Archive for the Castle Category

Return to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik

Posted in Castle, Caves, Gardens, House, Ruins, Scotland with tags , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by mysearchformagic

It’s been well over a year since I made my first trip to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik, but I have thought a lot about this wild and wonderful place since that visit. Last week I was able to visit again, and explore more of its magical corners.

First on my list of things to see was Knightslaw Tower. Although it may look medieval, the tower was actually built in the middle of the eighteenth century by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an enthusiastic antiquarian with a taste for the ancient. When first constructed the tower could be seen from miles around, and dominated the rest of the Penicuik estate. Since its heyday, however, the tower has fallen into disrepair, and the high trees which have grown up around it hide it from the outside world. The result is a rather melancholy, but definitely quite magical ruin.

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

Next I walked on past the majestic ruins of the huge mansion of Penicuik House, built by Sir John’s son James in the 1760s, and into the valley below. Here I found the river Esk, which babbles its way down from here to nearby Roslin Glen, another of my favourite spots. Once over the river I crossed a field, heading uphill until I reached the Hurley Ponds.

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds are another of Sir John Clerk’s creations, part of his ambitious plans to landscape his park at Penicuik. Once used as fishing ponds, they have now largely returned to nature, spookily quiet apart from the odd quack from the resident flock of ducks.

Sir John was obviously rather partial to a magical experience himself, and evidence of this can be found in his construction of the Hurley Cave, a rock-cut underground passage which leads from the side of the hills closest to the house into this secluded valley. The original entrance to the cave was over a bridge across the Esk, where a cascade waterfall was constructed to add to the sense of drama. Visitors would presumably have been guided through the cave with candles or burning torches, and half way down would have found a carved Latin inscription Tenebrosa occultaque cave, beware dark and hidden things. The other end of the cave emerges from a rusticated stone doorway in the hill, and can still be seen today.

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Unfortunately vandalism and structural problems mean that the Hurley Cave has had to be locked up. Its heavy metal door does, however, have a large gap at the top which allows a glimpse of the dark depths beyond. I couldn’t resist sticking my camera into the gap and taking a picture. It offers an enticing hint of what lies beneath.

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Much work has been done to consolidate and preserve Penicuik House and its estate in recent years, largely thanks to the hard work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust. Apparently both the cave and the tower are on their list of works for the future, but restoring both will be an expensive job, and fundraising is ongoing. In the meantime I was happy to enjoy the overgrown, rather sombre mood of the lost gardens, and imagine the dingy depth of the Hurley Cave. I like to think Sir John would have approved!

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

For details on how you can support the sterling work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust, click here.

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The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Castle, Fountain, Gardens, Landscape, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2015 by mysearchformagic

Nestling in a quiet valley in the middle of rural Brittany can be found the romantic ruins of the chateau of Quinipily, an ancient fortress now reduced to just a few sturdy walls and terraces. Today the remains of the castle have been transformed into pretty gardens which are open to visitors throughout the year.

The colourful gardens of Quinipily, Brittany

The colourful gardens of Quinipily, Brittany

It’s not the flowers that attract visitors to this place, however, because it is far better known for its strange statue, a monumental figure of indefinite age now known as the Venus of Quinipily. The 2.2 metre tall Venus stands at the centre of the terraced garden, staring out at the surrounding landscape from her position atop a huge fountain.

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

Until the seventeenth century both the Venus and the huge stone trough that is now situated below her stood in the Breton village of Bieuzy-les-Eaux, on the site of an ancient Gaulish city. Also known by the villagers as Ar Groareg Houar (the Iron Lady) and Groah Hoart (The Old Guardian), the statue was worshipped by the locals, who believed it to have magical curative powers. Pregnant women would visit the Venus, and later bathe in the trough (which can apparently hold up to 3600 litres of water) after giving birth. It was also thought that the figure could help boost fertility, and it is said that some couple indulged in some rather naughty practises beneath the statue. Finally the bishop of nearby Vannes decided to bring an end to such pagan rituals, and in 1661 he had the Venus thrown into the river. Before long, the locals fished her out, and resumed their old religious rites.

The huge stone water trough at Quinipily

The huge stone water trough at Quinipily

In 1670 the statue was attacked and thrown once again into the watery depths. At this point local gentleman Pierre de Lannion stepped in to save the Venus, and shipped her off to his castle at Quinipily, where she has stood ever since. He faced opposition from the Duke of Rohan, who claimed ownership of the statue, but after a long legal battle Lannion won the case and was allowed to keep her.

The monumental form of the Venus of Quinipily

The monumental form of the Venus of Quinipily

The true age and purpose of the Venus of Quinipily have stirred up debate for centuries. Some have suggested that she may be a representation of Isis first erected by Romans who had settled in the region. Another theory is that she is in fact a Gallic goddess, or perhaps Roman mother goddess Cybele. Some sceptics have proposed that this statue is not ancient at all, but a later copy made when the original statue was destroyed in the seventeenth century.

After such a checkered past, the Venus must relieved to have finally found a safe home in the beautiful gardens of Quinipily. Here she is surrounded by huge old trees which have grown up amongst the fragments of castle wall, and althought the spring which fed her fountain has now dried up, the former ponds and cascades are now a mass of foliage and flowers, a bit wild and overgrown, but wonderfully atmospheric. I said earlier that she attracts visitors to Quinipily, but on the day that I visited there was noone else around, and I was able to enjoy the magical ambience of this intriguing place in peace and quiet, a unique experience in an unforgettable place.

The overgrown ponds in the gardens at Quinipily

The overgrown ponds in the gardens at Quinipily

The Château and Village of Trégranteur, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Castle, Church, History, House, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2014 by mysearchformagic

I am off to Brittany again next week, and will be searching for magic of course. Thinking about my trip reminded me of a wonderful place I came upon by chance during my last visit to that part of the world, namely the Château and village of Trégranteur.

The Chateau de Trégranteur, Brittany

The Château de Trégranteur, Brittany

I was on a long, rather boring drive when I spotted an old rusty signpost for the chateau pointing down a narrow side road. On the spur of the moment, hoping to break up the journey, I decided to check it out. The grand 18th century château wasn’t actually open to the public, but could be viewed from the nearby road. In fact, with its closed shutters and firmly locked gates, it looked all but deserted. The village next to it was empty too, a bit of a ghost town, but all wonderfully magical. Next to the church stands the rare Colonne de Justice (Column of Justice) dating from the 17th Century, where every Sunday a local official would read out the latest orders and judgements.

The Column of Justice, Trégranteur

The Column of Justice, Trégranteur

As I wandered round the village, with its pretty old houses, many of them now empty and derelict, I also spotted a couple of interesting medieval religious carvings, both worn and covered in colourful mosses and lichens. I didn’t see another soul during the whole time I was there, apart from a couple of noisy, but thankfully friendly, dogs.

A medieval carving in the village of Trégranteur, Brittany

A medieval carving in the village of Trégranteur, Brittany

I’ll be reporting back from my Breton adventures soon!

A lichen-covered carving in Trégranteur, Brittany

A lichen-covered carving in Trégranteur, Brittany

The Château de Trécesson, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Castle, Ghosts, History, House, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , on February 25, 2014 by mysearchformagic

I’ve just got back from another trip to France, and just like the last time I have been tracking down more of Brittany’s magical castles. During this visit I made the journey to the picturesque château of Trécesson, which lies in a quiet, wooded valley not far from the town of Campénéac on the borders of the forest of Paimpont, a region steeped in myth and legend.

The château of Trécesson

The château of Trécesson

Much of the present-day castle seems to date from the 15th century, although it is assumed that there has been a fortress on this site for much longer. Its impressive towers and strong walls of the emerge from the depths of a wide, dark moat, and past the elaborate turreted gatehouse a small chapel sits next to a pretty 18th century wing.

The turretted gatehouse of the château of Trécesson

The turretted gatehouse of the château of Trécesson

Not surprisingly given its location near Paimpont, Trécesson has its own collection of supernatural legends. One concerns a ‘white lady’, the ghost of an unfortunate past resident who was bricked up into the walls of the castle by her own brothers for daring to marry the wrong man. A ‘headless curate’ haunts the corridors, and phantom card-players have also been seen in one of its bed-chambers, apparently indifferent to the terror that their appearance induces in hapless guests.

The overgrown avenue leading to the château of Trécesson

The overgrown avenue leading to the château of Trécesson

Despite these creepy stories, the castle seemed like a calm and quiet place on the day that I visited. A grand avenue of trees, now long-neglected and overgrown, leads up to the front gate. Most of the year the castle is closed to visitors, with only the exterior visible from the nearby road. However, the courtyard and chapel of this still privately-owned château are apparently open to visitors during the summer months, so you can be sure I will be back there soon in search of some more Trécesson magic…

The Castles of Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Castle, History with tags , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2014 by mysearchformagic

The weather may have been terrible on my recent visit to Brittany, but I still managed to take advantage of the dry(ish) days and visit a few magical places.

Brittany has a rich collection of wonderful castles, including the atmospheric Forteresse de Largoët. In the depths of winter most of them are closed to the public, but the exteriors of some are so impressive that I enjoyed taking a look anyway.

The view towards the château of Suscinio

The view towards the château of Suscinio

The castle at Suscinio lies amongst wild marshland near the south coast of Morbihan. Once a royal hunting lodge, it later fell into ruin and was extensively restored in the 20th Century. Sitting as it does on a wide, flat plain, the castle’s sturdy towers and conical roofs can be seen from miles away, and it is even more impressive close up.

The sturdy towers of the château of Suscinio

The sturdy towers of the château of Suscinio

Pontivy sits on the River Blavet, and reputedly takes its name from the fact that a monk called Ivy built a bridge there in the 7th Century (Pont D’Ivy).

A sign for the château of Rohan

A sign for the château of Rohan, Pontivy

Its imposing château was begun in 1485 by the Viscount Rohan, and since then has faced a number of sieges and violent attacks. Luckily it’s a bit more peaceful nowadays, and although I am sure it is normally a bustling place, on the drizzly Sunday morning that I passed through there was nobody around.

The château of Rohan

The château of Rohan, Pontivy

The castle at Josselin is probably the most magical of all. With its soaring towers rising dramatically above the (currently overflowing) River Oust, the history of this castle goes back over 1000 years, when a simple stockade was first built on its rocky promontory.

The approach to the castle at Josselin

The approach to the castle at Josselin

In the following centuries the castle was rebuilt and extended, and the interior now includes a suite of lavishly furnished rooms which are open to the public. Only four of the original nine massive towers remain, but the castle is still a breathtaking sight.

The fairytale towers of the castle of Josselin

The fairytale towers of the castle of Josselin

I think you will agree that these three châteaux are rather wonderful, and definitely magical. Who needs Disneyland Paris when you have real fairytale castles, each with their own fascinating history, just a couple of hours away?

The Severed Hand of Sir John Heydon, Norwich Castle

Posted in Castle, Legend, Museum, Norfolk with tags , , , , , , on November 18, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Norwich Castle is a huge bulk of a place, its impressive Norman keep surrounded by later buildings which in the 18th and 19th Centuries were used as a gaol. in 1887 the Castle was bought by the City of Norwich, and after eight years of heavy restoration it reopened as the local museum.

The impressive exterior of Norwich Castle

The impressive exterior of Norwich Castle

The rambling interior of the castle is filled with wonders, everything from Roman coins to rooms full of stuffed animals of every sort. As a fan of Cabinets of Curiosity, I was excited to find the small room which contained the Fitch Collection. With its numerous glass cabinets filled with weird and wonderful objects, the Fitch Collection reminded me of a miniature version of the British Museum’s Englightenment Gallery. It was here that I discovered the magically macabre severed hand of Sir John Heydon.

The severed hand of Sir John Heydon

The severed hand of Sir John Heydon

The now-mummified hand was reputedly cut from the rest of Sir John during a duel in January 1600. How the wizened little thing ended up in this collection is a mystery. With is delicate fingers, tiny white fingernails and surprisingly clean cut, the hand is marvelously gruesome, and perhaps not for the squeamish or faint hearted. But who said magic couldn’t be grim and goulish?

Find out more about the hand of Sir John Heydon here.

A Magical Doorway, Rochefort-en-Terre

Posted in Brittany, Castle, House with tags , , , , , , on July 24, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Back to Brittany this week, more specifically to Rochefort-en-Terre. I spotted an intriguing doorway in the wall which surrounds the ancient chateau of this picture-postcard pretty Morbihan village.

A magical doorway, Rochefort-en-Terre

A magical doorway, Rochefort-en-Terre

I’d love to know what lies behind the strange carvings on the solid oak door. Unfortunately, as you can see, it is signposted as strictly ‘Privé’.

But then sometimes, when it comes to searching for magic,  a bit of mystery is more fun. Then you can really let your imagination run wild…