As Adelaide and Richard were hurried through the castle grounds, they caught their first glimpse of the fortress to which they were bound, standing tall and firm against the eastern sky. . . The mighty slabs of stone, the heavy double windows, the thick, iron-studded door, even the gigantic lock with its yawning keyhole—all impressed the mind with a sense of the imposing authority which resided within. – Chapter 11, As the Heavens Are Higher
While Adelaide’s story is fictitious, I have drawn heavily from factual backdrops in creating her 19th century world. Today, we’re going to take a peep behind the scenes and explore the real-life location that inspired Highbank Castle.
Is Highbank Castle a Real Place?
As I have noted in my preface, you will not find Highbank Castle on a map of Northumberland. Neither, (as I verified this morning) will you discover it by doing a google search. It is true that you will pull up images that very closely match the Highbank of As the Heavens Are Higher—but that is SAW Publishing’s fault, and you will see they bear our watermark!
Highbank Castle is modeled after a factual location. For several reasons (not the least of which was that the real Highbank is owned by an entirely different family than the Bradstocks!) I have chosen to refer to it by a fictional name. Oddly enough, the connection between the word high in Highbank and the reference to God’s ways being higher than our ways in Isaiah 55:9 was entirely accidental. (At least from my perspective.)
The Highbank Exterior and Courtyard
The outside of Highbank castle, with its four grim towers and the “shell keep” that connects them, is drawn from real life. Even the ancient clock, that had to be adjusted every couple of days because it lost time so quickly, really looks down from the tallest corner.
And when it comes to the castle courtyard—where the one idea seems to be putting the word “grey” into as many different forms as possible—I think I have actually backed off a little in the description. The place certainly exists, but it is, if possible, three or four times more desolate than I’ve described it in the story.
In fact, the shivering disagreeableness of it all really contributed quite directly to the final chapters of As the Heavens Are Higher. One of the first pictures that came together for the book was the daydream of what Highbank might have been, if all that gloom and grime could be driven away by light and warmth and comfort.
Adelaide’s Tower Bedroom
Yes, I have had the amazing experience of staying (as an ordinary “hotel” guest) in Adelaide’s bedroom at the top of the endless flight of narrowing stairs—with a tapestry curtain instead of a door, and a view straight down into the castle court on one side, and out across the top of the tower on the other.
I am obliged to confess, however, that if the carved headboard had any foundation in real life, the foundation came from a recreated historical site in Jamestown, Virginia, not from the Northumberland border country—and even that prototype, although beautifully executed, does not contain any allusion to Isaiah 40:8. It fit well into the story, though, so I’m not really sorry I put it in.
My actual bedroom had a very plain, unremarkable bed with a red scalloped spread, a single chair, a narrow nightstand—and the electrical wiring (very much an afterthought!) running in pipes along the inside of the walls and ceiling. There was also, oddly enough, a small, darkly-tinted painting representing a vase full of red and blue flowers, hanging above the bed.
Transforming the Real Highbank Castle
I still believe that the Highbank Castle of real life needs the power that Adelaide brought to Lady Bradstock’s ancestral home.
It needs, quite simply, the power of light and restoration and hope which is embodied in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Adelaide and her friends are not real and living people—but the power of that Gospel is a real and living power. A power that can bring life and hope from dead and hopeless stone—whether that stone is the ancient walls of a forbidding fortress, or the unyielding flint of the heart inside each one of us. He is able—and He is willing! Is there any power stronger than that?
If you’re interested in more glimpses behind the scenes of As the Heavens Are Higher, see our previous post:
- The Case for Literature
- Coming Soon: A Desperate Experiment