Journey back in time on a steam train to Bodium Castle
Standing on the platform I can’t yet see the train but I can hear it. Images of Casey Jones (a steaming and a rollin’) pop into my head. As I hear the first ‘Woo Woo’ a beautiful Victorian steam locomotive comes chugging around the corner. It slows to a halt and I jump onboard, as excited as a six-year-old on their first ever train ride. But this isn’t simply a train ride. This fabulous old train on the Tenterden Steam Railway is taking me to a fairytale castle where knights once wooed fair maidens and, no doubt slayed the odd dragon or two.
We’re on the Kent and East Sussex Railway that runs throughout the year from Tenterden for ten and a half miles, through the rolling countryside of the Rother Valley, stopping at Northiam and ending in Bodiam. Just the sound of these names takes you back in time. Northiam where we caught the train means north high village in Anglo-Saxon.
Golden fields pass by the window as we make our way to the castle. Some of the carriages have first class compartments with a corridor down one side, much like those of the Hogwarts Express of Harry Potter fame. While there aren’t any Chocolate Frogs or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans on the food trolley, they are serving coffee and ice-creams.
Arriving at Bodiam the engine is now at the wrong end of the train. As fascinated onlookers gather around, the engine is unhooked, moved to a parallel track and then driven back down to the other end of the train which is now the front.
When we first saw the train the engine was back to front and it is only now that you can see it at it’s best. With a puff of smoke and a woo woo, it sets off heading east back towards Northiam.
We stride out in the direction of the castle which is just a short walk from the station over this old stone bridge with wonderful views across the countryside.
Built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dallingridge, the castle is encompassed by an impressive moat with the biggest carp I have ever seen. Some were two or three times bigger than the Mallards that swam above them. I can’t begin to imagine what live was once like for the knights and ladies who once walked within these walls. And how many servants did it take to run it? What feasts must have been held here once upon a time. The castle fell into disrepair and became uninhabitable in the English Civil Wars but thanks to Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India (amongst others) its exterior was restored. The Viceroy left Bodiam Castle to the National Trust in 1926.
The above gallery shows the huge carp in the castle’s moat, the portcullis which is the original and probably the oldest in England, the unicorn carving above the gateway (the symbol of Sir Edward), the holes in the ceiling used to pour hot oil and the like over intruders, the interior of the castle and the well room. While the exterior of the castle looks intact and really is an impressive sight, the interior is in ruins. It’s well worth looking around though and climbing the towers. Inside one room we noticed a strange noise coming from the ceiling but we couldn’t see anything. Then we realised it was bats chattering (mother bats with their young as a sign explained).
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the castle and the fabulous views from on top of the towers including the one above which shows hops growing, just as they have done here for hundreds of years. You can also see the tops of three conical-shaped roofs on the horizon. This is an oast house where the hops were dried. Although no longer used for this, these building are still a common sight in Kent and East Sussex where there was once a thriving brewing industry. There’s plenty to see outside the castle but it wasn’t long before the tea rooms were calling us. We had a tasty and inexpensive lunch. The homemade cakes there looked delicious but we managed to resist the temptation (but only just). We were delighted to see that the Scotney Bitter they were serving was made from National Trust Farm hops. Very good it was too.
The Cavell Van and the Unkown Warrior Exhibition
Back at Bodiam Station we had a little time to wait for the next train and we are so glad we did. Behind the station is the Unknown Warrior Exhibition on display in the Cavell Van – two very moving stories from history. We stumbled across this quite by accident. Stepping inside the carriage I wasn’t sure what to expect. From one of the display boards I started reading about Edith Cavell. Edith was a British nurse working in Brussels when the German Army invaded in 1914. Today she is celebrated as a pioneer of modern nursing and is known to have saved the lives of many soldiers on both sides without discrimination. Following the invasion she helped over 200 escaping allied soldiers but was arrested by the Germans in August 1915. She was executed by firing squad on 12th October that same year. There was a huge outcry around the world over her death. In 1919 her body was repatriated to England and transported from Dover to London in the carriage I was now standing in, reading about this inspirational woman, her courage and her determination to help others. But what of the Unknown Warrior? A coffin lay in the middle of the carriage. Another display board explains… “The Unknown Warrior was chosen, at random, to represent the countless thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen who were killed in the Great War and had no known grave.” When the selected body arrived from France at Dover it was taken to London’s Victoria Station in the Cavell Van. It was later buried with great ceremony at Westminster Abbey encased in soil brought over from the battlefields and is now one of the most visited graves in the world. I’m sure many people visiting Bodiam miss this exhibition but it is well worth seeking out. A simple exhibition that is very moving.
Back at the station our train arrives. It’s a different engine than the earlier train and it whisks us back to Northiam.
From here we head off to Rye, one of the loveliest towns in the south of England where we had a delicious fish and chip super in a very intriguing old inn. I’ll share more on this another time but it was the perfect end to a wonderful day exploring 1066 country. Thanks to Visit 1066 Country for hosting this magical day out for myself and Neill, my partner.
More articles from the south of England
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