A Little Off Base: Castle with a view, if you can make it up the steps
July 26, 2006
FRAMLINGHAM — The sign at the foot of the stairway warns: “DANGER: Dark and narrow staircase”
And below it, another sign.
“DANGER: Keep children under control.”
This isn’t your typical overzealous British signage.
The steps that lead roughly three stories up to the Framlingham Castle wall walk are ridiculously small and dangerously steep. Never a safe combo.
As a final medieval touch, there’s only a rope bound to the wall to hold for support during the ascent. Even in the middle of the day, it’s difficult to see in the stone-enclosed chamber to the roof.
But after several minutes of careful negotiation, the view from the 12th-century castle wall proves worthy of the effort.
From here, the moat — now a dry walking path — that once surrounded this castle is clearly visible as it snakes its way around the stone structure, protecting the fortress from adversaries that roamed Suffolk in the Middle Ages.
And beyond it, miles upon miles of quiet East Anglian farmland drift into the horizon.
Built between 1189 and 1200 by Roger Bigod, the Earl of Norfolk, the castle and its adjacent Framlingham Mere were designed as not only a stronghold, but also a symbol of power and status, according to English Heritage, which helps manage more than 400 historic sites across England.
A few hundred years later, King Edward VI gave the castle to his sister, Mary Tudor. It was from here that she learned she was named queen of England.
Her successor, Queen Elizabeth I, had few emotional ties to the castle, relegating it as a prison for those who defied the Church of England. Later, the castle was used as a schoolhouse before it ultimately became a historic tourist destination.
Today, visitors can pop in and tour the castle for 4.50 pounds ($8) and stop in to the workhouse-turned-visitor center to buy a delicious 1.50-pound ($2.25) tub of ice cream to enjoy in the castle’s enchanting courtyard.
The castle, along with the village of Framlingham, makes for a comfortable afternoon out. Like so many villages that dot the gently rolling landscape of the southern swath of East Anglia, Framlingham has a rural, agricultural feel with a touch of sophistication found in the occasional posh bed and breakfast or upscale boutique.
A little more than 100 miles from the RAF Mildenhall community, there are signs that lead motorists from the A1101 to Bury St. Edmunds, onto the A14 toward Ipswich and finally along the A1120 Tourist Route that leads almost directly to the castle’s gate.