Archive for the Castle Category

Forteresse de Largoët, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Castle, History, Ruins with tags , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by mysearchformagic

The entrance to the Forteresse de Largoët is to be found up a long, winding single-track road. At the end of this road stands a large gateway, a little house next to it decorated with carved rabbits. On the day that I visited the imposing gates were firmly closed. Luckily I spotted the small sign telling me that the castle was in fact ‘ouvert’, and when I rang the adjacent bell a man emerged from the shadowy doorway of the ‘rabbit’ house to sell me a ticket and let me in.

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

Next comes a long walk, past a beautifully dilapidated wellhead and along a wooded track.

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de  Largoët

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de Largoët

By the time you reach the ruins, you really will feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere. As a result, the huge scale of the castle’s towers comes as a shock as they emerge above the treetops – the main ‘donjon’ is immense, said to be the tallest in France.

The castle of Largoët

The castle of Largoët

A strange air of quiet surrounds the fortress. The atmosphere is disconcerting, rather sad, heavy with neglect and decay. As with many historic sites in this part of the world, the Forteresse de Largoët doesn’t get many visitors, its sense of abandoned isolation only adding to its magical aura. The lake which sits next to the ruins is odd, spooky even, with the bare branches of dead trees emerging from the dark water of its far shore. The castle’s donjon is now floorless, its damp interior thick with moss and lichen, but a spiral staircase inside one of the thick walls leads up, past many empty doorways, almost to the top of the crumbling tower. The views from up there are incredible, but definitely not for those who suffer from a fear of heights.

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

It’s only at the top of the stairs that you can really get a sense of the size of this place; in its heyday it must have been a Gormenghast-style warren of rooms, ante-rooms and corridors. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a legend that a secret corridor links the castle with the nearby town of Elven, although the location of the tunnel’s entrance is now long-forgotten. In the 1470s, the castle’s most famous resident Henry Tudor, later Henry VII of England, was held as a prisoner here by Jean IV, Lord of Rieux for two long years.

Once back on the ground, it is worth taking a look at the exterior of the tower, with its intricately carved machicolations and elaborate window frames. The walls look rather unstable nowadays, scarred with a delicate network of cracks and crevices.

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

Although the castle, which also goes by the rather Tolkienesque name of ‘les Tours d’Elven’, was probably first constructed some time in the 11th Century, this keep dates from the 1300s. The impressive gatehouse and adjacent round tower, which has been more recently re-roofed and restored, were built about a century later.

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

After my visit to the castle I decided to explore further and take a walk around the lake, through the pretty woodland which surrounds it. I spotted an elegant heron sitting on one of the tree branches which jut out from the water; stock still and quiet as I approached, it suddenly took off into the air as I walked away. Its wide wings flapping gracefully as it took to the sky, the heron finally broke the silence of the place with a single harsh craw as is disappeared over the treetops.

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

As a suitably magical end to my visit, I stumbled across the ruins of the castle’s chapel, now choked with bushes and grass, its foundations hidden beneath the undergrowth. Only one gable end remains standing to any significant height, its wall pierced with the elaborate tracery of a gothic window.

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

http://www.largoet.com/

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Roslin Glen, Midlothian

Posted in Castle, Caves, Edinburgh, History, Landscape with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2013 by mysearchformagic

You will probably have heard of Rosslyn Chapel, an ancient and sacred place near Edinburgh. It has been well-known for years, centuries even, but ever since its appearance in the mega-blockbuster book and film The Da Vinci Code, visitor numbers have gone stratospheric. The sad result is that, with a modern visitor centre tacked on to the side and coach loads of visitors turning up every day, the Chapel has now all but lost its unique magic.

Roslin Glen, which lies just a short walk from the Chapel, is a different story altogether. For while the wild and dramatic scenery of this rocky gorge has long attracted attention from lovers of Romantic landscapes, including Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, the Glen still retains a magical atmosphere like nowhere else I have ever visited.

Beginning the journey into Roslin Glen

Beginning the journey into Roslin Glen

The best place to begin a journey down Roslin Glen is at the foot of the craggy ruins of Roslin Castle, which rise imperiously above the wooded valley floor. The air here is thick with the heady stink of wild garlic and the incessant rush of the nearby River Esk. The going is easy, although sometimes rather muddy, but the sinuous sandstone cliffs which line the edges of the river give hints of the drama that is to come.

The imposing walls of Roslin Castle

The imposing walls of Roslin Castle

Further along the Glen the path becomes steeper and more treacherous. There are rocks to be climbed over, and fallen trees to squeeze under. At one point a huge landslide has recently taken place, taking many of the tall trees with it, the slippery remnants of the path still passable, but only just. Further on again the path all but disappears, replaced by a thin stone ledge along the water’s edge. 

The dramatic cliffs which line Roslin Glen

The dramatic cliffs which line Roslin Glen

As you venture deeper into the valley, it’s easy to forget that you are only a few miles from Scotland’s capital city. There aren’t many, if any, people around. The cliffs and crags become more misshapen and bizarre, formed from millennia of water erosion into the strangest of shapes, the gnarled and knotted tree trunks which sprout from them twisting into picturesque forms. I even came across a small naively-carved face in the rockface of an outcrop known locally as Lovers’ Leap; curious and most definitely magical!

A mysterious carved face in Roslin Glen

A mysterious carved face in Roslin Glen

I had hoped to visit Wallace’s Cave, a large rock cavern with a neatly chiseled doorway, reputedly used by William Wallace at the time of the Battle of Rosslyn, which took place nearby in 1303. Unfortunately I found myself on the wrong side of the gushing torrent, with no access to the other side, so had to make do with a distant view of its temptingly shadowy entrance. The steep path down to it suggests that any future visit will require stout shoes and a lot of courage.

A dark doorway into Wallace's Cave, Roslin Glen

A dark doorway into Wallace’s Cave, Roslin Glen

At the far end of the Glen you will find another castle. Hawthornden sits atop a rock riddled with caves, most of them apparently man made, but as the fine house is now a private writers’ retreat, these are not currently accessible to the public. The origins of the caves are unknown, although they possibly date back to the Bronze Age and have been linked to Robert the Bruce. Like Wallace’s Cave, Hawnthornden will have to remain a distant, tantalisingly magical mystery, for now at least.

The distant rooftops of Hawthornden Castle

The distant rooftops of Hawthornden Castle

Yester Castle, East Lothian

Posted in Castle, Ghosts with tags , , , , on January 3, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Despite the fact that it was once one of the most impressive and important medieval fortresses in south east Scotland, you won’t find Yester Castle in any guidebooks or on many maps. Its romantic ruins sit in wild woodland just a couple of miles outside the pretty town of Gifford, on private land belonging to the later Yester House. Finding the castle is not easy – I parked up on a farm track, walked across some fields, climbed a couple of fences and cut across the corner of a golf course before I spotted the tips of its craggy walls rising above the treetops.

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The approach to Yester Castle

Yester was originally built by one Hugo de Giffard, a 13th Century nobleman who also dabbled in the dark arts. The famous Goblin Ha’, which was reputedly built by a band of hobgoblins, is the only remaining part of his original castle, and also the location of the warlock’s supposed magical experiments. Ever since the castle fell into ruins in the 16th Century, tales of strange sounds and lights emanating from this underground lair have circulated, a result perhaps of de Giffard’s alleged pact with the Devil.

On a grey, drizzly winter day Yester Castle can seem rather forbidding. Slipping and sliding in the leaves and mud as I scrambled up a low rise to reach the ruins, I quickly regretted my totally unsuitable canvas trainers, but it was worth the treacherous climb. At the top sits a tall fragment of ancient masonry, a barrel-vaulted room at the base and some intricately carved moulding towards the top giving a tiny hint of the long-lost grandeur of this once imposing building.

The ruins of Yester Castle

The ruins of Yester Castle

Wandering further through the trees, I suddenly came upon a huge stretch of curtain wall, its grey stonework almost camouflaged amongst the muted colours of the woodland.

The camouflaged curtain wall of Yester Castle

The camouflaged curtain wall of Yester Castle

The wall is still impressive and solid, punctured by just a small arched doorway, but down to my left I spotted a set of stone stairs, inevitably covered at this time of year in slimy brown leaves. At the foot of these stairs lies two dark, iron-grated windows, and beyond them the reason for my visit, the Goblin Ha’.

Stairs down to the Goblin Ha'

Stairs down to the Goblin Ha’

Getting down to the windows without breaking my neck was the next challenge. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but once they did the sharp gothic vaulting of the subterranean chamber below became clear. The Goblin Ha’ is wonderfully spooky from the outside, but I wasn’t going to stop there. I had read somewhere that it was still possible to gain access to the mythical hall. And so I began the search.

Once through the door in the curtain wall I was able to make out the subtle line of a path which curved down the side of the hill. As I followed it I became starkly aware of the huge drop to the gushing river far below. Squelching and sliding precariously along the tiny path I began to wonder whether I wasn’t being slightly foolish, but by then it was too late to turn back. At the end of the path, tucked in at the base of the ruinous corner of the curtain wall, I found a tiny, stone lined doorway, with a low, murky passageway beyond. I took a deep breath, hunched my shoulders and headed in.

The tiny doorway into the Goblin Ha'

The tiny doorway into the Goblin Ha’

The Goblin Ha’ is even more impressive on the inside. The two grated windows give some light, but it is still pretty dark in there, particularly on an overcast winter’s day.

Inside the Goblin Ha'

Inside the Goblin Ha’

It was only when I used my flash to take a couple of photos that I noticed something in the shadows of the blackest corner – a narrow set of stairs descending into the shadows below. Of course, my first thought was how I could get down there to find out what lay at the foot of the stairs. In the absence of a torch, could I somehow use my camera flash to guide my way? Could I edge down in the darkness and then flash away to reveal what lay beneath?

Stairs down into the darkness...

Stairs down into the darkness…

Then the reality of  my situation hit me. I was standing in a dark, reputedly haunted castle cellar in the middle of nowhere. No one knew I was there, and as far as I knew there was no one for miles around. I was considering heading down some dark, wet stairs to find God-knows-what at the bottom. My heart began to pound, Sweat prickled my brow. I glanced around at the desolate, dank hall with its impenetrable shadows and dark corners.

Within seconds I was up the passage, out of the door, and slithering my way back up that muddy path to safety. I blame it on a lifetime of ghost stories and horror movies, combined of course with the unmistakeably creepy atmosphere of the Goblin Ha’. It took me a good few minutes of brisk walking to recover from my overwhelming feeling of cold terror. Yester Castle is certainly extremely magical, but visiting the strange, decidedly spooky Goblin Ha’ is not an experience I will be rushing to repeat, at least not without some sturdy shoes, a torch and a brave companion…

Saltcoats Castle, East Lothian

Posted in Castle, History with tags , on September 27, 2012 by mysearchformagic

In my last post I touched on the magical potential of deserted buildings, when I featured Alex Chinneck’s contemporary art installation Telling the Truth Through False Teeth. This time I am looking at another very different, more ancient example of charming decay. There is something wonderful about ruins, and picturesque castles and abbeys have long been an obsession of mine. Nowadays most well-known ruins are preserved and well tended by English Heritage or the National Trust, but every so often I stumble across somewhere like Saltcoats Castle, which is still in the process of disintegrating, and is quite literally crumbling before our eyes.

The path to Saltcoats Castle

The path to Saltcoats, which sits next to the pretty village of Gullane in East Lothian, is so overgrown as to be almost non existent. The walk involves damp shoes and avoiding swathes of nettles, but the castle itself is well worth the trouble.

Saltcoats Castle from the east

Built in the late 16th Century by Patrick Livingtoun, this imposing house was occupied by the Hamilton family until around 1800. For the next few years it was used as a handy source of free masonry by local builders, with nature also playing its part in the building’s gradual dilapidation. Its courtyard is now filled with bushes and grass, trees pushing up through the once-proud sandstone walls.

Saltcoats Castle

The boards which once blocked the gates to the castle courtyard have long since been pulled down, allowing entry to those who are brave (or foolish) enough to wander through the precarious ruins. Dark doorways into shadowy undercrofts can be seen through the undergrowth, and in one corner it is possible to peer into the murky depths of a barrel vaulted basement below, a space which once probably housed the castle’s kitchen. The remaining walls of the tower look solid enough at their base, but towards the top large cracks and gaps between the stones suggest that they are far from stable.

The overgrown, crumbling walls of Saltcoats Castle

Saltcoats Castle is a place brimming with atmosphere. There’s something maudlin about its slow descent into ruin, but something wonderful about it too. This is the kind of castle that inspired the 18th Century passion for ruins, which resulted in wealthy land owners constructing their own ruined ‘Gothick follies’ as decoration for their landscaped gardens and estates. Standing beside its craggy, overgrown walls, surrounded by the wide open vistas and rich farmland of East Lothian, it is easy to see why the Romantics found magic in such places. Unlike the many better-known castles nearby which are open to the public, with their gift shops and car parks, Saltcoats retains that air of romance. It’s sad perhaps that such a historic building has been left to fall into such a fragile state, but I can’t help but be slightly glad that Saltcoats remains virtually untouched, totally unrestored and ever so slightly magical.

The view from Saltcoats Castle