Bodiam Castle

In the south-eastern corner of England you can find several impressive castles – Hever, Leeds, Dover, Rochester, Deal and Bodiam amongst them. Historically the region has always been vulnerable to attack from foreign shores.

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As we were staying in the Weald of Kent for a few days, which is on the East Sussex border, we decided to take the historic steam train from Tenterden to Bodiam and walk to the moated castle, often glimpsed from the road when passing by. We could have driven there in about 10 minutes, but sometimes it is nice to take things slowly and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

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In 1377 French ships raided the Sussex coast, causing widespread damage and panic among the local population which led to the building of nearby Scotney Castle. The French later raided nearby Winchelsea in 1380, so when a new French invasion threatened in 1385 Sir Edward Dalyngrigge (one of Edward III’s knights) applied to King Richard II for a license to fortify and strengthen the existing hall he lived in.

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Having been granted permission he decided to build a new sandstone fortress near the River Rother, which at that time was navigable to the coast. Though its primary aim was defense, Dalyngrigge made sure that Bodiam was also a comfortable abode, as much a fortified residence as a military stronghold. And of course a visual symbol of his wealth.

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Bodiam Castle is considered to be the finest example of  medieval, moated, military architecture in Britain.

The interior from the Postern Tower
The interior from the Postern Tower

The French invasion never took place, and Bodiam’s impressive defenses were never tested until 1484 when the castle fell to a siege by Richard III.

Do you have a favourite castle?

Hindringham Hall

Hindringham Hall is privately owned, but the gardens are open to the public each Wednesday during the summer season and four times a year there is a tour of the house itself. We booked one of the two holiday cottages for a fortnight in the North Norfolk countryside, though I was worried that being four miles from the wild north coast, to which I am strangely drawn, would be too far. I should not have fretted, as it was an ideal location. Far enough away from the madding crowds, but close enough to visit regularly enough. And entering the five-barred gate, driving down the long gravel driveway and crossing the moat bridge leading to the hall was a lovely experience – for two weeks we could pretend to be Lord and Lady of the Manor 😉

The village of Hindringham is typical of many small villages in the countryside today (not only in Norfolk) where there are few, if any, amenities. There is no village store or post office, no butcher or baker or indeed a candlestick maker, and the only pub is a bar in the cricket pavilion – aptly called The Pavilion – which is run by the community and only open on a Friday evening! Oddly enough though there is a Primary School, a large village hall and the church so you might have expected a shop at least.

Parts of Hindringham Hall were probably built from some of the stone torn down from the nearby Binham Priory, but it has been extended over the generations. It is now a handsome stepped-gabled building with a complete moat and a characterful history. There are not many fully moated houses remaining in the county; Oxburgh Hall (which has historical connections with this hall) is another.

The gardens are in several different sections, some outside the moat and the more private areas within the same plot as the house and bordered by the moat. In late summer they were probably not showing at their best, but there is still enough of interest to spend an hour or two drifting around them and finishing with a nice cuppa on the lawn. The walled kitchen garden was impressive for its well-stocked soft fruit bushes, salads, potatoes, beans and fragrant herbs mingling with the sweet scent of the colourful jewel-like sweet-peas. The buddleias alongside the moat opposite our cottage were smothered in butterflies the whole time – Large Whites, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, Commas and a profusion of Peacocks. Within the private, walled, west lawn to the side of the house various clematis clung to the walls or pergolas, stone urns frothed with Pelargoniums and beautiful Romneyas stole the show, their egg yolk centres gleaming within the startling white, crêpe petals.

Roses and clematis wound their way around the thick rope-hung poles bordering the gravel driveway near to the front of the house and vibrant blue African Lilies provided splashes of intense colour. The roses were already ‘gone over’ by the time of our visit, but I am sure they would have been lovely.

I needn’t have worried being away from the coast. Sitting, relaxing in the sunny, private garden of the cottage lazily watching the bright blue damselflies and red dragonflies flitting around, spotting the heron fishing in the moat, listening to the ducks and solitary black swan calling, seeing a sky streaked with oranges and lemons and stars shining from an inky background and drifting off to sleep with echoes of the soft hoot of a tawny owl is really what a holiday is all about.