The Castles of old and Newcastle.

After York I went to Newcastle, which honestly wasn’t all that impressive of a place really. Nothing particularly wrong with it there, I just found the overall experience to be fairly dull and muted. Boring. Fortunately Newcastle does have a neat castle, go figure, which I got to explore at budget prices and where most of my day in Newcastle was spent.

There’s just something extremely fascinating about castles, these massive stone juggernauts that even today stand as the pinnacle of medieval might and power. When you think of kings, of emperors, queens and lords, that all ties in with the image of the Castle, a majestic stone structure that’s built to weather the toughest of blows whether it be nature or our fellow man dealing them. It’s easy when you stand at the base of these structures to picture the sheer power these would have bestowed to the lords over the people, its size and construction is built for intimidation and military prowess. Dramatics aside, there’s also the sense of age and time that accompanies the castles of old. You see, Canada was established well past the castle era, and although Quebec sports an impressive set of early defenses, for the most part our bastions of might in the past were wooden fortress and the earth itself, torn up to form walls of mud and wood to hold back the cannons of the enemy. None of those forts really exist anymore and time has washed clear the bloodstains of the colonial era, other than the occasional monument or a cheesy recreation, there’s nothing left.

Not so with Europe. Those massive stone castles stand as a sort of testament to mans violent past. Built solely for defence, lacking almost any sense of comfort or style, such as the one in Newcastle which was designed in the Norman style. Tight corridors and narrow flights of spinal stairs, large bare stone rooms, minimal windows to keep the defence of the structure rigid. These buildings were built to withstand it all, and many have, even the test of time.

In Newcastle I believe the price was 50p to wander the bare building, large and empty. It was a rainy day at the time, and to enter onto the premise I walked under the old Black Gates, the remains of the original outer castle walls that would have once surrounded the area, now only the massive stone gatehouse long ago stained black from wear remains. Drawbridge down and wooden planks dark and damp from the water, this long structure stands out amidst the modern industrial surroundings and the heightened train tracks next to it, an ancient monolith of the past. You pass through the old gates and follow the path under the train tacks and towards the castle proper which lies just on the opposite side, another strange monolith from the past as the huge stone structure sits by itself in a parking lot, train tracks on one side, city buildings on another, and on another the last remains of the walls remain, now having been converted to a small park that leads towards the river and into more industrial land.

Up the flight of stone stairs and into the structure you’re faced with the small novelty gift shop and a small wooden booth where a bored but kindly older man sells you a ticket. In one direction lay a bare stone room where a series of pictures have been set up to list some of the castles history as well as another smaller display listing the various ghostly happening that have occurred there and a few notable people and encounters there because of those encounters, doorways lead into the castle proper. The building is built like a box, with a large central room in the middle surrounded by staircase in the corners and various smaller hallways and rooms, one unfortunate stone stairway leading up into a flat stone wall for whatever reason, the original castle builders having left it unfinished for unclear reasons. Up leads to the main hall, often used as an exhibit for various local functions, and further up to the roof where you’re allowed to wander at will. By this time the rain had begun to clear luckily and while the sky was still appropriately darkened for proper medieval ambiance lighting (Thank you Newcastle) I was able to get a stunning view. Heading deeper into the castle towards its base you’re faced with inter-connected large stone rooms, one a small chapel and another gated off to prevent people from falling down the large pit it seems to lead into. A prison I presume. What’s especially noticable here is the way the stonework is built from various different types and eras, pieces having been reused, moved, rebuilt and switched around over the years. So you’ll see an appropriately worm smooth stone from who knows when sitting atop a seemingly freshly carved stone from only a few hundred years ago. Another reminder of those castles long past.

Other than the occasional plaque with a few words of history written on them or stone monuments propped up against the walls, the place is barren and empty. No fancy showmanship for touristy delight, it hasn’t been prettied up or decorated for the most part, although a few rooms do contain some threadbare displays. And for me that’s what made Newcastle a unique and entertaining experience. The place was all but empty when I was there so no large crowds or the yelling of bored tourists, it wasn’t decorated with silly out of place childrens displays. Just the castle, here and now. See it, enjoy it, soak up the ambiance and enjoy. Very cool.

Newcastle was not my favourite city by any means, the fact that all I’ve spoken about this entire entry are castles, largely in general terms, speaks a lot of how barren I found the rest of the city, but there was nothing wrong with it either. Unlike Manchester there was no sense of disliking the place… I just couldn’t find much entertainment. There’s probably plenty to see if you knew where to look and all, but as a one-day traveller there’s only so much information open to you and so many places you can get to with limited means, aka walking. Still, nice experience and an impressive castle which gave me an excuse to rant about how damn cool the things are.

After this was Edinburgh, and another excuse to rant about medieval worksmanship, but that’s for the next entry.

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