Tag Archives: Herstmonceux Castle

A Visit to Herstmonceux Castle

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Andy and the cherub statue – see any resemblance?

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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.

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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:

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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:

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The view from the same classroom:

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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.

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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.

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A couple of neat ceilings:

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This is the view from the ballroom into the inner courtyard of the castle:

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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:

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A replica of a globe from 1492, four centuries before the path of the Congo River through central Africa would become known:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

Kingston and Ottawa

A few weeks ago a buddy of mine sent out an email to all the students from our first year at the castle in England, asking us to show up April 1st for a few drinks at a pub in Kingston, where most of the castle kids go to Queen’s University. On a whim, I decided I might as well make the trek out east, as I had never managed to go visit my old friends out there and had only seen a few of them since I left the castle three years ago.

I stayed at Bill and Alvin’s place from the 31st to the 3rd. Bill was my roommate in the legendary room B120 in Bader Hall back in our castle days. Alvin was a good friend and student govt president that year.

Bill and Alvin have a really nice foosball table in their house. The players are all the same colour – silver – so it was hard for me to figure out which ones were my team but I got used to it.

The first night I was in Kingston was the formal dinner/dance event for the grads of the year, so a bunch of people were all dressed up when we went and did the rounds of the local residents. Two particularly crazy former Bader residents, now living in Kingston and preparing to go party, were Bunny and Amy.

On the 1st, we headed to Tir Nan Og pub to meet up with old friends. While Bill and Alvin see these people regularly at Queen’s, I was excited to see them all again after so many years. They all looked almost exactly the same as in first year!

Bunny, Bill, Alvin, Janelle, and Christine (I see her all the time at UBC):

Luke:

Danielle and Lauren (I’ve bumped into her in Vancouver a few times over the years):

Paige, Amanda (visited me in Vancouver and I saw her in Australia), and Emma:

Andrei and Trini:

Ashik:

Bill, aka Beej, Billiam, William, possibly the best roommate ever:

Rob:

Rob’s little brother, Johnny:

In Kingston I basically just spent the evenings out with friends and the days sleeping and eating… then at 7am yesterday Bill drove me to the bus station and I headed for Ottawa to catch my plane home.

I got to Ottawa at 9am and my flight wasn’t til 4pm so I decided to have a look around. I was in Ottawa in grade 11 for a few days but didn’t get to leave the huge school group I was with to explore on my own. This time I had to figure out the transit system, which luckily is a good system and wasn’t too difficult to use.

Once in the downtown core, I spent about 4 hours walking around. Of course I walked past Parliament, on the first day back in session with the new Harper government:

While I was walking, I looked up and saw a plane carrying a message and laughed my ass off when I realized what it said:

The bell from the old tower is on display outside with a very interesting little description on a plaque:


I then headed down the road, past a memorial to peacekeeping:

I decided to take a tour of the Royal Mint, since the National War Museum was closed (Mondays are not so great in Ottawa). We weren’t allowed to take any photos at all inside the mint. It wasn’t a very interesting tour, but it helped me waste about an hour of my time.

It was a bit cold and somewhat windy, so the less fortunate in town were bundled up quite a bit:

Finally, I caught a bus to the airport, spent a couple hours there reading my book and sleeping, then flew to Calgary which looks like this from the air:

From Calgary I flew to Vancouver on a half empty plane and Dad came to pick me up and drive me home, and that’s the end of my weekend adventure in Ontario.