There’s a tendency for we humans, living in the here and now, to think things were always like that. Oh, we might acknowledge that once there was a place called Gondwana, and that it sat over the South Pole, and that continents drift on a lava ocean. But that was eons ago. Sure, geological change happens, but only over an unconscionably long time period. Recorded history isn’t like that. England was always there. Australia hasn’t moved, not really. Even the pyramids haven’t shifted much, apart from drowning in wind-blown sand.
It can be quite a shock to the system to discover that this is simply not the case.
Last year, I visited the United Kingdom, went here and there, as one does. One of the places we visited was Pevensey Castle (pictured left, from the air), down on the channel coast of England, not too far from Eastbourne. To get there, you drive along the A27, passing by Beachy Head and Dover and the Long Man on his hillside.
Like many, many fortifications, Pevensey castle has been built on over the years. A good place for a defensive structure has remained pretty much the same over the centuries and Pevensey started life as one of the nine Roman forts on the Saxon shore, standing, as it did, on an island, protecting a large harbour. Rest assured, the Celts before them would have felt the same way, as did the later Saxons. The Roman walls, for the most part, still stand. A local historian told us that attempts to break up the wall and use the pieces for later building projects were abandoned because it was too difficult, a testament to the quality of the stonework.
William the Conqueror also recognised the value of the fort. He constructed a keep within the Roman walls. It takes up a fraction of a corner, near where a bridge crossed the moat into the town.
So what makes this ruined castle so extraordinary? In 1066, the road we travelled along the sea coast would have been under water. The castle’s moat was ocean, and the gate into the castle was called the ‘sea gate’. Prisoners, we were told, were disposed of by dropping them down into the walls near the gate, where they would drown, and be swept away with the tide.
The town of Battle, said to be the site of the Battle of Hastings, is not on the coast. Not anymore. It’s about 8km (5 miles) inland. Pevensey castle itself is about 1.5km from the sea.
Think on that. We’re not talking geological ages, here. Pevensey castle was on the coast less than one thousand years ago. And I think you can be reasonably sure the rise in sea level had very little to do with carbon in the atmosphere.