Losing a head in political squabbles

Oakhampton Castle, the largest in Devon, was built by the Normans shortly after Bill the Bastard arrived in Hastings. It eventually became the property of the Courtenay family. It remained so for a few hundred years before the last Courtenay was executed under the orders of Henry VIII in 1539.

Now, the castle, looked after by English Heritage, is a ruin.

And a very attractive ruin it is too.

Lady Courtenay, via a not very good audio guide, took us through all the rooms in her best Downton Abbey accent. Mirinda claimed she was not only informative but also quite funny. I can’t vouch for that because I didn’t listen to a lot of what she said.

I spent a rather long time trying to find the graffiti left by a Napoleonic POW. I never did find it. Apparently it says, in Latin or old French, ‘Vincent was a prisoner here’.

At some point in the family’s history, the Courtenays only bothered to visit twice a year in order to go hunting. When they arrived, they brought an entire retinue of hangers on, including 14 lawyers. I can’t imagine what you’d need 14 lawyers for, unless it was to get rid of your money. Maybe they had too much or maybe they had a lot of lawsuits. Whatever the reason, the 14 lawyers did not help the family when it came to the crunch.

Henry, the last Courtenay was a cousin of Henry VIII. They played together as boys and enjoyed each other’s company. All looked happy until Thomas Cromwell came along with his hatred of Catholics. Henry and Ollie did not get on. One of them had to go.

Courtenay was upset with the Crown and, according to Cromwell, fomented revolt. He was unceremoniously chucked into the Tower where he waited for a bit until called to the chopping block. Obviously Henry VIII didn’t actually wield the axe but wielded it was, and Henry Courtenay ceased to be.

With Henry’s death, all of his lands and titles reverted to the Crown. This included Oakhampton Castle.

It was at the top of the castle, inside the keep, that I received a phone call from the real estate agents with whom we’ve listed the Canary Wharf flat. They had had a lot of interest and, in a very unusual fashion, I answered the phone and chatted to them about which person to choose.

The castle wasn’t our only visit, we had already spent a bit of time in Oakhampton itself. We started off parking in the Lidl car park only to move to the Waitrose car park shortly afterwards.

I’d love to say this is because of a snobby decision on my part but, actually, the Lidl car park was restricted to shoppers while the one at Waitrose was a pay and display.

Having finally settled the car into a space, we then headed for the Red Lion Cafe for tea cake and coffee.

I do rather like tea cake and I hadn’t had any for a very long time. And, in order to preserve that long expectation, it took an age to get to us. Not that we minded. It was very interesting watching the various customers who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) read the signs indicating where to queue. I’m not complaining because Mirinda rarely notices signs. It’s merely interesting from a design point of view, something we were discussing while waiting for our toasted tea cakes.

Eventually, our morning tea arrived. After Mirinda said her coffee was nice, I knew it would be quite weak. I was right. Still, the tea cake was lovely.

We then wandered through the Victorian arcade. Built in 1900, it’s an impressive collection of shops lining a covered walkway. It reminded me of a very orderly souk. Though not as scary. Mind you, the chap sitting outside one of the two barber shops was a bit scary. His face was completely tattooed and he had piercings in just about everything on his face. I have no idea why anyone would do that. It wasn’t attractive.

The arcade was completed in 1896 but, because the council and the owner were arguing about people living in what was essentially, shops, it didn’t actually open until 1900. It came about after the railway line was completed between Exeter and Oakhampton – the arcade was a shortcut to the station – as well as sewerage and a main town water supply installed.

A few years after opening, a hotel was built on top of the Victorian Arcade which, to my way of thinking, is a sort of dwelling place. It appears there wasn’t any argument though. This might have been because Henry Green, who originally built the arcade, had become mayor of Oakhampton and waved the hotel through. Then again…

But the castle was calling, so we collected Max, after popping into Waitrose for some very important loo paper, and headed for the castle.

We were a bit concerned that the very narrow lane to the castle was going to be the only way back, but Tom of Oakhampton Castle informed us that if we continued up the road, it would take us back the way we wanted to go. Happily we set off.

To be entirely fair, I did think he’d got it wrong but, eventually, the two roundabouts he’d mentioned, appeared and we found ourselves well on the way back to Lydford.

We then found ourselves settled into the garden at the Castle Inn, which is becoming our place of choice this holiday, for a couple of beers.

We stayed in the garden long enough for the kitchen to open and start serving food. Dinner in the garden was a delight. This delight was enhanced by the presence of numerous dogs.

We followed dinner with a wander up and down the road that runs through Lydford. It reminded me of Chawton without the traffic noise. Not that I’ve ever witnessed Chawton without the traffic noise but I can guess how pleasant it could be and that’s Lydford.

After the excesses of yesterday, today proved far more palatable for us. Both of us much prefer taking things slowly. Today was perfect.

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