Thursday, April 19, 2007

Designing a Castle

I’m going to step back a minute from the usual conversation in my blog, and talk about something that I have been fascinated with since childhood: castles. I have been a castle freak all my life, and continue to dream of a day when I can build my own castle. Why a castle? Because I want something that will remain long after my death within the family, and give the family something with which they can identify. A castle is more than just a defense, it’s a symbol of dedication to the safety of all those around it. Perhaps I’m being overly romantic about the whole concept, but that’s how I see a castle.

For years I have designed various castles and grounds based on media stimuli on the subject. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted a manor, or perhaps a keep that would look good. Finally, I came across a couple of castles on my mission in Germany that captured my heart:

Schloss Braunfels, near Wetzlar is perhaps one of the most beautiful castles that I can think of, it’s at least the most beautiful I have ever visited. Still owned by the original Baron, regular tours are part of the income that they bring in. The castle is perhaps the size of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and has beautiful wooden paneling and floors. This immediately cleared the common misconception that I had, namely that all castles were completely made of stone. The name literally means Brown Hills.

Trifels is another that really interested me, in that it was ruined, and is currently under reconstruction. The layout was fascinating as well, and was completely stone. This is because laying wood would have been too expensive at that part of the project. The layout was perhaps the size of the University of Utah’s Annex Building. Most of the castle was ruined, but the layout inspired me to draw up a castle plan.

It was after visiting this castle that I learned about the preservation programs for castles in general. It seems that Nazi Germany had implemented a program to preserve the cultural history and identify of Germany, and that included the many ruined castles all over the country. It’s so rare to hear anything positive coming from that era that it took a while for me to absorb the information.

Koenigstein im Taunus is perhaps the most beautiful ruin I have ever seen. The castle was a huge part of the Franco Prussian wars, and exchanged hands constantly. In fact, the destruction of the castle was a result of the French retreat to the Rhineland.

It was from locals there that I learned the final demise of the castle came from people tearing it apart for masonry. Well, when it was no longer needed, why not use it to build your own home?

Koenigstein is just north of Frankfurt am Main, and has it’s own train that travels up that way. Also in that area is castle Faulkstein (about the size of a 2000 sq. ft. house), and Eppstein (roughly the same size, but taller). Both housed the ruling parties that controlled Koenigstein im Taunus. If you are ever in that area, I highly recommend the visit!

Well, those were the castles that I found in Germany, with a couple others that I can’t quite recall. They gave me a vision of life during the fractured existence of Germany before their unification. Also, if you are in Germany, I highly recommend a train ride from Frankfurt am Main to Koblenz. I counted at least 7 castles along the Rhine. ^_^

But I had mentioned that castles are a product of family affiliation. While these castles are beautiful, and I have some ancestry from Germany, they don’t represent my family in any way. So I started looking across the Channel and up to the North Sea for more affiliated structures.

Well, It turns out that Scotland has several beautiful castles and ruins, dating from before the Roman Invasion to the 18th Century. As I extensively searched the web for any connection to my family, I found a couple castles that really interested me because of their simplicity in their layout.

Calgary Castle on the Isle of Mull, really interested me. Here was a castle that was fairly small, simple, and had a floor plan! Yes, I could see just how the castle looked on the outside, as well as on the inside. It was beautiful, and it was Scottish. Both were really good reasons to like it, but there was still something missing.

As it turns out, there isn’t a “Robb Castle” anywhere in Scotland. It seems that my family didn’t have a castle to call their own. That was because they were a sept of the MacFarlane clan, a strong highland clan affiliated with the Earl of Lennox. And it just so happens that the MacFarlane clan had, before they opposition to Oliver Cromwell, a castle. The castle is on a small island by Inveruglas, along Loch Lomond. I would post a link to the PDF of the article “By Yon Bonnie Banks: An Archeological Search for the Clan MacFarlane”, but the link has disappeared of late. Good thing I kept a copy of the PDF!

Anyway, it outlined a small castle, probably a tower house as it most likely had 3 stories, and two added round towers. This was the only floor plan I could find of the old ruined castle that was burned by Oliver Cromwell during the war in the 1640’s. But from the estimated size, I was able to design my own version of the castle. The castle itself is perhaps only about 2600 square feet, not very big at all. Many homes now are being built in a larger scale at 3000 sq. ft. But considering it took up a third of the island it was on, it makes sense why it was so small.

Anyway, I figured rebuilding this castle would be the best possible castle I could build. It was affiliated with my family (if only indirectly), and it’s small enough to be somewhat affordable, depending on my construction methods. I’ll have to post a picture when I get a chance.

If you are looking for more information on building castles, I found a castle builder that works out of Idaho at They build castles in the more or less traditional style, but use insulation and steel-reinforced concrete as their filler for the stone. The castles they have designed look pretty cool, but the castle they have built (and consequently for sale) is beautiful. They also give you an idea of other period structures that can be constructed, and the cost of construction.

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