Stokesay Castle

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Things to do


Date of travel

September, 2020

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Late for us as it was late for a castle. At least we have some time left for visiting; Stokesay was already past the need of castles when it was erected. Nonetheless it is one of the most striking buildings imaginable – today as decades ago when we first saw it but were not able to visit.

It seemed we might not again be able to visit, with Covid-19 rampant as the Black Death had once been shortly after Stokesay was built. The English Heritage website showed we should print our online tickets but on arrival, armed with an Ipad in lieu of a printer at our holiday let, we were just asked for our name and told we were on the system so all that we needed were membership cards. It was most definitely worth not only the long wait since we drove past with small children but also the other small weight of an Ipad (we are not tech-savvy enough for apps on mobile phones).

“They must have built the manor house then thought ‘Why not go the whole hog and add a castle,'” my wife said. Her eye was also drawn to the delightful small garden that would not have been appropriate for a castle – more of that later. The castle keep was also for later because of strict social distancing. Instead we went into the great hall, impossible at that scale in a defensive castle. (The real Marcher castle was at Ludlow, about ten miles away on what is now the A49.) Clun, a few miles off the road was another unnecessary fortification, built to impress socially rather than militarily.

The de Ludlow family had no military background but had made money from the very unmilitary activity of sheep merchandise. There is probably more risk of sheep rustlers today than then, with the price of Welsh lamb sky-high, so the de Ludlows would have been free to indulge in medieval ‘Game of Thrones’ fantasies.

The hall is a splendid beamed structure that once had a central hearth. Stairs lead to the private quarters with what had once been a spacious cupboard and a fireplace in more comfortable terms than was available to retainers in the hall. Other comforts were painted designs on the walls. Views through the windows show that Stokesay was never going to be defensible, being overlooked by hills.

There was a brief delay for social distancing before we could enter the tower, or castle part. Time was available to note signs of the roof that must once have protected the family from bad weather as they mounted the external steps Inside the need to impress important visitors seemed to have been paramount. A bishop was among these, and the castle has references to his visit and how he was entertained. Up more stairs were private apartments and a private privy. Nobody would have risked those stairs on a dark night for personal easement.

‘Small but beautifully formed’ might have been an apt description of the buildings, as it was for the garden. The gardener, who also tends plants on three other sites, was glad to talk about his work, particularly the difficulty of returning to it after lockdown. Although it had only been cultivated for one previous season the planting looks settled and is in colourful variety. A long-held wish has been fulfilled for us as, it seems, for him. It was well worth waiting for.


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