Sunday, 10 April 2011

Corfe Castle



I thought that, since I had mentioned it in the previous post, I would look up Corfe Castle in Dorset, and I came upon this potted history.

It seems as though it was inhabited right up until it received some attention from the bloke who banned Christmas a few hundred years ago. There is a good inhabited castle at Dunster on the North Somerset coast, and when H.I. and I went around it a few years ago, it was the home of possibly the last surviving family member who lived in a couple of the smaller rooms, surrounded by little framed pictures of children and grand-children, together with older photos of other, long-dead family members. It felt a little intrusive walking around their living-room, gawping at the old lady's knick-knacks. Dunster towers over the village in an imposing way, so the contrast between the threatening exterior and homely interior is quite touching really - like finding out that the hostile old man next door is, in reality, just shy.

What amazes me about these European castles is that they had enough time to build them in the first place. If they were built in anticipation of conflict between a ruler who lived in London and a dissenting noble family, then you would think that the ruler's intelligence system would inform him that the castle had begun to be built within about 2 or 3 weeks of the start - it's not as if you could keep an object of this size - perched on the top of a hill - under wraps until completion.

London is probably about 2 or 3 days ride from Corfe, and the castle keep would most likely have taken several hundred workers about 1 year to complete, before they started to build the adjoining walls and out-buildings inside them. I suppose that the granting of land-deeds and the creation of noblemen by the ruler was one way that the King tried to ensure loyalty and allegiance from local war-lords. It must have been quite a gamble though, allowing some little despot to form his own army by extracting taxes from the peasants who lived within the shadow of his fortified house.

I suppose that is the reason why Cromwell went around the country with his 'New Model Army', making breaches in the 10 foot thick walls of these places to render them indefensible. One of the few, large, English, moated castles to survive is the confusingly named 'Leeds Castle' (it is in Kent), and it is still so well defended, that they have held high-security talks there between American Presidents and other heads of state. Maybe Cromwell went all the way up to Yorkshire looking for it in vain, then gave up?

The time before last that we tried to go to Studland Bay on a warm summer's day, so did about 200,000 other people - literally. The 3 mile road that leads between Corfe Castle and the beach was utterly blocked with traffic, and everyone was trying to turn around in the tiny, narrow lane and give up the idea of finding a clear spot on the beach to sit. It took us about half an hour to turn the car around in the sweltering heat, and we just got back onto the main road and back to Bath, only having glimpsed the sea from about 4 miles away.

When I took the photo above, it was a fine day in the middle of the week, and there were about 10 people on a 2 mile stretch of beach. Today it is another fine day, but a Sunday. I wonder how many people are on Studland beach as I write?


  1. It's so beautiful in the pictures and reading the history is fascinating! You are right though, going to see something and having it be so crowded makes it less special. It's fun to find a treasure that is beautiful and peaceful. I love taking a ride in the hills that surround us rather than go see attractions that are tourist places.
    Good post!

  2. The last time I travelled to Studland beach was on the back of a motorbike. That was about 30 years ago! I think it was a Bank Holiday and yes, the beach was very crowded.

  3. Too damned pretty for it's own good. I remember visiting Corfe way back in the 50's, and even then it was all tea shops and wall to wall tourists. Shame.

  4. Yes Tom, people are a bit like flies - the warm weather brings them all out. Living as we do in a tourist area, we rarely if ever go out on a Saturday or Sunday. Too many people about. Have only been to Studland once and remember it as utterly beautiful.

  5. I envy Europeans for their history that has been standing for hundreds of years. Here in the states our castles are owned by the likes of Trump and the nouveau riche who live in homes that we call McMansions. We do have beautiful natural castles though and if you ever visit the USA, make sure you visit our magnificent parks of the west like Grand Canyon and Zion. They were built by nature and time and no peasants were needed for construction. However, tourists abound.

  6. corfe castle........bloody hell thats impressive!
    Iam becomming a little obsessed with old structures!!!!

  7. I always have to remind myself when I am at a crowded holiday resort, that I too am one of the tourists - unless I am at home in Bath where, strangely, I actually enjoy tourists.