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The Hidden Castle

Imagine if you will.

Just below the turret window, this window ported over our bed in what the owners refer to as the Turret Gatehouse, connected to the castle’s double arched bridge dating back to the 17th century that replaced an old drawbridge from the 13th century, and on this ‘medieval masonry,’ a male peacock bends and winds his neck like contortionists freakishly do their limbs, with his psychedelic train feathers tucked behind him and straightened like a four-foot long dazzling tail. Below him, below the bridge, are thousands of gallons of spring water that form one of the few remaining moats that survive in England that encircles a castle. The peacock screeches, squawks, signals for something or at something somewhere. Maybe he yells for his mate, Esta, who stands momentarily on the other side of gates, moseying around in the courtyard by the fountain. The Gatehouse Turret, although now renovated beautifully, is a two-floored octagonal stone space dating back to the 13th century where someone would’ve quartered and worked as a lookout to ensure that all guests were indeed wanted guests and not unwanted guests. We’re working at this castle but not as lookouts–I’ll leave that to the peacock mounted along the bridge balustrades that one-by-one lead over and up to an ebony black studded oak door some inches thick, probably twelve-feet high, with a much tinier door cut through it for foot traffic, should you be granted permission to enter. A door with-in a door. Like a doggy-door for humans, only you don’t run through this one with your face. Following this massive black oak portal you meet an equally impenetrable black-iron gate with two molded capital letter C’s engraved on either side. Caverswall Castle lies beyond. The church bells sound. It’s 10:18 AM by my phone. Maybe our clocks aren’t linked but 10:18 seems an unusual time for church bells, but what do I know? The peacock repeatedly squawks along with the church clocks at 10:18, so perhaps it’s just me who doesn’t get the gig.

So, I’ve never lived in a castle before for any amount of time. Presuming my closest friends having just read this far, with your keen knowings of my past finances probably are thinking, “no shit.” Well, however uncool that be of you fuckers to say, it’s never much been a passion of mine to live in a castle either, let alone own one, yet here we are and it’s quite lovely. Caverswall Castle: the hidden castle in the center of Caverswall Village, in Staffordshire, England. You don’t know it’s here from any angle other than when you’re standing at its gates. Something appealing about that. Something appealing about making your way up the stairs through front doors much heavier than most, then another set of wooden doors with bellies of glass opening by their own weight entering the main hallway, above your head a timely dim light fixture. All the woodwork lining the door frames and paneling staring at you with realistic dark faces protruding from them. A side table to the right and left of the hallway, one underlined with pairs of pink tiny tennis shoes for two little girls, the other tabletop is lined with a relic hookah encircled by candles. You can enter to either the left day-room or the right (they both have names), the woodwork staring at you whichever you choose. I go left towards the six-foot-tall medieval knight’s suit of armor made from steel or iron, standing fully upright next to a bookshelf with an English-branded shield by its feet, helm closed over face, his left hand detached and resting on the table beside him. Without a hand, I consider my chances against him are even greater—cause I think this way. However, it’s possible that this is exactly what he wants me to think. Just passed the severed handed knight frozen in time stands a bookshelf leading to another impressive hand-crafted doorway guiding me into the stairwell, at one side a dusty drum-set sits rhythm-less, and standing over it is yet another full-bodied knight staring down onto whoever chooses to lay down a beat–if they dare.

Caverswall is about 5 miles from Stoke-on-Trent. That town may not ring a bell. How about the name Slash? From GNR. His father–who did artwork for Joni Mitchell—has family in Stoke and Slash stayed out there for a few years as a child going to school. How bout Lemmy from Motörhead? Born in Stoke. Robin, the present owner of the castle, his old man was in a band with Lemmy before Motörhead formed. Robin’s grandma would go out of her way to feed the poor, soon-to-be world famous chap, cause he was, “skin and bones, a diet consisting of mainly booze”. Robin, a husband and a father, has done rather well for himself in the real-estate business to state the obvious, (hints the castle) and he would go on to drop a few more ‘golden tidbits’ like this Lemmy story rather nonchalantly to me over the coming weeks. One afternoon he was showing us around to the top floors about a week after arrival or so, and when stepping into one bedroom of plenty that has boggling hand-crafted wooden bed-frames, each with individual fire places, individual bathrooms with heated-floors, etc., as we step into this particular bedroom he casually mentions, “Yeah, Charles Darwin slept here when he was in town.” It’s 2018 so I’ll place LOL for reaction, which did pour out due to the absurd feeling that followed. What a cool name drop. As it turns out, Darwin’s grandpa-pa, Josiah Wedgwood, the Pottery Guru we’ll call him, lived here through the end of the 19th century, and Charles would stay here occasionally. Later, Darwin married Wedgwood’s granddaughter… Or another way to word that could be, Charles Darwin later married his own cousin. You know, man, whatever. Anyhow, Wedgwood aside from Darwin was an interesting cat, having revolutionized pottery in England and further putting up a lot of money for the thousands of miles of canal systems all through the lands that move goods from place to place still today.

Legend* has it that King Arthur held his court in Caverswall Castle. The knight with the severed hand could’ve sat at Arthur’s Round Table, lost his hand in battle for the King, secretly but ruthlessly hating Arthur cause now he’s only got one hand, he only had two for fuck’s sake.
King John may have hunted here when the grounds were lush with wild deer, a hand-carving encasing the fireplace in the dining room depicts a particular hunting expedition dedicated to John. Legend and speculation about the castle’s past doesn’t dim it’s luminous clearer history that’s been mapped out. Turning off of Blythe Bridge road you hit the driveway of the castle flanked on either side by two churches. William Caverswall is buried in one of these churches, since in the olden days rich folk would donate money so they and their families could be buried inside the churches so they would, for sure, go. all. the. way. to heaven. First Class. Many historians think that before the stone was laid for Caverswall that there was already an Anglo-Saxon settlement on the grounds, probably consisting of “timber and earthen work” some 900 years ago or so the history says; and this timber and earthen style was before the time of the Norman Invasion, afterwards likely forcing the home-owners at that time to flee for their lives. So, when you think about it, Caverswall Castle wasn’t originally built only* so they could be recognized as posh-ba-gosh, it likely first and foremost served for protection since Caverswall was a Norman lord. He and family were close to the Welsh border and were still surrounded by Saxon neighbors–who the Norman’s had invaded, and who were surely still pissed off as you can imagine. Caverswall obtained a license to build this castle from William the Conqueror, and the house originally wasn’t so lovely as it is now. As for its placement on the map, only a two and a half-hour train ride South will bring you into Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born and where he’s also buried. A little further Southeast takes you to Northampton where one of the most directly influential writers on my life, Alan Moore, lives. Masters such as William Blake were born and died in London, a three-hour trip is all. Names such as Virginia Woolf. Orwell. Lewis Carroll. Mary Shelley. Roald Dahl. Newton. Pink Floyd. All these shining lights within such a small trek of land with an expansive history and influence on the world, and with history this fertile, the list remains truly astounding. I mention these few names in an attempt to harness any magic left from them floating around, to gobble it up, to bring back whatever I can along with me.

The castle would later come to serve as a fortress during the civil war, although not a good one for many reasons. A gent named Matthew Craddock saved the castle from ruins in the 17th and restyled it in what’s called Jacobean Style, more flat bodied than the recognizable Gothic vertical bodies. On the East side, behind the moat, there’s a widened grassy walkway considered to have been a road used by the Romans. Along this ancient road and the surrounding area is where my work comes in. I’ve been doing landscaping all around the grounds from cutting trees, limbs, clearing fields, moving piles of wood, weeding, etc. It rains every other day, at least. Once, and only once in our stay, there was a stretch of three and a half days of pure golden sunshine. The amount of rainfall leaves the soil rich, fertile for life, weeds effortlessly yanked up, usually exposing grubs and worms for the birds overhead to feast on. Moving wood from roads walked on for over a thousand years, clearing brush away from stone crosses implanted around the moat by nuns who lived on, as well as looked after, the grounds for some extended amount of time, noting that a number of these nuns are actually buried here on the grounds. Jenn and I both stared into the abandoned dungeon alongside the conservatory—a fifteen foot drop off into darkness below ground with steel bars across it, now marked off with plywood out of sight, used probably for some sort of detainment some hundreds of years back, leaving a part of me desperately wanting to know more about the Dungeon Past. Below the walls of the courtyard lining the moat are dozens of geese, a few having laid eggs, with the mothers weary of me staring over the wall down at their nests. There are two pheasants that sprint by generally every day, with hundreds of blackbirds Robin isn’t so fond of that nest in trees lining the backdrop above the rooftop. Numbers of ducks move in and around the water where the sensitive geese allow. Pigeon’s are landing and leaving incessantly. In the last week or so more and more buzzing quarter-sized bumblebees who don’t seem eager to bite whiz by my head. There’s an occasional church bell ‘ding’ even as late as 1.am. Or perhaps it’s 1:03. Oh, and Esta the peacock has laid her eggs outside their front door again this year. She’s rather quiet when she’s around, digging at the ground with her beak, meekly scavenging in silence. The male, I forget his name, the one perched on the bridge or on the roof just over our room in the mornings or evenings, he’s an out spoken but indeed beautiful bastard; his kaleidoscopic train trailing like a feathery comet when he leaps down from the rooftop. The church bells strike again and Esta’s baby-daddy has an answer. It’s time for something.

It’s 1:03 somewhere.

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