April 1st, 2008

Bolsover Castle

Legend says they held orgies at Bolsover- even black masses- but I'm taking it all with a pinch of salt. The Newcastles were a power couple, eccentic,  talented- both of them- and very much in love. She wrote books- lots of them- an unheard of thing for a lady to do- including the first sci-fi novel in English; he was a soldier, a diplomat, a poet - and the world's number one authority on dressage. If they'd have been living in our century- instead of the 17th- the newspapers and gossip mags would have been all over them. 

So you'd expect there to be legends. And the decorations they commissioned for their castle are undeniably raunchy- naked goddeses all over the ceiling of one room (the Pagan room) and lunettes featuring smooching lesbians in another. And then there's the Venus fountain in the courtyard- with its pissing mannikins and ithyphallic monsters- described by one authority as "the rudest" in England.

I love this place- no, I really love this place. I'm like the little boy (on a day out with his grandfather) who was rushing round  going, "This is my room!......No, this is my room!" 

I'll have the room with the naked goddesses, thank you very much.

The painting and sculpture are provincial, clunky, naive. Whoever produced it had probably seen Rubens' ceilings in Whitehall, but was only one step up from the guy who painted the inn signs. Actually, perhaps he was the guy who painted the inn signs. I'm reminded of the murals at Fontainebleau- carried out by "B" list Italians who may or may not have knocked about with Leonardo- a hundred years earlier- which is a measure of how far England lagged behind France in the visual arts. Anyway, they're charming and utterly delightful- and who needs finish when you can have gusto?

There are ghosts here. The Duke and Duchess perhaps and a woman who can be observed placing a baby in the kitchen fireplace. According to legend, if you lie on the floor of the Pagan Room and say "sleep no more" you'll die on the spot- only- as demonstrated by those tiresome wags on Most Haunted- you don't.

It was a lovely, golden afternoon, the rooms smelt of wood and stone and were entirely wholesome and happy. The view from the windows- we're on top of a hill- we could almost be a Tuscan hill town- is fabulous.