Not any old iron

254 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do

Date of travel

September, 2023

Product name

Orford Castle

Product country

United Kingdom

Product city

Orford near Ipswich

Travelled with


Reasons for trip


Ancient metal objects was the message, and in a castle you’d expect swords, halberds, even the keys to dungeons, but these were mainly tiny, decorative items or cult images. Most are from the Celtic period, the last few centuries before the Roman invasion of Britain. Despie Julius Caesar’s “Veni vidi vici” these show no sign at all of being conquered. Small but in most cases beautifull formed, they indicate people who knew exactly what they were doing and were not to be diverted from doing it.

The collection had been presented to the Orford museum which, unfortunately, has neither the security now funds to pay for insurance. Thus it came to English Heritage, with a mediaeval stronghold for accommodation. Insurance goes without saying.

Climbing the external steps to what remains of the keep, then the spiral flights to the main chamber, ought to be worth double on any fitbit watch. It must compare positively with the same number of steps around the village. The labour it meant for the original inhabitants, subject to cold and damp conditions, rheumatic pains and in all likelihood arthritis can only be imagined.

Staff at the entrance asked if we could manage. What they could offer had the answer been no I couldn’t say. No lift or other aid seemed available.

On previous visits to Orford we had ventured into the castle. For many years it was not open. The chance to make it safe for visitors may have been an unsought blessing of the Covid pandemic. It is now as easy to penetrate as any other English Heritage or National Trust property. To have this exhibition was more than icing on the cake. In our view it was the cake.

Metal is not altogether accurate. There are several stone objects. By no means all are Celtic, either. There are flint arrow heads, for example. For us, however, the focus was very much the Celtic jewels and figurines. A people with close affinities with the natural world expressed itself in totemic figures and figurines. Heads such as the characteristic one we first noticed can be seen by the wayside, usually marking a corner, in still Celtic areas of France – Brittany and parts of Normandy. None of the gold can be found there, however, other than in museums.

Some items are familiar: torques and bracelets, for example; others are decidely uncommon. These are the immediate focus. A hare, a cockerel and an owl are gems in their own right. A fish shows the importance to Celts of waterways. The sacred trout that was a source of poetic inspiration could easily inspire contemporary writing, given the quality of its workmanship; so too the owl with eyes that encompass rather than pierce.

The exhibition continues until the end of November and is included in the public price of admission: EH members go free of course. It is well worth a journey to one of the easternmost places in England.


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