Queen of the Castle

I’ve always thought of Parracombe as a peaceful and picturesque little Exmoor village, but when William of Falaise (relation of the more famous William the Conqueror) moved in sometime after 1066, he decided he needed a massive wooden castle to keep the natives in order.

The site is now called Holwell Castle and there’s a great view of it across the valley from Christ Church, where an information board helpfully explains what all the lumps and bumps are.

Green hillside with earthworks beyond trees
SPOT THE MOTTE

In case that shot from the churchyard isn’t entirely clear (and to be honest I was confused at first) here’s a close-up.

Close-up of earthworks with arrows drawn on the photo

RED – the MOTTE.  Anyone looking out from the castle keep that was built on top must have had a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside.

BLUE – the ramparts of the BAILEY, which had a wooden palisade on top to protect all the buildings inside. You can still see (but not on this photo, sadly) the flattened rectangle of ground where a large hall once stood.

YELLOW – this is where you have to imagine a massive wooden gatehouse.

The site is on a private farm so you can’t usually visit, but yesterday afternoon we seized the rare chance of a guided tour. Fortified with the tea and cakes being served in the church, a large group of people set off in the sunshine to explore the earthworks in the company of an archaeologist. As I know next to nothing about the Normans, I hope I haven’t mangled his explanation too much.

The wooden structures are long gone but the earthworks, which were probably dug by reluctant locals, are brilliantly preserved.

Man standing in deep trench Here’s part of the ditch that surrounds the motte, and although it’s silted up over the last thousand years, it’s still far too deep to see out of. (Note the lone model for scale and the absence of Large Group of People – they really were there, but it seems a bit rude to post pictures of innocent bystanders without their permission.)

William and his followers would have reached the motte via a drawbridge, but modern commoners have to scramble up the side.  It’s a lot steeper than it looks.

View down the valley from the top of the MotteThe reward at the top: a temporary elevation to Queen of the Castle and a grand view of the valley and some dirty rascals down inside the bailey. You can just see the church on the right.

AND… as if that wasn’t a perfect enough afternoon (cake, countryside, sunshine, good company, archaeology) this was how the day drew to a close. Wow.

Seagulls silhouetted against sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Queen of the Castle

  1. Your description and photographs remind me of Maiden Castle, Dorchester. I know, built in a different time period, but one that you know well. I grew up in Dorchester and my school overlooked Maiden Castle. Spent many happy days walking and playing there. When I was a child they were still talking about the excavation that Sir Mortimer Wheeler undertook. Wonder if Ruso has ever heard of the battles of Durnavaria? Have Memento Mori on CD. Have been keeping it for our holiday, to pass the time whilst Himself is watching the football. Really looking forward to it. Always look forward to your blogs.

    1. Hi Margaret,

      What a great place to grow up! And a wonderful site for children to play on.

      I’d imagine Ruso knows the Roman version of how Maiden Castle fell to Vespasian’s superior forces, although the local Britons may have had a different version altogether. I was interested to see (on the English Heritage website) that the idea of the cemetery being filled with victims of Vespasian’s army is now in doubt. This is the sort of thing that drives novelists crackers, because you just think you’ve got the historical background pinned down, and it changes…

      Hope you enjoy Memento Mori. I promise it is a completely football-free zone.

  2. Oh, wow!!! Really enjoyed your pics and fun yet edifying descriptions! I esp love the pic from the elevated castle keep spot, & how you can look down & see where the gatehouse was (not to mention the dirty rascals – lol) – amazing. Believe it or not, you are living my someday-life 😄 ( & providing me fodder to tuck away for that future day 😉)!!

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