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by Joy S
Manchester, England, United Kingdom
September 18, 2011
From journal Family Friendly Attractions on the Isle of Wight
by GB from Devizes
Devizes, United Kingdom
May 23, 2005
Sir George Carey was governor of the island during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and he supervised a refortification programme at this time to counter the threat of invasion from Spain. Carey also built himself a splendid mansion within the protection of the castle walls although only the foundations remain visible today.
To the right of the main gateway as you enter is a slit door that leads to various rooms by way of a steep staircase overlooking both the entrance itself and the courtyard to the rear. It is in one of these rooms that Charles was incarcerated prior to his return to London and execution.
Carisbrooke is an impressive structure by any reckoning. To walk across its threshold, through walls many feet thick and still in remarkable condition, is a testament to the skill and building prowess of these medieval masons. Its inner sanctum contains remains of buildings spanning several hundred years including those from the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.
It is possible to stroll around the battlements on a fine day and marvel at the scale of the place as well as the thought and logic that went into constructing such a self-sufficient mini-town all those centuries ago.
This initial well was, however, abandoned in the 12th century; reasons as to why this should happen can only be assumed--a collapse, drying up, or contamination. The well is still viewable at the top of the Keep, although its mouth is protected by a heavy iron grille.
A second well was subsequently bored in the castle courtyard to the side of Carey’s mansion and can still be used today. This well was extremely deep and required donkeys to raise the water, although long-suffering prisoners may also have been used for the exhausting task. There are regular displays using the animals at times during the day, although not, unfortunately, it seemed, whilst I was visiting.
This well utilises wooden winding gear and was also a sublime feat of early engineering. To protect this supply, the well was covered with a "well-house" which could be locked when not in use, thus lowering the opportunity for would-be contamination, should any unwelcome visitors reach the interior of the castle.
Inside the castle, whose walls are several feet thick, you'll find the armoury and a subterranean powder store where the gunpowder, wadding, and other materials that had to be kept bone-dry were stored. The armoury is just to the side of the chapel, up a flight of stone steps, and the powder store is tucked away down a narrow staircase just inside the south walls.
The inner stronghold was the Keep, a massive stone structure built on a raised area of land that overlooked not just all the castle, but also the entire surrounding area. As a last form of defence, this would have been it. The Keep was accessible only by a single flight of over 70 roughly hewn open stone steps that led to the single doorway.
Once inside, further narrow staircases led to the upper battlements that would have been impregnable and from where the castle defenders could have rained death and destruction on the raiders with very little chance or opportunity for retribution. The Keep had its own well, and assuming that food supplies had been laid up, the castle could have been defended over an indefinite period from this lofty pinnacle.
It occupies a lofty position overlooking the town of Newport at the head of the Medina River and would have presented a formidable fortress to would-be aggressors. In 1377, the French landed on the island, but the castle was not attacked. During Elizabethan times, the Spanish threatened to invade but were turned away, suffering a heavy maritime defeat at the nearby sea battle.
Following this attempted invasion, plus the heightened threat of newer, more accurate artillery, the castle was strongly refortified by enclosing the old perimeter behind new lines of defence.
During the English Civil War, Charles I fled to the island after his escape from Hampton Court Palace. He was captured and imprisoned at Carisbrooke during 1647 and at least one escape attempt was thwarted when he became wedged in the bars of his confine! He was eventually returned to London where he was beheaded in 1649.
In later times, Queen Victoria availed herself of the coming of the railways and used Osborne House at Cowes as her retreat.
Today, Carisbrooke Castle is the main tourist magnet for the island and as such can be overrun with visitors. During August on Tuesdays and Wednesdays it features a Grand Medieval Joust along with falconry, music, entertainers, and of course, knights in shining armour doing battle with their lances astride beautifully bedecked steeds.
I visited on a cool May afternoon and the place was full of school parties, some local, some foreign, all hurtling around like things possessed which detracted somewhat from the experience. But do see this lovely castle, put in the earplugs and enjoy!
December 7, 2000
From journal Portsmouth, Bastion of British Sea Power