Please note this post is full of images. Odiham Castle was built in the early 1200s and served both as a hunting lodge and residence. It is free to visit.
And that, above, is the entirety of Odiham Castle. Not, as you might think (and I certainly thought) that which remains. No, the above shows the area of the castle in its totality. Unlike most castles we know of, Odiham was built as a hunting lodge. And if you factor in staircases, which were likely spiral but would still have taken up room, you’re looking at an area that, space-wise, would be quite the cheap residence today if not for its age.
It’s probably just as well that people were smaller then, because personally, the half a dozen steps it takes to walk the diameter struck me as ripe for a prison rather than ripe for the Queen of England (though of course on many occasions in our tolerant history Queens have been imprisoned). Nevertheless it’s rather cute, if such a contemporary phrase can be used, and has a certain aura of peacefulness.
Though finding the site is anything but peaceful. Indeed the walk is picturesque, a canal, a canal bridge, and a quaint hamlet if you walk in the wrong direction, but it is also very marshy. It is difficult to find because there are no signs beyond one that leads to the entrance off the beaten track, and it is hidden behind trees and down a shadowy path. It does fit the image of a hunting lodge, as the only form of defence available on such land would be secrecy, and the area looks the sort of place wild animals would like. Of course the fences that make the path so narrow likely did not exist ‘back then’, but a castle on flat low land does not a fort make.
So Odiham began life as a hunting lodge. It was actually built as a stronghold by King John, but like many things he created, such as his right to the throne, it didn’t happen in the way he would’ve wished.
It was from here that John rode to sign the Magna Carta. Not to break with tradition, another country’s king (Louis from France this time) attacked it and the soldiers surrendered. After John’s death, King Henry III got it back into English hands and repaired it. He gave it to his sister and her husband, Simon de Montefort, and they turned it into a home. The inevitable happened, a battle ‘abroad’ ended the happy couple’s time here, the castle was repaired by Edward I, and it became a hunting lodge again.
Finally the castle was put to what I’d say was more appropriate use and held a captive King. It would’ve been a nice homely prison, but it fits the space. Scottish David was here, though not late enough to have thought to graffiti such in modern slang, and then it became a hunting lodge once again. It was in ruins by the 1600s. Of what cause it’s not known.
If you are wondering why I’ve written up the history of the building when I usually describe the castle itself, the photos and my introduction should make it obvious – there’s not much to be said about a small tower. You can see the floor joists, a fireplace, the remains of buttresses, and the archway (which has been fortified by a modern roof because the walls are crumbling a bit – on the roof are many small stones from the top of the castle). There is a fence surrounding the cemented ground inside the castle and a fence around it, for what reason I’m not sure as you can easily touch the archway walls. Other than that there is nothing to say.
Odiham today is a nice spot in which to ponder history, and its placement far from the road gives it an eerie atmosphere, but this is one castle that, whilst definitely important to keep for its heritage value, is honestly best served as a place for children to play, for the laughter and joy they would bring to a place that once must have had the same in abundance. Far from being forgotten, there were a fair number of people about, be it in passing, in rest, or in historic rapture. You wouldn’t ‘make a day’ of it, but you might make a moment.
The rest of my photos. If you want to see them full size, right click and open them in a new window/tab.
August 28, 2013, 9:24 am
What a shame so little survives although as you mentioned it wouldn’t be that big even in its full state either! But your photographs convey a lot of atmosphere. Thank you for sharing!
August 28, 2013, 9:55 pm
I so love these posts of yours. What a fascinating spot. Some ruins are like that – enough for only a moment – but still interesting to take in.
I’m so glad you shared.
September 3, 2013, 5:40 am
It’s a shame it is ruined, but the place seems lovely anyway! Thanks for the history lesson (something that I know very little about!).