them all, Nor­wich Cas­tle.

So on a sunny Satur­day morn­ing I pointed my trusty steed in the di­rec­tion of the first port of call, New Buck­en­ham Cas­tle, surely one of our less well-known his­toric sites, tucked away on the edge of the vil­lage near At­tle­bor­ough.

It is so tucked away that I couldn’t find it, but a friendly lo­cal gave me di­rec­tions, in­struct­ing me to knock on the door of the big house nearby and bor­row the key to the gate – the cas­tle is pri­vately owned.

The own­ers were out, or at least not an­swer­ing the door to wannabe knights on a quest, but un­daunted I walked up the grassy path to the gates and caught a tan­ta­lis­ing glimpse of an­cient stonework through a leafy tun­nel, all look­ing rather mag­i­cal in the early sun­light.

On to the next mon­u­ment, Thet­ford Cas­tle mound, an im­pres­sive heap on the fringe of the town sadly lack­ing in any ac­tual ru­ins but still an in­ter­est­ing place to visit. I climbed the 88 steps of what must be the most un­sym­pa­thet­i­cally ugly stairs ever to dis­grace a mon­u­ment, took in the views and some oxy­gen and moved on to stop three, Cas­tle Acre, near Swaffham.

This is a very handsome piece of his­tory, some­where that gives you a real sense of scale and power even though only a rel­a­tively small amount of stonework re­mains. The sur­viv­ing shapes out­line an im­pres­sive motte and bai­ley struc­ture and what would have been a very deep moat.

A short gal­lop brought me to the even more im­pres­sive Cas­tle Ris­ing and a Vik­ing who ap­par­ently wanted to test out the ef­fi­cacy of my ar­moured trousers with a wor­ry­ing nasty-look­ing spear. It was all in good fun of course – he was one of scores of his­toric re-en­ac­tors adding a spe­cial flavour to the place for the week­end. Cas­tle Ris­ing re­ally is a fine sight, na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant for the sur­viv­ing stone keep and mighty earth­works, but I was only half­way through

my quest, dark clouds were rolling across the sky and so I had to sad­dle up and move on.

In me­dieval days a trav­el­ling knight would have had to en­dure poorly-made roads and the risk of fall­ing foul of rob­ber barons; all I had to en­dure was poor­ly­made roads and the risk of fall­ing foul of rob­ber barons up from Lon­don for the week­end belt­ing about in 4x4s but I rolled un­mo­lested into the sun­lit quiet of Ba­con­sthorpe Cas­tle, not far from Holt. It is a beau­ti­ful set­ting, the build­ings less of a state­ment of mil­i­tary might than some of the others, but the ex­ten­sive ru­ins are still a grand sight and the story of the rise and fall of the Hey­don fam­ily a fas­ci­nat­ing one.

There was a sin­gle car in the car park but I seemed to be the only soul among the ru­ins as I wan­dered around, soak­ing up the calm­ing at­mos­phere and watch­ing the swans on the lake.

I needed re­fu­elling so paused at It­ter­ing­ham com­mu­nity shop for a Coke and a Mars Bar – only this be­ing north Nor­folk I came away with a can of blood or­ange San Pel­le­grino and a slab of as­ton­ish­ingly good home-made tif­fin. The shop and café, in­ci­den­tally, is un­der threat of clo­sure – I do hope they can work some­thing out be­cause it re­ally is a fan­tas­tic lit­tle place.

By now the dark clouds at Cas­tle Ris­ing had scud­ded across the county and caught

up with me and as I put­tered to­wards Cais­ter Cas­tle the light­ning flashed and the sky cracked with thun­der; it was a sign. It was a sign that I should have done my re­search prop­erly as Cais­ter Cas­tle is closed on Satur­days.

So with icy wa­ter seep­ing into the chinks in my ar­mour, I turned my mount south and splashed to­wards Burgh Cas­tle, south of Great Yar­mouth.

This was a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence again; Burgh Cas­tle is way out on the marshes, sur­rounded by broad mead­ows, the sky filled with bird­song. It is the old­est cas­tle by a mar­gin, built by the Ro­mans in the 3rd cen­tury and re­mains an im­pres­sive sight, with three great walls sur­viv­ing.

The storm had passed and in wa­tery evening sun­shine I headed for the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion, Nor­wich Cas­tle. For 900 years it has dom­i­nated the city skyscape and needs no in­tro­duc­tion to most of us. I parked up, took in the great fil­i­greed sug­ar­cube of a build­ing and turned for home. I had clocked up 208.7 miles on this slightly bonkers tour.

I’m glad I did it, be­cause I will go back to each in turn, spend some proper time there and learn a lit­tle more about the her­itage of our home county and prop­erly ap­pre­ci­ate these great as­sets.

But I’ll do them one at a time and I’ll check when they’re open.

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