Last week I returned, not to the county of my birth, but to the county of my growing-up: Warwickshire. In terms of castles and stately homes, the county has an embarrassment of riches, including Warwick Castle, Charlecote Park, Ragley Hall, Baddesley Clinton, Coughton Court, Upton House and Kenilworth Castle. This last is a ruin; having been a fortress palace of great importance for many centuries, used by monarchs from Henry II to Henry VII, and famous as the place where Robert Dudley played host to Elizabeth I for an exceptionally long visit (19 days) in 1575, it was then ‘slighted’ by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War – and descended gradually, thereafter, into a fully ruined state.
(‘Slighted’, incidentally, seems to me a rather marvellous term - it retains a whiff of the drawing-room faux pas while in fact meaning here the partial destruction of a building so as to make it useless as a stronghold. Poor Kenilworth Castle had its battlements, parts of its outer bailey and one wall of its great tower destroyed.)
I have visited Kenilworth many times over the years, and have always felt keenly what a shame it is that that castle is a ruin. I have spent my visits reconstructing it in my mind, putting in floors where none now exist…
…and viewing the bits of detailed decoration that do remain as grief-inducing indications of just how much we have lost:
Which, of course, they are. However, on last week’s visit, I decided to adopt a different attitude. I decided simply to look. Not at what Kenilworth would have been, or ought to be, but at what it is. At art exhibitions, I am a great one for conscientiously reading all the labels and somehow not giving myself enough time or mental relaxation to look properly at the pictures. So to look – for once – at the castle, as far as possible without interpretation, was my task.
Thus, this blog is something of a photo journal. And a photo journal without labels. I didn’t want to concern myself with which bit was built by John of Gaunt and which by Robert Dudley. (Though if you are interested in finding out more, there is a very full article on the castle here.)
I noticed, instead, the shapes made on the surface of the stone by centuries of exposure to the elements:
…and how the depredations of the weather have turned a set of worn steps into a water-smoothed cascade:
I looked at the rhythm of shapes:
And I marvelled at what a ruin gives you: a view of the secret textures of the building’s fabric – it’s like a cake or a loaf that’s been torn open, so that you can see beneath its crust:
Finally, of course, I looked at the unavoidable graffiti. In doing so I was reminded of Eleanor Updale’s comments in her recent blog here about the different values we place upon things depending on their age. For, while the recent graffiti gave me an outraged shudder, some of the older examples had me peering in fascination:
…and had they been still older they would have positively entranced me (show me 16th century graffiti & I swoon!). Even so – and it must be the bibliophile in me – I admit I do always tend for fall for a nice font: