Places that lie in the ‘between’ are believed, by some, to be magical; where the veil between worlds is thin and, therefore, more likely to be subject to the whims and vagaries of ‘faerie’. It might seem a fanciful idea but one I wholeheartedly believe when I am visiting Stokesay Castle, in Shropshire.
Situated in the liminal lands between England and Wales, Stokesay is a relic of a long forgotten world. The medieval fortified manor house is now home only to the birds and bats, but is one of the best preserved examples of a building of this kind in the country. It was built by one of the richest men in England at the time, Lawrence of Ludlow, in 1291 and, with only a few changes since then, including the addition of a timbered gatehouse and a panelled solar (or living room) in the 17th century, it has remained largely unchanged from when it was first built.
I am sure that Stokesay Castle could provide an interesting lesson in what life was like in the middle ages. The octagonal south tower is a fantastic example of typical medieval castle building with its thick walls, narrow staircases, and arrow slits and the Great Hall’s ceiling timbers ably demonstrate the art of medieval carpentry. But it isn’t this, for once, which I find so enticing about Stokesay.
The castle and its setting are simply enchanting.
Surrounded by the beautiful Shropshire Hills, and, sitting right next door to a picturesque church and graveyard, the grey stone and timber building feels as though it has had its roots in this land forever. The traditional English country garden inside the inner ward and planted in the now dry moat soften the harshness of walls built to defend and their scents and sounds conjure drowsy, lazy summer days.
The woodwork is faded and sagging, but the jettied windows on the South Tower allow this castle to step right out of the old fairy stories. Inside, there is an old timber staircase, still as it was in 1291, a little worn from generations of feet and hands climbing their way to bed. It is a real privilege to place my foot and my hand where the original carpenter so carefully crafted a structure that was still going to be used seven hundred years later.
On the later gatehouse, Adam and Eve stand comfortably alongside a fierce dragon, and inside the Solar, the canopy over the fire is intricately carved – unnecessarily so, but what a wonderful reminder of an age when a craft like this was not just a niche hobby and a testament to an age where belief in something less rational was prevalent.
It’s not the grandest of buildings, it’s not the oldest. But it is a place where enough of the world’s modern trappings fade away (I wouldn’t want to give up the tearoom, after all) and I am left with the wonder at the beauty of the place and the sense of being bewitched to ‘somewhere else’. I can readily believe that I crossed over the veil into the summer lands and I would be very happy to step over again.