Britain’s Best Views – Cheshire

During my trip to the UK, I visited Beeston Castle in Cheshire with my friend Jack and his mom.  We were interviewed by two guys from The Guardian who were putting together a story as part of a series on Britain’s best views.  The article has now been posted online and I’ve copied it from The Guardian’s website below.  It’s pretty good, although Jack and I are not necessarily referred to 100% accurately (which is fine).

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Britain’s best views: Cheshire

Right in the heart of Cheshire – county of cheesemakers and footballers’ wives – Martin Wainwright finds two reminders of a wilder west that provide fantastic panoramas from their hilltop vantage points

Martin Wainwright

Martin Wainwright

guardian.co.uk, Saturday 25 December 2010 00.01 GMT

A fortified peak is the best kind of architecture, where crags and a castle combine to make an eagle’s nest, a place for desperate sieges and last stands.

After centuries without invasion or civil war, such places may sound unlikely in Britain, with its gently beautiful countryside and political tradition of compromise.

But here is one, a miniature Masada or Montsegur right in the heart of Cheshire, county of cheesemakers and footballers’ wives. Rising abruptly from the plain and its hobbity world of thatch and narrowboatsBeeston Castle is every warlike child’s dream.

Even today, you need to check English Heritage’s opening hours – unless you have a scaling ladder or ballista in the back of your car. The gate through the lower wall shuts off the entire hill and the inner bailey on the rock summit has another great door, surrounded by precipices and the deep half-moon of a dry moat.

“I love it for climbing and hiding,” said one of a gang of children out with their Mum for a pre-Christmas walk as the snow lurked visibly over the Welsh mountains to the west. A Cub Scout leader showing an American friend round picked up the theme, leading the way to a dog-sized hole in the base of an otherwise windowless, doorless bastion on the summit.

“We crawled in there when we were kids, and no grown-up could get in after us,” he said. “The Cubs do the same nowadays.” He counts them all in and counts them all out; and when they get back to English Heritage’s gatehouse, with its shelves of desirable toy swords and armour, the staff have another revelation, nicely suited to getting cries of Gross and Yuck from the children.

“You were right underneath the castle’s garderobe,” they say, going on to explain how the neat little hiding place would once have been knee-deep in poo. Then there’s the well; at 370ft, one of the deepest in any UK castle. A pebble takes almost seven seconds to clunk on the pile far below.

Beeston never saw any blood-curdling sieges or heroic stands. It was obviously too difficult to spend time on, although this led to its one, humiliating capture. On an icy December night in 1643, nine Royalist soldiers helped by a traitor crept inside the inner bailey. The Parliamentary garrison commander was so astonished to see them there that he surrendered his much larger force on the spot.

Most of Beeston’s nine centuries have been spent much more peacefully, and after purchase by the Tollemache family in the 19th century it became a marvellous icon ofthe Picturesque. The first Earl Tollemache (pronounced Tollymarsh and a fake but grandiose name for a family originally called Halliday) was responsible for the beautiful landscaping of the site, with conifers, miniature copses and a circular woodland walk with takes in the 350ft sandstone cliff faces, woodpeckers, buzzards and some excellent caves.

Tollemache was Cheshire’s biggest landowner, outdoing even the nearby Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall, but he made himself a name for liberalism and rural improvement. He adapted the Chartists’ demand for “three acres and a cow” to “three acres and a cottage”, housing his many workers with such efficiency that the Prime Minister William Gladstone called him “the greatest estate manager of the day”.

Tollemache was conscious of his own importance, however, and that is why the hamlet of Beeston, remarkably, boasts not just one hilltop castle, but two. At a cost of over £5 million in today’s money, he built Peckforton Castle on top of the second local cliff, a fake fortress to go with his adopted name. Touring the enormous pink sandstone complex in 1858, Sir George Gilbert Scott called it aptly “the very height of masquerading”.

After a spell as what must have been a memorable children’s home, Peckforton is now a cheerfully spoof-ancient hotel with marriage ceremonies featuring owls trained to fly down from the Great Hall’s rafters with the ring. However fake, the endless bustle – from piles of laundry to giggling chambermaids trying to manoeuvre a floor polisher down a spiral stone staircase – is probably truer to genuine medieval castle life than Beeston’s beautiful, silent ruins.

Peckforton has one advantage over Beeston in view terms, too. From its battlements you get an awesome close-up of the genuine castle, almost toppling from its rocky perch. Even better is the panorama from the high point of the 37-mile Cheshire Sandstone Trail at Stanner Nab above Peckforton. Both castles stand proudly in the foreground.

Beeston’s own view would justify any siege. Because the hill rises so abruptly from the plain, the foreground looks tiny, a children’s book world of miniature trains and tractors, but with the grandest of backgrounds stretching for miles. Wales’ mountains are one buttress, the snow-capped Pennines the other. To the north, the Dee estuary’s refineries and chemical plants frame the far-distant smudge of Liverpool cathedral.

The great goal for Cheshire viewers, though, is Jodrell Bank, the radio telescope whose eye into infinity has the county bursting with pride. “There it is!” shouted one of the clambering children. “No, there!” said the Cub leader. The final attraction of a wonderful place, the faraway disc’s visibility depends on its tilt, as the astrophysicists in charge change the angle of their peering into outer space.

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Winter Trip 2010: Post #6

I’m in England now.  I’m a big fan of the United Kingdom everything looks so classy.  The cities we have visited (I am traveling with my friend Jack)  are beautiful and everything is done up for christmas so many places look like they could be in a card.

I’ve realized that I have tried to fit too much into one week.  I wanted to see as much of the country as possible, but in order to see all of the sights I should have really chosen a part of the country to stick with.  It’s okay, though because I am seeing different parts of the countryside, meeting Jack’s friends, exploring,  and still seeing some cool places.

Here is a brief outline of what we have been doing.  It’s more condensed since I have a tighter travel schedule.

Tuesday – Part 2

  • After several delays, I finally got on a plane to Berlin.
  • I basically ran through the airport to get my plane to England, which it turns out, was also delayed.
  • Wen I arrived in London, Jack and his friend picked me up.
  • We drove around the city for a while to see the sights at night.

Wednesday

  • We drove from London to Windsor.
  • We walked around Windsor, walked around the castle (didn’t go in), and visited the Build-A-Bear Workshop UK Headquarters.
  • We drove by the Ascot Raceway.
  • We visited Stonehenge.  It was quite interesting and in the middle of nowhere.
  • We drove through Bath on the way to Bristol.
  • We went to a few pubs in Bristol with Jack’s friends.

Thursday

  • We woke up a bit late as we were exhausted.
  • We drove into Wales to visit Cardiff, the capital.
  • We walked around the city and met Jack’s friend for lunch.
  • We visited Cardiff Castle, my first real castle.  The castle is from before 1100.  It was great.
  • We went to a fancy dress shop – i.e. a costume store to get costumes for the Christmas party at the Cub Scout meeting we were going to.
  • We went to Cheltenham, where Jack went to University, met Jack’s friend,  and went to a Cub Scout meeting.  They had a Christmas party and played games I’ve never seen in the U.S.  It was pretty exciting.
  • We went out after Cubs and I got my first authentic Fish & Chips.

Friday

  • We drove to Bunbury, where Jack is from.  I’ve now met his family.
  • I saw Jack’s family’s chickens 🙂
  • We ate lunh at Jack’s home.
  • We (me, Jack, Jack’s mom) went to Beeston Castle, near Jack’s home.  Some of it is still standing and other parts are in ruin.  It was quite large and interesting.  While there, we (well, Jack and his mom) got interviewed for a series on Britain’s best views in The Guardian to be posted online.  Quite exciting.
  • We went to the Ice Cream Farm.
  • We went to Chester, a nearby city, and walked along the Roman walls.  The walls are the most complete set of Roman/Medeval walls in Britian.  We explored some of the shopping in the city, etc.
  • We went to Jack’s best friend’s house and talked to Jack’s best friend’s mom and sister.  I had my first English tea.
  • We went back to Jack’s house and then went to a nice pub with the family for a great dinner.  I had a fish pie.  For desert, Jack and I shared a cheese board.
  • I’ve been talking with Jack’s parents.

We’ve been listening to BBC Radio 1 on the drive.  It’s much more entertaining than most stations I have listened to in the U.S.

Saturday night, we are going to a Liverpool game.  Sunday we had back to London and will be there until I leave on Tuesday.  It is quite a busy/fun trip.