Friday, 9 August 2013

Two walks….. Two castles!

The first major task for the day was to walk to the nearby village of Tarporley.  It was a 100 minute round trip using the local footpaths to reach the Spar shop where I purchased Jan’s weekly magazines.  The early start had one disadvantage.  The crops were still coated in dew!  The first field had a thigh high grain crop which resulted in my trousers getting a good soaking.  Then the footpaths took me through three fields of corn, each a different height.  By the time I reached Tarporley my clothing was saturated.  Fortunately my birthday suit is waterproof….. Although it does lose it’s colour and shape if immersed in water too long. Smile

On the way back to Waiouru I could see the distant outline of Beeston Castle on the skyline.

After pausing at Waiouru, where I allowed my trousers to dry and changed my t-shirt, I grabbed the big camera and headed across the countryside towards the castle. 

I was expecting to find a ruin.  What I wasn’t expecting was an English Heritage (EH) ticket box.  Having paid the entrance fee (£5.90) I headed to the summit.  However there is a lower set of fortifications before reaching the summit.  On the way up I took the time to read the EH leaflet.

Beeston Crag is part of a chain of rocky hills across the Cheshire plains.  The Cheshire plains lie between the high ground of the Peak District and the hills of eastern Wales. They provide an obvious easy route when wanting to move north or south.  My original thought was the castle would have been built shortly after the invasion of England by William the Conqueror.  Or if you are an ancestor of Harold…. William the Bastard (he was reputedly illegitimate).  However construction of the castle commenced in the 1220’s by Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester, after he returned from the 5th Crusade.  Apparently he was impressed with the design of the crusader castles in the Holy Land and modelled Beeston on them.  Unusually, the castle doesn’t have a ‘Keep’, instead it relied on it’s natural position plus two walls and a moat.  The outer wall had a very strong gatehouse and the walls had ‘D’ towers within arrowshot of each other.  This enabled each tower to defend the adjacent tower without exposing the defenders to direct fire by attackers.

The original archers firing slots were widened in the middle during the civil war to allow for muskets.

The castle dominates the ground to the north, south and west.  It would certainly have been a daily reminder to the serfs working the land around it that their Lord was watching them.  However the main purpose of the castle was part of Edward I (Hammer of the Scots) strategic plan to confine, control and dominate the Welsh.  In the end it was probably too far away from Wales to have much strategic value except as a base for supplies.

Gatehouse to the upper ward.

The upper ward had a well It was one of the deepest in England at 113 metres.  The highest point on the crag is 150 metres which means the bottom of the well was almost at sea level!

The moat was cut from solid rock and was between 7 – 9 metres deep.  Presumably the extracted rock was used to construct the castle walls.

View to the north with Liverpool on the horizon.

Looking east the railway and canal are in the foreground.  Waiouru’s location is marked by the red arrow.

It appears the only time the castle saw action was during the Civil War when it changed hands several times.  The Parliamentarian forces laid siege to it for a year in 1644-45.  Both sides became desperate to end the siege with the defending Royalists running low on food and the attacking Parliamentary forces suffering a significant number of desertions towards the end of the siege with many of their troops returning home to tend their crops.  The Royalists managed to deceive their attackers to their perilous state and surrendered on generous terms.  When the Parliamentary forces entered the castle they discovered there was less than one day’s food and the Royalists had even eaten their cats. 

After the siege had ended Cromwell ordered the castle be demolished.  During the 18th century the site was used as a quarry.  It’s not hard to guess where they sourced most of the stone!  The current lower gatehouse (and ticket office) was built in the early Victorian period.  My assumption is most of the ‘established’ ruins also date from that period. 

To the west of Beeston Crag is a slightly larger and higher feature (175m –v- 150m).  This also has a castle, Peckforton Castle. 

However it was built in the 19th century for John Tollemache, the largest landowner in Cheshire at the time.  During WW1 it was used as for the care of wounded soldiers and in WW2 physically handicapped children from the south were relocated there.  In the 70’s & 80’s it was used as a location for shooting TV and films.  In the late 80’s it was purchased by an American and converted into a luxury hotel and venue centre.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent back at Waiouru furiously doing not very much! Smile In the early evening ‘Yellow Peril’ Ferris cruised past with Kiwi couple Mark & Evie aboard.  They were heading back to the hire base having visited Chester.

Earlier photo of Mark & Evie on their way up the Shroppie


Wellswebcam said...

Hi Tom & Jan,
Been reading your blog from the start for a week now to get here every comment as well! Great reading such a great story with the major difficultly's you faced at the start of your journey . Hats off to you for making it happen.
Well I've got less than a year to read now to get up to date.
I should have perhaps noted the broken pictures and links as I went along but no worries it's still a mighty fine blog.

Tom and Jan said...

Hi Ade,

Well done on bothering will such a long and boring story, but you realize I now have to go back and read it myself to fix those broken links! ;-(

It will be something to do when trapped inside this winter! :-)

Wellswebcam said...

Hi Tom,
I'll post them from now on in the comments if you like?
Probably getting new enough now for the rest to be o.k. though, one I remember is the link to Roger Fuller. Not sure that's the correct spelling of the surname? as I followed a thread on CWF about his lack of website.


Tom and Jan said...

Hi Ade

Yes please! I'll then be able to fix the links more quickly