Built by the infamous William the Conquerer, this 11th century castle occupies a commanding position over the Dorset hills and coastlines in southern England (though archeological evidence suggests that the area has been occupied for as much as 6,000 years). Corfe Castle holds the distinction of being one of England‘s first stone (or at least partially stone) castles and though ruined, Corfe Castle is still partially intact. The medieval era saw further defensive structural changes in the 12th-13th centuries (in keeping constant with updates in warfare), staying more or less the same until 1572 when Queen Elizabeth sold Corfe Castle to a member of the English nobility. Besieged twice during the English Civil War, the second siege led to the castle’s downfall, and in 1645 it was deliberately destroyed (in technical terms, it was “slighted”) to eliminate Corfe Castle as a military power. Slowly falling into ruin since then, Corfe Castle is now one of southern England’s most impressive castle ruins, located in the Isle of Purbeck Peninsula (which is not actually an island). The Neolithic, Celtic, Roman, Viking, Saxon, Norman, Medieval and Elizabethan periods all show their faces on this beautiful part of English heritage.
Pro tip: You can take the train to Corfe Castle, alighting at Corfe Station. There are many lovely walks in the area – in particular, the hike along the Jurassic Coast of Devon and Dorset is particularly lovely. The closest city of consequence is Bournemouth, though Salisbury is decidedly more beautiful.
Most visitors come to this resort town in the summer to take advantage of its beaches. Despite having a healthy 183,000 residents, Bournemouth is not a Cathedral Town (meaning, as you may have guessed, it has no cathedral), which is, in the complicated government/political/religious system in Britain, apparently important. It does, however, have St Peter’s Church. Most English churches and cathedrals, while well-built, are not terribly unique. However, St Peter’s Church is a slightly different story. There are one or two oddities in this town to call your attention away from its sandy shores such as the Bournemouth Eye (a hot air balloon rising 500 feet!) or the plaque marking the former location of Aubrey Beardsley’s house (the artist who added the famous illustrations to Oscar Wilde’s plays), or even the eccentric church that’s since been converted into a nightclub. But inside St Peter’s, you’ll find the heart of Bournemouth – literally. Tombs marking the graves of Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), her mother Mary Wollenstonecraft (author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), William Godwin (Shelley’s father), and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Shelley’s husband and a famous English Romantic poet. Bizarrely enough, the cremated remains of Percy’s heart were put in St Peter’s after his death. Sadly, I never got to see their graves…ah well. Next time.