Last week we visited Walmer castle and gardens, and it was a lovely afternoon out, made even better by the gloriously sunny weather. This was out first visit there, and I’m actually surprised I haven’t heard more about Walmer castle before, considering what an interesting as well as beautiful place this is to visit!
A Brief History of Walmer Castle
Walmer Castle is originally an artillery fort, built 1539-40. At the time, Henry VIII was strengthening the country’s defences against a possible threats from Spain, and as part of that, several forts were erected along the south east coast of England.
In the early 18th Century, when it no longer served its military purpose, Walmer castle became the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. To better serve its new residential role, changes were made both to the building and the gardens throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, as well as in the early 20th Century.
During all those years, until the breakout of World War II, Walmer functioned as a family home for the Lord Wardens. One of the most notable of them was the Duke of Wellington, who lived there from 1829 and died at Walmer in 1852. There is a collection of items related to the Duke of Wellington on display in the castle, including the chair in which he passed away, and one of the original pairs of Wellington boots (‘wellies’ to you and me, although his old pair looks a bit fancier than the ones I’ve been used to, so far).
Our Journey to Walmer Castle
We took the scenic route along the coast via Camber and Dungeness, stopping for chips in Lydd-on-Sea, continuing up the coast through Dymchurch, Hythe, Folkstone and Dover.
Penguin really likes travelling through Dover! There’s a tunnel on the way there which he loves, and then the views of the sea and the cliffs, all the ships, and the bridge at the end which is like a big curve. Definitely one of his favourite routes at the moment.
Before we went out, I showed him a couple of videos (which we’d taken on a previous occassion) of going through that tunnel. He didn’t seem super impressed, but perhaps seeing the videos still contributed to us getting out the door without any major hesitation? Penguin has almost always been happy to get outside, but lately he’s become more attached to his home comforts, and the other day he absolutely refused to go out.
I know that some parents live with this issue all the time, and I’m not sure how I’d cope if we’d end up stuck indoors almost permanently. I don’t think it’s about not enjoying being out and about, but rather the transition of going out, which Penguin is struggling somewhat with at the moment. He’s been so (relatively) flexible for most of his life, that we’ve really not needed to prepare him as thouroughly as many other parents of autistic children often do, for going out. Perhaps it’s tween hormones putting him more ‘on edge’ now??
Either way, I’m so delighted that we got out yesterday and had a great long afternoon out, and he was happy with it. He was also very happy to get home at the end of it, which in a way isn’t a bad thing. As long as we can get out again another day (fingers crossed)!
Our Experience of Walmer Castle & Gardens
Both the castle and the gardens were really lovely. It’s not a huge place, but a nice size and with quite a few different areas to explore:
We started off by checking out the cellars, and we were so happy that Penguin went down the cellar stairs without much hesitation at all. He can sometimes be very uncomfortable about going down steep stairs, which has caused us difficulties in other places before. I think it helped that the stairs here were straight and well lit, so he could see quite clearly where they were leading to, rather than stepping down into a dark and mysterious hole, as can be the experience in some places.
After exploring the cellars, we went out into the gardens. We started off by walking through the Queen Mother’s Garden, followed by a short woodland walk and then through the other garden areas, including the boardwalk garden, the kitchen garden and the garden in the (former) moat.
After having explored the castle gardens for a good while, we went inside for a quick look at the Wellington boots and a few other items, and then to finish off we went up onto the top of the castle where there were canons pointing out to sea.
Exploring Walmer castle and gardens was very much a multisensory experience of colours, sounds, scents and textures, as well as moving through the grounds (which involves the proprioceptive and vestibular senses).
The most memorable scents on this occassion, as I experienced it, was that of the fresh soil being added to the broadwalk garden, and the honey-scented white flowers on the bushes (which I don’t know the name of) in the Queen Mother’s garden. Penguin was, as he often is, particularly drawn to the tactile qualities of the dense hedges. Colourwise, there will naturally be an increasing amount coming through as spring progresses, but there were already a few colourful flowers there, as well as many different shades of leaves and grasses, and wonderful shadowplay in the low afternoon sunlight.
I look forward to revisiting Walmer castle and gardens, to see more of the interiors and to experience the changes of the seasons there. Do you think it seems like somewhere you might enjoy visiting, too? Or perhaps you’ve already been? Please feel free to share with us below in the comments below!
Some of the information in this post is based on what I’ve read on the English Heritage website, and that’s an excellent place to go if you wish to know more, and to plan your visit.
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