Cycling in the ballroom: children’s castle memories
Easter is usually when our calendar of events starts to fill up here at Castle Beastie. True to form, we have been so busy since coming back from Malta that I’ve been too busy doing to blog about it. At last, though, a quiet moment.
Our first guided tour of the season took place a couple of weeks ago. While we are not generally open to the public, we do undertake tours for private parties by arrangement. This first tour (there have been others since) was unusual in that it was a group of local people, several of whom we knew. The historic church in our nearest town had held a raffle to raise funds, and the prize of a tour of our castle and grounds was won by the organist. Since he is also the choir master, he invited the church choir to join him.
As usual, my husband was master of ceremonies while I ‘did’ behind the scenes. So it was not until the end of the tour that I was able to meet up with the party, when we all sat down for a cup of tea in the dining room. We always feel that we learn something from every group that comes round – there is always somebody who can make an informed suggestion on gardening, architecture, painting or what-have-you – but this party was particularly interesting as several of them were born and brought up in the immediate area. They were able to share memories of my husband’s grandparent’s generation, forbears who died when we were young or before we were even born.
One of the party, Ian, a retired stonemason, reminisced about his childhood in the area when his best friend was the son of one of the estate’s employees. Gesturing out of the dining room window at the peaceful parkland, he told me how he remembered it as it was during the Second World War, when the parkland was covered in Nissen huts to house troops. The castle itself was requisitioned as a billet for officers, while its inhabitants – then only my husband’s bachelor great-uncle and his unmarried sister – retreated to a couple of rooms at one end of the house, doing their best for the war effort but otherwise keeping out of the way.
After the war, the the castle was once again almost deserted. Ian still used to cycle down from the village to play with his friend on the estate, but there was no longer the excitement of watching the comings and goings of the soldiers. So perhaps it was as a small compensation that, on wet days, the friend’s father sometimes let them take their bikes into the empty rooms of the castle and cycle around the ballroom! I’m not sure that anyone in our family was aware of this at the time, mind you, so if it hadn’t been for the organist winning a guided tour, we might never have heard this delightful memory.
The funny thing is that, while the ballroom is out of bounds to bicycles these days (we need to keep it presentable for tours, after all), in-house cycling is still part of family life. Just as their father did before them, on days when it is too wet or snowy to cycle outside, our sons roar up and down the basement corridors on a ramshackle collection of ancient bikes and tricycles. No doubt they’ll remember that just as happily as one small boy remembered cycling round the ballroom, just after the war.
You might enjoy another experience of castle childhood in Here be treasure.