For this latest post, I thought I’d start a round up of the castles we’ve visited over the past few weeks.
First up is Herstmonceux Castle, which I don’t think I’ve ever been to, even though my grandad used to work at the site when the Royal Observatory Greenwich moved there in the 40s and 50s. You can still visit the domes as part of a trip to the Science Centre next door (worth a post of its own), and you can now get joint tickets to visit both on the same day.
We went to the castle on a beautiful May day for the ‘Castle Connections’ event. This appeared to be a clandestine gathering as I couldn’t find any advertising for it and only discovered it because my dad handed me a flyer one day; the marketing strategy appears to have been based around the century it was set – about 1400 – which was, weirdly, quite refreshing.
Herbie, who is five now, has developed an enthusiastic interest in knights so was excited to see what was in store. I think we may have built up his hopes though as he was expecting full on Hollywood-style battles and what he actually got was a slightly portly middle-aged man explaining the mechanics of warfare through a slow dressing of replica armour. He was also most put out that he couldn’t actually go in the castle (it’s only open for guided tours) and kept trying to approach every door he found with an eye to squeezing through. Adding to his confusion was that the University of Canada has a base there, so he couldn’t work out why all these students could get in, yet he was unable to explore in search of armies.
He became further disgruntled when we visited the gift shop to find it was actually an ‘art’ shop with various different pictures and trinkets on display including, inexplicably, a really bad watercolour of Tina Turner for £65 – bargain. “Where are all the swords?” he asked the friendly lady at the till. “I’m sorry, we don’t do swords,” she said apologetically.
Herbie was keen to practice some archery too but we choose to visit the stand during a lunch break, where everyone had downed tools and refused to make eye contact, so we made our way to the falconry display instead, which the boys loved. Herbie was very excited and enthusiastically shouted “what’s that girl doing” as the man with surfer hair was preparing to begin.
We had forgotten any sun cream or a sun hat for Gus though so most of the display was spent by us fretting that both the boys were cooking in the mid-day heat whilst we tried to unsuccessfully cover the baby’s head with a bib.
The gardens and grounds at the castle are expansive and there is a small visitor centre, which details the history of the site. But the facilities can appear a bit dated, so the attraction simultaneously manages to present centuries of history whilst also being stuck in the recent past – about 1953 at a guess.
But that means that it has remained untouched by the ‘theme park’ style overhauls of bigger sites, and that is a plus for us.