Historia Normannis at Lancaster Castle

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Historia Normannis, the twelfth century reenactment group, came to Lancaster Castle for the easter Weekend and we decided to go and have a look see.

We arrived just in time for a potted history of Henry II and his sons. It was necessarily brief, with no mention, for example, of Thomas Becket or of John’s treatment of his nephew Arthur. Still, it gave an entertaining picture of the infighting and back-stabbing ways of the Plantagenet Kings and their Barons. (And of Philip II of France come to that).

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After that little history lesson, we strolled the short distance into the city centre…

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…where the usual Saturday market was in full swing.

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Including musical entertainment…

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There were plenty of stalls serving food, and after making various choices, we plonked ourselves on the steps of the former Town Hall (built 1781-1783), now the City Museum (free and well worth a look).

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Back to the castle then for an exposition on how to dress a twelfth century knight in his armour.

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…which seems to be quite a long-winded affair!

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And which ended with a demonstration of combat in which, it seemed at least, not much quarter was given.

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The stalls on period food, and leather-working…

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…herbs and medicines…

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Were fascinating, but for some reason the boys seemed particularly drawn to the area where the replica weapons, shields and armour were on display…

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The next display was a tournament…

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…in which it once again seemed to me that the combatants were giving each other pretty hefty whacks.

Time to head home, but not before making one more stop at our favourite stall…

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B and his friend E. Captions anyone?

Historia Normannis at Lancaster Castle

Barcelona – Castell de Montjuic

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When we first arrived in Barcelona our taxi from the airport took us along the coast and beneath this hill, with it’s surmounting fort. Later we had good views of it again, when we boarded the Norwegian Epic for our cruise.

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Obviously, we had to visit when we returned to Barcelona.

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It’s quite a modern fortification, compared to most we see in Britain. It was completed in 1799, although there has been a fort here since 1640. It’s had quite a chequered past, having be captured by the British in 1705 and by the French during the Napoleonic wars.

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Situated as it is, overlooking both the city and the port, it would seem to be ideally sited to defend Barcelona, but it seems that more often than not its guns have been used to bombard the city itself to suppress unrest in the region.

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During the civil war both sides imprisoned and tortured captives here. Most infamously, Lluis Companys, President of Catalonia, was executed here in 1940 on the orders of Franco.

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Not a happy story then.

But the views are magnificent, both near and far…

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We’d been concerned about just how hot it would be in Barcelona in the middle of the summer. In fact, aside from on the Metro, where it could be rather sweaty, it was mostly very pleasant. There generally seemed to be a cooling sea breeze and in the Gothic Quarter at least, the high buildings and narrow streets combined to make a deep, cool shade. On Montjuic hill however, it was very hot.

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So much so that many people were tempted to paddle in the pool above the mirador (waterfall).

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We were wandering down the hill…

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…through pleasant parks…

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…and a sculpture garden…

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…to our next destination…

More to follow!

Barcelona – Castell de Montjuic

Entertaining Mister B

After my turn around Myer’s Allotment and Leighton Moss I came home in time for a quick bite of lunch (homemade burger and coleslaw which the Dangerous Brothers and I had knocked-up for tea the previous evening, very nice too) and then collected the chefs from school (TBH and A were away visiting friends).

The sun was shining and B was anxious to drag me to the park to throw a ball around. Before we could do that, however, he needed to pack for his first Scout camp. This was a protracted and painfully slow process. I gave him the packing list, he went off to pack. When I subsequently went through the list with him it transpired that he had omitted more items than he had packed. He went away and tried again, with similar results. Eventually, I stood over him and watched him put all of the things he needed into my voluminous, and venerable, Karrimor Jaguar 6 (which dwarfed him when packed).

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B, living up to his billing as a Dangerous Brother, was still recovering from a sprained ankle and whilst he was keen not to miss out, was not fit to join the rest of the Scouts on a scheduled long walk. So an early start for me – I picked him up from Sykeside Campsite by Brother’s Water at 9am. Well, I was there to pick him up, but he was still eating his breakfast. It had been wet in the night, and also very, very cold, but now the weather was apparently set fair and the views were rather splendid.

The rest of the Scouts would be returning to camp at around five in the afternoon. So; how does one entertain a boy who can’t walk too far on a sunny day in April in the North-Eastern Lakes?

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First-off: a short walk along a delectable bit of path along the western shore of Brother’s Water.

This…

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…is typical of the kind of the remnants of the winter flooding which A and I noticed on our walk through the Lakes the week before. It’s hard to see it here, but a tiny dribble of water was flowing down this small bed, but as you can see, a layer of topsoil has been scoured away for a few yards either side of the rivulet. Where it met the right-of-way, a large mound of boulders was humped across the path.

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It was a slow meander, with lots of pauses to try to take photos of small birds. B was a patient companion, actually a willing accomplice: we watched a pair of nuthatches seemingly taking it in turns to fly back and forth between the trunk of a tall tree and the base of small sapling nearby. As I tried to keep up with their antics through the lens of my camera, B kept up a running commentary in an attempt to help me find them as they moved.

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We had arranged to meet the rest of the family at Aira Force at 11. We were a little early, and we knew that the others would almost certainly be late (they were), so decided to wait for them outside the little cafe there, at a table from which we could watch the road and wave at the others to join us when they arrived.

B and I had been listening to Chaffinches and Robins as we walked beside Brother’s Water. We’d seen a few of the songsters but always at quite a distance. Now, as we sat outside, tamer cousins came looking for crumbs on the wall by our table…

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Or even onto the table itself…

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Marvellous.

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Naturally, we were then duty bound to have a wander up to view Aira Force itself.

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There’s a bridge at the top, from which you can stare into the chasm…

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And another at the bottom…

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Which is a great vantage point to view the falls…

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Last time I was here there was a lot more water coming over the falls. I was quite surprised, when I checked, to discover that it was more than 5 years ago.

Less surprising to find that it is also almost 5 years since we previously visited Brougham Hall…

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…and Brougham Castle…

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…because I remember how much smaller the kids were at the time.

Both are well worth a visit. The castle is built on the remains of a Roman Fort. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say: built with the remains of a Roman Fort. Inside the keep, one ceiling was clearly made using a Roman headstone…

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The River Eamont runs past the castle, and the town of Penrith is nearby.

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One of the surprising things about the castle is that, on both of our visits, there were hardly any other visitors.

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And we even found a bench that was out of the wind and so pleasantly warm to sit on as the children played hide and seek in the ruins.

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They may be much bigger than they were, but happily, they still enjoy simple pleasures.

There are lots more pictures here, from our last visit, including some of swash being buckled.

Not far from the castle, a bridge over the Eamont, currently closed, showed more evidence of the winter flooding…

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Entertaining Mister B

Across the Sands to Piel Island

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Sheep Island with Piel Island behind.

Onward and upward, to September and the 2015 Heritage Open Days. There are always lots of interesting events on that weekend across the UK; if you aren’t already aware of the event, then I would recommend that you get acquainted with what’s on offer in your area in 2016.

We chose to join a guided walk organised by the rather wonderful Morecambe Bay Partnership.

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The event will include a guided walk across the sands from Walney Island to Piel Island, led by expert guide John Murphy who will be accompanied by eminent local archaeologist Rachel Newman. 

On Piel Island, Rachel Newman will provide an in-depth tour of the castle ruins, whilst informing visitors about the archaeological investigations undertaken during the 1980’s and hearing about challenges of excavating on a island.

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It was reassuring to have an expert guide on hand. I’ve wandered a little on Morecambe Bay over the years, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like the area close to Piel Island, where the sands disconcertingly wobbled and squirmed like a jelly. The beach was raised in long ridges and furrows, not dissimilar to the medieval field patterns which surrounded the village in which I grew up. You might expect the tops of the ridges to be the driest and safest ground on which to walk, but on the contrary, they often seemed to be the most unstable and conspicuously colloidal: betwixt and between, neither sea nor strand but a treacherous hybrid of the two.

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Roa Island.

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Once on Piel we were treated to an unexpected bonus: the landlord and landlady of ‘The Ship’ are traditionally King and Queen of the island, and today they were knighting two worthy subjects.

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A curious ceremony involving some dressing-up, a short speech, the conventional dubbing with a sword…

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…and then a booze shower:

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As we began our tour of Piel Castle, S and I were distracted by the seals visible, if somewhat distantly, on the beach at the southern tip of Walney Island. I tried to use the zoom on my camera to get S a clearer view of the seals, and was surprised by how clearly Blackpool Tower could be seen in the background.

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Since then, these seals have hit the news..

Seals have used the protected South Walney beaches to haul out and rest for decades. The colony found here are usually older bulls no longer able to control a harem on breeding beaches and sexually immature younger males and females.

But now the reserve could be becoming a breeding colony. Pup one was born almost three weeks ago, then pup two was discovered on Sunday when it was believed to be a day old.

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I really enjoyed the guided tour, but it’s a while ago so I shan’t attempt to regurgitate any of the details. In fact , the principal impression I took away is that surprisingly little is known about the castle, because it so infrequently appears in written records.

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Regular readers will know that I love a good ruin. Tight winding staircases, a dingy dungeon, or lofty battlements all enhance the romance and I was hoping that we might have special permission to access the battlements, but sadly we didn’t. Maybe next September?

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One reason I may not remember too much detail from the castle tour is that little S, once he’d satisfied his curiosity about the seals, discovered that he desperately needed to discuss his feet, one of which was uncomfortable. It transpired that he had managed to pick-up odd wellingtons: to be fair, they looked the same, but were different sizes. Consequently, he returned across the sands barefoot…

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All in all, stunning day out, which was rounded off with an unscheduled fish and chip supper in Ulverston, where, unbeknownst to us – at least before we arrived to find roads closed and streets thronged with people –  the Lantern Festival was in full-swing – all very spectacular (I didn’t take any photos sadly).

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Some links:

Heritage Open Days

Morecambe Bay Partnership

The Ship Inn

Piel Castle

Walney Island Grey Seal Colony

Ulverston Lantern Festival

John Murphy is a former mayor of Barrow, and seemed to have inexhaustible funds of jokes, anecdotes, nature lore, local history, patience and good humour. I gathered that he regularly runs guided walks in and around Walney, and would have liked to include a link, but I can’t find anything on the internet which doesn’t relate to walks which have already happened. Probably worth googling next summer if you are interested.

Across the Sands to Piel Island

Castle Acre

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More Norfolk adventures, to wit Castle bagging, a favourite pastime of ours. The small village of Castle Acre still has some of its village walls, and is flanked by the remnants of a castle and the more substantial remains of an abbey.

Although there’s not all that much of the castle left to see – no winding staircases to clamber, no battlements to charge around – even what remains of the huge moat and earthworks are very evocative. What’s more, on an afternoon which had, slightly unexpectedly, turned sunny and warm, the castle grounds, a haven for wildflowers – were full of butterflies and bees; a great place to explore.

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Whilst the kids were running around being knights of old (or somesuch) I was revelling in the abundance and variety of the flowers on offer – particularly those which I haven’t encountered close to home.

I think that this,…

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…which was ubiquitous, is Common Calamint.

This enormous plant…

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…is a Mullein. We do see Mulleins at home, we’ve even had them appear as ‘weeds’ in our garden, but I’m pretty sure that this particular specimen is a Hoary Mullein which is an East Anglian speciality.

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The castle itself is very interesting (and free to boot). It was built by William de Warenne a Norman baron who fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and subsequently became a very wealthy landowner with properties across thirteen counties.

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It’s all built, perhaps not surprisingly, of the local flint.

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The kids charged around. TBH found a spot out of the wind to sun herself, and naturally I took photos.

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A mallow.

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A (large) white on Calamint.

The butterflies led me a very merry dance. There were lots about – chiefly Whites, often in groups of two or three, but also Meadow Browns and some Small Blues. To my great delight, I also spotted a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, only the second one I’ve ever seen, but I wasn’t anywhere near like fast enough to catch it’s darting flight on camera.

Whilst I was pursuing a trio of amorous Whites, I encountered this long-legged beastie…

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…which I’m pretty sure is not a spider, but rather a Harvestmen (Harvestman?).

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Castle Acre village.

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Meadow Brown.

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I could have happily stayed at the castle photographing plants and insects etc, but we had other fish to fry. We had a wander through the village, through the Bailey Gate…

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…to the church of St. James the Great….

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…(wasn’t it enough that he was a Saint, doesn’t that imply that he was Great? Or was there another St. James…St James the Slightly Cheesy?)

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The Church of St. James.

A bit of internet research reveals that I should have ventured further in – the pulpit on the right has some paintings of saints which I wish now I’d taken a closer look at.

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Impressive medieval font cover.

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Ornately armoured stained-glass knight.

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In this huge Norfolk church I was transported back to the area close to home by this painted panel. I’ve seen very similar, but much smaller, panels in modest Furness churches. (See them here and here.) Those were both dedicated to Queen Anne, but this one, dated 1748, is too late for her: it’s from the reign of George II – which explains the G II above the Lion’s crown.

On to the Priory next…

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Lincoln Castle, Steep Hill, High Bridge and Brayford Pool

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I’m sure that, at least briefly, I was almost up to date for a moment; now I seem to be woefully far behind. Queue a hasty sequence of mainly photo based posts.  So anyway, the last day of our post-Easter trip to Lincoln was spent in Lincoln itself.

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The castle has recently re-opened after a refurbishment.

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It was a lovely sunny day and actually warm, which seems hard to believe now in snowy June. The castle was very busy. Apparently it has been hugely popular since it reopened.

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And why not? The walls are not especially tall, but the views from them are magnificent.

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Lincoln has very few tall buildings, so the Cathedral tends to dominate the view. The only competition comes from this water tower…

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…built in the early part of the twentieth century in response to an outbreak of cholera. And then there is a windmill, which we have yet to visit.

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Maybe next time.

Within the castle walls there is a working court (the far building), and a former, Victorian prison (on the left here).

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More of which has been opened to the public than previously.

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We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the grounds of the castle and then had a stroll down Steep Hill (I think, officially, Castle Hill).

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My Dad, who has thoroughly researched both his own family tree and my Mum’s, tells me that some of my ancestors lived in this house on the left….

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Down in the town, we had some book tokens to spend, well the kids did anyway, and some sight seeing to do.

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This is Stoke’s Coffee shop, which sits on….

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…High Bridge. The shops are relatively recent, only built in 1550, whereas the bridge is around 400 years older.

A flotilla of swans came flooding from Brayford Pool onto the River Witham…

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I think that some of them had been paid to pose for the tourists.

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Brayford Pool.

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After a preposterously huge Chinese buffet, we headed back up the hill to the environs of the Cathedral.

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Lincoln Castle, Steep Hill, High Bridge and Brayford Pool

Tattershall Castle

So, Autumn has been and gone, accompanied by lorry loads of film-crews and huge flocks of Chris Packham spotters down at Leighton Moss, and yet somehow I haven’t managed to finish blogging about the summer holidays.  

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Although, I’ve made a great deal about the fact that we spent the summer at home, aside from our annual trip to Towyn Farm, we did in fact pop off to Lincoln for the Bank Holiday weekend. My parents dragged the kids off to Sundown Adventure Land for the day (you can’t keep my Dad away – he loves it there) leaving TBH and I free to do some exploring. We went to have a gander at Tattershall Castle and the adjoining church.

(It seems that an amoeba was hitching a ride on my camera lens that day, I can only apologise.)

Because the castle is constructed from….

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….red house bricks, I assumed that it was of relatively recent construction. How wrong I was: it was built in the 15th Century.

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There’s plenty of natural history on offer alongside the history. The castle and church have important populations of bats and the moat hosts numerous newts. I think that this flower is viper’s bugloss, it’s not something we see at home.

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The National Trust provide audio guides, which I always enjoy and which really brought the history to life here.

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I shan’t attempt to recreate any of it here – visit yourself and listen to it in the environs of the castle – very enjoyable.

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Each floor of the keep is chiefly occupied with a single large room, each of which has a large and richly decorated fireplace. I was pleased to find George and his dragon above one of them.

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The views from the top of the castle – over the flatlands of Lincolnshire – are extensive – Boston Stump can be picked out in one direction and Lincoln Cathedral in another.

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I subsequently discovered that an old school friend was staying at a holiday park by the old gravel pits that same weekend. It’s a small world…..

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The church by the castle is very large relative to the village.

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As well as the bats, it has a second-hand book-stall and a cafe. As has the gatehouse…

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Tattershall Castle