There are places close to home that, in summer seasons, are highly visited. Then we avoid them. When Weymouth beach is packed with bodies laid out like piano keys, we stay inland and stride about the hills. When the air turns chill and the wind blows lustily we head for the shore and indulge in the waves. Now the tourist shops are closed and the town centres are festooned with Christmas lights and plastic reindeer, so we headed off to Corfe Castle.
When I was a child the highlights of Corfe were the icecream shop and Mr Fry’s paintings; the castle we took for granted. It stood there, a custodian of the road that led home a place to chase about and about which to be chased, rolling down the hill until the world spun giddily about us when we staggered to our feet, muddily, at the bottom. There were cautious visits to The Bank’s Arms where the landlord sported a magnificent beard that entranced me as much as it terrified me. I absolutely believed that a man with such vast girth and ferocious bristles was likely to eat children, rather than feed them, and therefore treated him with great caution, and when I heard my godfather recounting stories of evening mirth at the bar was convinced that he was making it up to lull me into a false sense of security. I could barely bring myself to enter the door, even though the meals to be had inside were among the best to be found anywhere on the isle of Purbeck.
Tom and Jay were all for following the sings from the carpark round the back of the castle.
“I promise you the town is just round that corner,” I told them, pointing in the opposite direction. “We can take a short cut through here.”
“This from the person who saw the Queen walking her dogs in the gardens of Buckingham Palace…” This is old family slander and is usually followed by a challenge.
“If you’re right I buy lunch,” said Jay.
“And if I’m wrong, I’ll be paying.” I agreed, omitting admitting that my purse was at home rather than in my pocket.
“So where would you like me to buy you lunch?” asked Jay a few yards later. I was still daunted by the ghost of Mr Figgis, and Tom was taken by the idea of ox cheek, so we headed into The Greyhound where a sign declared that Hoover would be welcome. There were even dog biscuits on the bar, a fire for her to lie in front of while she munched, and strangers to be sidled up to for surreptitious snuggles.
Satiated on all fronts we went to explore the castle.
The rough grass we used to race across is now neatly mown and paths have been laid that make it an easy saunter to the entrance. Hoover was as eager as any child to explore the nooks and crannies, clambering up steps and peeping over ruined ledges. Jay and Tom peered over the edge of an old latrine and we wondered at the smells that must have made castle life a pretty unpleasant affair, even for the kings who originally built it.
Great arches and open windows through which chill winds no doubt blew in winter, still frame stunning views across the surrounding country. It must have felt grand to look down on the village that grew around the base of the hill and beyond to the flat lands towards Wareham or the Isle of Purbeck on the other side. Here they really did lord it over the huddled masses below. I spotted the grocer’s shop where my mother used to buy bread and milk whilst we tried to cajole her into giving us icecreams, the ones we swore were the best in the world. Freshly made in the shop, the strawberry flavour was scattered with pips that my brothers teased me were splinters of wood. It didn’t matter what they said, nothing was going to stop me loving it, lingering over every lick, pushing the icecream down into the depths of the cone so that it lasted until it melted stickily onto my fingers. Now the grocer is gone, replaced by a gallery.
With imagined sounds of battle cries and crashing stones, clattering hooves and clashing metal echoing through our imaginations we abandoned the Castle to walk on the hills. Across the stream a path winds up the hill to the top of the down. Low winter sun burst through the scudding clouds. We were warmly dressed, with plenty to debate.
Hoover ran free. My imagination ran wild. Stories abound, washing through my mind,; adventures, explorations, discoveries. There are never enough hours in a day to write them all down.