Wednesday 7 March 2012

Landscape in particular 1: Kenilworth castle

This is the first in a regular series of short-entries on places and landscapes that have long-standing resonance or meaning to me, or are new discoveries.

Kenilworth Castle (Photographer unknown)

Kenilworth castle in Warwickshire is a large, multi-period fortification with an important strategic role between the Norman and Elizabethan periods. Like many such castles it then suffered a long decline, was badly damaged in the Civil War and thus became a picturesque ruin before its modern incarnation as an English Heritage managed tourist attraction.

To me, my brother and our friends though, the castle, and the fields around it, became the playground we were lucky enough to have at the end of our road. The fact that it was an enormous ruin gave us even more scope for adventure: we had about a dozen ways to gain entry illegally, despite having free local resident entry passes, and summer evenings were the time that we would have it to ourselves to play football in, clamber over and generally 'own'; we found and explored a tunnel (actually a medieval sewer into the moat) that allowed a long crawl in the dark on hands and knees; and the lush meadows surrounding the castles that once formed the extensive moat ('the Mere') gave us even more scope for play.

At the time this all seemed very normal and it is only in retrospect that I have looked at aerial photographs and plans and seen how the places that we roamed across were all connected features in the wider historic landscape of the castle and its hinterland: that the raised ground at the far end of the Mere called 'the Pleasance' was created to house the temporary viewing platforms for the elaborate pageant put on for Queen Elizabeth I's visit; that the nearby field called 'Parliament Piece' was the site of a Parliament held by King Henry III in 1266.   

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