Category Archives: Castles

The Things I am learning from Visiting Castles

You may already know but I have the goal of building my own castle. It is part of the reason why I have been adventuring around America. I am visiting lots of castles and learning a lot about them, why they were built, how they were built, and what makes each of them unique.

It has been a wonderful learning process for me. And I have learned a lot. Let me give you an example.

Here is Grey Towers Castle in Pennsylvania. It’s a wonderful 100 year old castle. Yet pretty standard stuff when it comes to the castles in America.

But, I did discover something about this castle and gained a wonderful insight. You see, this castle is a bit unique, a little bit different than many of the other castles I have visited.

 

 

 

This castle has a wonderful network of narrow paths and secret areas around back. You can go for a walk in a charming wooded area just outside the castle. And in this area is a group of secret and intimate little spots like a covered gazebo a small fish fountain and some little buildings. It is just wonderful!! So, when I build my castle I am going to have an area just outside the castle like this. It is perfect for having intimate little gatherings of friends, maybe have dinner outside or a barbeque and drinks.

Want to learn more about Grey Towers Castle?   

Here are some pictures of intimate little areas around the castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While browsing around an old bookstore in New Orleans

I am on a journey around America. I am visiting all 48 states and seeing a whole lot of sights. And while in New Orleans I found an old bookstore. It was a great little place with a lot of old books. And I discovered this set of three books:

 

 

 

 

 

I almost didn’t pull them down off a high shelf. There is no telling how long they were sitting there. And the spines were damaged so the title of the books is missing. It was simply a look to see. I figured nobody would bother to look at them. The title pages are missing on the inside so it’s almost impossible to know the titles!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And much to my surprise they were wonderful books! Just my kind of thing. And one of the books has a yellow post it note inside:

 

So, I am guessing that the name of the book is Decorative Antiquities to illustrate a variety of design details.  And in three volumes.

 

And the books are full of illustrations. Simply that, lots of illustrations.

 

There are towers, cartouches, cariatides, columns, caissons and much more… wood carvings, candelabras, stairways, human figures, statues and much much more. It is a wonderful set of reference books. And perfect for me considering the fact that I am building a castle!

One of the wonderful things about traveling is that you run into unexpected little surprises of every type, food, entertainment, interesting people, new scenery and even mysterious little book stores. Yup, good to see America still has mysterious little book stores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

America Does Have Castles

 

 

Nobody really gives it any thought, or any weight, but America does have castles….. a whole lot of them. A whole lot of them.

Once I started really delving into my research for my trip across the country I was a bit astonished by this fact.

Singer Casttle, on an island in Alexandria Bay NY

Part of this misunderstanding comes from the timeline and the definition of what a castle is. If we stay true to the definition we have to include the idea that a castle is fortified. It is a fortress, A building of strong defense. And this philosophy held true right up until the period of time when gunpowder (and cannons) came into prominence.

The ability to take down any thickness stone wall with repeated barrages of cannons pretty much killed that old style of Fortress Castle.

From there castles changed to more of architectural artwork and ostentatious displays of wealth . The rich built them and lived in them. They were more palace than fortress.

An interesting thing did happen in America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Searles Castle in Great Barrington Mass.

Wealthy people really took to the European concepts of castles and palaces. The wealthy and maybe a bit eccentric titans of industry started building their own castles.  Not so much to defend against enemies, more as a place to live and a place to display their wealth.

America is dotted all over with these castle-fortresses. And they are magnificent.

So while we don’t actually have any castles that are a thousand years old we do have plenty of castles! And on my trip around America I am visiting some of them – well actually a lot of them. The count today as of May 31, 2018 is twelve of them. And I am still on the Eastern seaboard.

Would you like to follow along in the adventure as I travel America discovering and visiting all sorts of medieval things like castles, blacksmiths, meaderies, museums and more? It’s all happening on my youtube channel right here: Will’s Journey across Medieval America. 

 

Trip to Cranston street Armory in Providence RI

I have a big list of castles in America that I want to visit. I have already done some of them. This one is not too far away being in Providence RI. It is a very big armory. And it is currently not being used. It needs to be renovated and that is going to be expensive.

The Cranston Street Armory

It was built in 1907 and it has been used continually until recently, mostly by various military units like Military Police , Coast Guard and National guard.

There are two things about this Fortress that make it stand out. First off it is enormous. Very big for an armory. If I remember correctly the main area in the middle ( a large hall) is over 2 acres in size. One of the pictures here shows what appears to be two structures, one on the left and one on the right. But those are just the towers on each end. The trees block our view of the center of the structure.

The second remarkable thing about this Fortress is the beautiful yellow/orange stonework. It is remarkable.

You can see more pictures of this fortress on my website here: The Cranston Street Armory

 

Book Review: Exploring English Castles

Exploring English Castles is available on Amazon

I was doing some research for my interactive castles of the world map when I stumbled across this book.

I  sent the author an email and asked him if I could get a copy for review. And he sent me one. My thanks go to him for that.

And I was so happy that he did because this is a terrific book. I Love it.  It is broken down into two sections and in doing so it covers two very important aspects of castles.

In the first section it covers the basics of  castles including their history, how they were built, how they changed, developed, fell into disrepair, and came back into prominence over the centuries. This is all good stuff if you want to learn about castles.

And in the second section we get a specific look at nine different castles. And we also get stories about them. And this is where the romantic and magical aspect of them comes through.  The author has chosen these castles because they represent the whole of castles in England and they each have remarkable stories to tell.

And these stories cover all of those wonderful things that we have come to think about when we think about castles including King Arthur, Romance, betrayal, murder, intrigue, sieges and much much more. This is some wonderful stuff.

Yes, castles are big stone structures and architectural marnd vels. They are quite wonderful in that aspect. But they are also the endeavor of humans, and being so means they have lots of stories to tell.

And this book captures it all very well. If you are a fan of castles and all that they represent from the architectural to the romantic and mysterious then this is a book well worth getting. I recommend it highly! It is loaded with fascinating castle facts and castle stories.  Five stars.

 

 

Interactive Castles of the World Map

I love castles and have visited a few of them. If you frequent my websites you probably already know this. I do have a whole sub domain dedicated to them (Medieval Castles). I have lot of books about them and have done a fair amount of research on them. That for me is simply fun. But one thing that I had always wished for is a world map with all the castles on it.

One of those google maps where you can explore around, zoom in, zoom out and see various things. That would be great! Well…. there isn’t one of those maps, until now.

castles-of-the-world-map-thumb

I decided that I would have to be the guy to make one!  So I did. I made one. I didn’t realize how much work this project would entail. I would say I have about 50 or so hours invested in it. But now that the framework is done I can add castles to it rather easily. (currently I have 62 castles on the map)

If you are interested in castles you can check out the map right here. You can zoom in, pan around and explore the world and some of its most beautiful castles.

Castles of the World Interactive Google Map

A Castle and a Peel?

I was doing some research on castles. Nothing new there 🙂 And I looked up synonyms for “castle”. Well, a lot of the expected stuff was found. You can probably recite a list of them.

The more common ones include fortress, hold, stronghold, tower, palace and manor.  Ok, those are pretty easy.

Then we get to a second level with some that are not as commonly known. I knew them because castles is my thing.  They include an alcazar a safehold, a citadel and a donjon.

Pretty cool and I really love the old fashioned spelling of dungeon. There is writing potential with that word.

But then I ran across one that threw me for a loop. I thought for sure that it didn’t belong in the list of synonyms for castle.  It is the word “peel”. Yup, just like the outside of an orange (noun) or the act of removing the skin from something (verb).

And then , there is a small fortress or fortified tower for residence or for use during an attack. And that is called a peel.

It seems very interesting to me that the word “peel” came to this. I mean what is the derivation of something like this? Does it catch both the noun and the verb versions that we are familiar with? Did a small tower like this have an outer peel of stone and did attackers focus their attention on these outer walls, slowly peeling them away with various siege tools? small-fortress-peel

Link

I received an email from a web visitor who owns a shield and doesn’t know much about it. The front has a wonderful lion motif and the back has the name of the owner with a prefix of “Esq.” which means “Esquire”.

Now that is a wonderful word that you don’t hear much any more. Here in the United States it is a title appended to a Lawyers surname. Which is an interesting use. But it has an older and more romantic meaning.

If you look it up this is what you find:

The historical definition:

a young nobleman who, in training for knighthood, acted as an attendant to a knight.
  • an officer in the service of a king or nobleman.
  • a landed proprietor or country squire.

But the most interesting definition comes from the LateMiddle English and it perfectly explains our shield:

from Old French esquier, from Latin scutarius ‘shield-bearer,’ fromscutum ‘shield’;

Now isn’t that kind of neat?

If you can add some information about this shield check out my webpage here: The Unidentified medieval shield

shield-1

shield-2

 

The Words around Barnard Castle

I have a friend who lives in the U.K. (lucky) and he regularly contributes wonderful stuff to my various websites including pictures and articles about any castles that he visits.

He just recently visited a castle called “Barnard Castle” and of course he sent me lots of pics, and wrote a great essay about it. You can check that out right here.

When I create a webpage like this for something that someone sent me I usually do a little research so I can understand better what I have and how I can best transmit that to my web visitors. Maybe I can add a little something to it.

Well… for Barnard castle one of the first things I did was crank up google maps. And of course the castle is there.

I started looking around the castle and the various little towns nearby and what did I find? I felt like I was dropped directly into middle earth! Yes. It is because of the wonderful names of things in just a few square kilometers around it.

I got to share some of my discoveries with you.

There is a bakery called “The Moody Baker” and an Inn called The “Ancient Unicorn Inn”

ancient-unicorn-inn-3

A restaurant called “Fryer Tuck Restaurant” A patisserie called “Bramble Pie”.
How about the Taj Mahal Takeaway, the Three Horseshoes and the Coach and Horses Inn.And while I have a head of steam going here lets take a look at some of the areas and roads.

There is:

Evenwood, Butterknowle, Wackerfield and Dickens Road!
Huderthwaite, Romaldkirk, Langleydale and Mickleton!
Churchill Road, Eggleston, Thringarth and Bowbank!

With a yarn mouse a deerbolt and a White Swan  all along the Deepdale Beck!

All of this makes me think of Tolkien and the wonderfully rich language he created and used in his writing. He was a philologist wasn’t he? And it is easy to see his inspiration. There are just so many wonderful names, words, and places in the United Kingdom. These words are just a joy to read and say! And I believe this is one of the most important things about Tolkiens work – the simple joy of language.

Well… let me end off this whole thing with a take out restaurant near the castle called “Jennifers”.

Aww…. Jennifer! Seems to me you let everybody down. “Jennifers” is just too plain and modern. You should get on the same sheet of music as everybody else. How about you rename the place to “Lady Jennifers” That might work.

jennifers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Undermining” – Another Medieval Idiom

Ok Ok! I promise I won’t hit you with too many idioms but this one I can’t resist.  It is one of my favorites. It is “Undermining”. Did you ever wonder where that term came from?

It came from the sieging of castles. Yup. When an attacking force is sieging a castle one of the things that they would do was to dig a tunnel or mine underneath it. (They would dig a mine under it). Now here is where the real brilliance of the term comes into play.

We often think that they would dig a secret tunnel under a castle so they could sneak into the castle. But that really isn’t the case. The real point of these tunnels was to get under a wall or under a corner of the castle then collapse the mine. Therefore collapsing the wall or the corner of the castle wall. You see? So, digging the mine would cause the castle to collapse under it’s own weight.  Kind of brilliant.

undermine

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did they do it without having the tunnel collapse on them as they were digging it? Well, they would build wooden supports just like we picture in a regular mine. And when they were ready they would evacuate the mine and light it on fire.

And just like any good arms race our castle residents had a way to combat this undermining. How do you think they did it? With a moat! Yup. The moat around a castle was the perfect defense for this because the attacking army couldn’t dig a mine. It would simply flood before they could get close to underneath the castle.