The Castles of my Dreams

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....

AGE: 2
gun emplacement fortifications powder store moncreiff dissappearing gun
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.
tunnels inpaultons park hampshire

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.
AGE: 3
portsmouth from spinnaker towerThe 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.
tudor brickwork king henry 8th castle portsmouthSouthsea 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.
derelict building
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.
scrapyard tipner portsmouth

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.
coastal defence structure portsmouth harbour historic walls
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.
medieval village church in dorset farm track
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.

london skylins from st pauls roof

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.

london underground tube line escalator

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.
tower tour of sherborne abbey dorset

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.
wartime tunnels into chalk cliff paulsgroveFormer 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.

AGE: 4
slate mine cornwall tourist attraction
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).

greyhound racing track tipner portsmouth

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.

tower tour of st marys church portsmouth
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

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).

royal armouries museum portsmouth
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.

portsmouth miniature village old infantry defence tunnel
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.

AGE: 5

derelict castle ruins pevensey

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.

dorset castle keep roof with spiral staircase
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.
cold war listening posts southsea seafront hayling island

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.

boy in service duct tunnels merchant taylors northwood watford middlesex
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.

AGE: 6

medieval armoury and gunpowder store southsea seafrontSquare 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.

medieval castle walls with portcullisCarisbrooke 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.

medieval roman castle ruin portchester

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.

chorister pews with secret door to church tower

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.

view along southsea seafront from cathedral roof
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 west sussex cathedral door

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 aircraft carrier in portsmouth harbourHMS 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.

AGE: 7

calshot castle protecting southampton water

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 tunnel and sally port under tower

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 retirement community nursling romsey

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.

AGE: 8

tower of london tourist trap

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.
victorian gothic building raising of the bridge

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 medieval church
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.

english heritage dover castle kent great tower from peverells gateDover 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 tour limestone caverns
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.
palmerston fort protecting portsmouth harbourFort 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.
napoleonic fort royal parade eastbourneThe 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.

explosion museum of naval firepower


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.

medieval castle
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.

st georges chapel windsor castle medieval home of kings

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

monument london doric column sir christopher wren
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.

medieval stone masons work spire salisbury cathedralSalisbury Cathedral.
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.
Winchester Cathedral.
winchester cathedral tower tour reviewMaybe 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.
goughs cave cheddar gorge mendip tourist trapCheddar Gorge.
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.
palace of westminster corner turretThis 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.
keep guildford castle norman motte and bailey
Guildford Castle.
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.
AGE - 11
Cuevas Del Drach, Porto Cristo, Majorca.
stalactites stalagmites in caveThese '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.
AGE - 12
orgueil castle pink granite low tideMont Orgueil Castle, Gorey, Jersey.
Jersey is made of pink granite and has many outcrops, islands, promontories and craggy sticky-up bits, and the fortifiers of the ages have made good use of natural rock formations. Orgueil Castle is not messing around on a peninsula facing France and has many layers and levels which have been added to, improved and complicated over the many centuries for which it has served. This also means flat grassy areas, forgotten tunnels that don't go anywhere, a 100 foot high room, abandoned chapels and some very threatening dungeons. That nice Mr Hitler even added a modern lookout post on the top and you should expect to climb 73 different flights of stairs and take flight from 73 different German tour groups.
Elizabeth Castle, St Helier, Jersey.
walk to castle causeway at low tideJersey is a land of scattered granite islands and when it comes to castles, an island is a great place to start. So over the last 1500 years, Elizabeth Castle has grown to encompass about 7 different islands, with separate forts linking together to form a sprawling mess of loveliness with crenellations to die for and some curious tiny rooms, a ditch, a hermit rock, a Nazi bunker, a musket demonstration and a lawn you could land a Cessna on. While this is a banging castle of immense proportions it is probably the access you will remember. Because, depending on tide times, you have to get an amphibious vehicle to ferry you over, and you can walk back along the causeway exposed at low tide and watch that same ferry driving back across the sand.
Hurst Castle, near Lymington.
Another one of Henry the 8th's coastal forts and done in much the same style. But the Victorians expanded it dramatically and it's now got a narrow-gauge railway, vast walls, a theatre, lots of lookouts and searchlights and lighthouse bulbs and old cannons. Again, you can reach this brutal low-profile fortress by mini-ferry and walk back along the 1 1/2 mile shingle spit that connects it to the mainland. Henry's section (1544) is the tallest but the rest of it is quite long. The Isle of Wight is only 3/4 of a mile away and some of the castle floods at high tide.
Yarmouth Castle, Isle of Wight.
boy sitting on cannonAlmost directly opposite Hurst Castle sits Yarmouth, a small town with a big history. Some French sailors marauded here in the 16th Century so Good Old Henry 8 installed a small but solid square castle right by the ferry port with a lot of its crenellations pointing inland, where it was most vulnerable.
Its main block only has room for 3 decent cannon but there are some nice garrison quarters, powder stores and town charters. Safety barriers are missing and when the Southampton ferry lands you can practically touch it.
This is my 53rd entry on this glorious page, which is now 10 years old. What an investigative career.

The Agia Solomoni Christian Catacomb, Paphos, Cyprus.
healing waters and pistachio treeIt might be a mouthful, but this ancient cave (Hellenistic) has a few rock-cut chambers with 12th century frescoes and graffiti by actual crusaders. This former synagogue sheltered the first Christian on Cyprus, just outside Paphos old town. At street level above stands a Terebinth (Pistachio) tree with apparent healing powers and votive offerings tied to the branches. The rooms 1 level below with valuable artwork are gated but a door leads down another dozen or so steps into the darkness where you will accidentally step into the invisible pool of apparently healing waters.

Agios Lamprianos rock-cut chambers and old quarry, Paphos, Cyprus.

hellenistic tombs cyprusRight next to the catacombs and the ancient open-air theatre (ruins) are a huge set of limestone caverns which were started in a couple of centuries BC. Former burial grounds, these Hellenistic tombs still have religious symbols cut into the stone and every time you think you've finished, another opening presents itself. Some you have to stoop through, slide down or crawl, some are twenty feet high, some are dangerous and off-limits for those with limits. Nice and cool out of the Cypriot sun, it needs a good clean but has been derelict for a couple of millennia.

Saranta Kolones (Forty Towers) castle, Paphos, Cyprus.
archaeological park paphosOriginally this was a 7th century defence against arabs but after a Byzantine refit the Lusignans tried again in the 13th century, decorating it with 40 granite columns.
There is not much left now but the more modern walls with corner towers are clearly visible, as are gratings protecting vertical drops to the dungeons and tunnel system beneath. Try not to go in the heat of the day and tunnellers will need torches. An earthquake destroyed it in 1223 and it was abandoned.

victorian fort purbrookFort Purbrook, Portsmouth.
This is another in the row of Victorian forts on the hill above Portsmouth harbour, defending it from land attack so all the guns point inland. This was the easternmost defensive position so it had 2 supporting redoubts connected by tunnels. This is a huge 7-sided brick-built castle with chicanes in the tunnels, all of which are brick-lined unlike Fort Nelson with its bare walls. Abandoned for years, it is now owned by the council and run as a youth activities centre. The main tunnels and caponiers and musketry galleries are truly huge and some are clean and well-lit but from the outer walls you can gain entry to the abandoned tunnel network with spiral staircases, moss and debris, safe from the Health'n'Safety brigade with their organised tours of 3% of the network.
AGE - 13
Knights Hospitallers, Valletta, Malta.
Those Crusaders got around a bit, and in Valletta, they built a huge hospital with some pretty advanced ideas and high ideals, like the ventilation holes to the herb garden, equality for all and quarantine for arrivals from plague-ridden countries. A lot of it has been refurbished over the last few hundred years but the superstructure is original. You only get to see 2 of the 5 layers, unless you pay to go into the waxworks below. 2 further sub-basement levels have space for 7000 people to shelter from Nazi bombings and a series of grotto escapes for boats. Nice and cool out of the Maltese sun and has a large auditorium and stage.
Fort St Elmo, Valletta, Malta.
Extremely large stone fort right on the promontory of Valletta, overlooking the harbour entrance. The Maltese had a bit of trouble with invaders such as Turks and Barbary Corsairs: often they came and killed everyone or took them all as slaves. So the inhabitants tended towards chunky castles, and this one was improved by the Victorian Brits, and then again during the Nazi period. Because of the Victorian engineering influence, a lot of it is hauntingly familiar but the older parts are cool, both structurally and temperature. There is a good historic exhibition dating back to the Neolithic and some wartime memorabilia. While they are restoring as best they can, the outer curtain walls need redevelopment and look quite sad with their rust and abandoned fridges.
Rabat Citadel Fortress, Gozo.
Gozo had much the same invasion worries as Malta so their capital Rabat (Victoria) has a huge citadel overlooking the parched surrounding fields. There is the obligatory church and huge curtain walls and walkways and prison cells and silversmith's workshops and other paid-for attractions, but the main area is free. The eastward-facing walls are the highest and views are extensive. A series of unused cellular patches of land in the middle could do with irrigation and farming, as they were first intended to be. The stone is locally quarried and very attractive.
Glastonbury Abbey.
This was a huge monastery with historical significance. They were well set a thousand years ago with multiple buildings of impressive size and control over the water supply to the town. But following a fire, they experienced cashflow difficulties and 'Discovered' the bones of King Arthur and Guinevere. This generated significant interest, pilgrim footflow and new revenue streams and investment. The Abbey flourished until Henry 8th nationalised the monasteries and it fell into ruin. The footprints of the buildings show it to be one of the biggest in the country and only some remains. St Joseph's crypt is still used, the cookhouse is a living exhibition and the fallen archway in the main church is a great place to perform Shakespeare al fresco. See the fishponds and the orchards, and buy genuine Abbey cider.
Glastonbury Tor.
An unremarkable plain tower built in the 1400s. But it was part of St Michaels Monastery and replaced a previous 6th century church when it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1275. Also it is on the top of Glastonbury Tor which rises from the Isle of Avalon on the Somerset levels, and has been used since time immemorial for worship, hermits, and grazing of sheep. Inextricably entwined with the Abbey below, and Arthurian legend, not to mention Joseph of Arimathea and folk magic, this is why you'll never be alone on the Tor. The 2 pathways up to the summit are steep and represent a mini-pilgrimage and religious experience in themselves. The views are excellent but beware the angry winds which are free to move across the flat landscape until driven skywards by the 521-foot pimple.
Expect to meet German tourist groups, crystal-waving new-age hippies, families out to do worthy visits, wind, and locals walking their dogs.
The Roman Baths, Bath.
Few places anywhere are as cool. The British knew about the hot springs before the Romans turned up but the newcomers brought money, determination, new gods, and lots of advanced civil engineering across all the disciplines. They went for opulence and visual awe: a lot of it has been lost but painstaking excavation has brought a lot of it back and recreated the impressive original. You can see the authentic water management sluices and purpose-built rooms with underfloor heating and so forth, but it is the human side that outranks the architecture. Memorials with legible inscriptions abound, but the items deliberately thrown into the holy spring include gemstones, coins, tributes and curses. One folded lead inscription is the only British Celtic text to survive anywhere. The historical value of perfectly-preserved personally-written texts from 2000 years ago cannot be understated. Drink the spring water. Get completely overwhelmed by history and tourists.
Edinburgh Castle.
Entirely respectable castle on granite peak with long sloped approach. Was a bastion against English aggression until the Scots ran out of money on a bad business deal and had to hock their entire country to the English. This castle is over 900 years old and has witnessed its fair share of incinerated witches, plagues, crown jewels and rain.
It has a massive cannon called Mons Meg, a graveyard for regimental mascot dogs, 2 churches and a lot of tourists climbing the narrow staircases for a brief view of the crown jewels and a great view of the surroundings. Multi-layered with sallyports, vantage points and traps everywhere, the tour guides are enthusiastic and the bagpiper's medal collection inventive. The old town on the slopes is full of history and bizarre urban legends, a place of whisky-soaked character and quaint customs of years gone by.
The Vaults, South street Bridge, Edinburgh.
Edinburgh has been a crowded, smelly city with noxious emanations for 900 years. Because of limited space, they had to build high and close, a recipe for easy disease transfer. And because of the large population, they had to butcher a lot of animals onsite, leaving blood, guts and excreta behind in large quantities. At one point, they destroyed a whole ghetto area and reused the stones to build South Street Bridge, over the quagmire of cow blood at Cowgate. The arches became new ghettoes with drinking dens, harlots dens and gang headquarters. Eventually the city walled them off and they were forgotten until rediscovered in council building works.
The council deemed them un-owned so any shop with frontage claimed them. Thus bars, nightclubs and dungeon tour companies use the former plague pits, as did a witches' coven. They declared the stones to have absorbed so much evil and sadness they were themselves cursed, and you can now see the stone circle on one of the many enjoyable underground tours.

AGE - 14

Battle Abbey, Battle.
battle abbey hastings norman conquest harold williamThis edifice is old-style, for it was started on the very spot where William beat Harold in 1066 to become ruler of England. From sources active at the time, we learn that William the Conqueror founded the Abbey and gave it lands around Harolds' death-spot. Some 11th century parts, a ruined crypt, monks' latrine, 13th century dormitory with decent lookouts and a bijou gatehouse with nice staircases and roof but not on the large side, as the Cleveland manor is now a school.
Marvel at the nation-building location, check out the stonework, but most of the decent stuff was taken by Henry 8 in 1538 to swell his personal coffers. The battlefield walk has numerous chainsaw-carved sculptures and disinterested sheep.

Cleveland Smugglers Tunnels, Hastings.
boys arseDuring the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain was always at war with one country or another in furtherance of its empire-building desires so the Exchequer raised taxes to pay for them.
The populace objected and once taxation reached a certain level, smuggling of all sorts of everyday goods became worthwhile, and gangs flourished.
Hastings faces the continent so smuggling was big business for a period: one enterprising group hollowed out an acre of hidden storage units in a hillside just along from the West Cliff Lift funicular railway and you can see the caverns today.
Some are narrow and low-ceilinged, some more cavernous and suitable for Jazz clubs or WW2 bomb shelters. Expect animatronic skeletons and many historical setups and a shop full of skulls and a good time.

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