Travel Diary » In search of the perfect castle
When we first started planning this trip to Europe and the UK, we got the kids ready by telling them stories about all the things we might see and do. Hayley is at the peak (or at least we hope it's the peak ... please let it be the peak) of "I want to be a Princess" phase so she quickly latched onto the fact that we were going to see castles.
"Are we going to see castles ... will there be a King and Queen inside ... do you think they need a princess ... will they let us go inside ... can we sleep in a castle ... "
On our third day in London we found walking across London Bridge after a little Princess saw it and begged (repeatedly) to walk across.
She started out singing 'London Bridge is falling down" and dancing but by the end it was her bottom lip that was falling down when she realised she couldn't actually go inside the towers. She was already unimpressed with castles in London after not being able to go inside Buckingham Palace and only seeing Kensington Palace from the outside when Mum was rude enough to only bring enough money for snacks to Kensington Gardens, not to pay entrance fees to palaces. So a castle bridge she couldn't enter was just icing on the cake.
Things really went downhill when we got to the Tower of London at 5pm and informed her that yes here was another castle we couldn't go inside as it was about to shut.
The sulking really started in earnest. She didn't care that it was about to close. She just needed to get inside a castle! Any castle, but right now!!! No amount of cheering up worked.
It's not a holiday without that postcard family photo where you have at least one sulking, grumpy child. How about two photos with sulking ...
When we started planning our trip to the UK, I was looking online for the perfect castle to visit. One that just screamed quintessential castle: a moat that was still filled with water, a draw bridge, high walls with towers and battlements, holes above the portcullis that boiling pitch was tipped out of.
Then I came across Bodiam Castle in East Sussex after reading another travelling families blog, Suitcases and Sippy Cups. It sounded ... and looked perfect.
We were hiring a car to visit the company that builds Colin's dream motorhome trucks so we added an extra day to the car hire and set out in search of Bodiam Castle.
Hayley couldn't wait. We pulled up in the rain but that didn't stop her, she was off and racing.
Most of the interior of the castle is in ruins, except for a couple of towers and rooms above the main entrance and the corner rooms.
You can go up the spiral stairs above the main entrance, through several rooms and across the top of the walls before heading back down again.
The stairs are incredibly steep. It took three days for my legs to recover! Yup I so need to get back into shape!
The kids had a lot of fun exploring the different rooms. We started our visit by watching a short film that showed a recreation of how the rooms would have looked so with a laminated map (provided at the entrance) and their memories of the film, they enjoyed trying to work out what each room was. The view from the battlements over the surrounding landscape is stunning.
For a castle that was never apparently meant to be defensive it certainly looks the part. The builder wanted a manor home that looked like a castle, but in order to get approval from the King to build a 'mock' castle he had to actually build a real one. Considering he spent most of his adult life on the battle fields of France, he did a very convincing job. After laying siege to so many castles it's probably not surprising that almost every weakness of castles of the time were overcome in this design - a drawbridge that ran along the castle walls, strong defenses and even the toilets (or garderobes as they were called) were well defended.
Like most castles of the day, garderobes were basically an outcropping of the castle walls that overhang the moat with a rather long drop! Bodiam Castle's garderobes rather than drop straight into the moat, which might have provided a weak point where someone could potentially enter the castle, had concealed pipes that funneled the waste down into the moat.
Noah sat on one in mock ... even with the funneling it looked like a pretty cold experience. No heated seats here! Just cold hard rock.
Hayley "loved loved loved" finally exploring the castle.
Noah had a pretty great time too. His verdict - the best place to play hide'n'seek ever!
We only spent just over one hour at the castle since it was raining and getting late in the day, but we could have easily spent half a day there. It's not a large castle but it was fascinating and there's lots to explore. We were the only ones there so we were free to explore, be silly and play hide'n'seek. The staff had no problems with the kids running around checking out every nook and cranny, and generally being kids.
So finally Hayley got to be a Princess of her own castle ... if only for a few hours. I'd like to say it's cured her of her need to explore castles but I fear it's only firmed up her convictions that one day she will own her own castle that we can share with her if we are good.
Bodiam Castle is located less than two hours drive south-east of London. It's not well signed but easy enough to find if you have a good map or GPS. Once you are near the castle there are signs.
Owned by the National Trust, entry is a lot cheaper than many of the other castles in the area. A family pass is 18 pounds. The castle is open all year round between 11am - 4pm. There is a carpark a short walk from the entrance and a coffee shop with toilets. No toilets inside the castle though so make sure you go first!
If you go in school holidays, the kids will be provided with an explorer pack filled with information, props and dress-ups. We weren't lucky enough to be there during school holidays but we still had a great time.