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.
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.
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.
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.
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.