Three Castles in a day – oh joy!

A couple of weeks ago, this history junkie had the pleasure of visiting Goodrich, Skenfrith and Grosmont Castles, all in one day – to say that I was in my element would be putting it mildly…

Having grown up in Worcestershire, and with parents willing to drive me all over Herefordshire and the Welsh Marches, my love of ruined castles started at an early age. And the castles of this area are, without doubt, the ones I love most.

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Skenfrith Castle

As long as I can remember, I’ve been entranced by their strong, dominating presence – even those where little now remains, have left an imprint on our imaginations of their once powerful influence.

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Grosmont Castle

The castles of this region were built primarily to dominate – to oppress, to make it clear to the local population, who was now in charge. Some were later adapted for more stately living, but in the main they are business-like buildings, sending out a message that is still obvious today, nearly a thousand years since they were introduced by the Norman invaders of the eleventh century.

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Goodrich Castle

Every time I see one of the castles of the Marches, I debate with myself, why is it that as someone whose natural tendency is to side with the Anglo-Saxons, gets such a thrill from castles, which would surely have been viewed as an unparalleled outrage by the Welsh and Anglo-Saxon population when they were built. I’ve never really found the answer, – perhaps I’m really of Norman descent?  All I can say is, whenever I walk up to one of these brooding beasts, I break out into a massive smile… 

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Windows – interior tower – Grosmont Castle

All three of the castles I visited recently are early examples – castles built to defend and dominate their surrounding area – the Monnow valley – which was an important route between Hereford and Monmouth. Skenfrith and Grosmont, together with White Castle, are known as the Three Castles, and were mainly under the responsibility of the same governor, for most of their active history. But while Skenfrith and Grosmont were largely abandoned and left to ruin by the sixteenth century, Goodrich, which is significantly larger, went on to see action in the Civil War.

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Courtyard interior Goodrich Castle

I’m not going to go into the individual histories of each castle here – there are excellent Wiki pages with links at the bottom of this post if you want to learn more about them.

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Courtyard – Grosmont Castle

The aspect which captivates me, is being able to recreate in my mind the nature of the buildings and to try to put myself in the shoes of the people who actually used them all those centuries ago. I like to look out of the arrow slits or the deep window seats and wonder who else sat there – what were they doing? What were they looking for? Imagine being on watch on the battlements, imagine the sights, sounds and smells of life within those massive stone walls.

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So much stone! – Grosmont Castle

For me, the whole romance of these places is the closeness of the past – I put my hand on the stone as I walk up the spiral staircase, and immediately think about all those other hands that touched exactly that spot…

And I feel transported.

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Skenfrith Castle

Easy isn’t it, to see why they inspire poets, playwrights and painters…

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For more information…

Skenfrith Castle – history

Grosmont Castle – history

Goodrich Castle – history

Skenfrith and Grosmont are free to visit at any reasonable time. There is a charge at Goodrich. The cafe at Goodrich is excellent – try the cheese scones!

 ❤

Walking in the footsteps of Dr Who…

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If you’re wondering which castle was featured in the previous post, it was Chepstow Castle, perched high up on cliffs overlooking the River Wye.

As I mentioned back there too, I’m going to try posting visits as pages here rather than posts, which I hope will mean that eventually, it will be possible to search for them more easily than it is at present – please bear with me on this though, it’s a slow process.

So, if you’d like to read about Chepstow and discover the Dr Who connection, click on this link – Chepstow Castle and you should go straight there.

White Castle, nr Abergavenny

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Having missed out on many history trips over the summer, I was determined, whatever the weather, to indulge my habit on our recent flash dash to Wales. In the end the weather couldn’t have been better and the several layers of jumpers I started the day wearing, were gradually shed as temperatures reached summer heights!

Our first stop was to see White Castle. Having been to Grosmont and Skenfrith several times when I was much younger, I had somehow convinced myself that White Castle, which I’d never visited, wasn’t as good as it’s sister castles – how wrong could I be!

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Having returned home and read up a little, it seems I’m not alone in overlooking this incredible castle. All I can say is, I LOVE IT!

But the approach is along very narrow country lanes – if you’re familiar with rural Devon, this will feel like home, otherwise, take care.  Perhaps this explains why fewer people discover this formidable fortress.

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Still, fortune favours the brave, and once you get to the top of the hill where White Castle sits, you won’t regret the drive.

White Castle is a very well-preserved example of a military stronghold, built in stone after earth and timber origins, in the 12th and 13th centuries. Substantial amounts of the walls remain to almost their original height, which adds to the undoubtedly foreboding atmosphere inside the castle. This is definitely not a castle to indulge your romantic fantasies about troubadours and maidens, there’s no mistaking White Castle for anything other than a fortress.

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Take a look at the thickness of those walls, and the very narrow arrow slits. Being stationed here can’t have been a barrel of laughs.

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Even today, the stones seem to ooze testosterone.

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But having said that, today, it’s impossible not to be overawed by the sheer beauty of the position, the countryside it sits so firmly on top of, and the scale of the stone building that remains. In its survival, it has earned a romantic element it certainly wasn’t built with.

The inner stronghold is both dramatic and enticing – well it is if you’re a history junkie like me…

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Every good castle should have a serious moat, don’t you think…

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A moat with a view…

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You won’t be surprised to know that White Castle was given by King Henry III to his son Edward in 1254 – and subsequently strengthened by him. Edward I has certainly left us an array of incredibly awe-inspiring castles to set our history fetishes tingling.

There’s more about visiting at the Cadw site here and more historical background here. Enjoy!

I am currently trying to make some changes to this site which I hope will eventually make it a bit more useful, but it’s slow going and I’m very much learning as I go along, so thanks for bearing with me, sorry if it looks a bit odd when you visit here from time to time – I’ll get there in the end…

Berkhamsted Castle, Hertfordshire

Walking in the footsteps of medieval royalty…

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If you take the train into Euston from the north-west, sit on the left-hand side of the carriage and keep your eyes peeled as you pass through Berkhamsted station, for the ruins of the once important royal residence of Berkhamsted Castle which will whizz past on your left (blink and you’ll miss it).

I feel really sorry for this castle. Rather than impress with its towering walls, it always gives me the impression of a jaw in which just a few stubby eroded teeth jut out. It looks more like the remains of a stone circle than a serious medieval fortress.

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The ditches and the grass-covered motte are easily the most significant aspects still visible.

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But Berkhamsted Castle has a long and distinguished list of visitors and owners, having been in royal hands for most of its history as a stronghold.

You’ll have to use your imagination, but here…

William the Conqueror accepted the submission of the English (albeit before the castle was built) after the Battle of Hastings…

And it was Thomas Becket who had the timber castle which had been built in 1070 upgraded to a stone fortress in the 1150s.

In 1216, the castle was besieged and taken by the French during the revolt at the end of King John’s reign.

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The Black Prince spent his honeymoon with Joan the Fair Maid of Kent at Berkhamsted in 1361 – the castle  had been the premier royal residence prior to the renovations at Windsor by Edward III.  After the Battle of Poitiers, John II of France was held captive at Berkhamsted.

Chaucer was the Clerk of Works at Berkhamsted – overseeing more building work. Is it possible that he wrote some of his Tales here…

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And Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, known as the Rose of Raby,  mother of Edward IV and Richard III, spent her retirement at Berkhamsted, leaving behind  for posterity her rules for a religious life, which provide a tantalising window into medieval daily routines.

When Cecily died in May 1495, the castle began it’s decline, becoming run down during Elizabeth I’s reign, by the end of which it was simply being plundered for building stone.

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Lovely though to think of all that stone now incorporated into the fabric of buildings around the town and all the royalty and nobility of medieval England (and France) who may once have touched them.

For further information

Berkhamsted Castle is in the care of English Heritage – it’s free entry. Click here for more details.

Lots of lovely historical information at this website – enjoy reading.

 

 

 

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