“Norman who?” says the mrs.
“Norman castle” I reply. “Shall we go?”
“Where is it?”
“That’s a coincidence”.
She thinks she’s hilarious.
And there it was, tucked away in the back streets, squatting behind some temporary fencing.
We wandered up, had a quick look, and then headed off for a coffee, slightly underwhelmed. It’s not the castle’s fault, it’s a perfectly good ruined castle. I’ve seen many worse examples, and I really don’t spend a lot of time looking for castles. What struck me was the fact that it feels so totally and utterly ignored.
Maybe it’s because of the cathedral, it’s flashy cousin, right in the heart of the city. How can you compete with that? It’s got kings, princes stained glass windows, choirs and is the site of one of the most dramatic moments in world history.
What can the poor castle do to drag a tourist away from all that majesty? Well, probably slightly more than it currently does. There’s no rule that says you’re only allowed to offer one historic building for the public to visit.
I may be missing something, or I may be stumbling into a long running issue that I don’t know about.
Maybe people like the castle as it is, and there’s definitely some charm in the fact that Canterbury can effectively ignore something that would be the envy of towns and cities all over the country.
The same goes for Westgate towers, which is barely mentioned. I lived in Southampton for a long time and they’ve got a gate not much more impressive, the Bargate, and it’s used as the council’s logo. Imagine if Milton Keynes had a 12th Century stone castle, built by Henry I (thanks Wikipedia!). They’d never shut up about it.
It does seem to me, in a time when tourism is increasingly important to the local economy, that we’ve got an incredible asset being woefully under used. Not to mention the fact that I’d have quite liked to have a look round, and maybe learn a bit more about it.
It’s all about me, naturally. I’m not suggesting we go mad, but maybe, make it safe and open it to the public, perhaps a small visitor centre. Or a plaque of some sort. Maybe that would ruin it. Well, ruin it a bit more.
Perhaps it’s fine as it is? Hell, it’s got a street named after it, what more can it ask of us?
Obviously I’m not offering anything substantial, I’m not the National Trust, and as you can tell, I’m not big on detail.
I’d just like to see an interesting and ancient building given a bit more respect, and maybe it could contribute to the local economy. Or maybe we could sell it to Milton Keynes? Anyone got a price on well used Norman castles, several careless owners?
Alex Ricketts is a marketing professional working in London. He lives in Canterbury with his partner and his young daughter.