Special to the Tribune-Star
BOWLING GREEN —
“I think it is amazing,” Marsha Chambers of Ellettsville, said, “You don’t get too many chances to go see a medieval castle, you know,” she laughed as she looked around The Great Hall as if in amazement.
It’s true. There aren’t too many castles around the Wabash Valley, but now there is one worth checking out. Sit back and relax, and let me tell you the story of the Clayshire Castle and Lord Douglas and Lady Josephine. It’s a modern day fairy tale complete with, yes, a castle.
Once upon a time in a small village known as Bowling Green, among soft rolling hills, green meadows and stately woods, there lived a lord and his lady who oversaw the castle in the County of Clay. This little village’s only prior claim to fame is having been the county seat. But today no one would suspect that among those gentle hills and meadows in that now quiet county, on 120 acres, there rises a three-story castle fit for a princess like Guinevere or Rapunzel or a king like Arthur.
Retirement means many things to many people. And people have many different plans for the days of rest after years of hard labor. Mary Jo and Doug Smock, former Indianapolis residents, dreamed and planned for a castle of their very own for their retirement.
Doug is an aerospace engineer with Rolls Royce and Mary Jo is a pediatrician in Indianapolis.
For years they enjoyed medieval fairs with their daughters Katie and Janie, and they all gathered costumes, coats of mail, full-sized knights in armor statues and other trinkets and accessories associated with castles and the age of Romance in hopes of one day having a castle of their own.
Extravagant vacations and other luxuries were pushed aside over the years while they planned and saved for the fulfillment of this dream.
In this day and age, even though the economy is suffering in many ways, if you are planning on building a castle, it’s a good time to do so, Doug said. Interest rates and building rates are both down, so the Smock dream castle was able to became a reality five years prior to their original planning.
The setting had already been purchased seven years before, so in September of 2011 work on the castle in rural Bowling Green began. It was the seventh version of the castle drawn up by daughter and Clayshire “heiress” Katie Voges with additions and changes made by the entire family.
This castle was to be a family affair. So, after 10 years of planning and then 10 months of building, the castle was complete.
The castle was aptly dubbed “Clayshire,” indicating the county in which it rests, just as it would have been titled back in medieval days. “Shire” is an old English word meaning “county.”
A “respite” area was the first to receive the attention of Mary Jo. She wanted a peaceful place to get away from all the noise of the city. A scenic area was cleared; a large spruce tree, a stone bench and plants made the area a tranquil place to sit and think, although Mary Jo confesses she doesn’t have much time yet for that because she is busy attending to the castle and its guests.
For you see, the castle is not only home to Lord Douglas and Lady Josephine, but it is a bed and breakfast as well, open on weekends for royalty and peasants alike.
Along with the respite area, the castle grounds include a 31⁄2-acre stocked lake for fishing with an interesting island on its south side, hiking trails for guests, a hedge maze, a butterfly garden, lawn chess, a medieval stone circle and a modern outdoor cedar hot tub for relaxing under the night stars in the quietude of rural Clayshire.
As you approach the property, you are within beautiful woodlands encompassing the very long curving drive that passes the lake and the respite area. Past that there are more woodlands, which this time of year are a luscious green with new growth. By this time you are expecting Robin Hood or Little John to suddenly appear, but instead, quite suddenly, the woodland gives way to grassland and immaculately maintained lawns and gardens. In the middle of it all, the four-tower castle rises majestically, three stories high with an expanse that amounts to nearly 10,000 square feet.
One thing you might notice missing is a moat circling the castle. Doug explained there were two reasons for this. “One,” he said, “we would have to pump water UP from the lake, up the hill, which is not economically feasible; and two, the moats actually served as septic systems in medieval days. I don’t think we could get approval for that one,” he laughed.
History records the Normans as being master castle builders. It was after 1066 in England under the orders of William the Conqueror that a massive castle construction began. Castles remained a prime military necessity for much of the Middle Ages. It wasn’t until the 1600s when gunpowder and artillery were used effectively that castles became obsolete as a military need. Many were left to ruins, but some have been restored across Europe and serve as bed and breakfast getaways. Few, however, dot the American countrysides.
The inside of Clayshire castle boasts five guest rooms, all themed for the age of Romance. “It’s a place where you can get away and just have fun,” Mary Jo said. The rooms include: The Tournament Room, The Enchanted Forest Room, The Fairy Tale Room, The Wine Cellar Room and The Tapestry Room.
There is also a Great Hall with all handmade “medieval” furniture by Tell City Furniture. The Great Hall is a place where feasting can take place in a room that can accommodate up to 100 guests — perfect for banquets and weddings.
There is also a library with a host of medieval books and stories, as well as instruments of that period, a game room/lounge, a full-service kitchen and an exercise room.
There is also a costume room where visitors can don period costumes — there are more than 100 to choose from — to get into the spirit of the Middle Ages. Many DVDs and games with medieval flavor are also available for guests to use.
Lord Douglas and Lady Josephine live in half of the castle overlooking the Great Hall.
“One would expect it to be cold with all the stone,” visitor Regine Kaufield of Bloomington said during an open house for Clayshire. “But it is warm and has a coziness about it. I love all the tapestries and decorations.”
Teresa Laakman of Solsberry commented on the long drive up to the castle. “All of a sudden [the castle is] there. It’s just beautiful. I absolutely love it.” Laakman said she plans to revisit the bed and breakfast.
Steve and Stefanie Sears of Greencastle were the first guests at the newly opened bed and breakfast. “[The Smocks] made it such a personal experience,” Stefanie said. “It was incredible. We’ve stayed at a lot of bed and breakfasts but this was such a unique experience. The breakfast was great. It was served to us and was a wonderful quiche and fruit cup. You usually get cold cereal and a banana. It’s just so very different from most bed and breakfast experiences. It was just very out of the ordinary,” she said. The Sears said they hope to return for another visit soon with their children.
If you are interested in living and breathing a castle experience fit for a king — or lady — you don’t have to travel to Europe. Instead, you can contact the Clayshire Castle at 317-797-3822.
For more information visit www.clayshirecastle.com or check out the castle on Facebook. Clayshire is at 8780 East County Road 75 N. in Bowling Green.