England Stories and Tips

Adventures in Norfolk

Tower West Walton Norfolk Photo, England, United Kingdom

On Sunday after our usual fantastic breakfast, we headed out so that I could visit another church that is part of my genealogy. St Mary the Virgin Church in West Walton, Norfolk is the one was I interested in. It is amazing how a village can be so difficult to get to but this one is. It is just across the River Nene from Newton in the Isle Cambridgeshire where my grandmother was born and as the crow flies is probably well under 5 miles. As the car drives however is another story.

The church itself is architecturally interesting. The tower is separate from the church. These were both built in the 12th century and it is "one of the most elegant early Gothic structures in England", according to their website. We took our time strolling around, I have ancestors in the church yard but as usual nary a stone in sight.

We now headed off for our main destination for the day, Castle Rising. Castle Rising is an atmospheric ruin that is located just a few miles northeast of Kings Lynn. The castle keep was built in the mid twelfth century for the Norman Lord William de Albini. Albini was the husband of Alice of Louvain the widow of the English King Henry I. The family ended without male heir and in 1328 Castle Rising was sold to the crown.

This is where it comes into the history of the Royal family. Isabella of France was married to King Edward II of England. He had many "very close" male friends and treated his queen very badly. If you have ever read my article about trying to find the monument to Piers Gaveston, he is one of Edwards favorites. She finally had enough of him and his favorites and taking her sons with her she went to France to raise an army against him. Edward was defeated and killed at Berkley Castle and Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer ruled for the minor Edward III.

Edward III grew up quickly and within three years had his mothers lover drawn and quartered and since he loved his mother he needed a place where she could stay away from the court but in a state befitting her rank. Enter Castle Rising. Isabelle was to spend much of the rest of her life here, not as a prisoner as was once thought but in very luxurious surrounds. She often visited her other homes in England and her son the king came to visit with her.

Today, Castle Rising belongs to the Howard family as it has for hundreds of years. You stop at the gift shop to pay your entrance fee and get an audio tour. The tour takes you through the entire history of Castle Rising but really does concentrate on the time of Isabella, the She Wolf of France.

We have visited Berkley Castle, Nottingham Castle where Mortimer was taken prisoner and of course the whole Piers Gaveston thing, so this was a natural place for us to visit.

There is quite a lot of walking involved and stair climbing as well. Castle Rising would be very difficult to visit if you are handicapped. I had my own issues with my bad knee but was able to manage.

The Keep is a splendid ruin. The stone walls are intact but the wooden floors and the windows are missing. Enough is still here to give you a very good idea of what it would have been like to have spent time here in the 14th century.

You walk through the area that would have been the main hall and also the chapel. There is evidence of the medieval latrines and also the kitchen and store rooms.

When you are done inside you can walk along the edge of the moat. It is not for the faint of heart. There is a path along the top and very steep embankments on either side. It was quite nerve-wracking and I can’t imagine what it would be like if you had children with you. It does however give you great views and you can see into the excavation of the very early church and also into the village of Castle Rising.

Next to Kenilworth, I found this to be one of the premier ruins in England. Even if you don’t know any of the history of this castle, you will find it a great opportunity to learn some of it. Wear shoes appropriate for hiking and bring along your sense of adventure.

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