The rain lashed down as we drove away from Sittingbourne and on through Faversham. Black clouds scuttled across the sky and as we passed by Canterbury the rain looked as if was about to settle in. Light showers with sunny intervals. So far we had the showers. The idea was to at least visit the castle and with a little good fortune wander in the gardens.
We arrived and by now the rain had eased settling to showers and high winds. We watched clouds race above us and managed to negotiate the driveway and the gateway to the castle between showers. We availed ourselves of the audio service and enjoyed the commentary as we wandered from room to room.
Walmer castle has a similar design shape to that of Deal – the purpose of the rounded walls is to deflect cannon balls and to the seaward side to give a wider angle of fire out to sea. Walmer looks as if somebody has taken a huge bucket and spade and used them to shape the building – Deal even more so – and the keep and outbuildings added to make it more like a dwelling. The influence of late Tudor is obvious being practical and strongly built and later additions by Cinque Port Wardens have turned the place into an interesting historical timeline.
The most influential, so it seemed, was the Iron Duke, the Duke of Wellington, who died there aged 82. A most impressive man. The castle in places is gloomy but of course that is the nature of a fortress with thick walls, a ditch defence and a necessity for it to be low to offer a small target. None of the siege engines, boiling oil, arrows, rocks and rusting armour; instead we have huge cannon, holes in the wall angled for maximum effect, and if an army should land the soldiers would have faced guns, small cannon, grapeshot,
bayonet charges, cavalry and somebody shouting rude Anglo Saxon words at them.
The contrast is the grounds and the gardens. The castle has is grand walk, the broadway between shaped yew hedges, cut thus at the suggestion of Sir Winston Churchill when the more formal shape was ruined by a heavy frost. “Cut it to the shape,” he said, and they did. He must have been out of his mind – it’s the only crinkle cut hedge in the Kingdom – but he didn’t live there.
The formal Queen Elizabeth garden with the pond and lawns, paved edging and seating offers a wonderful view of the castle and on this day we were sheltered from the wind. The sky was blue, the colds white and the wind was scudding the clouds across faster than we have seen them moving for a long time.
But we were lucky because the weather remained good. However, in need of sustenance we repaired to the tea rooms for a pot of tea and a cheese scone each.
It was then a visit to the kitchen gardens followed up by a stroll around the base of the castle, in the ditch. The ditch is a pleasant walk and having only one entrance and exit you get to see all of it, and those glimpses you had from the ramparts and out of the windows are brought together by the delightful understatement of the plantings.
We took a walk around the woodland path and at on point crossed toward the centre on the curt grass tracks. Prior to our perambulations along them Daffers saw a slug crawling on the dry woodland path and shifted it onto the wet grass. Daft but kind. From that point on we were dodging brown and black slugs until we reached the statue of Hermes on the centre path. The gardens above the croquet lawn were pretty,
giving a yet more different view of the castle.
We were impressed by the beauty of the gardens and its setting, and once again as on these visits we became aware of the deep sense of history imbued in the efforts of the people who originally presented Walmer Castle as a place of national interest.
It rained and we sheltered under a tree that the Queen mother had planted – comments: it was a large oak, and quite tall so she must have had to do a lot of digging to get it set in right. I was reminded that maybe she planted the tree when it was quite small. Makes sense, I suppose, a frail old lady struggling with a 30metre tree is a bit silly.
The wind blew heavy in the trees and out to sea the waves were choppy. No sign of an invasion, but with the tunnel and the ferries maybe there is no need to come by sea to Walmer or Deal.
Walmer Castle is a good place to visit especially combined with a walk along the beach and Hawkshill Down. It was a good afternoon.