Dad parks the car and we hop out and (first things first) head over to the Fox Inn for a quick pint. The pub itself is everything you’d want from a place that’s about as old as Shakespeare - dark and cool and suffused with the lingering aroma of ancient, beer-soaked oak. The barman - a fuzzy, dwarfish man who can only be described as stout - delivers three spilling glasses of Bishop’s Tipple and my Mum, Dad and I raise our glasses and toast our long-anticipated return to the Purbecks.
“Here on holiday?” the barman asks. Dad proceeds to tell him all about our trip - that we live in Texas now but we’re from Bournemouth and we’re back for my sister’s wedding but it isn’t till Friday so we’re killing time by doing a bit of sightseeing and we’ve never been to the Fox Inn before and we were all a bit parched so we thought we’d give it a go and order a pint before heading up the hill to the castle.
“Good day for it,” the barman admits cheerfully before turning to serve another customer. Dad raises his glass to him by way of cheers, and Mum and I join him.
The beer itself is hand-pulled from a cask and served at cellar temperature, which on a day like today just means “warm”. But it goes down easy - floral and pungent and apple-fruity. My stomach’s empty so it immediately goes to my head, and I keep telling my parents my head feels swollen. “Does your head feel swollen, Dad?”
“Yep,” Dad replies with a wink.
When we’re done we wipe the froth from our mouths and make our exit, turning immediately left toward the castle on the hill. The sky is completely cloudless now and the sun renders it a rare cobalt blue. Light shimmers on the cobbles; men walk up and down the street shirtless, shameless. We laugh and shake our heads. “Mad dogs,” says Mum.
The castle leans toward us as we make our approach. I’m eager to take some pictures with my new Olympus OM-10 so I tell Mum and Dad I’m gonna walk ahead. Tourists are thinning out now and the air is quieter on the slopes of the castle, away from the reverberations of holiday voices and shoes on hard streets. I take the measure of the castle within the lens of my camera, and every view is a perfectly-framed and stone-haunted scene. I reach out and touch the jangled ruin-stones as I walk, wondering how many hands through time have done the same. There’s lichen here that’s old, possibly ancient - its texture and color is hard-won and seems to say “yes, I have seen things.”
I reach what feels like the highest point of the castle grounds and turn my camera back down toward the town itself and take a few last shots. I feel connected to this place… but am I just imagining it? Is it possible my own ancestors walked those fields, built those walls, set those tiles upon those roofs? Or do I only wish they had? Does it matter?
Mum and Dad approach from behind. “Seen enough, son?”
“Never,” I reply.
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