Skull Gang Foraging Club: Storming Castles
I dig castles. I lose my shit over the history, the myths, and the sheer size of the fucking things. I like that in the twenties they hosted garden parties where gentlemen in hats and tails banged society virgins in hedgerow mazes. I love that in the dark ages they threw barrels of boiling tar from the battlements, and shot cunts full of arrows. I especially love that those getting shot full of arrows thought they could get into a huge stone fortress with swords. I even like that inside them are upper class bachelors, who like to sled in tweed and smoke in special chairs, pet dogs by open fires, their single malt whiskey resting idly on leather-bound books that have never been opened.
What I don’t like is paying twenty quid to get into one, even if it does still have a maze.
This is the dilemma we found ourselves in, sandwiched between the toilet block and some Japanese tourists, when the Leeds Castle admission price appeared from behind a fat kid with a plastic sword.
Leeds castle isn’t in Leeds. It’s in Kent. Traditionally it was the personal castle of England’s queens. It has hosted King Henry VIII, Errol Flynn, and Queen Anne of Bohemia. Often it’s described as the prettiest castle in the world. And we were going to storm it. When I say storm, I mean sneak. Like rats.
The castle is built upon two islands in an artificially widened section of the River Len. From here it flows on into a large, shallow lake called The Great Water (not that great to be honest). On the eastern bank of the Great Water is the maze and falconry show. There is something vaguely disquieting and depressing about falconry shows. The birds are fast, but not really fast enough to get excited about. The fake rabbits are just bits of grey fur glued to remote control cars, and the presenters are invariably a husband and wife duo in khaki who live together in a caravan. Also, what do falcons have to do with castles?
From the Great Water the River Len runs on into a small section of unnamed woodland. These woods end in a little country lane called Broomfield Road, and the collection of cottages that calls itself the village of Broomfield. This is where we parked the Focus. From the road a small trail runs away into the woods. Eventually it meets with the slow moving stream, and spans it with a sturdy wooden bridge. Once you have crossed the bridge the woods thin, and end at a fence. There is a gate in the fence, and a sign welcoming walkers. Once you enter this gate you are upon the castle grounds. To your left will lie the Great Water, and over the heads of swans you will see screaming children chased by red cheeked parents. You need to walk straight, follow the water toward the three chestnut trees growing side by side around the crest of the grassy hill in front of you.
The chestnut tree hill is where you will get your first glimpse of the castle proper. It is also, if you look carefully, where you can find Chicken of The Woods growing on the trunks of chestnut trees. Chicken of the woods is a fan shaped bracket fungi, bright yellow to orange in colour. The texture is similar to that of chicken, hence the name. You can eat it. The grassy banks of the hills are dotted with large mushrooms, which may or may not be Parasol Mushrooms. They could also be Panther Caps, which suck, so probably best to just leave them alone. Although now I’m not there, and the risk of dying is less, I’m pretty sure they were Parasols. Don’t eat them though. Just in case.
At the bottom of the hill is a ditch, and beyond this ditch a fence. Beyond that is the castle grounds, with manicured lawns, majestic oaks, and dickheads that paid the full entrance fee. This is where you would assume that there would be an impassable gate, some security guards, or at least a sign telling you to stop and pay. There isn’t. There is a gate, open and inviting. And then you’re in. Just like that. The ruins of a medieval mill crumble romantically on the banks of the Len, a ferry waits to take you across the Great Water to the maze, and a bridge leads you directly to the castle itself. There is even an elderly gentleman on hand to show you the way.
Surely this is the end of the line, we thought. No way will they let us into the castle. Not without tickets, or stamps, or something. Wrong. You just walk in, through the huge, cool wine cellar (it’s still in use. Probably should have foraged something here) and on up the stairs. And that’s it. You just stormed a castle. Without a sword.
Enamoured by our success we attempted to storm Cardiff Castle the next week. We posed as members of a public health conference, with the promise of a Welsh feast in the Castle. When they said castle, they meant gift shop. We did get mead though, to help with fertility. Thanks Cymru Health. Also, the next day we found out you can sneak in the back entrance from Bute Park. So basically it’s really easy to storm castles. Kind of takes the shine off them a bit.