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Great Castles of Britain

Castles have fascinated visitors worldwide for their beauty, size, and history. We explore some history and aspects of British castles. While Jack names his top five castles in Britain in this episode, he has previously identified 11 of the most beautiful castles in Britain (four of which he discusses in this episode). Click on the word TRANSCRIPT to get a transcript of this podcast with an audio player at the bottom.

[00:46] Castles

[02:55] Windsor Castle

[05:02] Strategic Aspects of Castles and a Little History

[09:51] Characteristics (Parts) of Castles

[12:11] Postcards

[12:38] Castle Lighting

[14:32] Jack’s Top Five Castles of Britain

[16:12] Arundel Castle

[21:23] Heating & AC-How do they do it?

[23:29] Castle For Sale by Owner?

[25:00] Size and Age of Castles in Britain

Dream. Learn. Plan. Prepare. Go to Guidester/Virtual-Vacation

Season 1: Episode 3

#Hever #EileanDonan #Caernarfon #Windsor #Arundel #royals #keep #bailey #curtainwall #moat #portcullis #turret #Wales #Scotland #NorthernIreland #England

Transcript
Jack:

The Normans were the first great castle builders. The Normans were the ones that really began England and Britain on this castle building quest, if you will, they were great builders. The Normans get somewhat of a bad rap as being conquerors, William the Conqueror it's in his name, but they were builders actually first and foremost, and they brought structure and castles and strongholds to Britain.

Arnold:

Travel to Europe is off limits for the time being, but we can still keep the flame of wanderlust alive through the Virtual Vacation with Guidester, the weekly podcast, where host Jack Baumann, founder of Guidester and travel enthusiast Arnold Stricker, dive into new destinations, exploring their unique history, culture and special vibe. You will also get insider tips about these destinations. You won't get from other sources. Now let's join our host, the Guidester himself, Jack Bauman. Now, if you'd like to play chess, there are two pieces that look like something that came out of the middle ages and they're called Rooks or the layman's term is probably castles. And we're going to talk about castles today Jack, because I've never been in one of these in England. I would think that they would be really cold and damp and dreary and dark. Am I right.

Jack:

Some of them are, some of them are grand and magnificent and cozy. Certainly some draft though. There's no getting away around that. And that's one of the reasons they have tapestries. It's actually where tapestries came in, really just to keep the air in and keep it warm and livable. But yes. There's many stereotypes with castles and British castles. Some of them are true. Some of them are not true. And the beauty of British castles, British meaning England, Scotland, and Wales, the island of Britain, there is an unbelievably immense diversity of castles in Britain, whether it's England, Scotland, and Wales. Actually, Wales has more castles per capita, per square mile than any country in the world.

Arnold:

Wow

Jack:

Castles everywhere. Now, many of them are ruined. Many of them were built by Edward the first in the 12th century, 13th century, rather. And they're not lived in, but Cardiff Castle is still lived in or still habitable rather. The amount of diversity and complexity to these castles cannot be overstated.

Arnold:

Now, these were obviously built for some defensive kind of capability, correct?

Jack:

Correct. Yes. So a castle in its truest form was built as a strategic defense to control, let's say a river or a high point. Really the great castle builders that began this were the Normans, who weren't strictly English, they were Norman, they were French. So the great castle builders of the, early English history were from outside the Island of Britain. And it was really the Normans, William the Conqueror and his descendants that started this great castle building in England.

Arnold:

So you're talking about the Normans so we're talking about what century?

Jack:

William, the conqueror, the battle of Hastings that's 1066. So that's 11th century. A thousand years ago almost.

Arnold:

And they're still existing.

Jack:

Windsor castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and it's the oldest inhabited castle in the world. Now little side note here, Windsor castle is where the Windsor family got its name.

Arnold:

The current queen.

Jack:

Right, the current queen; the original name of the family that the queen inhabited or the queen was from was Saxe-Coburg Gotha. A lot of people don't know this.

Arnold:

Sounds like an attorney.

Jack:

Right! A German attorney. Yeah. German speaking attorney. And maybe they do come from some legalistic backgrounds, but no, it was actually a very prominent Royal family descended from Queen Victoria. George, the V, who is the Queen's grandfather, changed the name in 1917 due to anti German sentiment during World War I. So Windsor castle, it's actually a fascinating story and we need to get back to the castles of Britain, but this is a really important piece here. Windsor castle formed the inspiration for the name to be changed from Saxe-Coburg Gotha. There was a lot of anti-German sentiment. The British Royal family knew they were in some hot water. So George the V, the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth the II, said, okay guys, we need to do something here and all his handlers, yeah, we agree. It's a really fascinating story. They could not find a suitable name. It had to be English and it had to have roots that went back centuries or people wouldn't buy it. And one of their handlers, one of these guys, one of the historians, I can't remember who it was, but he was shuffling through some notes and papers and he found Windsor. Windsor castle was still there obviously, but he was looking through these old libraries and trying to find these a name that would be suitable. And it just came across in this most fascinating way. Windsor castle, and thought, Windsor castle. It's both a place and I can use it as a name that goes back a thousand years in British history and the rest is history. And so it was a master stroke, changing it from a German name to a very solid English name, like the Windsors. It was an absolutely masterstroke now key thing here, those. They're still German heritage. In fact, their first language is German. And a lot of people don't know that Charles Prince Charles speaks German fluent German.

Arnold:

Very interesting.

Jack:

Yeah.

Arnold:

So these castles, they were built for defensive purposes and they were generally built on high hills or areas that you could overlook valleys or overlook the ocean or they were key strategic places, correct?

Jack:

Absolutely, yes. So the tower of London, for example in London, was built to protect the access from the river Thames. So you could access the city of London from the river Thames from the channel. If you're a ship or you're a Viking or whatever, and you're rowing down the Thames, this was placed before you hit the city of London to protect the city of London. And then it was also used as a military outpost. It was used as prisons. That's what the tower of London is most famous for is a prison that's where King Henry the VIII, liked to stash some of his wives; was the tower of London. So it was mostly along rivers at high points also in areas that you needed to subdue. So strategically, yes, they were all used put in a defensive position, usually on a high point, but not always in the most strategically advantageous place. In that instance, it was meant to subjugate the local population. The most famous is probably the castles in Northern Wales: Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris Castle, which are unbelievably beautiful by the way. Cause you have the scenery too and the sea. If you go to Caernarfon Castle, you'll be shocked at the scale. This was built by Edward the I in the 1200's A.D. The same time, Edward the I is the one who was around when William Wallace was doing his thing in Scotland and his nickname was the hammer of the Scots. And they really should add a second nickname, the hammer of the Welsh, because actually it's so fascinating. The term Prince of Wales, where that came from. Edward, the I.

Arnold:

Really

Jack:

Edward the I, was hell bent on subjagating the whole Island of Britain; Wales and Scotland included. He definitely succeeded in Wales. It's debatable whether he succeeded in Scotland or not, he's certainly made a footprint and made an impression, but his son really dropped the ball. He defeated the last Prince of Wales. So the Wales really didn't have the right King, they were called princes. I think it was Owain Glyndwr maybe? Don't quote me on that. But one of the last princess of Wales was defeated by Edward the I or exiled, and he said, okay, Welsh. He had a son. His wife was pregnant, Caernarfon Castle was being built to subjugate the Welsh population. The Welsh population really retreated into the Northwest part of Wales. That was the last stronghold; he had his wife go over there, deliver his baby and held up at Caernarfon Castle. This is your new Prince of Wales. You ready for this? Every subsequent Prince of Wales has been crowned as such. Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales was crowned quote-unquote in Caernarfon Castle- elaborate ceremony in Caernarfon Castle. And it goes back almost 800 years to this one moment in history,where Edward the I says, now my progeny, my descendants are your new Prince of Wales.

Arnold:

Talk about tradition.

Jack:

Yeah. Talk about tradition and some cosmic comedy. It's continued through the ages and the Welsh, in many ways have accepted it. Now it depends on who, what kind of Wells you're talking to. But I think there is actually some great pride with the Prince of Wales. In fact, I met Charles the Prince of Wales once very randomly in a town and called Brecon, which is in Southern Wales. He was there on a non scheduled trip. He was giving money to a local church there and local boys choir. He's very involved in boys choir and other things like that. He was there and I bluffed my way into the church. I made friends with the priest and I sat five rows behind him. I was talking to the locals and there is some great love for Prince Charles. He actually taught himself Welsh and that was very unusual for the Royal family to do that. So he broke some protocols. There are some traditions, if you will, but there is some great love. So to me, historically, there's an irony there.

Arnold:

Matter of fact, I think when he gave his speech, when he was crowned Prince of Wales, he gave it in Welsh and he was cautioned by, I believe the crown at the time; hey, maybe you don't want to do this. We don't want to get too friendly here, but he went against the grain because he knew it was important to have the Welsh people behind him and be really connected to them and he felt that was an important thing to do.

Jack:

Very true. Yeah, Charles in many ways, somewhat like his uncle who abdicated the throne and that's a story for another time. There are people are holding their breath to see what kind of King he'll be. I think there's many good things there, but as we've seen the monarchy thrives, no depends on tradition. Now, the monarchy has done well to evolve with the new times and that was one of them. That was a very controversial thing for him to have that address done in Welsh, but the Welsh people loved it. I think he did the right thing.

Arnold:

Say I want to build a castle. How do I go about doing this? Because there seems to be certain kind of characteristics that all castles have; they have ramparts, they have the towers. I'm going to call them towers, but they're called something else.

Jack:

So you've got many different parts of castles. So the most famous part of a castle is the keep. So that's the central stronghold. Mostly they were built of wood initially and then made into stone. A lot of them were converted into stone, but to keep is the central stronghold of the castle. And that's what most people are familiar with. Then you have the curtain wall, which is simply a defensive wall to protect the bailey, which is the central courtyard. So you've got your keep, then you've got your curtain wall and then the bailey, which is your courtyard. And then the moat, everybody knows the moat. Not all castles have moats.

Arnold:

Right.

Jack:

But many do, depending on what time period, you're talking about a lot, do. My favorite moated castles Hever Castle, which is the ancestral home of Anne Boleyn. Very, very beautiful castle heaver castle in Southern England. Absolutely add it to your itinerary. There's a lot of history there. You can actually see the letters from Henry and Anne back and forth and they're in frames and you can read them.

Arnold:

That's interesting.

Jack:

So interesting. Yeah. Then you have your battlements. Which are, raised sections like towers, you're your battlement towers, basically to defend along the curtain wall, right? So you can throw stones, you can have your arrows and javelins and things like that. That was where the defensive men stood. Then you have your drawbridge to go over the moat, if you had a moat, your portcullis, which was your gate. Just another fancy term for the gate, which is a heavy spiked barrier from metal or wood. And usually there was maybe two portcullises, you'd have two Gates and if you got past the first, you were confronted with a second. In between those two, that negative space, they were hot tarring you and throwing things on you. It was not a good place. You didn't want to be there. And then, just a minor feature, you have your little arrow slits, which often come in the form of crosses. At that time, obviously it was very Christian, so they just look like crosses and they're little openings, but they're specifically meant for arrow slits. And the reason they're so thin is so you couldn't get an arrow into it from the outside. They're built in such a way, when you go into the castle it's narrow going in and wide coming out. So an Archer can have room to extend his arm inside the castle, but it was very difficult to get an arrow inside that tiny little slit, but easy to draw it out.

Arnold:

If you're like me, you enjoy travel because it provides unique experiences and knowledge that can't be achieved from home. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to pick up and travel to your dream destination. So often we must live vicariously through another. Join our members only newsletter focused on the beauty history and culture of authentic European destinations. The first 30 days are free. So visit guidestar.com/postcards to sign up. What about light in the castles? Were they set up and were they constructed in a manner that they would let in a lot of natural light?

Jack:

Yes and no. I would say the castles that are still intact today that are still lived in like the castle palaces, like Arundel have electricity. Arundel's my favorite castle in all of England. But the castles that I've been to; it really depends. A lot of people spent their time in the courtyard, so they spent their time outside. My feeling is no, these probably weren't the best lit areas. Now some areas did have some big windows, but you had to be careful because big windows mean vulnerability. So the keep inside the curtain walls probably would be much better lit than the rest of the castle, but the turrets, the towers, no. And a lot of times these towers also had rooms. The keep is not the only place they had rooms. They had rooms inside these towers and battlements. So now they wouldn't have been very well lit. There would have been a lot of candle light. A lot of smoke from the candlelight.

Arnold:

So you mentioned that they have electricity now, and I would presume that most of them all have the modern conveniences of plumbing and electricity, et cetera.

Jack:

The ones that are lived in, yes. So one of the things that's important to, to understand is what distinguishes a great castle from a good one, and really that comes down to the viewer. Now broadly speaking, you can say there's habitable castles or intact castles and ruined castles. That's probably the easiest distinction between the two of them. The ones that are habitable lived in, maintained will have modern conveniences. They will have some bathrooms, they will have electricity. Some of them have screening rooms and things like that. Now that's hard to do because you can't drill through your dry wall. You, basically have to use conduit to go over the stone and, but you don't want to mess with the aesthetic. So it's very difficult to outfit a castle for modern use, but all over Britain you'll see it. Arundel Castle probably being the most famous. You know what distinguishes a good from a great castle? Let's say five castles.

Arnold:

Give me your top five.

Jack:

Do you want my top five?

Arnold:

Yes.

Jack:

Okay. Arundel Castle.

Arnold:

Now you've talked about that and we're going to get to that.

Jack:

Okay. Let's swing back around to that, cause I will talk about that for a minute, but: Arundel Castle; Windsor Castle; Caernarfon Castle, which we talked about which is in Northern Wales; Hever Castle because of the moat and the gardens. That's another element to the castles that a lot of people overlook. The gardens that Hever Castle are magnificent.

Arnold:

These are gardens within the walls or gardens outside the walls generally.

Jack:

So Hever Castle is a little different; there's really no battlements. Hever Castle is more or less a castle keep. So the whole castle is the keep and then it's surrounded by a moat and then you have dramatic gardens outside. So Hever is a great example. Hever was not built originally to be a strategic stronghold. Now they built it to be formidable, so if you're five or 10 guys, you're not gonna be able to get into that place, but if you're an army, no problem. But that was really not the intent of Hever Castle it was built as an ancestral home for the Boleyn family. So the gardens outside the keep on the grounds, you've got roses bigger than your head. Absolutely. A lot of people don't realize that some of the, not some of I would dare say the most dramatic lush gardens in all of Europe are found in England. The climate it's damp, it gets more sun than you think, England is has a bad rap of never getting sun and that's true in some areas, but Southern England especially does get sun. And it gets a lot of rain so these flowers, these gardens just flourish. So we've got Arundel, Windsor, Caernarfon, Hever, and Eilean Donan in Scotland on the Kyle of Loch Alsh. That's my Scottish accent.

Arnold:

Scottish accent.

Jack:

Yes. Each one of these has a very, distinct feature. And to me, it's a combination of scenery of the structure itself, the grandness of it and the history.

Arnold:

Now you've mentioned Arundel many, many times here on the podcast. Why is that so important to you, why is that your number one castle in Britain?

Jack:

I was shown Arundel Castle a number of years ago when I first lived in England; I actually lived in Lancaster, England and Northern England, and then in Cardiff, Wales, which is right on the border of England. So I can get to England very quickly from Cardiff and I fell in love with the castle, the town, the history. So Arundel is a town in Sussex in Southern England, and it gets its name from the river Arun. A R U N. The English love to pronounce words different than they look, it's really funny in that way. It was built as a stronghold many, many centuries ago and is now occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. The Duke and Duchess of Norfolk have the title of Earl Marshal of England. The Earl Marshals traditionally were a military designation, but now they are in charge of a lot of the ceremonies, including the coronation of the monarchy.

Arnold:

That's a big deal!

Jack:

Huge deal. Big deal. Yeah. The town of Arundel, there's a high street. Every English town has a high street, a queen street and church street. So if you want to know where do I go to get to the center of this town, go to the high street or church or queen street. It's going to be one of those, if not all, three of those. And so the high street goes up a hill and on one side, you've got the castle overlooking the city; and on the other, you've got this beautiful, quaint little town and you could call it a city, but to me, it's really a town with buildings going back centuries and little pubs, three, four, five pubs. So you go to the pub, you have a pint, and you're just sitting there looking at this castle. It just, it doesn't get better than that and location I can get to the sea and the beach. I can get to the beach in 15 minutes. I can get to London in one hour In fact, I can get to Stansted Airport in about that time, so I can get to an airport. I can get to central London, which is, one of the biggest cities in the world. And then from London, I can get anywhere in the world. So strategically it's beautiful, but you feel like you're in the middle of the British countryside.

Arnold:

Now this is in Sussex, which is Southwest of London, just to give a geographic location for our are people listening.

Jack:

Yes, exactly. Thank you for that. Yes. It's in Sussex, which is in Southern England. Yeah. Southwest-ish, more or less due South, but there is a little bit of Westness to this as a bird flies. But you can get there from London in an hour and it's in an area called the South downs which is an area of outstanding beauty. The English, the British in general love their green spaces and it's stone walls and rolling hills and little chapels and churches and castles and cathedrals and little pubs. So you've got this little town, so it's everything you need. And the train goes right into the town and then you get off and you go walk up the high street and there's this magnificent castle palace, which we need to talk about. And then you've got this quaint little town. So you go to the castle, and you can see there's different tiers of what you can see in the castle. But it's still lived in by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. They have their own little private area, but you can see quite a bit the, keep the turrets the church inside there. You can view there's a little dining hall area. You could probably spend half a day in Arundel Castle itself and then you've got the grounds which also have all the flora that we talked about.

Arnold:

I saw a picture of this because when you mentioned this, that this was one of your favorites, I looked it up and there's this huge hill or mound in the middle of the castle. What is that?

Jack:

That's where the keep is.

Arnold:

Okay.

Jack:

So typically the keep is going to be a central part of the castle. That's the oldest part of the castle. That was the defensive position of the castle originally so the keep was built by the Normans, I believe in the 11th century. It was probably wooden at some point originally and then made into stone. But yes, that's what you're seeing is the original keep.

Arnold:

Gotcha. So what distinguishes now, what you mentioned earlier, A castle palace from a regular castle.

Jack:

So a castle really first and foremost is a strategic, stronghold, military outpost. It's meant for defensive and strategic military strategic purposes. Like we said, earlier to guard a river to garden area, and then a palace is to be lived in. So a palace really doesn't have any defensive significance or design to it. Now over the centuries as castles have become less important. You don't need these great castles anymore. So one of two things happen. They abandoned the castles, which is more often than not what happened. Wales, you have abandoned castles all over the place, but adds to the charm a bit, all the ivy grown over it. Then you've got Arundel Castle and the like. Windsor's another one of these, and they convert it into a living quarters for almost always either royalty or aristocracy.

Arnold:

Gotcha. I was reading that there are some ghosts in Arundel; I should say a ghost. Apparently it's a ghost from King Charles the II's time. And he likes to browse the books in the library and he's known as the blue man. Did you see the blue man when you were there?

Jack:

I did not see the blue man while I was there. I suspect there's a separate ghost tour. The British do love their ghost tours. They love them. England, Scotland, Wales, you go to any major city and you're going to have a good ghost story. On my three separate visits to Arundel Castle, I just did the the traditional tour of the castle palace. Didn't see the blue man. Unfortunately.

Arnold:

Now I've got a big question here and it deals with heating ventilation and air conditioning. How do they keep warm in the wintertime? I know that there's fireplaces in every room. Do they still do that or have they modernized to the point where they're actually having central air and central heat?

Jack:

It really depends on the castle. I'm pretty sure Arundel Castle has a central heating system. Now, obviously that's going to look differently than, putting air ducts in the walls like we do now, but yes, they still do rely on fireplaces quite a bit, but yeah, they do have a modern heating system like Windsor Castle. She's in her nineties. She's not walking around with winter coats. But the good thing about Britain is it just doesn't get freezing cold. Yeah, it does frost occasionally, they do get snow. Here in Missouri, you're going to get zero down below zero. I lived in Britain for two years and I don't know if I ever experienced a below zero day. So it's what I would term temperate. Now it does fluctuate with, things happening in the world now, but really it doesn't ever get too hot. It's rare to see a 90 degree day in Britain. It does happen, but it's not common in Missouri, like the summers here. And it's also on the flip side it's rare to see a zero degree day. So you fluctuate between the forties up to the seventies, eighties, and that's what you're climate is all year. Another reason why flowers flourish, the way they do in England.

Arnold:

It sounds like a great climate to live in.

Jack:

It depends what you want, cause seriously, I've been in Britain and England in August and it's been 50, but then again, I've been there in December, January, February, and it's forties fifties. So it's a give and take. I loved it. The one thing I did miss living in Wales was the sun. You do, you, it's not sunny a lot. But it changes on a dime. They say that in Missouri, if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes. In Wales it's 30 seconds.

Arnold:

Wow.

Jack:

I'm not kidding you. Hey mate, let's go out to the local park. Let's go to Bute Park a park in Cardiff. Awesome. We're headed there. On our way there, it goes from sun to cloud. On the way there. So making plans outdoor, there's a joke. I think this applies to Ireland too. It definitely does. You should bring a pair of sunglasses and an umbrella everywhere you go.

Arnold:

Now, is there a used castle website or something like that? Say I wanted to buy one of these old decrepit castles that you mentioned in Wales. It's all overgrown who owns the land, who owns the castles? Are they still in the name of certain families or does the government own them?

Jack:

So there's two entities that really own, or maintain these properties: the English heritage and the national trust. Typically they're going to be owned by one of those two things or the family itself. So in the case of Arundel Castle, it's owned by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. The reason I can visit it is they need money and so they open it to the public and that's actually what happened to a lot of these castles and palaces throughout, and stately homes. Because when I say palaces, I'm also talking about stately homes, which are just grand residences that were built and owned by the aristocracy, the Lords and the ladies and the Earls and the Dukes of Britain. And so over time as their significance dwindled, and as their lands, dwindled because of modernization, they were no longer able to maintain the upkeep of these places. The only way they were able to keep them is to open it to the public. So it's really one of two, it's either privately owned by the family and open to the public for a limited time during the weekday, whatever, or it's owned by one of two entities, English heritage, or the national trust.

Arnold:

As I was looking at Windsor Castle online, I noticed it's pretty big. And I know there's some kind of teeny castle, kind of like a tiny castle home maybe for a mother-in-law's home or something like that. What are the various sizes of these castles?

Jack:

Yeah, again, going back to our original segue into this, the diversity of castles in Britain is enormous. So it could be a wee castle, like you said, no more than maybe a stone keep on a hill, up to these, the Windsor Castle, the Arundel Castle, which are tens of thousands of square feet. So I'd say it could range anywhere from a thousand, 2000 square feet, a small little mother-in-law house as you put it up until 20,000 square feet or more, it really varies dramatically..

Arnold:

And the ages of these range from a thousand years to maybe 10 years.

Jack:

Yes. So it really spans all of English history. The Normans were the first great castle builders. The Normans were the ones that really began England and Britain on this castle building quest, if you will, they were great builders. The Normans get somewhat of a bad rap as being conquerors, William the Conqueror it's in his name, but they were builders actually first and foremost, and they brought structure and castles and strongholds to Britain. And yes, it really I'd say the earliest great castles were from about a 1000, 1100 A.D. to the modern times. There's castles that were built in the 20th century.

Arnold:

So castles are not just found on a chess board folks. The great castles of Britain that we've just talked about should give you insight into a trip that you could take on Guidester Virtual Vacation. We hope you enjoyed listening to this episode of virtual vacation with Guidester. Take time to look at the show notes on the website for everything that was mentioned on this episode, Virtual Vacation with Guidester is produced by Motif Media Group. For Jack Baumann and Virtual Vacation with Guidester, I'm Arnold Stricker.

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