As we pulled into the vast National Trust car park, Monkey shouted in delight: “Castle, castle, look look!” And his enthusiasm was shared by us too, because Bodiam is a stunning archetypal medieval castle – the stuff of story books and films. Basking in the splendour of the sun against the bright blue sky, our son’s imagination went into overdrive and he excitedly talked of knights, kings, dragons and princesses…
Bodiam is a 14th Century moated castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex. And its facade is as impressive as they come. It has four towers, arrow slits, a drawbridge, portcullis and gatehouse, and was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight of Edward III, to defend the area against French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War.
After asking Monkey if he wanted to take part in the Medieval Game of Life, I was a little disappointed he wasn’t bothered – after all, I wanted to have a go and spin the wheel to discover if I was a lord, a craftsman, a merchant or a peasant. And journey around the castle to discover if my fortunes would be on the up – or down in the interactive game. Monkey, however, was more excited when he discovered he could partake in an archery lesson.
Before heading off from the Visitors Centre to the castle, I made sure we all went via the facilities – as there are no toilets once you get to the Castle itself. It’s a long 10-minute walk back if you’re caught short.
It was such a beautiful day, we took our time walking around the moat. Monkey was astounded by the huge carp we could see in the water. We’d also purchased some feed but was told to wait for the bigger fishes beside the bridge. In fact, they were so huge there were audible gasps from all of us hanging over the railings watching them devour their food…
After tearing ourselves away from the fish, we eventually made it across the bridge and under the impressive original wooden portcullis – an extremely rare example of its kind. From this vantage point you can the interior ruins but before we went to explore, Monkey wanted to try and find the Daubenton’s bats that roost in the gatehouse towers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, although we were all convinced we could hear them above our heads!
The interior ruins of Bodiam are surprisingly intact. And, alongside the colourful characters from the past who have been brought to life by volunteers – we met Blanche the webster as well as a maid – it really gave us a good insight into what castle life must have been like all those centuries ago. After investigating different nooks, we discovered a tight, spiralling stone staircase leading up into one of the towers and came across a ‘soldier’ discussing how he defended the castle, about the weapons he used and the armour he wore.
We also watched an interesting video charting the history of the Castle, while Monkey delighted in all the different activity exhibits around the ruins. He particularly enjoyed trying out the stocks!
We spent some time contemplating the macabre murder holes. Monkey couldn’t believe that standing underneath them could result in such a gruesome death.
We then made our way up the tower to the battlements, which gave a fantastic view of the countryside beyond. Monkey wanted to lean across the edge of the turrets, and pretend he was a king defending his castle – the opportunity to role play far too tempting when standing on top of the world…
For him, the best was yet to come. During the school holidays and weekends, young and old can have a go at archery. A popular spot, Monkey and his dad waited patiently for their turn. And amazingly, with gentle instruction, Monkey did brilliantly even hitting a target!
With Bodiam brimming with other activities such as guided walks around the moat and the sprawling estate, as well as a tea room with delicious refreshments, there is much to enjoy at this National Trust gem.
Instead of rushing off, we took our time strolling around the grounds, and enjoyed the peaceful tranquility of our surroundings. As castles go, this is definitely one that caught our attention… Not only did it fire the imaginations of us all, it also made for a fantastic family day out.
Bodiam Castle, near Robertsbridge, East Sussex, TN32 5UA; Tickets: Adult £9.30; Child £4.65; Medieval Game of Life £1 per player: Archery £1 per arrow