You might have guessed I’ve visited a few castles in my time. I’ve plenty still to go! What I have noticed over the years is visiting a castle involves two positions: looking up and looking down.
When you’re a small child, castles are huge. Even as an adult, one who’s lived in big cities with tower blocks, the scale of walls and towers still strikes me as imposing. Many times as I’ve looked up at castle’s parapets, I’ve cricked my neck trying to spy the uppermost ramparts.
Having scouted the lower floors, the next stage of visiting a castle is scaling the walls or towers. No, not with ropes or ladders as the earlier besiegers attempted, but using the spiral staircases in the towers. Quite often the original steps are still in situ, worn down by countless feet marching up and down. The narrow passage barely accommodates two people abreast and the lack of light means climbing in dimly lit stair wells. If you get dizzy easily, then coming down requires caution, or else you feel light headed. Going up requires sturdy legs and a degree of fitness – not crumbling joints.
One castle I visited as a child, I don’t remember which, a poor woman had an epileptic fit on the steps half way up a tower. She was devastated, as it was her first for two years and she’d just got her driving licence back. The winding stairs triggered the seizure.
Once you’re high up, the views are fantastic. So many castles are built on top of natural hills and their defensive location is paramount to their purpose. On a sunny day, you can see for miles. I’m fine as long as I don’t look directly down, which makes me a little wobbly.
I think part of my love of castles is due to how you explore them. You have to be prepared to clamber about, enter dark passages and cellars, and climb up uneven steps to vantage points. Castles have many similar features, but each one is unique, especially in what has survived the centuries. Those that have been kept as homes, rebuilt and maintained, offer a different perspective. However, for me, it is the ruin that remains the thrill. History creeps out from the broken walls and comes back to life.