Monday, June 29, 2009

St Botolphs Priory, Essex

Me looking like a small yet rotund Henry VIII and my storytelling tent
inside the remains of the nave of St Botolphs Priory church
Click on any image to make larger

On Saturday last I was telling at St Botolphs Priory in Colchester. Its one of the earliest Augustinian foundations in the country (Built c.1100 it adopted the Orders Rule some time in the 13th century) And although now ruinous the remains of Norman arches, blind arcading (Filled in arches) and especially the huge circular pillars gives what's left a sense of permanence!

The West Door

The brick built blind arcading

Still a solid structure in places...

But what really stands out is the use of red brick in such an early medieval building and it turns out that its reused Roman brick. Colchester is after all a Roman town and talking to a the local history group who had a stall on site, it turns out that the early town was built almost entirely of brick because there is not much in the way of good quality local stone. This lack of good stone meant that the roman brick was much valued in medieval times and turns up in many buildings including the Priory and Colchester Castle, which is now a museum. They also pointed out that what little local stone was used was of such poor quality that it has eroded much quicker that the brick, thus making the brick stand out even more. And its true the remains do have an unusual red appearance that really stands out on a bright sunny day. I liked it because it made a change from many religious sites I tell at, which are dominated by fancy ornate carving and frilly bits! The ancient west doorway was enough for me and the simple carved chevron pattern gave it a truly ancient feel. The lack of good quality stone to carve gives St Botolphs a rustic feel; a no nonsense, unpretentious building, although I think that its sheer size would still have made it impressive to the early medieval visitor.

Close up of reused Roman brick

Detail from the West Door

In truth beyond what is here in my pictures there was not a lot else to see, so Sam and I contented ourselves with rooting about in the undergrowth to see what we could find. We both found bone; Sam finding a flattened piece that if human we think may have come from a shoulder blade, or perhaps from the pelvis. I found a bit which looks to have formed one end of the thigh bone of a large man! It might not be human though and could have come from a butchered animal, although even that would be good, for who knows it might have been from the last joint of meat served up at the Priory before it was dissolved by a greedy King called Henry and his even greedier men. Perhaps the Friars themselves were so discontented that they served up their own Prior! We can't be sure what age the bones are or from whence they came, although I have rooted about in enough churchyards in my time to know that there are plenty of human bones about!

A good days rooting about with bones, oyster shells & iron mystery object (See below)

We were on more certain ground with the huge amount of oyster shells we found. Certainly these were a common enough food in medieval times but also turn up on monastic sites like Bayham Abbey in Kent with pigment covering their inside surfaces. It seems that they made handy containers for pigments used for colouring illuminated manuscripts and perhaps for wall paintings as well.

The Oyster shells were good, but then Sam found a small metal ball which we first thought was a musket ball. We already new that Colchester had seen action during the English Civil War. But musket balls were made of lead or stone and from the corrosion we could see that this was clearly iron. Luckily local archaeologists from Colchester Museum were on site and they identified it as a bit of grapeshot; a collection of iron balls and other shrapnel, packed into a canvas bag or wooden cartridge and fired out of a cannon to do the greatest possible damage. And talking to the local history group they told us how the in 1648 the Royalists had been trapped in Colchester as they had marched north to meet up and form an alliance with the Scots (It wasn't really and English Civil War at all!) The Parliamentarians camped outside the town walls and lay siege for twelve weeks to the Royalists trapped within. And it just so happens that St Botolphs Priory lay directly between the opposing forces and was destroyed by their canon fire. St Botolphs was caught in the opposing forces crossfire. It was at this point that Sam reached into his pocket and brought out a little bit of that crossfire for the group to see and all fell silent!

History in your hand- Sam's 17th century grapeshot

So there you go, although the ruins themselves were impressive, they were not so impressive to us as a small iron ball. . Sam's little bit of crossfire in his pocket, a little bit of 360 year old history in his hand!

Thanks to Clive from Colchester Museums for the invite and his great choice of locations for my storytelling tent!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Knaresborough Castle, nr Harrogate

This Sunday last I was telling at Knaresborough Castle and Museum Medieval Day.

The medieval entrance towers still stand, although the outside 'curtain' wall is long gone
Click on any image to make larger!

I've never been there before and had no idea what to expect, but it was very different to Dover. For whilst Dover Castle like many of the south coast defences just kept on being modernised and getting bigger and bigger, Knaresborough was embroiled in some of the thickest fighting of the Civil War and after a long siege in 1644 was destroyed upon the orders of Parliament. That was not an uncommon fate for many a small and not so small castle about this time. At Knaresborough the original outside curtain wall and some internal structures were'sleighted' and the stone robbed out, presumably to build and repair many a house in Knaresborough town . Although as with many other castles I've worked at the keep was kept, because it served as a center for local administration and made a handy prison. Unfortunately most of the keep is now lost, but we did have a look about the cellars and 'dungeon' beneath the now ruinous 'King's Chamber' and in the original buttery; a small room of about 8 x 10 feet it is said that at one point it was a cell for 26 people.

The remains of the Knaresborough Castle Keep

The other side of the Keep and a great setting for my storytelling tent!

Down, down, down to the 'dungeons'

Some arrowheads- Looks to be prisoner graffiti

View out of the keep cellar

The now ruined top 'Kings Chamber' of Knareborough Castle keep

The castle itself is mostly lost, but what remains is excellent; a bit like one of those romantic ruins you see in old engravings and because its remains are in a public park there is plenty of access. I liked it because although there were some interpretive panels and various maps and documents in the museum, it was one of those places where its left to the visitors imagination to see it as it was. That works for me, because it allows for a little bit of colour and who knows what. Knights, damsels and even the occasional angry dragon intent on the destruction of man, which may well help explain why so much of the fabric of Knaresborough is now destroyed. Well those Roundheads couldn't have knocked it all down, after all they were far to busy giving the Cavaliers a right good kicking!

What was really exiting is that Knaresborough Castle really does have a tunnel leading out to who knows where in emergencies. For many years whilst working as an interpreter at Norwich Castle I had to endure many earnest tales about the tunnels that joined the Keep with the Cathedral and other places of local importance. But it is simply not true and I suspect most of the stories about tunnels from other castles dotted about the land are nothing more than tall tales as well. But not Knaresborough and I only wish that it had been open on Sunday so that I could have seen where it led. I like to think that it would have been a treasure laden tomb of one of the ancient Kings of Briton, or perhaps a druids temple. Either would have been good!

The entrance to the castle escape tunnel!

The small museum on site was also just my kind of place. It was originally the local courthouse, but now it is more like a really, really big cabinet of curiosities! There is all sorts to see including a model of 'Blind Jack'; a local character who in the 1700s walked from London to Harrogate and presumably the other way as well with his pedometer. He did it as a bet. Blind Jack was very famous locally and has a statue near the market cross in the center of Knaresborough town. But even this is different, because unlike many a statue where the local dignitary towers above us small inconsequential folk, 'Blind Jack' is set reposing upon a bench. You can sit next to him whilst you enjoy your fish and chips.

Certainly there is a relaxed feeling in Knaresborough and reminded me more of a Cornish village than a Yorkshire town. I say that because although I love the North of England some of the towns can be a bit austere; built as they are of imposing dark stone. Knaresborough however is a mix of all styles with a lot of what appear to be ancient timber framed and brick buildings dotted about here and there. There were also lots of little cafes with outside seating, all of which added to the relaxed laid back feeling.

The town square with Blind Jack enjoying a well earned rest upon a bench!

The road leading up to the castle gate

The other curiosity which really caught my eye in the museum was the shirt of the local Royalist, Sir Henry Slingsby; the shirt he was said to have worn at his execution on tower hill in London. He was accused of treason for his part in a plot to help the exiled Charles, son of Charles 1st to the throne. He was beheaded in 1658, although disappointingly there isn't a drop of blood on his shirt. That might sound a bit macabre to some, but I love objects like this. For one thing they are very personal and help you get closer to the past and for another they provide a 'hook' into history for kids and adults alike who can be put off by dry dates and facts.

Knaresborough Museum

The museum was excellent, but best of all was the view... We parked up and started unloading, not aware that immediately behind the Keep where we were to set up was a view like no other. It looked out over a gorge and train viaduct which spanned the river Nidd. And there was the wonderful sound of gently flowing water spilling over the rocks below. It was so peaceful and all I wanted to do was sit upon one of the many benches that overlooked the gorge and sleep. And below there were many terraces overlooking small cafes with yet more outside seating filled with people just sitting; just taking it easy and enjoying the view. All I wanted to do was sit on one of those chairs, enjoy a cool drink and do what everyone else was doing. But I had work to do and to be honest I had a really good days storytelling with a great audience and plenty of breaks in between to sit and stare..

View from the castle looking down over Mother Shipton's Cave

Alas, no interesting facts from Kim this day as she was just far too relaxed enjoying the view and playing with the castle ravens. We met the official keeper of the ravens and Kim held one and got pecked by one and was totally and utterly taken with them both! Its no wonder there are so many raven tales out there, for you've only got to look into their eyes to see that they are far wiser than any common or garden owl!

Kim with 'Gabrelle' the castle raven.
Normally free to fly, but tethered this day for their own protection

I did manage to drag her away for a look about the Keep and even to sneak a picture of her sitting in the garderobe (Toilet) There is a sign pointing out that it was the job of the gongfarmer to remove all the resulting waste from the castle and that was good because I was telling a story about a gongfarmer this day! The sign also pointed out that the garderobe holes were a weak point in the castle defences and that would be attackers might send boys or small men up them to get in and open the gates... So there's an interesting fact after all!

Kim sitting on the lav.
I suspect that there are many photos out there like this one!

Thanks to Diane for the opportunity to tell at the event and to all the staff who made us both feel so welcome.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dover Castle

Last weekend I was at Dover Castle telling tales with a group run by Ian Pyecroft of Black Knight Historical. It was an event to celebrate the five hundred year anniversary of Henry VII's accession to the the throne and I was telling stories about the rise and falls of Kings.

Other than that there is not a lot I can tell you, because I didn't heed my own advice and have much of a look round. There was so much else going on. All I can say is that it is in a way a much bigger version of Southsea Castle, although its history does extent much further back. It has the remains of a Roman Lighthouse, a Saxon Church and a massive Norman Keep, which unfortunately is still being redisplayed and so inaccessible to all. I suppose this evidence alone is important as it clearly shows that the headland on which Dover Castle sits has been important to people for a very long time. It reminds me a lot of Scarborough Castle where I worked last year, which also has a Roman Lighthouse and Saxon remains and also has evidence of much earlier bronze age and Iron peoples too. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if there isn't similar evidence of much earlier activity at Dover.

To sum up... Come to Dover Castle, spend the day at Dover Castle, for Dover Castle is really, really, really big!

Many thanks to the Sea Cadets who made us feel so welcome at their clubhouse and especially to Sheila, who cooked us some superb breakfasts...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wychwood Festival & the Strawberry Fair

Although I did some storytelling on the Kidz field at Glastonbury last year, this is my first full season of telling at music festivals and this year I've already told at the Wychwood Festival in Cheltenham and at the Strawberry Fair in Cambridge.

Kim came with me to both festivals and having made good time, we stopped just outside Cheltenham to have a look at Notgrove longbarrow. It was one of those unplanned stops, where we just came across a sign to the longbarrow and being the history nerd I am and starved of prehistoric sites here in Norfolk, I just had to stop. Although as you can see from the photos there was not much to see - Just a weed strewn, eroded mound now filled in because of vandalism. That said, I had a cup of tea and sat there smugly drinking it and being smug, because I could make a cup of tea in our camper van. Little things please little minds I suppose, but I like celebrating the little things!

Entrance to Notgrove Longbarrow

The now very indistinct Notgrove longbarrow

We arrived early on site and straightway noticed that there were many families and older people collecting their tickets. Wychwood prides itself on being a family festival and I'm sure there are some who remember the older festivals and would criticise it for that. But it became apparent that even though there many children on sight it didn't detract from the adult entertainment with late night storytelling and some very funny and very earthy comedy courtesy of Mundo Jazz and others. In a brilliant start to the comedy on Saturday night a child called Ollie was called up and asked the worst swear word he knew in order to set a benchmark for the evening and perhaps to deter the more feint hearted parents. Suffice to say that Ollie knew a pretty rude swear word!

I really enjoyed the comedy and to be honest I'm happier in the the smaller alternative tents than listening to the headline bands. And there was plenty of alternative stuff going on at Wychwood. Tom Robinson (He of War Baby and Glad to be Gay fame) was running his Fresh on the Net sessions in the Old Hooky Bar, so you could enjoy a drink and some great and very diverse music played by independent artists who are as yet unsigned to the big record companies and happy to be so.

Circus skills on the 'Meadow' area of the Green

I was based in the the 'Green' area which had a number of spaces and tents dedicated to different types of performance and workshops. The Willow tent focused on dance and movement, the Sycamore on music and jamming, the the Oak on Cinema, the Hawthorn on the arts including storytelling, the Ash on making/crafts and the Meadow area on all sorts of activities - from Circus skills to yoga and sports. Its all of the workshops held in the Green area that I enjoyed the most. From having a go at Milonga dancing, which is a folk dance that the Argentine Tango developed from, to drama workshops and my personal favourite, the drum circle. It was run by Inta Africa over both days and they supplied plenty of extra djembes for anyone and every one to have a go. Starting with a simple beat they got faster and faster, the beats getting ever more complex. Well, more complex for me and a few others. Although I use a drum to draw a crowd, I couldn't keep up, but had a lot of fun trying!

Drum Circle workshop led by Inta Africa in the 'Willow' tent on the Green

Kim enjoyed it and unlike me could keep up with the drumming. She was so involved that there was no interesting facts found out, although the site itself was interesting, because it was set on Cheltenham racecourse and so an insight into another world for people like me who have absolutely no interest in watching horses run round and round in big circles! Also the site is surround by some beautiful craggy hills, one of which is called Cleeve hill. They were reminiscent of something you'd find up in Cumbria although on a much smaller scale! All in all a great event. many thanks to Jem and all the staff and volunteers in the Hawthorn tent for making me feel so welcome and and for helping me in setting up my sessions.

The Strawberry Fair...
It was my first time at the Strawberry Fair, set on Midsummer Common in Cambridge and I was telling with the renowned storyteller, John Row. I was particularly pleased to be there because the in recent years the Fair has had its share of problems, with some residents complaining about anti social behaviour. That and also higher levels of charging to police the event threatened to put a stop to the Fair. But the organisers have introduced the Your Fair, Play Fair scheme in an attempt to curb the excesses of a minority of festival goers. At the end of the day its a free event taking place in a public park so the organisers are at the mercy of everyone and anyone who chooses to come along intent on selfish behaviour, but it seems that most were willing to play fare and have a good time. I did....

The crowds gathering along the river for the fair

We arrived the evening before to set up and went for a walk around Cambridge. I'm not sure whether its the classical and often ornate architecture or something deeper, but there is still a perceptible elitism about the place which doesn't sit well with some of my own feelings and ideals. But as you walk about the place its is quite clear from the posters fixed here there and everywhere that there is a lot going on in Cambridge beyond the colleges themselves. And whilst some of it is certainly influenced by Cambridge students it doesn't appear to be aimed solely at other students and I got the feeling that anyone with the aspirations towards self improvement could learn lots in and around Cambridge as well as having a great time at all the other events happening around the town.

Telling tales with Master Storyteller, John Row outside my tent in the Kidz area

What I especially liked about the Strawberry Fayre itself was the incredible optimism and positive messages that can be found on places like the Green where all sorts of groups made you stop and consider your environment and your health, well being and the well being of others. There's still a feeling of political awareness; although the Fair itself has no political affiliations, there is I think a concern for the good of all, which seems lost in mainstream politics and in the ever increasing complacent world we live in. Many people seem to be getting very uptight about how much MPs are fiddling on their expenses, but many of the same people have very little concern for the plight of the world we live in or the other people who live in it. You see what I mean, a good festival or Fair can reawaken something in all of us!

at also stood out was the commitment of the volunteers on site who worked hard all day to make sure everyone had a good time. What has also become apparent to me is that this is a year long commitment with benefits going on over many months.

The crowds gathering

As I said earlier I'm not so interested in the big names playing at festivals, but what was also good about the Strawberry Fair was the line up of local talent, especially in the acoustic tent where you could get up close and personal to the bands. If you want to get an idea of who was playing a pdf version of the line up is I think now available on the SF website and all the bands seem to have their own myspace sites.

The main stage

Unfortunately I was very busy on the day, as it wasn't the kind of event that lent itself to timed sessions from my tent. And so like John Row I ended up stalking my prey; telling to unsuspecting families and small groups of chilled out festival goers. For that reason I missed quite a lot and my biggest regret is missing the Interknit- where as part of the Arts Area two women, Cathy Dunbar and Helen Judge were sitting on the sofa, drinking tea and teaching others to knit. I for one am looking for a new skill to see me through the long winter evenings and had I had the time I might have started something and maybe just maybe I might have been able to knit myself a new storytelling costume for next years Strawberry Fair!

The 'Green' area

A trader in the 'crafts'' area selling beautiful prints outside their lorry home

Kim doing her bit-doing some face painting in the Kidz area

Thanks to both Kate and Kath who did a most excellent job in running the kids area and all those volunteers who made the free lunch for everyone else working on site. It was delicious!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Southsea Castle, Southsea

The weekend before last I was telling at Tudor tales at Southsea Castle in Southsea by Portsmouth. Its one of a series of Tudor forts built along the Solent, both on the mainland and on the Isle of Wight. And like so many of the places I'm working this year its a a bit of a hidden gem, for as you drive into Portsmouth there are brown signs here there and everywhere directing you to many different museums. In fact I don't remember driving into a town with so many museums. And there is off course the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard with the Victory, the iron war ship, the Warrior and also the remains of the Mary Rose and museum dedicated to all her finds. And so it was I kept driving and still no signs for Southsea Castle until I was right upon it and even then it wasn't easy to find; hidden as it was at the end of a great wave of heritage, but tucked neatly away behind a modern car park! But as soon as I entered I got a good feeling. Every one was very welcoming, the museum was free and there was clearly lots going on...

Southsea Castle Tudor Keep

There was the solid stone Tudor Keep housing its own museum and some excellent interpretation about how the early castle functioned. For this weekend it also housed some staff from the Mary Rose Trust who amongst other things were teaching the children how to stabilise a Tudor warship, which rose up high out of the water. Although both vehemently denied that the Mary Rose sank when all the sailors rushed from one side to the other to get a glimpse of King Henry VIII. Probably not true, but once again it has the makings of a good story!

Inside the Keep overseen by Henry VIII himself!

A window in the Keep showing the 10 feet thick walls

One of the 'vents' in the roof of the keep:
To allow for easy movement of canon balls up to the defences.

The contents of the excavated well in the Castle:
Includes stone canon balls and the broken pail for carrying water

Just to the side of the Keep the local archaeological group were showing all sorts of items found upon the seabed and also letting the kids have a go at facial reconstruction. It involved applying play dough to a resin skull to make a face. I really liked this activity although most of the kids couldn't resist adding horns and all sorts of other grotesque features to their faces. But then they had a go and its something that hopefully they will remember for a long time...
And from there all could explore one of the later additions to Southsea, a tunnel called a 'caponier' which was the last resort if attackers breached the outer defences. It was basically a tunnel with inward looking holes from which to shoot the enemy. Hope that makes sense, if not just read the sign below. I liked it because it was dark and cool, which was great because the weekend was very, very hot. I also liked it because I was in Tudor kit and gave quite a few already nervous people a bit of a shock, especially when i banged my drum in the darkness!

The entrance to the 'caponier'

The very dark 'caponier' tunnels

Looking out one of the 'caponier' windows

Southsea Castle was one of many forts built in Tudor times but even it has its unique points. It was for example built to a new angular design as opposed to the older round gun emplacements in order to increase the angle of fire by canon (You can see a reconstruction of the castle below) Thinking about it, that will do from my interesting fact about Southsea although there are many more. Indeed you can go on a tour of the castle with the ghost of John, Master Gunner at he castle in Henry VIIIs time. Not only do you get to meet Henry himself complaining about the time it took to build the various forts, but also stop and hear about the castles history during the time of the Civil War and even when in the 1800s part of the castle was accidentally blown up killing seventeen people including women and children. It seemed that some of the wives and children of the garrison were cooking supper when some of the embers from the fire fell through the floorboards onto gunpowder and up it all went. In the tour reconstruction it appears to be a homely scene (As homely as you can get in a castle) Then suddenly some flickering lights , a loud bang and some smoke are puffed out, although this was enough to make one young lad cling to his mothers leg! Some might not approve of this form of interpretation, but I enjoyed it and it helped get across the human story of what would otherwise have been a great mass of brick, stone and iron. And there were many tales to be told, such as how the castle was so poorly financed in the 1600s that the garrison was forced to sell the lead from its roof s and how at other times they were reduced to selling ale and cakes from the castle to make ends meet. These are the stories of the people that I think really bring the place to life even if it does require a ghost to tell them!

The outer defences with later eighteenth century modifications

Two views of the Castle: The first from a Tudor picture. The second a modern reconstruction

View looking down on the Keep from later brick defences.

What I liked about Southsea straight away was its honesty, meaning all the different periods of its use were there for all to see. And Southsea castle has a lot of history, because it didn't actually go out of active military service until c.1960! It just goes to show you how the whole history of Portsmouth is dominated by its vulnerability to attack, fear of invasion and need for defence. From the Remains of the Mary Rose built to fight off French attacks, to the Tudor castles, the nineteenth century forts built onto the seabed of the Solent and the various modifications to Southsea castle itself during the Napoleonic wars and later threats of invasion. Portsmouth is very much a town whose heritage even today is dominated by defense. Just outside the castle entrance is the D Day museum with a 2nd world war tank and anti aircraft gun standing outside. Just down the coast is the Royal Marines museum, whilst the other way there is the largest monument to the fallen of the two world wars that I've ever seen and also the remains of the 16th-17th century 'redoubts', the defences that are now crisscrossed by modern stainless steel bridges. They do in fact add a bit of mystery to the seafront, because every now and then they are pierced by short tunnels presumably built to access ships anchored off shore.

But although Portsmouth military history is so obvious it isn't by any means a place today racked by fear or inward looking in any way. In fact its precisely the opposite and there are few seaside resorts that I've been to where I've felt so relaxed. You can still park up anywhere along the seafront (For a price of course) and also on the great swathes of common that run along the opposite side of the beach roads. Great expanses of grass which seem to have their origins in Portsmouth's earlier military past; providing as they do space around the earlier gun emplacements and the town itself. But now for the price of a car park ticket you can set up an awning and barbecue and spend the day relaxing, which is what many people did. Watching from the castle I saw a French group who had spent the morning at Southsea, spend the afternoon playing a game where they all stood in a great circle and took turns at falling over. It looked fun although I still prefer British Bulldogs! They played whilst others flew kites, read books and slept; all in all a very chilled out scene. Although for the more energetic there are also volleyball and basket ball courts just opposite the beach. I don't play either, but still appreciated that both must be appreciated!

So laid back is Portsmouth I noticed that a lot of large camper vans were parking up at the seafront at night. I had planned to find a proper campsite, but seeing this and being the kind of person who likes to saver some money if he can, I drove out of the main beach front to where there were less lights and settled down for the night. And it was well worth it for not only did I save some money, but in the morning I was greeted by fantastic views of the Isle of Wight and the ever busy Solent. I sat on the edge of my camper watching all the joggers pounding the pavements, whilst thinking that they should stop a while and enjoy the view. Maybe they do, but I doubt it as the grass is always greener elsewhere.

Relaxing on the Sunday morning overlooking a very peaceful Portsmouth beach

That's certainly what i find, because although I love Norfolk especially its winter skies, the beaches aren't what I want from a beach, where as Portsmouth beaches are. Firstly there is a different smell to the sea and one I first smelt last year whilst traveling on the ferry over to the Isle of Wight to do some Discovery Visits for English Heritage. I'm not sure how to describe it, except that its enticing and smells of adventure! I also like the busyness of the place; In Norfolk you might get the odd glimpse of a tanker out on the horizon, but the Solent was heaving with craft... From small dinghy, to tugs, ferries looming out of the water and even Hovercraft. On Saturday night as I promenaded along the seafront one came hurtling out of the sea and pulled up right in front of me. I've never seen a real hovercraft before, it was huge and a number of people including myself waited for it to leave again. It suddenly swelled up to three times its normal size, swung round and was gone sending pebbles and foam everywhere. Some cheered whilst others (Presumably the locals) just kept on walking; but then the grass is always greener...

The Isle of Wight Ferry and hovercraft having a race!

All in all it was a great place to spend the Sunday morning and also the evening before. I had planned to spend the evening working on my new version of Beowulf, but the allure of the seafront was just too much for me.. As well as seeing the hovercraft, I explored the old redoubts, enjoyed an ice cream complete with flake and really tasty pie and chips, skulked about the amusements with its loud whizzes and bangs, and even louder music, it was an assault on all the senses, but one that always makes me feel oddly at peace. Probably because I spent my holidays as a child at a local seaside resort called Hemsby and spent most of my time in the amusements, even when I had no money to spend. Skulking about in the hope I would find the odd penny or if lucky 10 pence lying lost upon the floor just waiting for me to come and waste it in one of the whizzing and banging machines! I had a wasted childhood and loved every minute of it! And walking down Portsmouth seafront reminded me of it and how I had forgotten just how much fun the seaside can be!

In fact the only downside to my visit had been a run in with a local traffic warden. I had been given a ticket that you scratch off the date on to park for free on the carpark in front of the castle. I in my rush had thinking about stories had scratched off the wrong date and luckily was having a break in my van when the traffic warden noted my mistake and threatened me with a parking ticket. I pointed out that i was working in the castle and would get another ticket from them, but she did not believe me and was only willing to give me minutes to return. She was not the friendliest person I've ever met and even the fact that I was wearing full Tudor kit and carrying a drum did not sway her; as far as she was concerned it was all a con so that i could park for free on Portsmouth seafront. Hmmmm... I liked Portsmouth a lot, but not that much!

Many thanks to Andrew, Chrissy, Liz and all the other staff and volunteers who made me and the public feel so welcome at Southsea Castle....