Why does a tiny village like Kilpeck hold such a fabulous church? Because once it wasn’t a small, forgotten place, but the seat of nobility and, according to the information board, parts of the castle still remained. We left the church by the straight, modern path that crosses the remains of the moat and leads to the castle. The old path through the churchyard to the church door zigzags like the Norman decoration of the arches… the devil and unquiet ghosts, it was believed, can only follow a straight path. It felt as if we were the ghosts in this place.
The sky was darkening, casting threatening shadows over the land and turning the damp greenery too vivid for reality. The rain had brought impossible colour to the summer landscape. Our first glimpse of the castle showed us the remains of a large, steep-sided mound with the jagged and broken teeth of crumbling walls as its crown. Little remains of the stonework, but the earthworks are impressive enough.
The first known ‘castle’ on the site was a motte and bailey topped by a timber structure. It was built around 1090 by William Fitz Norman de la Mare, who was given the lands by William the Conqueror. The area was then known as Archenfield and the castle was to be an administrative centre. The timber structure was later replaced by a stone keep of which little now remains.
The earthworks are still impressive though and from the summit, not only can you see for miles, but you can still see the depth of the ditches and easily defensible height of the motte, with its steep drop into the river valley below.
The motte is the central mound upon which the keep was built to house the nobles and fighting men. Sometimes they were built on natural mounds, sometimes they were built, using the earth from the ditches to create the highest possible defensive platform. Sometimes they would use older earth-mounds, like barrows and other sacred sites as the basis for their building and the labyrinthine approaches to some of the castles look remarkably like the more ancient hillforts. Without excavation, it is often impossible to determine the age or origin of the hill.
The bailey was an enclosed area, usually surrounded by a palisade and ditch, within the shadow of the motte. There might be one or many such enclosures, to hold and protect livestock, grain and supplies and those who served the castle. There are traces of an older enclosure at Kilpeck, that of an Anglo-Saxon village at the site predating the Normans. The tantalising information in the church had said that the site also contains traces of Roman occupation and possible megalithic remains, though there has been little excavation. There were hints of a Templar connection too. The suspicious ‘lumps and bumps’ we had spotted in the fields as we drove into the village turned out to be the remains of the village that had served the castle. It had been a place of considerable importance and was granted a charter in 1309, with the right to hold a weekly market and a two-day fair twice a year.
With the clouds looming ever more threateningly, we headed back to the car. This had only been our first stop of the journey and we had spent more time here than we had expected. Not that we were in a hurry… as long as we made the hotel that night, we had no plans. We had, however, been working while we gazed upon the ancient carvings and ruined castle… and came away with some wonderful shots that we will use in the new book. Our holidays are never just holidays…