December 27, 2010 Leave a comment
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).
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
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 narrowboats, Beeston 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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