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More from Crookston Castle now.  It's not particularly photogenic, I suppose.  It is a stubbornly defensive structure, and unfortunately I don't have much information about it architecturally, as it's insufficiently well-known to have a guide book dedicated to it, and it being Friday, I really don't have the energy to go and research it.  Someday I will revisit it, and do it justice!

It has early association with the Cruiks of Cruikston (probably from the de Croc family...) but it eventually passed into the hands of the notorious Stewart family.  It gets a mention in my forthcoming novel, because it was besieged in 1489 by allies of King James IV. During this siege, its structures were subject to a bit of a battering when two large bombards (including the famous Mons Meg) were put into action here.  At least, that's the theory. In reality, the garrison might have surrended just as soon as the guns appeared at the base of the hill, though it's been suggested that one of the towers was wrecked in the attack:-


 
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Here's another view, showing the surviving tower, with its epic twentieth century handrail around the parapet:-




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  And that's it, I fear.  It's Friday night, and I've had enough heritage for the week, I think!!  
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Tucked away in the middle of a council scheme on the outskirts of the City of Glasgow, there is a castle.  It lies a wee bit off the tourist trail - when we tracked it down yesterday, we were surprised to see that its presence was still advertised by some old Ministry of Works signs, which pre-date the advent of Historic Scotland... 

It's a shame Crookston Castle isn't better known, because it lies just a short hop away from Pollok House and the Burrell Collection, which are 'must see' destinations on any tourist itinerary of Glasgow.  It hasn't played a monumental role in the history of Scotland, but as a bit player, it's seen its fair share of action.

It cuts quite a dash from a distance - apart from the naff handrail at the top of the tower, which looks horribly intrusive, but with the chances of falling from the top (or getting pushed!!) relatively high, I suppose it's a necessary requirement for visitors:-


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Eagle-eyed blog followers will, I hope spot the earthworks at the base of the tower - now planted by mature trees.  No, the castle is not built upon the site of an earlier Iron Age hillfort. Nor are the earthworks contemporary with the stone tower, which itself represents the remnants of a much larger stronghold.

The earthworks are, instead, the remains of an earlier medieval ringwork - a circular rampart which would once have enclosed a timber defensive structure.  Ringworks are akin to the Irish cashels, and they're quite rare in Scotland, though there are a couple in the west.  I guess they fell out of favour when the motte-and-bailey castle became fashionable amongst the followers of David I, who brought all sort of novelties to Scotland, like planned burghs, and parishes, and a feudal system of land tenure.

The earthworks at Crookston are very well preserved.  In fact, the weather being what it is, the castle might even be called a moated settlement, in places:-



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And at the heart of the ringwork is the castle proper, an imposing structure which has seen its fair share of wear and tear throughout the centuries.  It gets a mention in my forthcoming novel, though it never actually makes an appearance, and that of course is why I paid it a visit yesterday.  I was renewing my acquaintance, because I'd already had a good look round it when I was researching the novel:-



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Sadly, it was all locked up and the interior inaccesible to visitors. Hopefully this is because it's been mothballed for the winter season, rather than because Historic Scotland can no longer afford to keep it open on account of the recession.  It's not exactly in the Premier League as far as Guardianship Monuments are concerned, but it's one that should really be better appreciated by the locals!!

I'll give you a closer look at the castle later on in the week.
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Huzzah!  We have photographs! 

I gave up on the beta version of Photobucket, which seems to hate me, and opted for the good old original version, which itself seems more like the beta version, so please don't ask me what's going on 'cos I DON'T KNOW AND I'M CONFUSED AND LIFE'S TOO SHORT!!!

Anyway.

My last photos of Villerouge-Termenes, now, and for this I'm taking you beyond the castle, to some of the other historic buildings which litter (if that's the right word!) the place.

The church, first of all:-


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Dedicated to Saint Stephen, the church's fabric dates back to the 13th century.  It has a 16th century retable behind the altar, a 12th century font and a 15th century bronze bell, but alas, it was closed the day we visited and we could not get inside to explore.

Another little treasure that survived in the town was this early gateway. Named Saint John's Gate, it has a portcullis slot and bears the arms of Pierre de la Jugie, a 14th century archbishop of Narbonne who - if you'll remember back to our earlier posts - held the lands during this period:-


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And that is that.  Today we took an executive decision not to go cycling because of the risk of ice on the roads and the cycle track, so I had an entertaining little sojourn to a castle a bit closer to home  instead: Crookston Castle, a rare survivor which sits in splendid isolation in the midst of a council estate on the outskirts of Glasgow.  It was locked up for the winter, but I'll share some pictures with you next week, all being well.

Be warned - I'll be undertaking a few castle odysseys over the next few months, so you'll soon be getting introduced to a lot of Scots castles, some more obscure than others!
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Another post dedicated to Villerouge-Termenes now, but this time we're going to go inside the massive curtain wall to an equally well-preserved interior which has, however, been subject to quite a bit of alteration:-



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A substantial portion of the building is now dedicated to an exhibition detailing the life and death of the last Cathar, Guillaume Belibaste. However, the castle also plays host, on an occasional basis, to medieval feasts, faithfully recreated for visitors.  The ticket prices were exorbitant, but I think I'd have given it a go, if I'd had the opportunity!


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Another view taken from within the courtyard, this time looking towards the entrance, which was evidently subject to alteration at a later date, with - I presume - the addition of this slightly strange superstructure:-


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 And I don't have much more information about this site, I'm afraid.  Other than the fact that archaeological works carried out here previously have revealed that this is the second phase of castellated architecture to occupy the site. 
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Another castle from Cathar Country now, and something which really, really, REALLY reminds me of the Ninth Gate!!

This is the castle of Villerouge-Termenes, which probably fits everyone's idea of what an archetypal castle should look like - full stop.  It's incredibly well preserved, with its intact enciente wall and angle towers, and it dominates the town.


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The castle was in the hands of the Bishops of Narbonne from 1110, when it was handed over to them by the Lords of Termes (not altogether willingly, by the sounds of things...) and it remained with them until the French Revolution. Obviously they kept it in good order - it now earns its keep as the home to an exhibition about the last Cathar, Guillaume Belibaste, who was burned here as a heretic in

Here's a view from just outside the village, showing its location from a distance.  Note how it seems to nestle quite low in the landscape, rather than perching at the top of hills as is more usual round these parts:-


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This of course means it wouldn't have been much use against artillery, but obviously no-one tried to take it by force, or I doubt it would still be here to impress us today.

One last view now, showing at close quarters how it dominates the village:-



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Enjoy!!


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It's Thursday evening, and because it's pouring with rain outside, my usual Thursday evening walk is postponed until tomorrow. 

So I'll post instead!

I promised you a follow-up post on Lancaster Castle, and here it is. 

I originally intended to include a shot of the ghastly medieval cellar where the poor old Pendle witches were incarcerated, but unfortunately my one decent photo was cluttered with people (including children), so I didn't think it appropriate to include it.

The 19th century prison is a different matter...

Years and years ago, when I first studied Archaeology at Uni, I attended a brilliant series of lectures called The Archaeology of Religion, Magic & Burial, presented by the one and only John Barrett (of Fragments of Antiquity fame - if you haven't read it, and you're interested in British prehistory, then go find a copy. It's just like having a potted version of the lectures to hand!). 

Throughout this course, we were encouraged to read all manner of works by anthropologists (like Levi Strauss), sociologists (like Giddens and Bourdieu) and philosophers (like Barthes and Wittgenstein).  This breadth of reading certainly gave us a fascinating insight into the past which was completely at odds with the Processualist school of archaeology which remained the dominant paradigm at the time and placed the acolytes of 'Barrettism' (I'd happily count myself as one!!) in the realms of the post-Processualist movement.  Scary to think that I'm now talking of post-Processualism in the past tense, though to be honest I'm not sure what's replaced it!

One of these lectures was devoted to the works of Michel Foucault, who wrote an in-depth study of the changing history of punishment.  As an undergraduate I never read this book, which is entitled DIscipline and Punish, if I remember right, but I do remember a contrast being made between 'medieval' modes of punishment, which usually involved the physical destruction of the body (the example quoted was the horrific torture and execution of a fellow who tried to assassinate a French King in the 17th century - We were subjected to a detailed excerpt from the book which detailed the death and it left a deep and lasting impression on Meek Little Student-me...).

Foucault contrasted this means of punishment with the 19th century belief in correction and confinement, with its roots in the post-Enlightenment period, and cited as his example that typically 19th century institution the 'panopticon' style prison.  Here you have your inmates under constant surveillance by a central warder, who is located in a way that they can observe their charges at all times.

The prison block at Lancaster is a good example of the panopticon style. This photo is taken from the central point in the cell bay, where the warder would have been located.  Bear in mind that the solid doors are a very late addition, and that originally you would have been able to observe the inhabitants within a barred door:-



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This view shows the interior of a cell - complete with a later addition, a ceramic toilet bowl.  (I'm sure slopping out would have been carried out until quite recently, judging by the modern style of the toilet bowl...)



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It looks palatial, but I'm not convinced that this cell would have provided accomodation for just one individual.  Instead, we might have had a few unfortunates crammed in here, though whatever happened to them there would have been a marked improvement on the fate of the poor (and, I believe, slightly deranged) Frenchman.

PS. This is partly a nostalgic photo, because it reminds me of the little Ayrshire police station I surveyed with The Classicist a few months back....  I should probably send a photo of it to the Classicist with one of those 'I saw this and I thought of you....' messages, though these cells have much bigger windows than ours, and the toilets in the provincial police station were tucked tidily away beside the door where you could at least get a bit of privacy....

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A brief diversion now, by way of Lancaster Castle, infamous for the role it played in the trial of the unfortunate Pendle Witches...

Now, as some of you might remember, I am particularly fascinated by sites which show evidence of consistent use over long periods.  Churches and cathedrals are a good example: many of our early ecclesiastical buildings are still performing the same role in the wider community now as they did a thousand years ago...  Another example I think I featured was Fort George: a Hanoverian barracks which still houses a working regiment of soldiers.

Here's another one: Lancaster Castle, which occupies the site of a Roman fort and which has been in almost constant use for the same basic purpose ever since, namely a focus for administration and the dispensation of justice (however flawed that justic might be, as I'm sure the Pendle Witches would be keen to argue...)

Lancaster Castle was used as a prison until the early years of the 21st century, and is currently in limbo while its owners (the Duchy of Lancaster) decide how best to deal with it. It may, for instance, find itself reborn as luxury holiday let accomodation,,,

Anyway, when we stayed in Lancaster on our way down to Wantage, we jumped at the chance to have a good look round this excellent example of a kind of building which usually isn't open to casual inspection.  And Lancaster Castle really did not disappoint.  It was a brilliant example of a palimpsest, where layers of meaning are overwritten and superimposed and the 'reader' has to disentangle all the different elements to create a meaningful narrative.

Most of the buildings are of 18th or 19th century build.  But within this later gothick confection, earlier elements survive.  The earliest surviving part of the castle is the Well Tower, which is pictured below:-



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The Well Tower evidently dates back to the 11th century, and is highly unusual for various elements of its design which appear to bear similarity to Irish defensive architecture of this same period.  Please don't ask me what these where - as you can imagine, we weren't exactly allowed open access around the place, though it amused me to see that one of the medieval chambers had been adapted into an extremely well-secured and fortified (!) bicycle shed.

Another very early survivor is the keep, the massive crenellated structure with the little windows (seen below).  Our guide suggested that it may have its origins in some building works carried out by none other than our very own King David I of Scots (he who brought us Scots parishes, planned burghs and feudalism...), who evidently made it this far south on occasion and undertook some castle-building in this neck of the woods.  An interesting suggestion indeed....




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Throughout the centuries, the castle suffered greatly through the predations of beseiging armies - it was, after all, a castle, and as such a potentially defensive structure.  It had a particularly hard time during the Civil War...  But its fabric was also transformed by generations of occupants whose attitudes to crime and punishment changed throughout the centuries (we'll cover that in another post!) and who reworked the architecture to accomodate these changes.

Sitting next to the well tower we have the 18th century Governor's House.  Built in the aftermath of a seriously bad outbreak of disease which took out the previous governor (presumably cholera or similar), its high chimneys reflect the desire of the next incumbent to avoid the fate of his predecessor by ensuring the good circulation of air throughout the prison buildings by the use of large flues which drew heated air up from the low levels.  This was, of course, a means of combating the foul miasmas which  - as any inhabitant of pre-mid 19th century Europe will earnestly tell you - spread disease through bad air...  

Of course, having lots of fresh air and a bit of heat to circulate it probably did a lot to help improve the inmates' (as well as the governor's...) health and well-being, if you don't factor in the almost inevitable overcrowding, that is....


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During the Victorian era, much of the prison was rebuilt again in a more modern style.  At this time, the prison housed both male and female prison populations, and operated both as a debtors' prison as well as housing a wide range of felons and miscreants....

Here's a view into the Victorian prison blocks and exercise yard, and we'll take a look at some of the cell blocks in my next post:-


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And there you have it.  Never say that this blog doesn't provide you with a wide variety of historic buildings and monuments!
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Hoorah!  My conference requirements for 2012 are now over, and I can now concentrate on being a writer again!!

I didn't really learn much that was new today, but it was a great refresher course which put various disparate bits of knowledge together that I've accumulated over the past couple of decades (!).  The conference was held in the Burrell Collection, hosted by Glasgow Archaeological Society and dedicated to The Clyde.  It was mainly modern in its subject matter - with much said about the improvement of the river, and the history of the mercantile and industrial centres on its banks - Glasgow, Greenock, Port Glasgow, but there were a couple of papers on earlier aspects, such as crannogs.

I had my writer's hat on for one particular paper dedicated to Dumbarton Castle, which features in Novel #2.  Guess I'll have to do a bit of rewriting now, as it doesn't seem to be laid out the way I'd anticipated.  Ah, well.  These things are sent to try us. 

But after seeing endless views of Dumbarton Castle from land, from sea, and from the air,  there's no excuse for my not returning to those missing pages of MS I've been bewailing over the last couple of weeks, because - you've guessed it!!- they feature none other than Dumbarton Castle!!!

Must put nose to grindstone... Must put nose to grindstone....
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I shall return to the south of France now, and the Church of Notre Dame de Lamourguie in Narbonne.  It appears to have had its origins in the ninth century, though the earliest architectural evidence on the site is the remains of a Romanesque church dating to the thirteenth century.


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The main central doorway is Romanesque in style, but the church had a gothic makeover a few centuries later, and it's this gothic structure which dominates the site.

It's in the typical meridional gothic style, which I've illustrated previously in posts devoted to the Cathedral of Saint Michael and the Church of Saint Vincent in Carcassone.  Like these other examples, it has an apsidal-ended chancel, and a turreted tower adjoining the south wall.  The crenellations are not for show: originally, this church formed part of the early town's defence system:-



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The church is no longer in use as such.  Instead it has found a secondary function as a museum, and as such, it gained my vote as the weirdest and most outlandish monument of the entire trip.  Why?  Well, we'll find out tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's a close up of the doorway which gives a slight clue as to its new purpose:-


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And now, some photos from the last and most impressive of the Lastours Four: the castle of Cabaret.

The Cabaret family were prominent in the area in the period leading up to the Albigensian Crusade, First mentioned in 1067, they made their considerable fortunes from the iron mines which proliferate throughout the area. The resistance of the Cabaret family kept the infamous Simon de Montfort out of mischief for a couple of years, and the castle of Cabaret itself eventually became the seat of the Cathar bishop of the Carcasses area. But in 1227, Cabaret was besieged by Humbert de Beaujeu, and two years later, the stronghold surrendered, The original castles, and the associated settlement were then destroyed by the victorious Crusader army.


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Unlike the other Lastours castles, which seem more like watchtowers than places of residence, Cabaret is a substantial structure with a tall rectangular tower and a big curtain wall, which can be seen in detail below.  It's not the easiest of structures to understand, but it's been heavily rebuilt and restored throughout the centuries and probably has substantial areas remaining unexcavated, too.

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Perhaps the most exciting part of Cabaret is the first floor of the tower, which still retains much of its vaulted ceiling.  I couldn't get a decent picture of this, unfortunately, but it certainly made the hike out to the end of the ridge worthwhile!




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Remember Lastours??? 

It's been a while, I know, but I thought I'd dedicate a couple of posts to the last two castles from Lastours.

Today I'm featuring Tour Regine.  I've a feeling I misread the map the last time, and got my Tour Regine and my Surdespine mixed up. How I did this, I don't know, because I'm supposed to be a professional for heaven's sake, and a map's a map, whether it features Scotland, England, France or even the Moon.  I've a feeling my previous clangeroo was all down to the iron deficiency: I spent ages pouring over that map the last time and couldn't work it out at all, whereas today I'd sussed it within five seconds. 

Yep, iron deficiency sucks.  My Lastours debacle kind of proves it. 

Tour Regine's arguably the best preserved of the four castles at Lastours, with its big circular tower pretty much intact.  And yes, it's very Ninth Gate, isn't it?

Once again, it's a thirteenth century replacement of an earlier Cathar stronghold, Two views of it now, one from either side of the ridge, with the first view looking back towards Surdespine and Quertinheux, and the second looking on towards the last and largest of the four Lastours castles, Cabaret:-


 






Tomorrow we'll venture to Cabaret, which is the largest and most complex of the four Lastours castles.  Though not the most dramatic - La Tour Regine wins that honour, I think, though only by a head or even a nose...

And now I'm off to slave over a hot keyboard...  Though a trip to the garden centre will be in order later on, I'm pleased to report.  I've got a trellis or two to acquire...
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The one and only Ardrossan Castle.

Not because they're pulling it down, or anything like that...  Far from it!! 

But what they are doing is enclosing Ardrossan Castle within a very high, supposedly ned-proof fence, for its own protection...  This is all part of a long-term programme to help secure the building's future, which is a wonderful thing, but it is of course a damned shame that the antics of a few witless hoodlums are depriving the rest of us of an opportunity to enjoy what is arguably one of the most fascinating castles in Ayrshire.

So, since I found myself on Castlehill in Ardrossan last week, I thought I'd take a few photographs, and introduce to you all one of my favourite (and sadly under-appreciated) local castles.

Ardossan Castle was once in the hands of the Eglinton family, but at a relatively early date, an Eglinton heiress married into the Montgomerie family and the rest, as they say, is history.  From then on, Ardrossan became inextricably linked with the Montgomeries and was the scene for many of the dramas and traumas which unfolded during their long feud with the Cuninghame family.

The ruins of Ardrossan are an imposing sight on the summit of Castlehill, visible from several miles away if you're approaching from the coast road:-




The upstanding remains that we see here are dominated by the gatehouse.  The lower part of the structure dates back to the thirteenth century, I think, when the castle was occupied by the Eglinton family.  You can tell the Eglinton part of the build by the fact that they used blond sandstone as opposed to pink sandstone:-





Later on, during the  Montgomeries' tenure, there was a complete re-modelling of the structure.  The main entrance was blocked, and the gatehouse converted into a tower for accomodation,  This view shows the rear of the structure, with a nicely moulded fireplace at second floor level.  Its ornate appearance suggests that this particular chamber may provided privated accomodation either for the family themselves or for their guests:-





The Montgomeries were not being particularly adept at winning friends and influencing people in their immediate locality.  They were, however, better skilled at this across Scotland as a whole, with my particular favourite, the inimitable and incorrigible Hugh, 1st Earl of Eglinton, being made Vice-Regent of Scotland, co-Tutor to the infant King James V and an admiral at various points in his long and distinguished career, which only ended when he retired from politics at the grand old age of 78. 

However, his arch-rivals the Cuninghames are unlikely to have had anything good to say about him, as he managed to wipe out two of their clan chiefs within several years of each other.  Therefore, the fact that some local cherub has gone about the ruins squirting the tag '666' with a spray can makes me respond with a wry smile: there were probably times when the unfortunate Cuninghames DID believe Earl Hugh was the Devil Incarnate...

Bearing in mind the uneasy relationship (at best!) between these two powerful families, it comes as no surprise that Ardrossan Castle has been modified into a defensive structure capable of dealing with the troubles at the time.  When the large entrance into the Eglintons' castle was blocked, a shot-hole was inserted into the masonry so that the castle's defenders could take out any marauding attackers with the early modern equivalent of handguns:-


 



Tantalising glimpses remain of the castle's former function as a domestic residence: doorways, windows, and of course, that fireplace:-




And, accessing these upper floors, a spiral stair, which now survives only in vestigial form:-







Elsewhere, we have fragments of additional structures, including this kitchen:-



The origins of the Montgomerie-Cuninghame feud are extremely obscure, but they appear to have their roots in Hugh, 1st Earl's minority.  The Cuninghames were charged with local law enforcement until Earl Hugh reached his perfect age of twenty-five: after this point, the Montgomeries were supposed to take over, with Earl Hugh inheriting a title that had passed into his family several generations before.  The Cuninghames didn't want to relinquish these gains, and the result was a succession of bloody disputes which included the burning down of the Montgomeries' seat at Eglinton in the 1520s (the family were forced to flee to Ardrossan Castle in order to take refuge from the rampaging Cuninghame mob). 

The culmination was, undoubtedly the murder of the 4th Earl in 1586 (also named Hugh) just months after he'd succeeded to the Earldom.  He was set upon by a band of 34 Cuninghames not long after leaving the Montgomerie stronghold of Lainshaw and shot at pointblank range.  Neil Montgomerie of Lainshaw was married to a Cuninghame at the time (it had been an effort to try and bring the families together...)  and local traditions state that it was either this lady who tipped off the murderers of the earl's departure, or a servant of the earl who was, himself, a Cuninghame.

Sordid stuff, and typical of Scottish history, I suppose.  All these local grievances tend to make more sense when you place them into a wider persective - the Montgomeries were pro-French, pro-Catholic, the Cuninghames pro-English, and fiercely Presbyterian, with the roots of these rivalries buried in what seems to us a fairly trivial dispute in the late fifteenth century. 

And Ardrossan Castle?  It met its end in spectacular fashion, blasted to pieces by Cromwellian artillery in the seventeenth century...
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Oh, those castle-builders of Lastours...  They don't half like to wind up unsuspecting archaeologists!

This is my second post devoted to Lastours, and it was supposed to be devoted to the second of the four castles - La Tour Regine.  But I suspect that these photographs are in fact of Quertinheux, and that my last photos.  This is what happens when I take time off to go climbing mountains in the Lake District....

Here's a view of the circular tower with its enclosing curtain wall:-




And a close-up of the tower, showing a very obvious raggle near the doorway:-


And a view inside the curtain wall now, showing the arched recesses which still survive there:-



 And that's it.  I shall be lying low over the weekend, and then I'll be sharing some images of my latest jaunt up north.  Watch this space... 
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Now, this is where things get difficult.  Four castles, located at different points along the ridge, each with their own distinct identity.  But how to establish which photos were of which castle, when two of them are actually quite similar, and all I have to tell which is which is a series of site plans...

Castle #1 now, The Tower of Quertinheux, which is described tin the site guide as follows:-

'Of complex structure, the castle combines aspects of Cabaret and Tour Regine [information about these will follow...'.  It has a circular tower surrounded by a vast polygonal curtain wall.  A zigzag wall system defends the main access.'

The castles were once occupied by the Cabaret family, who made their fortune from mining iron in the Black Mountains.  They had close links with the Cathars, and the nearby village (or in Scots parlance, 'castletoun') was attacked by Simon de Montfort and his cronies during the Albigensian Crusade.





Another view of the same structure now (I hope!!) showing another view of the 'vast polygonal curtain wall:'




And now I must sign off, because I'm castled out!!
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Okay, it sounds epic.  And it is.  Just imagine a ridge walk, with the additional attraction of four random summit-located castles on the route...

Here's a view of the village of Lastours, with its rather spectacular backdrop:-






As you can see, the weather wasn't particularly good that day.  In fact, the conditions were positively Scottish (though slightly warmer, admittedly!).  But the landscape was undoubtedly French, what with all the cypress trees, etc.:-






These four castles are located in a mountain range known as the Black Mountains, and they have their origins in the time of the Cathars.  But - as with Carcassone - the visible remains post-date the Albigensian Crusade, dating instead to the French occupation of the area:-






The situations of these castles are spectacular, and over the next couple of days, I'll give you a more detailed tour of each of them:-



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The second and final post in my series of 'Useful Things To Do With A Sixteenth Century Fortification If You Really Don't Have The Heart Or The Inclination To Blow It Up Or Otherwise Demolish It' features the last of the three surviving bastions in La Bastide de Saint Louis, Carcassone.  This particular example is located at the north-west corner of the bourg.  I featured the exterior yesterday, and today I'm going to give you a tour of the interior.

This public space was one of two 19th century gardens created within La Bastide de Saint Louis  at around the time of the abdication of Napoleon and the return of Louis XVIII, and it was probably intended to celebrate the occasion.  As well as providing the citizens of Carcassone with a series of paths along which to promenade, it doubles up as a religious space, featuring the twelve stations of the Cross and culminating in a depiction of Calvary. 




The path makes excellent use of space and topography, guiding the visitor (whether casual or devotional) round the site in a journey which follows Christ's journey to Calvary.  The walls of the bastion have been cleverly utilised with the creation of a series of niches, each of which features a sculptured stone tablet showing the twelve stages of the Cross.

Since my family background is agnostic with a hint of Anglican (I think I can probably comfortably describe myself as 'pagan with Episcopalian tendencies) all this iconography is quite alien to me (no, Mr Knox, I am NOT going to froth at the mouth and dismiss it all as idolatry,,,) but after visiting countless churches across Belgium, Italy and France, I'm at least starting to get the hang of it.  What really impresses me is the way in which these standard scenes are interpreted and depicted differently in every Catholic church and cathedral: you quite literally don't know what you're going to stumble across next.  I'm not sure whether the niches in this instance (like the one pictured below) made use of existing guard chambers or watch towers, or whether they were custom-built to house the sculptures and cunningly disguised to blend in nicely with the existing fabric:-





We visited the site on Easter Monday, which was rather appropriate, since this is what could arguably be described as one of the most important festivals in the Christian calendar.  The place was deserted which seemed odd (though everybody else might actually have been going to church) but it meant we had the garden entirely to ourselves:-




And a very lovely, peaceful place it is, too, much frequented by birds and the odd lizard.

[Incidentally, the above photograph is dedicated to my noble colleage, The Great Surveyor, who - if she isn't yet sick to the back teeth of rusticated stonework, soon will be.  Surrounded by all this rustication, I immediately had one of those 'I saw this and I thought of you' moments, and this photo was the result!]

After circumnavigating the site and carrying the visitor on a metaphorical journey which follows Christ's ordeal, the path winds upwards to the highest point of the garden, which is surmounted by a sculptural group representing the Crucifixion:-

 



Situated much lower down in the garden is this little grotto, with its rear niche.  The poor thing has seen much better days, and while it may function as a little chapel, I wondered if it was instead a representation of Christ's tomb.  It was empty, which was of course entirely appropriate on Easter Day - does this mean that the rest of the year, it houses a statue? 



This was, alas, another of these unsolved mysteries that I couldn't get to the bottom of in a mere ten days with just a smattering of French to assist me in my sleuthing....

Altogether, a very lovely place, and one which was completely off the beaten track and obviously not part of the regular tourist trail.  Which just goes to show that you can't take a place for granted, and that if you look hard enough, you can find hidden treasures just about anywhere...
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For those of you who were concerned about my ailing begonias, last night - despite the weather forecast - saw no evidence of a frost whatsoever, though the begonias and pelargoniums were tucked up in readiness using garden fleece, old curtains and anything else that came to hand.  It remains to be seen whether the frost-struck plants will recover - I'm pretty sure they will, but...  Who knows?

To Carcassone now, and a more mundane part of the town that conceals beneath its relatively humble exterior a fascinating history and built heritage. While the 'medieval' walled city is undoubtedly the tourist trap which draws in the punters, the business end of the town, where the inhabitants of Carcassone live and work and shop, is much less impressive in character and appearance.

But...  Though it may be hard to believe, this part of town also has its roots in the medieval period, and the keen heritage detective can find a detailed exploration very rewarding.

Carcassone had a defended settlement or bourg in association with its fortified citadel from as early as the 10th century AD,  Several medieval churches still survive, as we will shortly discover.  And, of course, developer-funded archaeology (or its equivalent in France) is further adding to the picture.

This particular part of the town, La Bastide de Saint Louis, comprises a planned town created here after the Albigensian Crusade by King Louis of France.  This sounds like a positive move on his part, but as per usual, the reasons were less altruistic and more a reflection of the political unrest at the time.  Following the removal of Raymond Trencavel, the imposition of peace in Carcassone and its immediate vicinity proved to be a temporary thing.  In 1240, there was a renewed attempt by the Trencavel family to recapture their inheritance, in an affair known as the Guerre du Vicomte.
 
As usual, the common people of the local area paid a heavy price for their loyalty to the Trencavel cause.  Following Trencavel defeat, many of them were displaced and exiled.  Their houses were pulled down, and a new planned town erected in their place, named after the 'saintly' king who sanctioned its creation.

These days, the buildings of La Bastide de Saint Louis don't show much evidence of their medieval origins.  But as is very common in towns of such antiquity (remember Shrewsbury??) cheapskate developers alter the facades of the buildings to suit 'modern' and 'contemporary' tastes, but they leave much of the guts of the buildings intact.  Modern restoration works undertaken in recent years have revealed a number of historically significant buildings throughout the bourg, in some cases dating back to the 13th century.  And some of this evidence can be spectacular - several houses have revealed painted wooden ceilings dating back to the medieval period, whitewashed in the 16th century then concealed beneath later decorative plasterwork. 

Every bourg should have walls as a means of defence, of course, and La Bastide de Saint Louis is no expection.  The fortifications were in place by 1357, and traces of this feature still survive throughout the bourg.  The visible remains are, however, much more likely to be associated with a 16th century makeover of the defences, undertaken in response to a threatened invasion by the Spanish.
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The actual walls have been destroyed over much of their extent, and built over by later structures.  But in some places, they make incongruous survivals within the later built heritage.  This little fragment was spotted just around the corner from our hotel:-





It's a tough job to erase 16th century defensive structures within an urban space, but most of the time, later generations make concerted efforts to eradicate them, usually with the aid of copious amounts of explosives.  In  La Bastide de Saint Louis , the occupants have had other ideas.  Three out of the four bastions which once formed the formers of the town walls still survive, and each has found a new use in the modern world.

The bastion featured below, located very close to the section of wall which I've pictured above in the north-east part of the town, is now in use as a school playground:- 


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At the south-west corner of the bourg, another bastion has been used to create the grounds of a most spectacular house.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out what this place actually was, though there were signs nearby referring to a convalescent home for injured servicemen.  This would, I think, have been a most appropriate form of re-use:-



And, last but by no means least, here's the bastion at the north-west corner, which has been turned into a garden with a difference, and which is still open to the public. 



We'll venture inside tomorrow.  In the meantime, I must acknowledge my source material of the day: Perspectives: Du Patrimonie Bati De La Bastide Saint Louis.  Which was the very helpful accompanying guidebook to a marvellous exhibition devoted to the area's built heritage which we quite literally stumbled across on a quiet day spent exploring the neighbourhood.  And where I met a terribly nice amateur historian with virtually no English, and I managed to tell him, using virtually no French, that I worked in developer-funded archaeology, AND HE KNEW WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT!!!  WOW!!!!!  [He said, in French, Ah, vous dit 'stop!!! or something similar, and held up his hand in a forbidding manner, before pretending to wield a trowel in a hurried fashion].

And now I must go, because I'm cooking dinner.
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I recently described the Chapter-House of Saint Andrews Cathedral as the Carved Stone Repository to End All Carved Stone Repositories.

I was wrong.  I realised this as soon as I stepped inside the so-called 'Medieval Rooms' at the castle of Carcassone.  Surrounded by endless bits of Romanesque capitals and all sorts of random (or not so random!) sculptures, I realised that this was instead a much better contender for the title.

But even this got pipped at the post during the Carcassone and Langeudoc tour. (And rest assured we will return to this subject later...)

There are quite a few bits of in situ medieval carving survivng in the castle at Carcassone.  At least, I assume they're in situ.  But - since things aren't quite as they seem here - it's possible they've been incorporated into the structure during the 19th century restoration to add some medieval authenticity:-




Most of the medieval sculptures have however been moved safely indoors.  And they've been augmented by a large number of additional pieces ferreted away from elsewhere in Carcassone, in particular from some of the medieval churches, such as the Basilica of Saint Nazaire in the walled city, as well as from slightly further afield.

Anyway, because it's Tuesday (any day would have done nicely!), I think I'll offer you a selection of Romanesque sculptures.  Some are goofy, others cute, while one in particular is absolutely breathtaking.  Enjoy!!









 I particularly  liked this capital with its pair of fighting billy goats:-



And last, but by no means least, this magnificent font:-




Which really does have the WOW!! factor!!
Incidentally, have any of you medievalists out there ever heard of 'The King of Bean' or 'The Queen of Bean'?  He/She seems to be a feature of the Epiphany celebrations in medieval Scotland and I can't help thinking that it may be some local interpretation of the Lord of Misrule... 

As ever, I open the floor to further discussion or explanation... 
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Another look inside the courtyard at the castle of Carcassone today, and a glimpse of the castle which forms the core of the medieval defences.  It's part of the earlier structure which pre-dated the French capture of the city, and it formed an integral part of the castle occupied by Trencavel family, and in particular by Count Roger, the last head of the Trenscavel family who died a prisoner within this very castle following the surrender of Carcassone to the Albigensian crusaders.

Through the generations (and indeed the centuries), the castle has seen much alteration in its fabric.  It was originally much lower - if you look carefully, you can see that the two-storey hall section was only one storey in height, with the upper storey added later:-




The adjacent keep has also been increased in height. Look carefully at the upper storey, and the area lying immediately above the course of walling which has the holes in it.  You can just see a row of ghost crenellations (or battlements, if you're being less technical...) in the wall fabric.  This marks the original wallhead of Count Roger's castle.




As for the sockets in the masonry...   They could mark the location of joists which together formed the framework for a timber-built structure.  Or they could mark the locations where logs were placed in the wall to aid the builders during the process of construction ('putlog' holes). 

But if you want to see the real treasure of the Trencavel castle, then you have to go inside, to one of the earlier rooms in which restoration works undertaken in the early twentieth century uncovered some medieval wall paintings beneath a coating of distemper.  Artworks in a medieval ecclesiastical context are rare, but they're arguably quite numerous compared to their domestic counterparts.  But here's a remarkable example of the kind of internal decor that the Trencavels enjoyed at the height of their power in the late 12th century:-




 It features Frankish knights battling Saracen warriors, making visual reference to the 12th century Crusades in the Holy Land.  It was a military escapade in which the Trenscavel family distinguished themselves by their conduct, and presumably, obtained a great deal of wealth, prestige and perhaps even land in the process.

Which, considering their fate at the hands of the Albigensian crusaders just a few generations later, is something of a tragic irony...
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If there's one monument in the medieval walled city of Carcassone that's famous the world over, it's the castle.  Which is probably one of the most archetypcal, prototypical medieval castles there is.

Its current form owes much to Viollet le Duc's nineteenth century restoration.  And, of course, as I mentioned previously, this was intended to capture the essence of the castle at a particular point in time, during the late thirteenth century, when the castle was at the height of its power.

The entrance is particularly robust, featuring these massive towers:-





Here's another view. Once again, the line of the restoration can be seen in the smoother masonry around the wallhead.  The defences here are particularly complex: there are two portcullises, with the control mechanisms located on different floors, supposedly to prevent treachery from amongst the defenders.  The portcullis slot can also double up as a handy machicholation, through which the defending forces can hurl missiles or noxious substances (careful with that chanber pot, Eugene!!) through to the enemy troops below.




If that wasn't enough, any attackers would have to make it through the barbican before they tried to get through the gatehouse.  This feature is semi-circular on plan, and is a hefty defensive structure itself, with crenellated walls and another smaller gatehouse.  The bridge which crosses the rock-cut ditch (I refuse to call it a 'moat' because there ain't no water!!) would also have been a handy defensive feature, as only a few men could have crossed from the barbican to the gatehouse at a time, and they would surely have made easy targets...





If you made it through both sets of defences, this is where you might find yourself.  Within a courtyard,  In a place where this building gets truly interesting, because the restoration has deliberately left these buildings in a condition where the long-term changes can be identified and 'read' by the interested onlookers.  And it's here that you will find Count Roger's castle, or what's left of it, preserved amongst the later late thirteenth century remains:-

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