We were lucky enough to be at a wedding over the weekend; Caz Coker and Charlie Dent tied the knot in beautiful Gloucestershire, and it was a truly wondering occasion. I wish them all the happiness in the world!
We stayed over at our hotel until the Bank Holiday Monday and decided to go and visit Berkeley Castle. Sue and I love visiting castles and stately homes and things like that, though we don't often do it. It was also an excellent opportunity to do some research for my next book, which is set in a fantasy setting that closely echoes medieval Europe.
Berkeley is a very old castle, with records going back 850 years, and it was built to be a fortress. The people at the front gate made much of the 'trip stairs', which I thought was just a line they used for health and safety but turns out to actually be a genuine security feature. There was a murder-hole as well, a small opening from the guard tower where you could drop things on invaders, and the more common arrow-slits and the like.
Inside, the castle was a bit of a mixed bag. All the centuries from the 11th or 12th onwards were represented, often next to each other. So there's a room with ancient weapons - swords, a hunting crossbow, a spear with amazing pearlescent inlay - next to a walking-stick gun, and then in the next room a sewing machine and typewriter sit beside Queen Elizabeth I's bedspread.
(Turns out there was a funny story connected with the bedspread. Turns out Queen Elizabeth had hunted a few too many deer in the castle grounds while the lord was away, and on his return he was less than pleased. She made such a hasty departure that she left her bedspread there.)
There was an excellent dungeon opening in one of the halls; a three-storey drop into muddy water, by the looks of things, into a room about the size of a decent-sized bathroom. Very atmospheric.
Walking through the halls, you really got the sense that they were, at one point, alive with activity. The kitchens in particular gave this impression, and not least because they're still in use today for wedding parties. Probably the most interesting thing we saw was a differential gear mechanism that someone added in the 1800s for turning the spit in front of the fire, powered by a fan hidden in the chimney.
Probably the hardest thing to track down in the castle was the origin of a small diamond-shaped window split in four. Two of them said ''Humilis' and two said 'Obediens', and all four sections had a date: 159X. The X was really an 8, but all four of the number 8 digits had been scratched off in quite a deliberate manner. After asking three different guides, and being lead from one to the other, we came to the conclusion that there was a problem with the monarch at that time; to show that they were no longer humble and obedient to the crown, the window was defaced.
A few notes for my world-building:
Tapestries: There were a lot of tapestries, showing epic scenes, often in great detail. They were huge and intricate.
Portraits: Same thing, though to be fair there were portraits from right down the history of the place. Seems like portraits would be a major thing for a lord or king.
Stained glass: Lots of this around, telling stories, showing symbolic meetings and partings, and so on.
Great hall: Not actually that large, with a minstrel's gallery. Useful space to have in my head when I next write a scene in a great hall.
Scenery: The castle had a commanding view of the parkland around it, where the deer roamed. I got some photos, so plenty to work with!
Photos: Should have taken more! Reading this, there's a load of stuff I remember of which I didn't take pictures! Silly me.