What do you dream about? Are you plagued by the office pest who wants you to do the 'photocopying'? Is it the tweetle, ping and monsters of HALO, Titans, iPhone and Call of Duty? Is your make-up always wrong, your Best Man's speech lost forever and are your trousers missing?
Ever since I became a sentient being, I have been deliberately exposed to all manner of locations and situations to give my nocturnal cartoon parade an added depth of reality, and one recurring theme is castles/dungeons, see my profile. Following Bud's tours of the Oudtshoorn cave system (South Africa), Maltese neolithic catacombs and Northern England in the 1970s (before health and safety) where he ascended the towers of Lincoln and Durham cathedrals, a decent bit of stonework has been a clear favourite. I have visited a couple of bank vaults, but pictures cannot be taken for security reasons. But all this is an ongoing race against the auld enemy (public liability insurance, paranoid safety procedures and institutional fear of litigation) which stalks us daily, sticking its cloying fingers of stuffy boredom into our lives....
Hilsea Lines. These earthwork fortifications were started around the time of good old Henry the 8th and were improved variously since, particularly during World War 2. Designed to stop the invasion of Portsmouth Naval Base from the mainland (if captured by the enemy), its gun ports face outward. This one looks east towards the 2 moats and Chichester. Most of the magazines and storage rooms have been fenced off but plenty are still open: this giant one is by the railway line, with integral stables. Yes. I have a Bob the Builder hardhat.
Paultons Park. This country estate is now a theme park, and a good one. But they still have a sunken garden with tunnels, perhaps an old ice house or wine cellar.
I find the tunnels far less scary than the gentlest of roller-coasters, even the ones with plastic dinosaur heads.
The Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth. A very pointy City logo that cost the taxpayers far more than was originally planned. It has the largest glass floor in Europe, great for dancing over the abyss. Huge windows give a great view both in daylight and after dark; the structure wobbles in high winds and the top floor (open to the elements) has a plastic owl to scare away pigeons (doesn't work). Very very tall indeed.
Southsea Castle. Yet another of Henry the 8th's coastal defences, it contains Tudor brickwork and lots of cannons. This is the bombproof tunnel leading to the hollow outer walls which have rifle-ports so you can shoot those naughty invaders trying to put ladders up to the inner walls. Now a decent museum, it has been a prison and was captured (only the once) by Parliamentarian troops during the civil war when the Royalist commander was too drunk to open the door.
Racton Ruin. Stuck out in the countryside, this folly is a huge hollow tower. With stonking great brick walls, you can see the holes for joists and floors and staircases going all the way up, but all have been burnt or rotted away. Apparently the ladyfolk used to sit in the tower supping wine, waiting for the menfolk to get back from the hunt, nice work if you can get it. Now makes a splendid location for picnics, tramps, graffiti competitions and all-night rave parties.
Tipner scrapyard. Repository of dead ships, US army amphibious tanks, propellers and bent anchors, this old wharf area is now mostly the new Park'n'Ride facility. You used to have to hop the fence by the greyhound racing stadium and go under the motorway (with its biologically inventive graffiti) to find the marine boneyard. All private, contaminated land, it is one of the forgotten corners of Pompey, best forgotten.
The Hot Walls, Portsmouth Harbour. A long stretch of fortifications from the Round Tower to the Square Tower, these directly overlook the harbour entrance, woe betide all ships not flying the right flag because it's full of cannon ports, rifle slits and thick walls. Very historic and extremely touristy, it's popular with local youths who "Tombstone", jumping off into the sea, which isn't deep enough so they end up with broken bones. I like waving to the ferries from here.
Church tower of St Martin of Tours, Lillington. Like the small medieval churches of so many little rural villages throughout Dorset and other counties, its lichen-encrusted walls preside over a community much smaller than it once was. My first bijou towerette, I ascended it several times and changed the flag on the roof. It helps if your Grandma is the churchwarden. The bells are nice and big but dusty and pigeon-y. From the roof you can see cows, ponds, fields and hedgerows in the picturesque valley. The spiral staircase is narrow and the entrance is hidden in a cupboard, an ideal start to my church career.
St Paul's Cathedral, London. This little-known parish church has a whispering gallery but I was not tall enough to appreciate it, and rushed up to the parapet to see the streets of London, sadly not paved with gold. There was a further ladder but it was into the cupola and I wasn't allowed. There are some people buried in the basement and it's all rather groovy.
The London Underground network. Surely the biggest tunnel system in the world? It certainly seemed to go on forever, and I did only a smidgeon. The escalators go down and down, and in one of the stations the secret staircase goes down again to Eisenhower's bunker, but they use it as storage now. It's free for little people so all the local schools ride the tube to the museums (also free) for field trips. Everyone was in a big hurry, I loved the maps on the wall and the wind when a train comes but didn't love the aroma-o-rama of all nations.
Sherborne Abbey. Cheated somewhat because Grandma knew the people so the nice Verger took me up to the roof. We saw the ancient clock mechanism, they all have to be massive to turn the hands on such big clock faces on 2 or 4 sides of the tower. The bell-ringing room was great, the stonework passages precipitous and just when we were on the roof, it turned 4pm and we were deafened by the bells. Lovely coloured stones and medieval graves in the chancel.
Former world War 2 radio signalling station and bunker, Paulsgrove chalk pit, Portsdown Hill. The entrance tunnel goes back 80 feet into the chalk cliff, there are some steps down and a long room with notches in the wall, old corrugated iron and a blocked cable duct to the surface. The far end has an escape tunnel back to the cliff face. It all used to be at ground level during the war, but when they built the motorway flyover they took the chalk from the quarry, leaving the tunnel entrances 40 feet above ground level, a fun climb and rite of passage (aha) for the local kids.
Carnglaze Caverns, former slate mine, Cornwall. You are issued with bright yellow hardhats for this over-priced attraction. Inside it's really quite dark, and they have set up atmospheric lighting around the many pools of still deep cold water. You can get married there but don't wear white. You can't help thinking there are crannies and side-rooms that you're not shown, and we took a shard of slate for our glass-topped table. Splendid woodland walk outside with many faerie and elf-type creatures hiding in the undergrowth (or I'd eaten the wrong mushrooms again).
Derelict greyhound racing track, Tipner, Portsmouth. Greyhounds have gone to the dogs in recent years, and this local track on the edge of the wilderness was no different. I went in many prefab, brick and jerry-built windowless buildings and in one, met a man robbing copper cables. For want of a screwdriver we could have had unique signs "Dogs and owners only" etc. The hole in the fence (one of my favourite things) was good to us as it has all now been cleared away to doggie heaven.
Parish church of St Mary, Portsea. Only about 120 years old, this sturdy edifice on the highest bit of Portsea island takes advantage of 1000 years of masonic knowledge and modern building materials. The main tower is very good with a grand internal space and the final ladder to the roof crosses right over the void. The view is far-reaching and the stonework in good condition. There are supplementary towers but not open to us. There's a hilarious safe in the office and under-floor ducting I might nip into one day.
Zurich Insurance building, Portsmouth city centre (derelict). No doubt held up as a beacon of the future in the seventies, we found the cornerstone laid by the mayor in the foyer of this abandoned and stripped-out building. The lift shafts are open up and down, all the metal has been removed and the stairs also, to prevent access to the upper floors. Lots and lots of broken glass everywhere, subterranean generator rooms and green puddles. A real adventure, thanks to the hole in the fence (since repaired).
Fort Nelson. One of the Palmerston forts on Portsdown hill, it's now the "Cannon museum" (Royal Armouries) with interactive displays and artillery pieces looted from every corner of the world. They shoot a Howitzer every few hours and you can too, for about £40. There are massive hewn tunnels through the hill right the way through the fort, so long you just can't see all the way down. With vast walls and splendid structures, I want one. The fort further along the hill still has access to the nuclear bunkers.
Lumps Fort, Southsea Seafront. Quite a small, flat fort right on the seafront, it presents a low profile to enemy ships but had decent gun emplacements. Now a rose garden, place of solitude and miniature village, you can't get into most of the underground bunkers and powder stores, but the miniature village cleared their tunnel out and that's where Ben and I met Santa. One of his better grottoes, the bomb-proofed infantry tunnel has rifle ports giving a field of fire over the seafront, for those kids who haven't been good.
Pevensey Castle. Little more than a pile of rocks nowadays, it was important once, I suppose. The Romans started it and you can see how the walls must have been impressive. The inner keep is more upstanding but needs a re-point and paintjob.
Mostly it's important to me because it's near Nanna.
Dorchester Keep. With unpredictable opening times, this mini-castle was the recently built gatehouse for a larger garrison at the top of Dorchester. It's now the museum for the Dorset regiment and it's got lots of their regimental silverware, medal collections and spoils of war that they have gathered over their active service period. Booty includes lots of swastikas and Hitlers' desk. One of the towers was for washing plague victims, the view is nice and the little shop was where I began my love affair with copper pencil sharpeners.
Fort Cumberland Cold War listening station. The fort itself has the traditional angled bastions so favoured around Portsmouth and is still in use so we couldn't go far into it. But above it is an abandoned military spy outpost with lots of aerials and radar dishes and nesting seagulls, right in front of the nudist beach. Sometimes there's a hole in the fence (but never for long) and I get to investigate the area, full of barbed wire and broken glass, overgrown with brambles and pitted with sudden holes and trip hazards.
Merchant Taylor's School subterranean service ducts. This school moved out of central London in 1935 to a purpose-built site in Middlesex. The concrete-lined tunnels go for hundreds of yards under the school buildings with access hatchways everywhere. While modern, they are extensive and just my height. During wartime air raids, the boarders used to sneak down them and shoot .303 blanks at the day boys sheltering from the Nazi bombs. Warmed by the radiator supply pipes, they have permanent lighting in the larger passageways.
Square Tower, Old Portsmouth. A mere 500 years old, this block-built behemoth has super-thick walls, 2 floors, a sump and a roof. You can go in it during open days when they have Olde Tea Shoppes and my parents hired it for their wedding party, stealing the roof key off the council man. It was strong enough to be the gunpowder store and is part of our massive harbour defences. I couldn't get onto the roof but you've just got to love the stonework.
Carisbrooke Castle. Now a bit of a ruin, this has a very tall central bailey and outer curtain walls you can still walk around. I got army training here from a Drill Sergeant that had lost his voice, but I got to crawl around under barbed wire being shot at. You can see the bed used by Charles 1st when he was a prisoner and you can see the Spinnaker tower from the top tower. I didn't get to meet the ponies but there were some little cannons to climb on and a nice formal garden.
Some of the castle is a bit crumbly and not all rooms are still present but it's good.
Portchester Castle. Another one started by the Romans, it's been extended (particularly upwards) since, although it had a considerable period abandoned. You can see the monks' toilets in the outer wall and lots of modern concreting in the equivalent of clerestories to stabilise the tower. You can't go in most of the towers due to decay but the largest has been refurbished and I like the spiral staircases and the great view down the outside of the walls from the top. No tunnels as it's only just above sea level but has a nice internal mini-moat with bridge and crabbing, and torture implements await you. Nice walk around the outside and historic houses outside the gate.
Garrison Church, Old Portsmouth. I first met this one on a school trip. Right up against the seafront battlements by the harbour entrance, a German bomb struck the main part which cost it the roof. The smaller altar end is still functioning, though, and we revisited it later and I went in the entrance to the very little tower (unsafe) through the secret door under the choristers' bench. As with all churches, it's full of history but this one is all military and all squashed into one little bit.
Portsmouth Cathedral. Another one I discovered on a school trip, this is a few hundred years old and has kept the cannonball that nasty Mr Cromwell shot through their roof. A nice tower with exposed tripping-cables in the clock room and wooden ladders to the cupola on top. Don't try the bell-ringers' fire escape if you're fat. The altar end is much older than the new, bright, open space opposite so you can see some nice clerestories and supplementary spiral staircases. On high days they bring out the church silver and they have a royal marriage certificate.
Arundel Cathedral. Like the castle just around the corner, this is a heavy-duty hilltop construction with impressively thick walls and numerous gargoyles. One side has a very ornate gate-house entrance for those with really big carriages and you can see offices above it, it's so big. The cathedral is modern so large inside with a rose window of quality and size. The door to the organists' cockpit and tower was open but we didn't sneak up.
HMS Ark Royal. OK, so it's not a castle or church, but is similar in size. This was our last aircraft carrier in service (it fought in the Falklands war) but was old so they took away the guns and spy equipment and scrapped it. I saw the plane hangars and the giant hydraulic lifts that moved the sea harriers up to the flight deck and there were helicopters and trucks on the top and I rang the ships' bell. I am standing right on the edge over the sea, if my left sleeve looks strange it's because it's empty, my arm was broken at the time.
Calshot Castle. This is a circular structure for whom the title 'Castle' is generous. OK, there's an inhabited flat, a moat and drawbridge, powder store and garrison and ramparts with crenellations, walkway and anti-ship guns. But the shop is only big enough for one desk and the barracks would only be good enough for half-a-dozen men if they were really good friends. I liked the stone steps, the Spitfire and Flying Boat exhibition by the toilets and the fact that you can get round the whole thing in 4 minutes. The bijou castlette occupies a prime position overlooking Southampton water, just right for making those Frenchies surrender, thanks to Henry 8ths' defence contracts. Yes, I'm standing outside the walls. But if I fell, it's only 20 feet down to the moat, I'd just be wet.
Winchester Castle. Again, an over-ambitious title for this rotten remnant. All you get is a few foundations and a flight of steps going under the base of one of the old towers. There's a sally port and a tunnel that doesn't go anywhere. I was quite scathing about this let-down but right next to it is the old medieval Kings' hall with Bishops' throne, Queens' garden and King Arthurs' round table for his knights. Yes, it may be an authentic medieval reproduction, but it's big. The Gifte Shoppe is very expensive.
Grove Place west tower. This Elizabethan manor house has wood panelling, a listed sunken garden, leaded windows, giant fireplaces, those window seats you could go to sleep on, and 2 symmetrical brick-built towers.
I asked the facilities manager nicely and he took us to the top of this tower, through the secret door and up the original wooden spiral staircase. The windows are quite small and there's not much of a turning circle so the best picture I have is from outside. The other tower is an unsafe structure.
The Tower of London. Slightly touristy and subject to London prices, the ravens are still here but caged. This is the historic traitor's gate, abandon hope all ye who enter here. I walked the outer walls and blasted the enemy, climbed the white tower and saw all the horse armour and the gold-plated machine guns and the very tall spiral staircases and I saw the crown jewels and snuck into the ballroom and didn't have enough time for the coins and kings and all the other exhibitions. Needs a second visit, it's so big.
Tower Bridge. The most famous in the world, this heroic bridge over troubled water has a lift on one side and the walkways over the Thames are narrower than you think and we saw a film that belittled the design and execution of this splendid icon. It's stone on the outside but has lots of girders inside with rivets as big as your fist and staircases that help hold it all up and bifurcated views of London. The bridge is worth it on its own but you get a bonus Victorian machinery lifting room further down the road with seriously heavy engineering, amusing interactive games and a good shop. Look out for the actual road bridge itself where it doesn't quite meet in the middle and the fence is covered in padlocks.
Romsey Abbey. Finished about 1250 (just in time for lunch), this solid church has clerestories on 3 levels and narrow spiral staircases in every corner. The town had to buy it off Henry 8th when he nationalised the monasteries so care has been taken and historical artefacts preserved. The straight ascent alongside the tower is steep and you can wave to the unknowing humans on the floor hundreds of feet below. The roof was good with nice turrets but the bells are inside a wooden pork-pie structure so I couldn't see them.
Dover Castle. The biggest in Britain, it started as a Bronze age hill fort, was added to by the Romans and various kings and governments since. It is riddled with secret tunnels and covered in towers and moats and ditches and ramparts. You can't go in the nuclear fallout bunkers but so much of it is open you have to spend a whole day there.
Very big walls and staircases in the Great Tower, decent views from the battlements if it isn't raining. There is a lot of up and down so expect tired legs.
Wookey Hole is a famous West Country subterranean cave system. Inhabited 60,000 years ago, it has been used on and off ever since and now is a tourist attraction of decent proportions. You can only really see a lot of it if you're an advanced-level cave diver but the outer reaches have been opened to the public with a nice tour and walkways with historical analysis and humorous sound and lighting effects. Limestone caverns abound in this natural formation with an actual river doing the hard work and lots of drips of lime-juice falling on your head and fissures, head-height hazards, disoriented crying babies, myths of witches and a discarded wellington boot in Chamber 9. It's not a long tour but I would do it again, and indeed, did, when we found some tickets that somebody had dropped. I liked the pretend cave art (Police car and Neanderthal family) and the wine storage but the Cheddar cheese maturation facility was painfully whiffy.
Fort Brockhurst is one of a line of forts built in the 1860s to protect Portsmouth harbour Naval dockyard from land attack. Not only did nobody attack, improvements in artillery etc meant it was soon obsolete and was abandoned for a while. Now it's used as an artefact store: other forts are now industrial estates. This one has some massive earthworks and caponiers and a stand-alone circular keep with a grass roof. The moat houses carp and dragonflies while the walls are full of plants and beehives. Opening for 4 hours every month, it's not easy to see but very big when you do.
The Redoubt, Eastbourne seafront. Built 1807, it was designed to ward off Napoleon and was big enough for only a hundred soldiers or so. It is round with 5 sticking-out caponiers in its dry moat and is now a museum. Same sort of design as many other Napoleonic forts, this one is quite small and could do with some tidying up.
Grand Magazine, Priddy's hard, Gosport. Not really a castle per se, it was built to take over from the Square Tower (Portsmouth) as the nation's storehouse of gunpowder and naval explosive in the 18th Century. Now part of the Explosion Museum, it has extremely thick walls and buttresses and like the Square Tower, you can hire it for your wedding.
Arundel Castle, West Sussex. Super-impressive idealised castle perched on a hill controlling the roads and waterways. Started just after the Norman conquest, it has been added to in the medieval period and the main house completely rebuilt in the 1880s.
Extensive grounds and expensive castle tour, expect historical artefacts throughout and lots of little doors you're not allowed through. No photos either.
Windsor Castle. This one belongs to the Queen and the 38 Sovereigns before her, and it shows. Vast and priceless, there are houses in the walls and tunnels and armed guards and it's soaked in history.
Started around a thousand years ago, it's covered in tourists and cannons and swords and tombs and keep off the grass signs.
Very good to impress foreign dignitaries, her back garden goes on for miles and the views aren't bad either.
AGE - 9
The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666.
Sir Christopher Wren was asked to provide an aide-memoire to a horrifyingly destructive event and he responded with a 202 foot Doric column which is now somewhat hemmed in by office buildings. Your legs will die on the 311 step cantilevered stone staircase but the remaining view of Tower Bridge is worth it.
Quite a simple one-trick structure, it's cheap so something that has to be included on any visit to London. The viewing balcony can be windy and the winding staircase lengthy but feel the solid joy of a 17th century erect masterpiece within bazooka distance of the Thames.
Take extra legs and keep the free "I have Climbed the Monument" certificate.
Very very big indeed. Head office of the Salisbury diocese, it has clerestories to die for and still holds the record for the tallest spire in the UK. The Victorians knew how to build impressive structures but the medieval masons predated them by 700 years and the history oozes from the Purbeck stone and the sheer size awes you even before you see the prices in the gift shop.
Built to impress, this one will leave you wanting to sneak away from the official tour and explore the forbidden corners.
Maybe not the tallest, it claims to be the longest and there's no doubt about its rock-on medieval stonework of various design styles and it's strong on chantry chapels. You can't explore the crypt but the tower tour is good and narrow staircases abound in this stonking great edifice of delight. The site was Roman and the cathedral is where William T. Conqueror was crowned and allegedly, Hitler wanted the same honour but missed out. Worth it for the Choral society alone, you can practically see where the stonemasons learned their craft. Lots of lead on the roof, don't nick it.
Massive wiggly fissure carved out of a harmless Mendip by successive ice ages. Honeycombed with natural limestone caverns which are well-lit and protected from stalactite souvenir hunters by alarms, you can enter 2 caves on the standard ticket. Once occupied by prehistoric cannibals, it is now home to an animatronic dragon, maturing cheese barrels and pools of water that mirror the roof so faithfully you don't know which way up you are. Beware the numerous souvenir shops and single-track approach roads.
AGE - 10
The Jewel Tower.
This is a lonely remnant of an earlier medieval fortress. This is the one remaining corner-tower of the old Palace of Westminster. It's got a narrow spiral staircase linking its 3 floors, you can't go on the roof. Used as a treasure store, walk-in wardrobe, records repository and the original weights and measures office, it now has a small shop selling crossbows. The tour is do-it-yourself and you can see where the rest of the castle walls used to join on. Now hidden in the shadows of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, the one member of staff will frequently outnumber the visitors.
OK, not a large castle but it has many of the right attributes. Built by William The Conqueror, it was mostly constructed of local chalk and infilled with rubble and has been remodelled a few times and abandoned for a while so it's not quite up to par. But the main keep tower on its mound is picturesque and there are some decent crannies and gardens and the view from the cage on the roof is good. Try the museum below first, lots of information available. Due to the limited size, the Tower tickets are cheap and it's another qualifying castle to add to your list.
Cuevas Del Drach, Porto Cristo, Majorca.
These 'Caves of the Dragon' are deep and jam-packed with stalagmites and tites of all colours and shapes. Of course, they are also full of tourists who are admitted in packets of 300 or so to wend the long and winding path to the central cavern where some musicians in boats emerge eerily from the darkness to play classical pieces for you. The limestone looks slimy and often resembles a giant sneeze by the resident dragon. Evidence of earlier rockfalls is all around you and it is a welcome break from the summer heat.