Castle Acre Priory is NOT a castle. I explained this to my kids at length on the drive there. “But, mom, you just called it a castle.” You can imagine how much fun our 45-minute car ride was with two enthusiastic, argumentative children in the back seat.
“It’s a PRIORY in a village called Castle Acre.”
“So why is the village called a castle?” Crap. I hadn’t researched it that thoroughly. (A quick read of the village’s Wikipedia page and I still don’t know the answer, sorry.)
“Well, there is a castle in the village. We’re going to see that too. It’s called Castle Acre CASTLE.” Yes, confusing. I know.
Our car ride discussion of Castle Acre Priory was relatively thorough. “A priory is a small monastery.” First vocabulary lesson of the day.
“Is a monastery like a palace?”
“So, it’s a castle?”
I shouldn’t complain. This is my fault for taking them to so many castles. “A priory, or a monastery, is a house that nuns or monks would live in.” Queue interruption. “Let me finish. Then you can ask questions. Monks are men who don’t get married and nuns are women who don’t get married. Instead, they live in a church and devote themselves to God. They pray a lot, and sing to God, and take care of the church and its people.”
Silence. Yep, my explanation went completely over their heads. “Are we almost there yet? I need to go to the bathroom.”
Surprisingly, once we were exploring the priory they actually recalled more of our conversation than I’d anticipated. And they loved it. They didn’t care about the difference between a castle and a priory. To a kid, ruins are ruins. And Castle Acre Priory has lots of ruins. It would be two hours before they realized they were starving and requested to start our picnic lunch. It helped that we’d once again brought friends to explore with us. Seven young kids exploring the ruins of an 11th century anything is a recipe for happiness. Endless jagged walls to climb. Almost falling in the “fish tank” a few too many times. And there were snails, lots of snails. I’m not sure how much time we
wasted enjoyed collecting snails and then watching them climb all over each other.
My famished kids would barely touch their lunches. They were far too distracted by the priory beckoning them to return and play. To English Heritage’s credit, their free children’s guide was one of the best we’ve received at any of their sites. We went through the priory a second time just to count the number of seats in the Chapter Room in order to discover how many monks could have lived there.
My youngest two were starting to fade, but we couldn’t leave Castle Acre without checking out the castle. It’s less than a half mile walk through the charming little town of Castle Acre from the priory to the castle. My youngest had fallen asleep in the stroller, which proved interesting since the route to the castle ruins from the parking lot was steep and hilly. But we soldiered on and made it work. (We learned on the walk back that there’s an easier, less hilly path through some houses that would have been a closer walk and much simpler with strollers).
Castle Acre Castle has less ruins. But its motte and bailey castle design are situated alongside more extensive earthworks that protected the Norman settlement beside it. Earthworks equal steep hills and moats which are perfect for racing up and down. I should know. My two oldest were snoring on the ride home after wearing themselves out on the castle grounds. While the kids ran about and disappeared, the adults took in the incredible views from atop the motte. Little remains of the original stone keep that once occupied the territory, but the view is incredible. Yellow fields of rapeseed lined the horizon with huge puffy clouds floating across a pure blue sky, and at the forefront, perfectly manicured earthworks. I could almost ignore the screams of my overtired middle child exasperated because he could no longer keep up with the sprinting bigger kids. Perfect moment over, we slowly made our way back to the priory.
The sounds of little know-it-alls arguing on the ride up were quickly replaced with the snores of two exhausted explorers. The drive back was peaceful and a perfect ending to a beautiful day. Castle Acre Priory, just like so many of the castles we visit, proved a worthy playground for my kids and an excellent source of adventure. They even know what a ‘priory’ is now. I think.