The castle looms like it always does, a tangling mess of steely grey rock studded into tufted grass.
I try to ignore my hands as they turn redder and redder, try not to worry about the purple blotches growing in amongst the red.
I collect a ticket and hand it back in a minute later, after the bridge, after the wobbly entrance arch, after getting attached to it and feeling like I don’t want to hand it in (the hoarder in me wants to keep it, as if not keeping it will mean I have never been).
Beyond the entrance, there are stocks to the left. A memory of sticking my head and hands in it years ago flurries round my head. My lungs remember how much my sister and I laughed that day.
Up, up, up goes the path, and I follow.
More paths, more steps.
The views are beautiful. Fields and trees and hills and tantalizing sunbeams falling far away.
Heart slowing, lungs calming, I stop with one hand pressed against a towering chunk of wall that’s angled very unhow a wall should be angled. The picture of it crumbling, the feel of it giving way, floods my head. Maybe it’s best to move on.
Walk, slip, trip.
Broken hallways hiss with icy gusts of wind. Walls are painted green with veils of moss and drip with sticky rain. Elsewhere, they are blotchy with lichen, a mix of grubby white and sickly yellow that blurs into the grey.
The sound of children playing on their lunchbreak twinkles all around the air, filling it with echoes of playful happiness. The sound of traffic buzzes like it buzzes almost everywhere. I wish I could eavesdrop on the sounds of five hundred years ago and five hundred years from now, wish I could know who’s stood here before and who’ll stand here one day.
I take a turn. It leads to a dead end. I head back, try to refind the main path. I attempt to take a shortcut and slide inelegantly between a rock and a hard place. I pray there are no cameras to record my momentary wedgedness between aforementioned rock and hard place. I wonder if walking/shuffling through (getting slightly stuck in) a wall makes me some sort of ghost. I worry I might’ve just frightened someone in the fifteenth century.
Soggy steps lead downwards.
I look up as the sun bubbles through a patch of clouds. It’s framed by one of the many derelict windows and I try to take a nice photo, but, no matter how many I take, none of them look better, none of them shine brighter, than the real-time thing. Away goes the phone.
I head back down the hill, trying not to slide down the cobblestones, trying not to surf down the grass.
The castle looks smaller than it feels in my head when I look back up, and I’m not sure if I’ve imagined it big or my eyes have tricked it small.
I came here looking for something. I don’t know what exactly. I don’t even know if I found it. I hope so.
I do feel better, lighter, clearer.
Colder, redder, and purpler, too.