Wessex Attractions: Pepperbox Hill

Pepperbox Hill, six miles south of Salisbury, is the site of one of the earliest follies, built in 1606, before the term "folly" was in common use, at least in an architectural context. Built in 1606 by local landowner Giles Eyre for his wife Jane (not that one), its exact function is the subject of debate. The general consensus seems to be that it was some kind of hunting lodge for rich weirdos.

The octagonal building appears to have been modelled on the Tower of the Winds in Athens, as does a similar folly in County Down, Ireland. Now owned by the National Trust, the tower itself is closed to the public, but the surrounding chalk ridge offers magnificent views of the surrounding area. It is a popular spot with dog walkers, so watch where you tread!

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is SP5 3QL.

Wessex Attractions: Okehampton Castle

Okehampton Castle was once the largest castle in Devon. As with several castles that we've covered in recent weeks, it was originally built for one of the Bastard's extended family, in this case Baldwin FitzGilbert, husband of his cousin Albreda. It was still a working castle during the reign of Henry VIII, but when Henry Courtney, the 2nd Earl of Devon, was executed in 1539 for allegedly taking part in a Popish plot, the castle fell into ruin.

Today, it is owned by English Heritage. Entry is free for members, non-members should consult their website for prices. The grounds in particular are famous for the large numbers of bluebells that grow there in springtime. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is EX20 1JA.

Wessex Attractions : Deddington Castle

Like Berkeley Castle in our last blog post, Deddington Castle was built in the aftermath of the Conquest by someone close to the Bastard (in this case his half-brother Odo, bishop of Bayeux and almost certainly the man who commissioned the famous tapestry). Unlike Berkeley, little of the castle now survives, and it remains a magnificent ruin rather than a thriving stately home.

Archaeological excavations reveal that the area was settled before the castle was built. With an enclosure 200 metres wide and ramparts 15 metres high, it must have been a powerful symbol of Norman domination in the area.

Remains of a 13th century chapel have been found on the site, and there were four fish ponds there during that period. After that, the castle went into decline, and now only earthworks remain.

The satnav postcode for the site is OX15 0TP. Many people combine it with a visit to the Rollright Stones, 10 miles away. But that's a subject for another blog post.

Wessex Attractions: Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Castle was built shortly after the Norman invasion by William FitzOsbern, the Bastard's guardian and counsellor; who fought alongside him at Hastings, and was subsequently made the 3rd Earl of Wessex, the only Norman to hold the title (unless the present incumbent counts). After his death in 1071, the original motte-and-bailey castle passed to one Roger de Berkeley, and subsequently to his son Roger de Berkeley and grandson Roger de Berkeley (the Normans apparently didn't quite understand how names work).

The present castle was constructed by Robert Fitzharding in 1153, 26 years after Edward II famously died when someone inserted a red-hot poker into his plop-socket (according to Holinshed, though his account of the murder has been disputed). In the 14th century, Dickie Pearce, the last court jester in England, died after falling from the Minstrel's Gallery, thus eliciting the biggest laugh of his career.

The castle was captured by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. In the 18th century, the 4th Earl of Berkeley planted a pine tree supposedly grown from a cutting taken at the Battle of Colluden.

More recently, Berkeley Castle has been used as a filming location in many historical and period dramas, such as The Other Boleyn Girl, Wolf Hall and Father Brown. It appeared in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? when Courtney Cox traced her ancestry back to the aforementioned Edward II. It has given its name to two Royal Navy warships, and a Castle class steam locomotive owned by the GWR (and subsequently British Rail).

Today, the castle is a popular tourist attraction, open to the public between May and October and playing host to many events such as recitals of early English music, and Tudor-era re-enactments. The gardens feature many scented roses, a lily pond, and a butterfly house with 42 exotic species flying freely. Opening hours are 11am-5pm (10.30am for the gardens). Tickets are available online. The postcode, for satnav purposes is GL13 9PJ.

Wessex Attractions: Castle Combe

Castle Combe is primarily known as a motorsports venue, but the Cotswold village from which the racetrack takes its name has repeatedly been voted one of the most picturesque in England.

The racetrack has been Wessex's premier venue for motor racing for 65 years. The circuit is 1.85 miles long.

The village is regularly used as a location for film and TV, most recently in Steven Spielberg's War Horse. The church of St Andrew dates back to the 13th century and the Market Cross (currently undergoing restoration at the time of writing) from the 14th.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is SN14 7NG.