Thursday, April 02, 2009

A tale of two castles…

Took Meg for a walk to Beeston Castle first thing this morning. The intention was to climb to the top of the sandstone bluff and have a look at the view. But the only access is via the gatehouse, and that wasn’t open till 10:00.

Beeston Castle Gatehouse
So I had the same problem as quite a few previous would be visitors, only most of those had less benign intentions!

So we walked across the fields towards Peckforton Castle instead.

The footpaths around here are excellent, well marked and with good stiles.
One farmer has even gone to the trouble of blazing the route of a track across his field.

It doesn’t seem to have impressed Meg, though.
Both of the castles are built on sandstone bluffs rising around 300 feet above the plain.
But while Beeston Castle is a genuine 12th century fortification, and the evidence suggests that the site was occupied as early as the Bronze Age, Peckforton Castle is a newcomer, built between 1844 and 1850 by a wealthy Cheshire landowner, John Tollemarche, who also owned Beeston. But it’s design is Norman, with portcullis, moat and arrow slits for windows.
And while Beeston is now a ruin, Peckforton has been converted to a luxury hotel.

Unlike a lot of historic castles, Beeston does not seen to have attracted much action till the First Civil War, when it was repaired and fortified by Parliamentarian troops under Sir William Brereton. It was taken by the Royalists in December 1643 when Captain Thomas Sandford and 8 of his men carried out a commando-style raid, forcing the then castle governor, Captain Thomas Steele, to surrender. Steele was later shot in Nantwich for his error of judgement.

Parliamentary forces laid siege to the castle from November 1644 to November 1645, when the garrison surrendered through lack of food. The castle was partially demolished to prevent it’s further strategic use.

It’s now owned by English Heritage, and is a Grade 1 listed building.

Towards the end of the siege the last decisive battle of the war was taking place only a few miles to the west. The Battle of Rowton Moor on 24th September was won by Parliamentary troops, killing or capturing over 2000 royalists. King Charles I is reputed to have watched the battle from Chester city walls, although this is unlikely as the battlefield was over 3 miles away. What is clear is that he left for Denbigh Castle the following day, after realising the extent of his defeat. This led to his execution in January 1649, and for the next 11 years England was a Commonwealth, without a monarch for the first time in its history.

Anyway, enough history. We had a fairly short day today, stopping before Chester at the village of Christleton. The canal remains attractive, cutting through the Cheshire countryside.

We were escorted for a while by 4 young swans. They were making more wash than we were!

Tattenhall Marina entrance being finished.

There’s been a few boats around again today. This morning was overcast and quite cool, but it brightened up later, giving us long spells of sunshine.

Moored at Christleton
Locks 1, miles 7½

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