I’ve decided to make it my mission to blog my weekends as often as possible. It’s great for my own writing and great to record the memories we have with Oscar, while he’s still small. This weekend, Oscar had an adventure with a teddy bear. Barnaby Bear comes home from school with one child each weekend and writes about his adventures – and this weekend he popped along in his backpack on Oscar and his daddy’s back. On Friday and Saturday, Barnaby and Oscar went to the park and a bouncy castle birthday party.. but on Sunday, the real fun began – as we took them both to explore Upnor Castle!
Upnor Castle is – as my local friends will know – situated along the River Medway, opposite St. Mary’s Island. It’s settled on the edge of the riverside village, Upnor and was originally constructed in 1559 – making it nearly five hundred years old. Built to protect the docks at Chatham, the castle is comprised of a two-storied main building which is protected by towers and a curtain wall, with a triangular gun platform that projects onto the river. It was used by the military until 1945, when it was opened to the public for exploration by the English Heritage.
Entering the castle from the cobbled village high street, you pay your fees in a small gift shop at the base of the guard barracks – and can subsequently explore the guard quarters upstairs. Oscar marvelled at the antique paintwork on the walls in these rooms. Flaking and weathered, the walls showed their age and use which only add to the authentic feel of the castle. The English Heritage had made no effort to fill these rooms with “copycat” furniture, like you may see at other castles, so the rooms stand mostly empty – with small pieces of furniture that had been left there and signs giving visitors information about the living conditions. One of these few signs detailed the rations provided to the soldiers who were stationed at Upnor: each day, they received one loaf of bread, a pound of meat, a block of cheese and butter and a bowl of green vegetables. Their wives received half of these rations and in turn, their children half of these again!
There are three medium-sized rooms (complete with their authentic decor) to explore and a small closet area. These include the original fireplaces in the chimney breasts. Although not the most exciting of attractions – the inside gives you an interesting slit of insight into what life was like. Oscar was most intrigued by the trap-doors on the top floor (second that the public can access) because it reminded him of Minecraft, and he wanted to see the “scary basement” below. Sadly, he could not as they are long out of use. The lower floor of the guard barracks cannot be accessed by the public and does not appear to have been viewed in quite some time – it’s steps, which can be seen from the first floor staircase, are clearly very old and weathered and dusty and it would appear not even the staff use them.
Exiting the guard barracks, you pass a small self-serve hot drinks room and then can follow a dipped-level gravel path through the grounds to the castle entrance. The kids will love climbing up the grassy hills on either side of this path, but be warned – they’re steep. When the path opens up, outside the mouth of the castle entrance (the gatehouse) – you can see a further hill with some trees and benches and further down, dips in the terrain that lead down to the castle tunnels. There is an antique clock on the gatehouse tower that screams beautiful history!
Most visitors would choose to enter the castle at this point, through the main doors underneath the clock tower, but Oscar took the opportunity to run round the second path and access the tunnels below. Four year old he describes them as “spooky”, which is one of his favourite kinds of places – particularly with Halloween coming up! The tunnels open out onto a balcony-courtyard type area called the Water Bastion with two canons that is walled directly onto the River Medway; you can again see Chatham straight opposite you. This was probably my favourite part, listening to the waves lap against the castle walls is very relaxing.
On the right of the mouth of this tunnel exit is a door with a beautiful spiral staircase – known for it’s photographic qualities when weddings are held at this venue. It’s a bit of a climb, and you can see an intriguing little window about half-way up these stairs, but when you’re finally at the top you come out into the store rooms of the castle. Here, you can see gunpowder barrels and canons stocked up and even climb another staircase to see another storage room where many of the wedding functions are held. Oscar was most interested in the model of the castle and river because it has light shows and a voice over giving out information on the castle and the war itself. Oscar (being a four-year-old boy) is fascinated with fighting, history and war so he was very happy to watch this show.
If you exit this magazine room directly opposite the mouth of the spiral stairs you will enter a small grassy area. To your right are two archways that lead back to the first path we ventured on (down to the tunnels!) and the grass-picnic-grounds hilly area. To your left is another small tower you can have a look in and straight ahead is the gatehouse – the building that we passed at the entrance to the castle – which also holds the clock tower. If you enter the base of the building you will see an entryway with another spiral staircase to your left and a staff-only door to your right. If you venture up these stairs, there is a beautiful and antique room on the first floor with a huge open window. The flooring feels a little unstable, but once again you get that authentic feel and there is a sign on the wall that points you to notice the blackening scorches where a fire once tore through the room. Up another staircase level and you will be in the clock room – where the clock mechanism sits behind a wooden barrier. You can see the internal workings of the beautiful, antique clock that was inserted into the existing structure in the 18th century which is a fascinating piece of history alone. The final flight of spiral stairs opens out onto the top of the tower – at which you can see the 19th century wooden bellcote and bell and the modern flagpole flying the UK flag. You get a magnificent view from this height of not only the castle’s roofing, but the river Medway and land surrounding it.
Oscar marvelled at the beauty of the bell and really enjoyed rushing up and down the winding spiral staircase – so he rushed back down to the bottom of the tower and ran into what we assume to be an old fashioned fireplace or cooking space – a very large hollow area in the bricks which was the perfect height for him.
It was then of course, time for Oscar to play in the grounds! We found there were loads of bugs here at this time and he caught 4 ladybirds in the space of 10 minutes! He named them ‘Red’ and ‘Grandad’ (‘Grandad’ rather aptly being a half-dead ladybird since we like to joke that Oscar’s Grandad is “half dead” with his bad heart!).
Oscar was all too happy to take some photos with and show around Barnaby bear and then insisted we take him to the pub – where he played “bad dinosaur and good dinosaur” into the evening! Because the pub was busy (unsurprisingly so, the day was a great one) we travelled back to Chatham to have a meal in the Chinese restaurant, Rendezvous and because he was well behaved (although he ate THREE bowls of ice cream!) we stopped off at Balmoral Park on the way home in the dark and the boys played while the trains rattled past.
Upnor is a great place to visit, with many grade II listed buildings and beautiful views – it’s great for those kids who will stop and “listen” to whats going on as well as those who love a little run around and a great view! Oscar has visited 3 castles (Dover Castle, Rochester Castle and Upnor Castle) in the last couple of weeks and I think he may have fallen in love with them – which is great for us as a family! Here are some photographs from the weekend and Barnaby’s adventure: