Tag Archives: Sherwood Forest

The Fright at Castell Rhuthun by Coco Ihle

Years ago I was driving with my family throughout England, Scotland and Wales. I had spent a year mapping out an itinerary that would include a variety of interesting places and things to do for our three-generation group. Our accommodations varied, too. We stayed in bed and breakfast hotels and homes, historic manor homes and castles, traveling just before the tourist season to avoid the crowds.

Castell Rhuthun Gatehouse

Castell Rhuthun

I was excited as we drove through the ancient entrance gates of Castell Rhuthun, more commonly known as Ruthin Castle in northern Wales, because this romantic getaway set on acres of scenic parkland had over seven hundred years of tantalizing history, with such notable owners as King Edward I, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. According to Arthurian legend, when there would have been no more than a wooden fort on the site, King Arthur disguised himself for a romantic liaison with his mistress at Ruthin. In later years, Reginald de Grey, who according to some, was formerly the Sheriff of Nottingham was tasked with forming the “finest army in the land” to defeat the followers of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest.  Ruthin is even said to be haunted by the “Grey Lady.” Only a few years before our trip there, HRH Prince Charles visited on his way to his investiture as Prince of Wales. This was definitely a place to see.

We settled in our rooms and then prepared ourselves for the Mediaeval Banquet we would be attending that evening. Joining other guests, we started with a tour of the 13th century part of the castle: the dungeon, whipping pit and the drowning pool and then gathered in the Presence Chamber to await the Court Steward and the Ladies of the Court, all dressed in period costumes. After experiencing the hospitality ritual of the partaking of bread and salt, we were escorted into the lofty, candle-lit Banquet Hall.

Here the romance and color of those early times were revived as guests joined together in the lively atmosphere with harp music and singing, in Welch and in English, a song of welcome, “Hi roes, lechyd da” ( Long life and good health). We were served thick vegetable soup in wooden bowls which we held to our mouths, since we had no silverware. Next was a course of lamb and potatoes that we ate with daggers followed by a leg of chicken. Mead, a drink made of fermented apples and honey definitely enhanced the mood and was very, very good. For some reason, I can’t remember what the dessert was. The whole evening was enchanted.

Mediaeval Banquet

I was sad when the banquet was over and we had to return to the 20thcentury, but there was a plush feather bed to look forward to. I slept soundly and arose early next day to shower and set and dry my hair in rollers.

A gentle mist hovered over the expansive lawns and I eased open the casement window to feel the chill morning air. All was quiet and still, but the day promised to be sunny and calm and I was lost in the memory of the evening before. Dreamily, I went about my hair dressing.

My reverie was suddenly broken by a sound so startling I was momentarily frozen in place. It was only one word, but it pierced the stillness in a high-pitched shriek. Where had the sound come from? I wasn’t sure. The castle room was large and the sound echoed throughout. I listened, afraid to breathe. Long silent seconds passed and I wondered if I had actually heard it? Was I imagining the sound? Would it repeat?

Just about the time I convinced myself I had an over-active imagination, there it was again. “HELP!” Someone was shouting, “HELP.” Had my family heard it? No. I didn’t know what to do. Should I wake them? I glanced out the window, but saw nothing. Maybe someone was hurt or in trouble in the hallway. I rushed to open the door. The hallway was empty. What was happening? My feeling of panic grew.

“HELP!” Now I was certain the sound had come from outside.  I rushed to the window again and leaned out as far as was safe. My eyes darted here, there and everywhere.

Then I saw it. The shrill cry rang out again. At the far side of the castle lawn against a rock wall, a white peacock strolled with feathers spread in all their glory.

The Culprit

I was so relieved, I didn’t know if I should cry or laugh. I was a wreck. That was the first time I had ever heard a peacock make any kind of sound. I couldn’t believe it sounded exactly like someone crying, “Help.” Now, as my heart began its return to a more normal beat, I felt embarrassed. I decided I wouldn’t tell anyone about my early morning scare, but I’m sharing it with you, dear reader. Have you had anything of this sort happen to you?


Filed under life, musings, photographs, Travel

Thinking of Summer in the Winter

It’s true. I admit it. I’m not a winter person.

As I write this, schools (and work) have been closed thanks to a wintry mix of snow and ice. When my son wakes, it will be all I can do to find his boots in time before he runs out of the house, pell mell toward the hill with sled at his side. That will be fun for a bit, and the following fire in the fireplace, a lovely bowl of homemade soup with my freshly baked bread, games to play and a book nearby will help us pass the day away.

Still, I dream of summer: hot, sticky afternoons turning into hot sticky nights in the days before air conditioning. I fondly recall time spent in the Severn River swimming, diving, canoeing, or sailing, long before kayaks were all the rage; and I truly dream of the frequent crabbing sessions. We’d lean way out over the edge of a pier to see if the weighted chicken neck attracted the attention of a blue crab big enough to be a keeper, the imprint of the dock’s weathered boards leaving their mark on my t-shirt and mind for years to come.

For what seemed an all too brief time in my life, my family lived in a magical place near Annapolis, Maryland. We referred to it as “the Forest” or “Sherwood” … it might as well been called heaven to a kid, though. When we were summer people, we had a small green clapboard-sided cottage with white trim on Robin Hood Road – it was more of a loop, where we lived with screen doors slamming as all four of us kids ran in and out constantly off to club (they now call it camp), or back in from some waterfront activity. From the breakfast table, we’d call across ravines to friends to see who was going where when; we walked, ran, or rode bikes everywhere (the kids now take golf carts to their destinations); we swam in the river (there’s now a pool – can you imagine?); and when we got older, we visited “The Pit” – a nice name for a place to hang out at night with the same kids we were in club with all day.

The house is still there, but it’s now a three-story, glassed-in, protected-from-the-elements fortress. Hard to recognize, to say the least. There will be no undetected slipping out of those screen windows. When that window opened to the bedroom I shared with my two sisters, we regularly rolled out of bed in shorts and flip flops to meet friends down at the river for a moonlight dip. I’m sure my parents knew we did it, but it seemed like harmless, covert fun at the time.

There were dances in the clubhouse, church services in the fellowship hall, and a ten-pin bowling alley down below where my younger brother earned a little money straddling the alley so he could jump down to reset the pins for the next bowler. It was a coveted job, to be sure. When he finished a shift, he would promptly head over to the General Store, ask Duffy to make something substantial for a snack, and often as not, charge it to my parents’ account. Standing tall in his white apron, Duffy took on many roles: cook, store clerk, postmaster, and stand-in parent to all the kids of Sherwood with a watchful eye and a stern warning for anyone who crossed the line with one too many sweets. The store is still there. It’s a gourmet deli, though, and Duffy is long gone.

We played volleyball, tennis, softball, badminton, golf, and water polo. Archery was an activity for everyone, as was lacrosse. Soccer (in the days before the current soccer craze) and lacrosse were played on the same small field – at least I remember it as small, compared to the mega-soccer complexes of today.

And even on the coldest mornings (and there were cold mornings in Maryland during the summer), if swimming was the first activity of the day, we were in the water, struggling to get warm under the tutelage of Coach Cropp, and battling sea nettles. Swimming across the river was a rite of passage. At the end of summer, as a team we swam across the river en masse to psyche out the opposing time –they swam in a pool, for heaven’s sake. The trick worked well, as I recall – plus, we’d had our warm up on the way. The only down side was we had to swim back after the meet was over, and we were tired and hungry. Or at least I was. But we all made it. We all survived. We all reveled in the days of summer in Sherwood Forest.

The annual end of summer event to top all, the Corn Roast, was something special – so special, I made the trek back to attend one after many years’ absence. Aside from the family grills blazing and a beer truck at the ready, the centerpiece of the event is the definitely the corn. Large ditches are dug, fires smolder all afternoon, and corn—still in the husk—is steamed in metal canoes. Burlap is fitted over the top of the canoe and hosed down from time to time, making the absolute best corn I have ever tasted. Ever. Thoughts of visiting with old friends on Robin Hood Beach, watching the dolled-up girls make their entrance, (many of them are my dear friends’ daughters) bring a smile to my lips on a bitter cold morning. Ah, summer.

These memories flutter in and out of my mind on cold mornings as I begin in earnest my next novel. The characters deal with similar living conditions, though they have far less than we ever did. They just don’t know it. Nobody knew what life would hold. (I’m not sure any of us grownups do now, either.)

The story is set in 1942 in a small North Carolina village greatly impacted by the Great Depression and subsequent war. Summer in this waterside village is very similar in climate to Maryland’s, with sticky days, bugs, and the incredible cacophony of bugs at night where the only protection might be a screened porch – a thin veil separating occupants of home from the incredible outside life. Activities vary, but still focus on water.

While the characters and story are fictitious, the place was at one time very real, very much alive with families. There was a schoolhouse, a store, a church, and homes with gardens. There was a cemetery, which still remains on a bluff overlooking a river.

With the exception of the cemetery, the village doesn’t exist anymore. In many ways, it reminds me of the Sherwood Forest of my childhood. It no longer exists either, though the place is still very much there – just in a different way. Ah, the lens of childhood.

Laura S. Wharton is the Second Wind author of The Pirate’s Bastard and the forthcoming children’s story, Mystery at the Phoenix Festival. Learn more about her and her books at http://www.LauraWhartonBooks.com or laurawharton.blogspot.com.

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