After my last blog on castling (which my husband tells me is a chess term, but I’m using it as a verb anyway) it occurred to me that I could use this blog as an excuse to visit even more ruins and justify it as work, so I thought I’d start with the closest.
Unfortunately, East Yorkshire isn’t the best area for ruins, and Skipsea Castle isn’t much of a fortress either. The entrance to what’s left is so small that if it wasn’t for the brown heritage sign then you’d probably mistake it for a farm entrance. The stones are nearly all gone, though the motte and surrounding earthworks are still obvious, dominating the mostly flat landscape around them.
A plaque at the entrance tells you that the original castle was built in 1086, one of the first in Yorkshire, and was the administrative centre for the lords of Holderness (an area extending from the Humber estuary up to Bridlington). The first lord was a veteran of the Battle of Hastings, Drogo de la Beauvriere, whose family held the seat for the next 130 years, though the castle gradually diminished in importance and was eventually destroyed when Count William de Forz II rebelled against King Henry III in 1221.
Despite this, at 85 metres in diameter and 13 metres tall, the mound is still impressively striking. Given its size it’s hard to imagine it being anything other than a castle motte, but excavations this year have shown that it’s actually not. Archaeologists now think that instead of building a motte when they arrived, the Normans just used an existing feature in the landscape instead, one that turns out to be the largest Iron Age monument in Britain. An analysis of soil at the centre of the mound revealed that it’s actually 2500 years old, making it 1500 years older than initially thought. Dr Jim Leary from the University of Reading, who led the excavation, describes it as ‘a pristine, untouched Iron Age monument… hiding from us in plain sight’.*
When I visited Skipsea a few weeks ago, the whole site was deserted except for a few stubbornly immoveable cows, but somehow its isolated position made it feel even more special and unspoiled. Some historical monuments seem frozen in time, as if they only belong to one era, but Skipsea mound feels like it’s a part of history and the present as well. It’s still used as farmland. You don’t have to pay to go in, you just climb over two stiles and wander down a muddy path (take wellies!) past the cows, and then you can have the whole mound to yourself. It might be small, but it definitely has atmosphere.
If you need any more persuasion, it’s also close to Mr Moo’s ice-cream parlour, which puts it up there on my list of all-time favourite castles.
*Interview taken from BBC News.