1,000 Years Old and Still Standing

Sitting atop a hill overlooking the village of Corfe Castle, is the castle of Corfe Castle.  Now a crumbled ruin of its former self, Corfe Castle was built way back in the 11th century, and survived through centuries of harsh weather and military sieges, until it finally fell during a siege in 1645; when it was deliberately destroyed so that it could no longer be used as a stronghold.  That being said, it is quite remarkable to walk through the towering ruins today, and see how the structure has held up for over 350 years!

Only about a fifteen minute drive from our house sit in Swanage, we were able to visit Corfe Castle a couple of times during our trip.  First, we visited it for a day trip of a couple of hours, so that we could see the castle up close and personal.  Though there is a main cobbled path which leads through the grounds and up into the castle proper, it is possible to walk over most of the hillside, which used to be various rooms of the castle.  If not for the brass nameplates on various walls, one would think that they were simply standing in a courtyard surrounded by a stone wall.  Instead, the plates read “Old Hall”, and “Gloriette”.  Even with a carpet of muddy lawn, I could imagine the “Old Hall” filled with people, maybe with a long table down the middle, where the inhabitants of the castle would gather for meals or important meetings.

Once we climbed to the top of a set of stone steps leading up into the tallest remaining part of the castle, we began to see the incredible size of some of the structure.  Walls that were at least four feet thick leaned precariously (almost 45 degrees from their original vertical position), but were still miraculously standing.  After climbing another set of stairs (these ones more modern) up into the towers, we were met with a hallway which acted as a kind of wind tunnel.  As the 15 mile per hour wind crested the hill, it met a gaping hole in the side of one of the towers, and shot through to the courtyard at the rear of the castle, leaving the hall at nearly twice the speed at which it entered.

By far, the courtyard was the most beautiful part of Corfe Castle.  The ruins surround it on all sides, and the crumbled towers had an almost mournful elegance about them.  With nature taking over (as much as the National Trust will allow it), the shrubbery and vines which twisted over and clung to the fragmented walls acted as natural tapestries, bringing color to the otherwise beige landscape.

My favorite way to look at the castle, was through gaps and windows in the stonework.  Even with a number of arches for the original windows in the Gloriette, there were the added voids from where the castle was slighted (deliberately demolished), which made for some really interesting images.  Likewise, being able to see the village below through a rift in an otherwise solid wall was breathtaking.

With the wind continuing to howl, and the sun (mostly) hiding behind some dark storm clouds, we called it a day after an hour or two.  But, on the way out, we made sure to stop in at the Tearoom, and the National Trust gift shop.  After a cream tea and a bowl of warm winter vegetable soup for lunch each (and seats right next to the crackling fireplace) we were nicely warmed; and we picked up our obligatory magnet, and an awesome wooden postcard of Corfe Castle as souvenirs.

Later in our house sit, when the weather decided to cooperate and give us a sunny morning, we planned out a spot on a neighboring hill we wanted to get sunrise photos from.  On the evening before our sunrise, we took a test run at the hill around sunset, so that we were sure we would be able to find the trail and climb up the hill in the near darkness of morning.  Though we didn’t get any good sunset shots, it was a good thing we did the test run.  We climbed the hill via a very winding path from much farther away than needed.  At the top of the hill, when we reached the Corfe Castle mile marker we were looking for, we found a set of primitive steps straight up the hill from the road.  (It was nearly impossible to see the start of the trail, as it was hidden among the dense brush along the road.)

In the morning, we were up at 6, and on the road well before sunrise.  Once we were parked at the base of the hill, we found the trailhead in the shrubs and began the arduous climb to the top.  Only stopping once half-way up to catch our breath, we were completely winded once we made it to the peak, and my calves were cramping like crazy.  But, we made it to our goal!  Waiting out the darkness and for the sun to rise while the wind blew over our hilltop perch, we were bundled into our coats for warmth, and I had my scarf wrapped around my face to keep it protected from the biting cold.

Finally, more than an hour after we reached our summit, we got the stunning view we were hoping for.  The sun rose over the horizon, and Corfe Castle and its whole hillside lit up in the brilliant golden light of morning.  Our early wakeup call, the strenuous climb, and the frigid winds were all worth it when the sun hit the hills just right.  We had earned the beautiful view, and we were rewarded with some awesome pictures.

If we’re ever in southern England again, I can say for certain that we will be stopping through Corfe Castle again.  Though hopefully next time will be in the summer. J

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