While on holiday up north we went to my favourite castle. I had only been there once before, almost twenty years ago, but it stayed in my memory and I wanted to girls to see it. I worried that it would have changed in that time period but thankfully it hadn't. It was still absolutely brilliant.
Chillingham Castle is in the middle of nowhere. Built in the border regions, and caught up in battles between the Scots and the English, it dates back to the 12th century. Being in the middle of nowhere might seem a bit of a pain for someone visiting it, but to me it makes it even better, because it doesn't have hoards of visitors. Just a handful. The day we went there were probably only about two dozen other cars in the car park, if that.
Chillingham is not a big castle, or a fancy pants castle. In fact, it was a complete wreck a few decades ago and has been rebuilt inside. Therefore it is not full of 18th and 19th century refurbished glory. This is the sort of castle that lets you get your hands dirty, so to speak.
Outside the walls bear the marks of the torches they use to light the courtyard. I don't know why, but to me these sooty stones just make things all the better.
Inside is a collection of items like you have never seen before. Old family items of Sir Humphrey Wakefield, who is responsible for the rebuild. Things collected and amassed from who knows where. Donated items. And they are all shoved together in a mish mash of wonderfulness. Never seen armour for an elephant? Well, just look up over a fireplace here. Bunch of swords in a stand. Of course. Want to take them out and see what they are like. Go ahead. Brandish a sword.
That's why I love the place. You can touch so many things (within reason of course). You can poke, and prod, and the volunteers who man the rooms are fonts of information. Likely as not you will have their exclusive attention due to the lack of crowds.
Very little is roped off and out of touch here. If you think I was joking about the swords, then take a look.
That huge vase behind them is full of fencing swords, fatter and heavier blades that the girls struggled to lift, and the odd pike or two. Can you think of a better sort of castle for kids? A place they can poke around and really get a feel of?
One of my favourite rooms is what I think of as the attic. It is at the top of the house and is full of stuff. Just crammed full. I didn't get enough photos as my camera was running out of memory, but trust me it was fabulous. Old typewriter for the kids to discover and play on? Yup. Huge clock with its innards exposed so you can see how it works? Of course. Ancient wash tub with antique clothes and quilts hanging off it for you to feel, and peer at closely to see those amazing stitches? Why go right ahead! How about a dolls pram with a mini coffin in it and inside that a doll ghoul? Hysterical. (Sorry I couldn't capture the sheer hilarity of that on film.)
And when you are done the upper rooms of the castle you may descend into their 'dungeon'. Okay, not for the faint hearted this and I had to whisk Helen out pretty darn quickly. But Emily loved it (as did I).
When you need a breath of fresh air after all that gore then you can head for the garden.
So next time you find yourself on the A1 headed north towards Scotland, or south towards wherever, take the time out to check out Chillingham Castle. It really is the best.