On March 13th I flew from Vancouver to Montreal and then on to London. As is typical of Air Canada flights, I was starving by the time I arrived in England but the scenery along the way was nice.
The plane landed at Heathrow on the morning of March 14th and I headed straight to the underground station to catch the tube into town. I headed to Charing Cross station from which I was to catch an overland train down to East Sussex.
The point of my visit to East Sussex was to see an old friend, Andy the security guard, from my first year of university, which was spent at the International Study Centre on the grounds of Herstmonceux Castle. Andy met me at the train station near his house and we went to meet his wife Maria at home before all three of us jumped into the car to visit the castle.
It was a really nice day as we arrived to the castle, which looks exactly the same (except for the lack of two flags which used to be raised daily on the roof and are no longer used for safety reasons) as it did in May, 2003 when I was last there.
Before returning to the castle itself, Andy took us over to the little old Herstmonceux Church, which I had actually never visited during my entire long stay at the castle. The church is older than the castle (which dates to the 15th century), and is really neat. The influence of the Crusades is very strong.
Andy and the cherub statue – see any resemblance?
After the church, we headed over to Bader Hall, the residence on the castle grounds where I shared room B120 with Bill from Barrie. We chatted with the ladies working at the front desk, who actually remembered me despite the fact that my hair is no longer blue (as it was during my entire stay at the castle), and in fact I don’t really have much hair at all.
Saving the best for last, we drove back down to the castle itself to look around.
This phone booth was there when I studied at Herstmonceux Castle and despite today’s proliferation of mobile phones, it’s still there overlooking the moat:
Inside the castle, Andy showed me around the old rooms in which I used to study in the daytime and sneak around mischievously during the nights. This is the old dungeon, which is in a corner room accessed from a classroom:
The view from the same classroom:
And in that classroom, if you lift a certain square of carpet up, you’ll find this: The entrance to the tunnels underneath the castle. It’s locked, but back in my first year of university, a friend and I got our hands on a master key for the padlocks in the castle and spent many hours exploring the tunnels, rooftops, and other hidden places in the castle.
If you look at the tapestry framed up on the wall in the upper centre of this photo, you’ll see that it’s a replica of the metalwork in the floor of the old church (fifth photo in this blog post), which itself is hidden.
A couple of neat ceilings:
This is the view from the ballroom into the inner courtyard of the castle:
And this is the view from the other side of the ballroom, looking out onto the gardens with the big sundial and the gate to the Shakespeare Garden:
A replica of a globe from 1492, four centuries before the path of the Congo River through central Africa would become known:
The trees below are hundreds of years old; the photo makes them look normal-sized but they’re massive. The tree in the foreground has been hollowed out at the bottom over the years but is still alive, and during my first year of university I would sometimes stand inside the tree very late at night and wait for fellow students to walk past on their way between Bader Hall and the castle. After they passed I would jump out and usually scare the living daylights out of them. Afterall, we were living on relatively eerie castle grounds in the middle of nowhere with stories of ghosts abounding. Sometimes I had to wait more than half an hour in the tree before someone or some group would pass, while spiders dropped onto my shoulders and strange noises came from the moat below, but it was worth it for the mischief.
Andy loves the animals that frequent the castle grounds – there are ducks, geese, and other birds, as well as foxes, badgers, rabbits and the occasional horse with a human atop. Andy and Maria brought bread to feed the ducks:
Finally after an adequately nostalgic tour of my old stomping grounds, and one last photo looking up at the high turrets from which I used to look down in the middle of cold, moonlit nights with my fellow adventurers, we drove back to Andy and Maria’s home for a delicious supper before I caught a train back up to London.
This is what our visit to the castle looks like when you overlay my wristwatch GPS recording on Google Earth – click it to see the full-size version:
That night in London I stayed with my Chilean friend Daniel, who I met while he was on exchange at UBC, and the next day he and I visited St Paul’s Cathedral, which I had never bothered to visit in all my visits to London. I must admit I was underimpressed by the interior, but the outside is pretty cool.
On Monday night I stayed at my friend Aidan’s place, in the same room where we had watched Team Canada win Olympic Hockey Gold two weeks earlier. On Tuesday early afternoon I grabbed a bag I had left at the office a couple weeks before, and on Tuesday late afternoon came the closest I’ve ever been to missing a flight.