Storming the Castle - England: Part II

In mid-2009, it became very apparent that I may actually travel to the Old Country where my ancestors sipped forbidden ales in ancient, crumbling castles. This filled my soul with awe and wonder. The thought of flying terrified me but the destination trumped the terror. So be it. I white-knuckled it for 14 hours in the sky, watching a marathon of movies I couldn’t pay attention to, while my brother dozed calmly. We landed in London the day after Thanksgiving – and Heathrow Airport (purported the busiest in the world) was eerily vacant.

We walked to the pub nearest our hotel in Brentford Lock and immediately partook in hand-pulled Real Ales and observed the locals congregating in their cozy Oldster Corner, throwing darts and smoking hand-rolled tobacco jays, while dropping heavily accented F-bombs. The tipping procedure was non-existent.

One night we found ourselves sitting in the 150 year old alehouse, St. Stephen’s Tavern, where Winston Churchill used to throw back a few. While sipping my Pickled Partridge Ale, I heard AC/DC’s, “Hells Bells” chime in on the juke box. When the guitar failed to creep in, I realized, not only was there no jukebox, but the bell tolling was Big Ben across the street!! I tell you, it was exact!! A perfect imposter!!!

The next morning we peered through the fence at Buckingham Palace and saw the changing of the guard, and then explored the abnormally sunny streets of London by foot. When we rounded the corner and beheld the magnificent, sharp spires of the Houses of Parliament cutting through the brisk, blue sky – my American eyes were suddenly de-virginized of all architectural mundanity.

The days were spent wandering ornate architectures like St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. At night we stalked the misty, Christmas-lit streets like vampires, prowling alongside tall, iron spiked fences and singing old Judas Priest lyrics (“The Ripper”).

Bollocks! Time to invade a castle!! We had tea and breakfast on the train towards Warwick, cruising through brick-roofed cottages set deep in lush green valleys.

We arrived and trekked uphill through the city and saw the mighty tower of Warwick Castle looming ahead. We entered through the wide iron gates and stormed through the massive fortress, running free and deep throughout its labyrinthine bowels. Almost no one was there. There were libraries, armories, and weaponries. We did what we wanted and went where we wanted.

We appeared outside on a bridge over the moat, and skirted the perimeter of the castle. We hiked up a lawn of dead leaves and naked trees and came upon a stray entrance with a tall, black iron gate. We swung it slowly open with an off-tune creak – no one saw us! We entered the cramped, stone chamber and wondered what possibly could have gone on in there.

We explored the other side of the castle and found the legitimate torture dungeon. We were given a tour of the actual rooms of horror and punishment, watched simulated scenes of judgement and condemnation, and demonstrations of all the instruments used to inflict unnamable atrocities upon our fellow man.

We emerged from the depths of the dungeon upon the oldest part of the castle – The Mound – built in 1068. It overlooked a vast expanse of misty trees and foggy vegetation, including an operational catapult. I peeled back two of my finger gloves to operate the camera and my digits nearly froze off.

We descended the hill amongst the chill and came upon the warm Oak Tavern. We leaned up against the wall with heaters installed at perfect neck height, toasting the base of our skulls. There were friendly pub cats lounging about. We indulged in pool, darts, Sabbath and Zeppelin on the jukebox, and full bodied ales brewed in Oxfordshire. We felt remarkably at home while being so very far away. Looking back now it all seems like a stony dream.

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