Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology

  A Peaceful Evening in Wales

Here are some pictures of the yacht harbour in Caernarfon. I love looking at water and when I found a restaurant overlooking the harbour, I decided it was the perfect place for dinner, and I was lucky to get a table at a window.

The harbour in the evening

I'm fascinated by the tide. I've spent several childhood holidays at the Baltic Sea and that one is not tidal; probably the reason I like to watch the tide coming in.

And at night

It was a lovely evening. People around me spoke Welsh which sounds beautiful, the food and the wine were good, the sea was calm, and I didn't want to be elsewhere that night.

  Hazy Welsh Views, With Castles

Few of the photos I took of the Welsh landscape are not veiled by the hazy atmosphere, but judging from the picutures in my guidebook that problem is a persistant one. Does something like a clear Welsh sky actually exist?

Mountains at Dolwyddelan Castle

Of all the castles I visited, Dolwyddelan was the one with the most spectacular location, and the one offering the best climb. A bit like those German hilltop castles, just with fewer tourists and more sheep. The view of the Conwy Vale is breathtaking.

Dolwyddelan Castle, Llywelyn's Keep

While the whopping Norman castles are impressive, Dowyddelan felt more like an actual home. I sat in one of the Keep windows for some time, drinking tea, listening to the wind and looking at the mountains. There were no other tourists, and it felt really peaceful.

Another hazy view from Dolwyddelan Castle

And this is the view from said window. Though it should have been wine to go with the time; they didn't have tea then, poor Welsh princes. ;)

Conwy Bay, view from Anglesey to the mainland

It was a sunny day albeit a stiff breeze (to use a Hamburgian dialect phrase) rippled the water and blew the sails of the boats. It was my last day in Wales before I left for Chester, and I really wanted to stay longer.

Beaumaris Castle in the morning sun

One of Edward's biggies, constructed by his master architect James of St.George. Beaumaris stands out for its perfect symmetry and because of that gives an almost playful impression despite its double lines of walls and huge towers. The toy of a king.

Conwy River, seen from the Kings' Tower in Conwy Castle

A busy waterway these days that makes you forget the strait is the burial place of Llys Helig, one of the sunken cities so frequent in Celtic legends. It probably takes a quiet night to hear the bells, though.

Conwy Castle

Another castle in Edward's iron ring of castles in Wales. Conwy not only has an amazing castle, but the most complete town wall in Wales, a set of thick, multitowered fortifications. I walked small part of it but there was not enough time to promenade along the entire circle.

The evening sun glittering on the sea at Criccieth Castle

I love the sea in all weathers, but the low sun sparkling on the waves is the prettiest sight. It was my farewell to Wales: the sea, sun, wind, and a castle. Perfect.

Criccieth Castle atop the cliff

Another part Welsh part Norman castle, and like Dolwyddelan situated in a grand place - atop a cliff overlooking Cardigan Bay. The strongest part of the fortifications, the towers that still stand out today, faces the landward side.

  Outside the Saalburg Fortress

Here's another quick picture post, showing the vicus outside the Saalburg. Almost all Roman frontier forts attracted a settlement at their threshold where the inofficial families of the soldiers, craftsmen and traders lived. Some of those villages developed from the local huts into a more sophisticated place with stone-built forum, baths and temples.

The main gate seen from the outside

Contrary to the fortress, the vicus has not been reconstructed except for the mithraeum, but the foundations that appeared during excavations in the 19th century have been preserved.

Foundations of the guest house

The houses themselves were made of timber, but they had stone cellars serving as storage rooms, and many of them had a small stone walled room that held the hearth. Most of them had a vegetable garden at the back.

Foundations of a house, with the fort wall in the background

The rectangular houses were arranged along a main road leading to the fort, facing the road with the smaller side. They look so much alike that it is assumed they were erected according to a Roman design.

Roman layout - a street in the vicus

The vicus brought to light a number of finds from Roman everyday life, toys, tools, terra sigillata (of course, lol). Most of them are shown in the Saalburg museum.

One of the gate towers and the fortress wall

I'll leave the baths and the mansio, the guest house, for another little picture post. Not that you can see very much, my visit of the Saalburg fell into the very rainy summer of 2007 and the rain really showed off that day. *grin*

  Pembroke Pictures

I've had a busy week and the next one doesn't look any better; right now I don't even get as much writing done as I want, thanks to the complicated mess that is business administration studies. So it will only be a photo post today. I chose a collection of another southern Welsh castle: the famous Pembroke.

Pembroke Castle in the evening sun

There will be a post with more information later, but for now let's enjoy what my Travel in Wales guidebook calls a 'big, whopping caste.' The castle and the main road more or less make the town of Pembroke. The disadvantage is that the station is at one end of the road and the castle (and my hotel) at the other. Dragging luggage made that road appear very long.

Inner ward with Marshal Tower (left)

While the evening was sunny, the afternoon had looked a lot more Welsh, with dark, low clouds (but no rain). The light added an aura of drama to the view, the only thing lacking were some archers on the battlements. Just as well, though, that way I could get in by merely paying an entrance fee.

Battlements on the outer curtain wall

No hot looking knight anywhere in sight these days, but fortunately, there were few tourists as well which makes for better pics. Those jeans and sweaters look a bit out of place.

The outer ward is a large yard that should make a perfect place for reenactment tournaments.

Inner bailey, view towards the Northern Hall

As with Chepstow and other castles, Pembroke was altered during its history. Almost every new owner added something, a tower, a new hall, more walls ... and especially the inner yard still looks crowded with half-fallen buildings. It must have been a busy place back in the Middle Ages when the walls still stood to full height and the roofs weren't missing.

Inside one of the towers

The parts still intact or reconstruced are a maze of rooms and passages. It makes me wonder if William Marshal's kids played hide and seek there. What I found interesting about those passages which can be found in most Norman castles, is that the ceilings are lower in Pembroke than fe. In Caernarfon. Edward I was called Longshanks for a reason, it seems.

Another outside view of Pembroke Castle

I had already changed for dinner when the sun came out. I decided to take a few shots of the castle from outside the walls and ended up walking the entire perimeter around the lake. It is one of several lovely memories I brought home with me.

  Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle is one of the first generation Norman castles in Wales, built in the wake of William the Conqueror's conquest of England and what parts of Wales and Scotland he could snatch. The Welsh didn't like being snatched, though, and thus William had to erect a number of castles in the borderlands, the Marches, as defense as well as base for further conquests.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Chepstow was the administrative centre of the Marcher lordship of Striguil. During those years, the castle had been expanded and altered, but the first keep still stands.

Outer Gatehouse and Marten's Tower (to the left)

King William gave the task of organising the border defenses to William FitzOsbern lord of Breteuil, his steward and now his chief military strategist. Like most of the noblemen in William's entourage, FitzOsbern also got lands in England and the title of Earl of Hereford. In 1067, he started the construction of Chepstow Castle, situated on a limestone cliff above the river Wye, and before his death in battle in 1071, he probably built the rectangular keep, the oldest secular stone building in Britain (albeit the date is not undisputed). Post Roman, I should add, because his masons used some Roman stones, probably taken from the ruins of nearby Caerwent. His son Roger plotted against King William and ended his days in prison; his estates were forfeited.

Remains of the Great Tower, seen from outside the castle

In 1115 King Henry granted Walter fitz Richard of Clare the lordship of Chepstow Castle. Walter didn't seem to have altered the castle in any way, but he is known as founder of nearby Tintern Abbey. The de Clare family held Chepstow until 1176 when it fell to Isabel, still a minor, and thus to the Crown. In 1189 Isabel married William Marshal Earl of Pembroke who became lord over the vast de Clare estates, including Chepstow Castle. Quite a career for a knight of fortune.

Southern curtain wall with one of the round towers

William brought the outmoded 11th century castle up to date. Well, he had the money and the experience to make Chepstow a formidable fortress. He rebuilt the east and south walls as proper curtain walls, and added a gatehouse with two round towers projecting outwards. Those had arrow slits from where the defenders could cover the area directly in front of the wall. No fun hauling siege ladders up when the air is full of pointy things. William had seen those new features, esp. the round towers that were to replace the former square design in France, and they would spread in Britain as well. A second line of defense was added between the lower and middle bailey, again with round towers, and it is to be assumed that William also added better accomodation than the old keep would have provided. In a last step, the curtain wall of the upper bailey was heightened and William constructed a square tower for himself and his family to live in. Since it was located in the uppermost corner of the castle, it would have provided some privacy.

The Middle Bailey

William died in 1219 and was succeeded by his five sons in turn. His sons further improved the defenses and also the comfort of the interior lodgings. There is proof for several grants of 'good oak' by the king; those timbers would have been used to refine the interior of buildings (addition of walls and floors, fe.). King Henry III visited Chepstow several times. The new bailey with its twin towered gatehouse is from their time as well, and they built a barbican at the upper end of the castle. The last son died in 1245, and the estates were divided among the surviving sisters. Chepstow fell to Maud, the eldest, who had married Hugh Bigod. Her son was Roger Bigod earl of Norfolk, who after her death, inherited Chepstow. He liked the place as hunting ground, but it would fall upon his nephew and heir, another Roger, to bring the castle to its greatest splendour.

Upper Gatehouse at the west barbican

Roger Bigod II held the title of earl of Norfolk and the position of Earl Mashal for more than thirty years (1270-1306), a span that fell into the reign of King Edward I. Roger constructed a maginificient new hall to represent his status as one of the most powerful magnates of his time. That building included a cellar, kitchen, accomodation rooms, and the hall itself. Bigod also added another tower (you can lose count of those in Norman castles) that would provide suitable rooms for a high ranking guest. This one was later called Marten's Tower because it was the long time prison of Henry Marten, one of the men who signed King Charles' I death warrant.

One of Bigod's towers in the foreground, the Great Tower in the background;
seen from the river side

But I'll leave more details about Roger Bigod and the further history of Chepstow to another post. To summarise, after Roger's death the castle fell to Edward I and a few months later to his son and successor Edward II. Edward seemed to have developed a liking for Chepstow. At some point he would grant it to Hugh Despenser, but that tale I'll leave to Hugh's faithful scribess who has written an interesting blogpost about Hugh and Chepstow.

When I traveled to Wales last spring, I met with Lady D. from Lady Despenser's Scribery, and we visited Chepstow Castle together. Two history geek girls + one big whopping castle = lots of fun. Lots of pictures, too.

Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.