Morning all! I hope you are having a great weekend! I’m super excited to share this guest post from the lovely Mairead (you can find out more about here in the author bio at the bottom). This post was such a pleasure to read, I’ve never been to Castle Rising, but it just looks absolutely incredible and the history sounds fascinating! Keep on reading to find out more about this castle!
Location: Lynn Rd, King’s Lynn, PE31 6AH, Norfolk
History: Castle Rising was built around 1138 by William d’Aubigny. This was during the period of civil war in England and Normandy known as ‘The Anarchy’, when the ownership of the throne was contested between the previous king’s daughter Matilda and his nephew, Stephen. William d’Aubigny was a supporter of Stephen, while his wife Adeliza (widow of the former King Henry, and thus former Queen of England) seems to have supported Matilda, which must have made for interesting dinner-table conversation.
Review: The first thing that hits you when you visit Castle Rising is, well… the absence of a castle. Normally when you drive to a castle, you expect to see a huge, looming building that dominates the landscape for miles around. But Castle Rising is surrounded by massive defensive earthworks, in the classic early Norman motte-and-bailey style, which from a distance have the deceptive effect of making the enormous stone keep seem much shorter than it actually is.
But as you make your way from the car park, across the bridge over the defensive ditch and through the remains of the stone gatehouse that opens into the inner bailey, the defences surrounding the castle are incredibly imposing.
Even during the period of ‘The Anarchy’, with all the chaos that name implies, it’s hard to imagine that you could feel anything other than safe behind the castle’s immense stone walls. Perhaps too safe, in fact – the castle was later used to imprison another Queen of England, Isabella. Known as the She-Wolf of France, Isabella had deposed her husband Edward II, and installed herself and her lover Roger Mortimer as regents, ruling on behalf of her son, Edward III. When her son turned 18 in 1332, however, he seized power for himself, executed Mortimer, and placed his mother under house arrest. Teenagers, eh?
There’s a local legend that the ghost of Isabella still haunts Castle Rising, screaming and crying, having gone mad with grief during her imprisonment following the death of her lover. Far be it from me to debunk a ghost story, but this does seem rather at odds with the evidence that Isabella lived in considerable luxury at Castle Rising. She was supplied with a generous income from her son, employed minstrels, hunstmen and grooms, received visits from the King and his royal household, re-roofed the Great Hall, and even constructed a number of new buildings on the site. In fairness, some versions of the local legend explain away this inconsistency, by stating that Isabella suffered from violent dementia in her old age, and it is in fact the sounds of her last troubled years that echo through the keep…
Strolling through the ruins of the castle, I didn’t experience any ghostly apparitions, or hear the manic laughter described by locals as echoing from Isabella’s chambers in the castle. It is a very picturesque ruin, though, and one that you can certainly imagine featuring in a gothic horror film. Although the outer walls are well preserved, and much of the decorative stonework is still very attractive, the ceiling and floors between each level of the main keep are long since gone.
As you climb up through Castle Rising’s narrow spiral staircase, you can look out across the empty archways, at the holes in the stone walls where floorboards used to be, and try to imagine what it would have been like seven hundred years ago, when it was whole. I loved that you could still see the black stains of soot around the old fireplaces – on a chilly winter’s day, they must have been very much needed by the inhabitants.
Walking through the castle, or along the top of the earthworks, buffeted by the wind, it’s easy to feel the distance of the past; this shell of a castle has clearly been crumbling for so long that it’s not easy to imagine it as a bustling medieval hunting retreat. But in fact, the castle’s history has been a cycle of ruin and repair – heavy on the ruin, light on the repair. By 1482, Castle Rising’s buildings had been neglected so much that they were no longer weatherproof, and a survey around 1503 noted that the roof of the keep was rotten.
Although some repair work was undertaken, and new buildings put up, by the middle of the sixteenth century, the roof had collapsed, and the floors of the Great Hall and chamber had probably fallen in as well. At the end of the century, the earthworks were infested with rabbits, and most of the wooden buildings in the inner bailey were pulled down and cleared away. So perhaps the view of Castle Rising four hundred years ago wasn’t, after all, so very different to the view today.
Practicalities and Accessibility: Castle Rising a beautiful place to visit, although I wouldn’t recommend it on a rainy or extremely windy day, as it’s very exposed and you’re effectively outdoors for most of the visit. It’s fine on a cold day – just wrap up warm, and maybe end your visit with a short walk into the village of Castle Rising, where you’ll find a very lovely tearoom offering hot drinks and tasty cakes.
The castle is managed by English Heritage on behalf of the current owner, Lord Howard of Rising, and you can find further key information about visiting on their website.
Mairead blogs at thesicklymama.com about being a new mum with chronic illness, as well as gluten-free baking, travel and reviews. You can also find her on Instagram – instagram.com/sicklymama. She loves reading, writing, and actually getting the time to take a long bath!