Urban sketching at Bodiam Castle, East Sussex – the land of knights

by | 2 May 2016

“Castle!” calls my daughter from the back seat as we round the bend in the highway. It is our third day in England and we still can’t believe that castles and medieval churches seem to pop up on the landscape every few minutes, interspersed by Tudor buildings and thatched cottages. These are not things we see back in Australia and we are fascinated by the scenery passing by.

When we were planning this trip Beth’s first request was to see Bodiam Castle. Back in year 7 she had studied it with a friend, and she built a cardboard model with her dad. We still have it, overlooking my rainbow shelves at home. Even with all my big clear out I couldn’t quite part with that cardboard castle. I still remember the hours they put into it. Beth’s friend also built a model of a friendly Halifax Gibbet to demonstrate beside the castle – they have very fond memories of that exhibition night!

Anyway, we can credit our Robertsbridge trip to Beth’s fondness for Bodiam Castle. Without her, we wouldn’t have found that gorgeous cottage to spend our first night, so yes, Beth, we are grateful!

At dinner in the George Inn the woman behind the bar took us aside to give us some inside tips about seeing the castle. “Go past the turnoff” she said “and don’t peek. Keep going until you cross the train line and THEN you can turn around and go back for your first sight of the castle”. We did. And a more “castle-y” looking castle would be hard to find.

Urban sketching at Bodiam Castle, East Sussex – the land of knights

The lore is that it was based on the “perfect castle”” described in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, one of the King Arthur tales. It was plastered a bright white on the outside and reflected full size in the gleaming moat. Trees were cut down around it not only to take away hiding spots from any potential attacker, but also to make it more impressive and Arthurian.

[T]here hoved a great hall and fair:
Turrets rising in tiers, with tines at their tops,
Spires set beside them, splendidly long,
With finials well-fashioned, as filigree fine.
Chalk-white chimneys over chambers high
Gleamed in gay array upon gables and roofs;
The pinnacles in panoply, pointing in air,
So vied there for his view that verily it seemed
A castle cut of paper for a king’s feast.
The good knight on Gringolet thought it great luck
If he could but contrive to come there within
To keep the Christmas feast in that castle fair
and bright.
(Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 794–806)

I have vague memories of studying that poem decades ago when I did Year 12 English – I wish we could have been wandering around a castle at the time!

Bodiam Castle is very impressive on the outside, but pretty ruined on the inside – probably a victim of the civil war as it was gutted inside by the parliamentary forces.

We climbed up inside the towers and peeked inside the remaining rooms and the many privies – apparently this was a very modern and fancy castle of its time with so many toilets which actually had doors – fancy that!

Then I snuck off outside and tried to draw as much as I could within a very short timeframe. England is having a very chilly spring!

Urban sketching at Bodiam Castle, East Sussex – the land of knights