The old approach to the Castle used to be from the south leading towards the ancient city of Winchester. There is a narrow pass under Siddown hill, with a steep hillside falling away and, as the land flattens, the entrance is marked by a lodge and gate, unsurprisingly called Winchester Lodge.
As usual it was in dire need of repair so it has been one of our projects over the last six or seven months. It is the same team of delightful stone masons who worked on an earlier lodge, led by Eric from Heritage Building Conservation.
My husband, Geordie, and I are getting quite good at climbing up scaffolding and ladders. I am not brilliant with heights but too curious about the work to duck out. I try to remember my lack of fear as a child and combine that with yoga breathing…
It is always worth the climb and the builders are kind, full of knowledge and rightly proud of their work. Geordie tends to point out my lack of budgets on other building projects so I was thrilled to find out that his budget here (and this is HIS project) was similarly challenged. Instead of replacing 600 bricks as forecast it was now 1,650 and still rising … plus ça change. I tried not to grin too much!
Eric and team explained to me that each of the two parapets at the top weighed two tonnes whilst there was six tonnes of weight pressing down on the top of the arch which helped create the stability in the building. The detailed carvings that adorned the arch have spent the last few weeks in the workshop being recarved. They have just been reset at the top and look amazing.
What we are rebuilding here is the three hundred year old version of the gate house but this was just the replacement for a much earlier and considerably larger red brick gated entrance. I imagine there was an even earlier one in medieval times too. It is a very old road that has been there since times immemorial, complete with an alleged plague pit on one side and Bronze age tumuli. In recent times, and perhaps more pertinently, it was 200 yards before this gate, where the hillside is so steep, that Matthew in “Downton Abbey” drove his car off the road and was apparently killed. We took a sapling out and until the fateful day were sworn to secrecy…
On a happier note, however, Geordie and I safely climbed back down the ladders and retuned to Highclere for breakfast.