Wessex Attractions: Corfe Castle

Last week, we looked at Shaftesbury Abbey, once home to the relics of Edward, King and Martyr. This week we turn our attention to Corfe Castle, the original site of his murder, Destroyed by the Roundheads during the English Civil War in a misguided attempt at denormanisation, this year (2023) saw its ruins become the subject of the National Trust’s biggest ever conservation project, restoring loose and damaged stonework, and removing excess vegetation without destroying valuable wildlife habitats.

Species found in the castle and surrounding area include the Adonis Butterfly and the Grey Bush Cricket. Perhaps fittingly, its gothic ruins are also home to birds of prey and carrion eaters; ravens, red kites and peregrine falcons.As with the Tower of London, legend has it that if the ravens ever leave Corfe Castle, England will fall.

Corfe Castle also gives its name to a nearby village and civil parish. Its railway station was a rather late casualty of the Beeching rail cuts, closing in 1972, but was reopened as part of the heritage Swanage Railway in the mid-1980s.

As well as the ruins themselves, Corfe Castle also has a tea room and bookshop, and is licenced for civil weddings. Opening hours are 10am to 6pm daily, with last entrance to the castle at 5.30pm.

The castle has a car park, and the satnav postcode is BH20 5DR. The nearest main line railway station is Wareham, and bus number 40 (Swanage to Poole) stops at the nearby Village Centre.

Wessex Attractions: St Catherine’s Oratory

St Catherine’s Oratory on the Isle of Wight was built in 1328 by Walter de Godeton, lord of the manor, as a penance ordered by the pope after he was found to be in possession of wine destined for a French monastery plundered from a Gascon ship wrecked on the nearby shore. A lighthouse helped ships navigate the treacherous rocks, while monks prayed for the safety of sailors, and for the souls of those drowned at sea.

Today, an octagonal tower is all that survives of the oratory, while the current lighthouse, one of the first in the world to be powered by electricity, dates from the 19th century. The tower is managed by English Heritage, while the rest of the site is owned by the National Trust. The postcode is PO38 2JB, and the what3words is into.bluff.tops. Southern Vectis bus route 6 passes nearby.

More recently, the lighthouse was used as a location in the video for the Wet Leg song Angelica (see below).

Wessex Attractions: Kingston Lacy

Kingston Lacy is a Restoration-era country house near Wimborne Minster in Dorset, the former seat of the aristocratic Bankes family. In the 1830s, William John Bankes remodelled it in the style of a Venetian palace with the help of Sir Charles Barry, the architect who helped rebuild the Houses of Parliament. Sadly, he never saw his vision fully realised, as he was forced into exile in Venice in 1841 after being found guilty of homosexual acts, at a time when they were still illegal.

In 1981, the house was gifted to the National Trust by Ralph Bankes, the biggest-ever bequest to the Trust. The bequest included not only the house itself, but the family’s extensive collection of art treasures, which include paintings by Rubens, Titian and Van Dyck.

The house is surrounded by 410 acres of parks and gardens. A herd of pedigree Red Ruby Devon cattle roam the grounds, which also feature the Iron Age hillfort of Badbury Rings, the Holt Heath SSSI, and most dramatically of all, the Philae Obelisk, brought over from Egypt, which was instrumental in helping to decode Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Kingston Lacy stands on the B3082, the Blandford to Wimborne road, and is marked by brown tourist signposts. Sadly, it is not accessible by public transport. The nearest bus stop is 3 miles away, and the nearest railway station, Poole, 8½ miles away. The postcode is BH21 4EA, and the what3words address is outgrown.mysteries,assets

Wessex Attractions: Arlington Court

Arlington Court is a Georgian manor house in Devon, built on the site of an old Tudor hunting lodge. It was the seat of the Chichester family from 1790 to 1949, when it passed to the National Trust upon the death of Rosalie Chichester (born 1865), Today, the house and its gardens are a popular Exmoor tourist attraction, and it is also home to the National Trust Carriage Museum.

The house contains an extensive art collection, including an original pen and ink drawing by William Blake. Two species of native bat roost in the cellars, and the building also has a tea room and second-hand bookshop.

The gardens feature over 20 miles of footpaths to explore. Exmoor’s famous red deer inhabit the surrounding woodland, and there is also a Victorian pleasure garden. The rhododendrons that previously grew there had to be removed due to an outbreak of phytopthora, and were replaced by native plants.

The house’s large stable block meant that it was chosen to house the National Trust Carriage Museum, with its collection of over 40 horse-drawn carriages from across the country, ranging from simple carts to luxurious state coaches, as well as other items such as hunting horns and whips.

Arlington Court is served by buses from Barnstaple (the nearest rail station) to Lynton. The postcode is EX31 4LP, and the what3words is ///gloves.flood.bloodshot

Wessex Attractions: Cadbury Camp

Cadbury Camp (not to be confused with Cadbury Castle or Cadbury-Congresbury) is an Iron Age hillfort located near Tickenham in north Somerset. From this vantage point, its original inhabitants would have been able to see across the Mendips and towards the Bristol Channel, giving ample warning of any potential attackers, human or animal. During World War 2, it was used as a searchlight battery, to spot enemy aircraft heading for Bristol.

There is evidence that the site has been occupied since the 6th century BC, though the name is Saxon in origin. The ridge it sits on is man-made, not natural. Archaeological finds at the site include a bronze spearhead, which is now located in the Museum of Somerset in Taunton, and a Roman altar stone depicting the god Mars.

The site once formed part of the extensive Clevedon Estate, but is now managed by the National Trust in partnership with Natural England. The latter helps maintain it as an important habitat for nature, including buzzards, harebells, greater butterfly orchids, wild thyme, six-spotted burnet moths and silver fritillary butterflies. They have also helped remove an invasive population of Turkey oaks (a species normally native to southeastern Europe and western Asia), which had provided a home to damaging gall wasps.

Cadbury Camp can be accessed via a steep footpath from the B3130 at Tickenham. The path is not recommended for those with mobility problems. Bristol to Clevedon bus routes X7 and 364 stop nearby. It is 2 miles from Nailsea & Backwell railway station, and close to National Cycle Network route 41. The satnav postcode is BS20 7SF, and the what3words is really.worry.fire.