It had been built to be imposing and subsequently added to, reinforced and fortified to make it even more so. After the Norman Conquest, the Earls had rebelled and their lands had been laid waste in retaliation. This hundred had been given to one of King William's favourites, who had straight away begun building this castle as a defence against further unruliness.
I knew none of this as a child, living my life seemingly so far removed from ancient wars, slaughters and the like. To me, Richmond Castle was simply a good place to be, play and explore.
On warm summer days my father would bundle us into the car and take us somewhere. The castle was a popular choice while my brothers were still little. There would be a short walk to the market place and then the climb up the steep mound to where the castle towered above everything. We would pass through the barbican, go by the keep and emerge into a field, which had been the courtyard. From there, we could run around and clamber as much as we liked until we were called back for our picnic.
Most of the castle was ruins, which I could not quite understand. It seemed such a waste to let a grand structure decay. What was left presented a puzzle to me, the lumps of honey-coloured stone. The keep was intact and a hundred feet high, commanding amazing views of the Dales. There was a guard room down below with a twisty staircase hidden within a buttress, a veritable secret passage. A wooden floor had been rebuilt in what had been the solar, where the fine ladies had gone to work, talk and read in peace and this was all. There were parts of the battlements which could be climbed and arrow slit windows here and there. From these points you could see just how high the castle mound had been built, as the houses at its base looked more suited for dolls than humans.
There were some steps which led to a sort of medieval sluice,where waste was poured down the side of this mound. I remember seeing a boy decide to climb through there, presumably neither the first nor last to try this, and seeing him get stuck. His big sister worked hard to get him out again, with words of encouragement and good, sharp tugs. Given a few years, I would learn to sympathise with her: “I took my little brother out to help my Mum, but then he... and then he... so never again! Not until the next bloody time...”. Back then I was more impressed by his foolhardy stupidity. What if he fell down the mound or got stuck for good? Would there still be germs in a medieval toilet?
I can also recall my youngest brother, at about a year old, making friends with another baby there and being utterly disbelieving and then distraught when the child's mother took him home. His round blue eyes filled with tears and he held out his arms to his departing pal who seemed as unaffected by the fond farewell as he had been by the hugs, kisses and daisies offered to him by my brother. I was about seven then and the mention of Richmond Castle has me back in my mind as I was then, in my regulation white cardigan and sandals, legs peppered with midge bites and romantically convinced that I trod in the footsteps of real princes and princesses. In truth, I did not, but some of the military commanders stationed there may have had overly affectionate baby brothers too.
My Pappa loved history and seeing the places associated with great times in the past or any times really. He was the man who got out his full allowance of books every week from the library and usually return them before the time was up for a fresh stack. Often these were history books and he would tell us what he had learned. He would take himself out for walks in the countryside and visit churches, solemnly consult gravestones, look at any place of passing interest. He therefore adored trips out and, as I became older, I became his budding acolyte.
When we visited a castle or museum I naturally wanted to see every square inch of the place, every room, every broom cupboard, in case I was missing something. He fully concurred. He taught me the habit of reading every last exhibition board and label where they were provided, to scrupulously examine every score in the stone or picture hung upon the wall, just in case. We suffered from the belief that if we read it all, where we might not learn everything, we may also not die ignorant. We were the annoying pair lagging behind, attempting to digest the provided information concerning Lady Mary's collection of chamberpots while everyone else was waiting impatiently outside.
Guidebooks were another shared folly. I acquired one everywhere I went and stored them in an old suitcase for future consultation. I bought them for him too. My general knowledge at the time was thus broad, bizarre and oddly specific in equal measures.
I was only ever once too much for him and that was when we went to Dover Castle. My grandparents had taken me on a three week holiday to see my Auntie Jenny, who lived in the town. I was 9 and am assured that I did not disgrace myself at any point, although three weeks of demanding me must have been wearing. We saw lots, did the whole of Southern Kent and then we came to the castle.
It is a magnificent place, set atop the cliffs. Unlike my beloved Richmond, it has never fallen out of use and therefore has been built upon and rebuilt instead of being left to rot and fall down. Best of all, there is an extensive complex of underground tunnels built in Napoleonic times to garrison soldiers. These were converted into 'secret' tunnels during the Second World War. The concept of tunnels was catnip to me and secret ones all the more so. We had to see them all.
By the second hour, his enthusiasm was flagging. As time wore on, it had given up the ghost entirely. He stopped short and said, ”Let's get back to your Gran, Marjory.”
”But we still haven't seen...” I began.
”Two thousand soldiers down here! All the rooms are the same! My feet hurt!” he wailed.
I blinked and relented. He was right. There were limits and I had to be a good girl. I was still learning to be a good girl.
He still took me to places after my unwitting torture of him and when I visit such places as an adult, he is with me still.