This picks up from yesterday’s post, in which I begin a look at British castles (particularly Conwy in northern Wales) as the first of ten reasons why every gamer should spend some serious time in the UK. 

Something You Didn’t Know

OK, so other than the coolness, what can the gamer learn with a visit to Conwy or many of Britain’s awesome castles?

Let me start with something you usually won’t see: What the castle looked like originally. We’re so used to weathered gray hunks of stone that that’s become our standard image. Anything prettier or neater would seem, well, unrealistic. Lacking in authenticity.

But they weren’t worn down and gray when they were built. Most castles were plastered and/or painted, for example. Even when they were surfaced in stone, it was usually smoother and better-fitted than it looks now. Those rounded edges and worn steps were once sharp. There weren’t weeds growing from the battlements. I wish I could share a photo from back then, but, of course, there ain’t none. So have a look at this:

A bit of plaster still on the wall at Goodrich castle. And look: there's some graffiti from the 1840s!

What you will learn, especially if you visit a lot of castles, is that despite their extreme versatility in terms of general design, there are a lot of commonalities. In the same way a modern house, no matter its style or layout, will have a certain assortment of rooms—bedrooms, kitchen, etc.—you see certain features in nearly every castle. A great hall, with a screen and a pantry and buttery adjacent. (“Buttery” means “the room where the drinks are kept,” ’cause they were in butts, or casks. Not “the room with all the butter.” Or “the room where people don’t wear pants.”) Garderobes. Kitchens. Storerooms. Surprisingly high ceilings (your typical 80-foot-tall keep is usually just three or four floors inside). Surprisingly few bedrooms, because almost nobody slept in their own room.

And while we’re at it, here are a couple more cool bits that give you a bit of insight into how castles were actually designed and used:

Inside a bit of hoarding that's been reconstructed at Caerphilly castle. Hoarding is a temporary wooden structure built over the top of the castle wall—so that stone to the right is the exterior of the castle. You enter the hoarding by stepping through the gaps in the crenellations. It wasn't actually all that common. Say hi to Liv!

The moat around Bodiam castle. To keep people from getting close to the walls, right? Actually, it's mostly to make the earth below it too soft and muddy to tunnel through. Keeps bad guys from collapsing the walls from beneath. (Though it's shot so you can't see the moat, in at least one exterior scene Bodiam is the fourth castle: the one that stayed after the first three burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp.)

Murder holes. Also Bodiam. But were they really for raining death down on attackers? Probably not: More likely, they were a primitive fire suppression system. Rain water down when attackers are trying to get through the inner gate by setting fire to it.

There are a thousand other bits I’d like to illustrate, but I’m running out of time and photographic evidence. Suffice it to say, Conwy castle alone is worth a visit from any gamer, but if you can spare some time in the UK there are dozens of other great examples. And once you’ve seen them, you’ll never design a fantasy castle the same way again!

So there you have it: The first reason why every gamer should live (I mean, spend some time) in England (erm, the UK). More great reasons in a future post or two!

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