Thursday, 30 October 2008

William de Braose and the massacre at Abergavenny Castle

A view of Abergavenny Castle from 'Creative Commons'.

One of my favourite novels is 'Lady of Hay' by Barbara Erskine. I renewed my acquaintance with it again last year and it was every bit as good as I remembered it. An excellent precis, if you haven't already read the book, can be found at:

The name of William de Braose was of course connected with both Skenfrith Castle and White Castle, which I visited on Monday. In the height of his powers (he was a favourite of King John's), he was Lord of Gower, Abergavenny, Brecknock, Builth, Radnor, Kington, Limerick, Glamorgan, Skenfrith, Grosmont, White Castle and Briouze in Normandy.

de Braose was not born in Wales, but had his roots in Sussex - he was 4th Lord of Bramber. He inherited large estates in what is Monmouthshire today through his mother, Bertha of Hereford.

[View from the Keep at Skenfrith.]

He was not a man to be trifled with and when his uncle Henry died at the hands of Welsh enemies - he believed the principal protagonist to be Seisyll ap Dyfnwal of Llanover in the Usk Valley - de Braose sought his revenge by inviting three Welsh princes, including Seisyll, to a Christmas feast at Abergavenny Castle. There he had them murdered, which resulted in great antagonism against him from the Welsh, who called him the 'Ogre of Abergavenny'. Despite Gerald of Wales (Geraldus Cambrensis) having faith in him, it is understood that de Braose still pursued his blood feud against Seisyll's family and killed his son and heir Cadwaladr, who was only seven years old.

In 1206 King John granted the Lordships of the Trilateral castles of Gwent - Skenfrith, Grosmont and White Castle to de Braose, possibly as a bribe for his silence over the capture and subsequent death of Arthur of Brittany, captured by de Braose at the Battle of Mirabeau in 1202. Arthur would have been a strong contender to the throne on John's death.

[Inside White Castle]

Perhaps the King eventually saw him as too much of a threat, or a loose cannon - in all events, he took against him and pursued him for debts, seizing the de Braose lands in Sussex and Devon and pursuing de Braose' wife, Maude de St Valery, who made no secret of the fact that she believed that Arthur of Brittany had been murdered. They fled to Ireland, and then escaped to return to Wales to join Llywelyn the Great in his uprising against King John. In 1210, de Braose excaped to France in the guise of a beggar, but his wife and eldest son, William, were captured and held in Windsor Castle and Corfe Castle, Dorset, where it is believed they were starved to death. He himself died in France in 1211. The burial in Brecon which he had planned for himself was denied and his body rests in the Abbey of St Victor in Paris.

What a good base for Barbara Erskine's gripping tale (you will find it hard to put down, I promise) and what a good excuse to visit the lands and castles of the Marcher Lords . . .

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Skenfrith Castle

I took the scenic route home, and stopped off to visit Skenfrith Castle on the way. I love castle-hunting and try and take the opportunity to visit new ones when I am away from home.

If you click on the photo, it will enlarge so that you can read the history.

Skenfrith is situated right on the English-Welsh border, 11 miles N-E of Abergavenny. It is one of three castles (Y Tair Tref) built originally by the Normans in the 11th century to guard this triangle of border land. The other two are Grosmont (which I didn't see this time) and White Castle, which I will write about later this week.

The curtain walls and corner towers are still well-preserves and built of the local "Old Red" sandstone. Originally the castle would have been defended by an outer moat, now filled in. Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, was strongly associated with these three castles in the 12th century, although his holding of them was strongly influenced by King John, who granted them to Hubert's Marcher rival, William de Braose of Abergavenny whilst Hubert was away in France, fighting for the King (he was unfortunate to be captured and held as a prisoner of war). He regained his castles and lands in 1219, and his experiences in France and of French castle building, led to him having the timber castles of Skenfrith and Grosmont in stone, in the new military style with curtain walls and semi-circular towers with arrow-slits.

Below is part of the earlier castle, which was devastated by flooding in the Monnow valley in the 13th century (about 1220), which led to the earlier stone-built castle being filled in with river gravel to raise the level and the magnificent round central keep was built above flood levels. This was not discovered until the 1950s excavations.

As you can see in the above illustration, the design of the tower originally had a fighting-platform style of roof which jutted out beyond the walls. It was also covered in a white render (as you may assume that White Castle also was.)

Its massive walls show the strength of the building and the sloping base of the tower are characteristic of South Welsh round keeps. The 2nd floor chamber had a large fireplace and was probably where Hubert de Burgh has his private apartment.

I noticed that two apple trees had grown inside the inner ward, one swathed in Mistletoe. Fruit from the 2nd was littering the grass and I now have a Skenfrith Apple which I am hoping I may persuade to grow offspring from seed - which we have done with another of our apple trees here, being quite true to its parent type.

Below you can see the remains of the earlier stone castle which were buried after the catastrophic flooding of 1220.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Hereford Food Festival

This was held at Hereford Racecourse, a lovely setting, overlooking the town and Hereford Cathedral.

My friend's husband on stage helping one of his protegees give her demonstration of her award-winning recipes. Rachel was SO nervous, poor lass.

The steak looked mouthwatering, and I can verify that the lovely pear dessert tasted every bit as good as it looked! I have the recipes so am going to try them out soon as we have a birthday coming up next month.

It was too busy to take photos of most of the stalls but I managed to sneak one in of this handsome chap - the Monkfish - who fortunately tastes far better than he looks!

Many stalls had sold out, which was excellent news for artisan and local foods. We had tastes of various things, and I bought some excellent Dragon Orchard cider and a Gregg's Pit perry which is just like champagne, and is going to be saved for Christmas.

The highlight for me was the Marcher Apple Network display of old apple varieties I identified the old Welsh russet apple I have in the paddock (a leathercoat russet) and got to do a taste test on a very old apple called Pitmaston Pineapple, which I have yearned for for many years. I have decided to ask for young apple trees for my Christmas presents from the family this year, to be potted up and taken with us when we eventually downsize. I am having great fun choosing my shortlist.

These chaps were dressed up as French waiters, with false moustaches and even falser French accents!

It was a good day out and the Hairy Bikers demonstration was excellent! Everyone wanted to see them and apparently lots of people got turned away on the Saturday.

The food at my friend's house was absolutely sublime - I must try and emulate the wonderful array of curry dishes we had in the evening - I can manage the prawn dish and have the recipe for that, so am off to get prawns today . . .

Monday, 27 October 2008

I'm back

Sunrise at home on Saturday morning . . .

I'm back . . . but I am so tired as I didn't sleep well - kept waking every hour or so which for two nights on the trot addles the brain somewhat.

Sadly I didn't ride - I was not feeling quite the ticket this morning, and we spent all yesterday at the Hereford Food Festival and got to see the Hairy Bikers, and Jude and I spent all Saturday afternoon nattering whilst rain-clouds gathered.

Fab. food as always - a proper report to follow in the morning. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . . .

Friday, 24 October 2008

Poetry . . .

A poem to enjoy over the weekend . . . and a view from the top of Hay Bluff. John Haines, a Gloucester solicitor, was a cousin of Catherine Abercrombie's, was a botanist and a poet, and had a link to the Dymock poets, though he was not strictly one of their number. He became a close friend of Robert Frost and they corresponded for many many years after the latter's return to America. Haines spoke of the short time that Dymock was the centre of the poetical universe thus: "it remains the most beautiful experience in a life which has been more than ordinarily blessed in that way."

The High Road - John Haines

The little roads are quaint roads
That wander where they will,
They wind their arms round all the farms
And flirt with every hill,
But the high-road is my road
And goes where I would go,
Its way it wends as man intends,
For it was fashioned so.

The little roads are shy roads
And care not to be seen,
'Twixt hedges hid they wind amid
A labyrinth of green,
But the high-roads are bold roads
And stare one in the face,
With banners white in all men's sight
The land they proudly pace.

The little roads are faint roads
And fear to walk alone,
They like the looks of friendly brooks
And cots of country stone,
But the high-roads are proud roads
And lord it like the King,
They stride the dale the hillsto scale,
O'er wasting rivers they prevail,
Nor yield to anything.

To all the little roads I know
Delightful haunts belong -
In hidden state lurks Stanway gate
The Stanway woods among,
The river walk between the Colnes
From Fosseway lies apart,
While Slaughter seems amid its streams
To dwell in willow-pattern dreams
Dreamt by a childish heart.

But give me on an autumn day
That lordly road to trace
From Charlton Hill to Baunton Mill
And Ciceter market place,
Or back, the way the Romans came
Above a folded world
To Birdlip steep, where in a leap
The road doth to that valley sweep
Where Severn lies unfurled.

The little roads are warm roads
And fine to house within;
They grow great trees, escape the breeze
And nurse the homely inn;
The high-roads are dry roads
For many a thirsty mile,
But their wind and rain I will face again
As I have done many a while.

View across the peaceful Gloucestershire fields.

Away for the weekend

I'm away this weekend, returning home on Monday, hopefully with LOTS of photos and a day out at Hereford Food festival to natter about.

In the meantime, I may be going for a ride on this handsome chap:

Visiting Ross-on-Wye -

Possibly going to Goodrich Castle again:

And definitely having wonderful food like this to eat as my friend's husband is a chef . . .

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


I've just been tagged by Mrs L at

These are the rules:

1.Link to the person who tagged you
2.Post the rules on your blog
3.Write 6 random things about yourself
4.Tag 6 people at the end of the post, link to them
5.Let each person know they've been tagged
6.Let tagger know when entry is up

Righty-ho then. 6 random things about me:

1. I could almost live on apples. I eat between 4 and 6 a day.

2. My favourite artist is Gillian McDonald (especially her Scottish pictures).

3. My favourite wild flowers are Harebells, Scabious, Toadflax and Tufted Vetch.

4. I can still recite some of the Flower Fairies poems off by heart. I used to read them every night to my girls when they were little.

5. I have a secret hankering for a period doll's house with LOTS of wonderful things in it - particularly a period kitchen. Think Victorian or earlier.

6. I also have a secret hankering to travel back in time - I'd love to be dropped into the Green Valley of the 1700s to see how I could cope . . .

I tag:

but there is no obligation to join in. If you choose to do so, the rules and regs are here to be copied to your blog, with a mention to my blog at the top.

Manorbier castle

I will be using larger photos from now on, as requested - don't know why it didn't occur to me before! Anyway, you can still enlarge them by clicking on them (unless they are ones which I imported from collectivecommons).

Here is Manorbier Castle from the car park. Though you probably wouldn't recognize it from this angle, it was the castle used in the tv filming of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1988, and it overlooks the beach below the village. A really lovely spot.

Looking back on the castle as I stroll down to the beach.

A stream runs down to the sea and just before the beach, it forms a beautiful clear pool which reflects the gorse, which is blooming well at the moment.

Looking westwards along the rocky shoreline.

To the east of the beach. Just around that headland is a Neolithic burial chamber called the King's Quoit. I didn't have time to walk along to it this time, so here is an excellent link with various views of it. and another: There was a very interesting comment by 'sem' on the Megalithic Portal site (a favourite of mine), which mentions if Rman remains can still manage to be covered by earth 2,000 years on, how come the Neolthic remains are so often open to the four winds? Hmmm, that's worthy of some thought, especially with reference to earth energies. It is also interesting to note the King's Quoit is positioned directly onto a fault line in the rock - probably considered a liminal area by the Neolithic mind, but is there more to it than that? It would be interesting to dowse there . . .

Here is a link for a couple of other pictures of the castle, from the entrance:

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Wishful thinking?

The wonderful Gothic architecture in Antwerp . . .

I don't often post "personal" thoughts on here, but today I would like to share these with you.

The day before yesterday, when I was sweeping the yard, I was thinking about what had happened to a forum friend (and fellow blogger) when she was sorting out her grandmother's effects, in that something very like a sign had been given to her that could well have come from her grandmother, who had recently died. In fact, I would go so far as to say it couldn't be anything other than a sign . . . I was thinking about my dad, who died in 1980. We were VERY close and when he died suddenly, I fell to pieces completely. I wished that somehow he had been able to give me a sign that there is something beyond death, not just a complete finality.

Whilst I was baking this afternoon, my husband came and dumped a pile of my mum's old papers in the middle of the kitchen table, so I had to quickly go through them and sort out what needed burning, pretty well all as it transpired. However, loose, in the middle of the pile of envelopes, I found a tiny printed book by Thackeray, "Notes of a Week's Holiday" about a stay in Belgium, with a picture of a cathedral in Antwerp inside the cover. My dad had been stationed there during the war, and I knew that the book would remind him of his time there, and perhaps rekindle memories of his Belgian sweetheart- she came from Antwerp. They had been engaged, but the romance fizzled out when he returned home to England. Inside the fly leaf, in tiny writing, is the inscription, "Percy from Bronwen, Xmas 1908." I don't know who they were - obviously a previous owner of the little book.

Now, I had gone through my mum's effects after she died last year, and it had been me who had put these envelopes in the drawer. Yet, I have absolutely NO recollection of this little book at all. I would swear I have never seen it before. Perhaps I missed it then. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part that makes me want to think it is a sign from dad, as that would be so comforting. I'll never know for sure, but it was dad's, and precious to him, and it's in my special little box of his photos now.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Wild flowers and memories

This post is prompted by an entry over on Thelma's wonderful blog, North Stoke, which I have had the good luck to discover after she posted here. A kindred spirit indeed.

Toadflax (above) always takes me back to the wild part of the childhood garden where I grew up. Damson trees where nightingales sang on hot summer nights; gorse bushes whose seedpods popped like musketry on hot summer days; lizards and slow-worms in the stony banks and yarrow and toadflax at the edge of the lawn.

It reminds me of the Observer's Book of Wild Flowers which I pestered my dad for - I was 6 years old. Half the illustrations were black and white and half coloured line drawings. I so LONGED to see the exotic-looking and dangerous-sounding Viper's Bugloss with its pink and blue flowers but it was to be 25 more years before I discovered it flowering on a Dorset cliff edge. I can still remember the thrill.

Below is Ivy-leaved Toadflax, which I first saw and identified whilst out walking the at then still unrestored railway between Swanage and Corfe Castle. We had set out from Corfe Castle and this was on a bridge at the Swanage end. Every time I see it, I am back on a sunny day in Dorset, the day my friend Gay and I met a stranger on the beach and, deep in excellent conversation, ended up walking 15 miles, and at one point scrambling along the top of a wall to avoid the Hogweed and getting in a lather climbing up the steepest of hills near Kimmeridge. I got home in Southampton at 1 a.m. , by bus, train and finally taxi . . .

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Penally and its Early Christian Monument

(Click on photos to enlarge)

ECM's (Early Christian Monuments) were partly the topic of my University Dissertation, when I wrote about the equine iconography of the pre-Christian (Pictish) sculptures of Scotland. Needless to say, it is a continuing interest of mine.

When we were in Tenby on Thursday, we could see the village of Penally from the car park. My archaeological book (A Guide to Ancient and History Wales: Dyfed by Sian Reese) mentioned the early cross at Penally church, so we drove along the cost a mile or two and found the church, with its marvellous view across to the Gower peninsula and Rhosilli Bay and the outcrops of rock called the Worms Head.

The church site is connected with a very early 'clas' (much as our local church was in a recent post) or monastery and indeed there are the remains of the monastery beneath a more modern building, now a hotel. It is said that St Teilo was born at Penally.

The Celtic crosses at Penally have been brought inside the church and the slab-cross differs from other the wheelhead crosses of the Anglian type at Nevern and Carew in that it was constructed from a single piece of stone. The decoration includes a single vine scroll of the Northumbrian type with three-lobed leaves and four- and five-stemmed grape bunches and decorative knots. The date is around the 9th-10thC A.D.

The broken shaft (seen above) is decorated with a key pattern at the top, then below this are a pair of confronted animals, also in the Northumbrian style, with their legs and long tails interlacing. The animals are biting parts of other animals with their back-turned heads who, in turn, are devouring the ends of a vine tendril above them. Conventional vine-scroll forms the bottom design. On the sides and reverse are a plait design; a triskele of Irish type; and a ribbon-animal of Scandinavian form with a long inward-curving hed apparently biting the neck of a serpent, and an elaborate tail interlaced around the body. The sides of the shaft are decorated with vine-scroll and knotwork patterns on the right and two key patterns on the left. (Sian Reese) These designs show a wonderful blending of motifs from Ireland (interlacing, spirals, keypattern with that of the late Anglo-Saxon art of northern Britain with the twin beasts and the vine-scrolls and Scandinavian Jellinge style.* (*The latter designs found on stone monuments in Scandinavia)

Fragments from another early 10th C cross.

The tallest palm tree I've seen - as tall as the church roof.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Can I Just Ask?

Coastguard's Cottage and cannon, Castle Hill, Tenby

I know we're all guilty of doing it - visiting a blog and just browsing and not leaving a comment - but I seem to have my "faithful few" who comment, and I would love to know what people think about some of the things I witter on about. I have 100 plus visitors most days, who seem paralysed with politeness! Just pop in and say "hi" - that would do . . .

Tenby revisited . . .

Tenby from the air from a scanned postcard. The green mound is where the castle was built - for obvious reasons.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

The beach at South Bay and Caldey Island on the left hand side. I have decided that I want a boat trip out there for my birthday outing next year.
You will have to make do with the link as I have spent far too long at the computer this morning, loading up these photos!

I don't know WHY we haven't been to Tenby more often instead of usually heading for Brecon on a day out. Perhaps it was the call of the mountains. Perhaps it was the truly AWFUL bag of chips we bought there when my friend Gay and I went there back in 1989 - reheated so many times that even the seagulls turned their beaks up at them! Perhaps it is because it seemed a long way, though actually it's about 10 miles closer to home than Brecon is. Don't know. What I do know is that we will be going back regularly now.

OK, it won't be so nice in the winter, with the wind howling in off the sea, but it has a tiny little second hand bookshop - so small that with 4 of us in it (plus the owner) yesterday, we had to negotiate which direction we were moving in. There were books in the bookcases, books on the bookcases, books stacked in piles on the floor in front of the bookcases, books teetering in upsidedown piles in corners and leaning into dusty recesses (and of course the most interesting were always at the bottom of the pile at the back!) There's another bookshops selling new books, and they include the sort of new books we find very tempting. They had an excellent dispplay of books about the history, archaeology and natural history of Wales. We picked up, we turned pages, wanted to buy Forgotten Houses of Wales, but it's £20 so it's been put on the Christmas list instead, as we are being abstemious at the moment.

We had a car picnic overlooking the sea. Car picnics are a speciality in our family. They are extremely basic - one crusty loaf, cold meat or cheese, fresh fruit, and an appetite! In Brecon we regularly have a sit down snack at a small cafe near the bookshop, as we did on our last visit, but having forked out nearly £10 for a pot of tea and two toasties, we decided that in future it was a car picnic or a bag of chips. My husband likes his cup of tea though, so we will have to remember to take a vacuum flask next time.

Anyway, we strolled around Tenby, admiring the bright colours of the houses - SO cheerful - and would be so on the darkest winter day too. There were tiny little streets leading off the main street, and a glimpse of the sea everywhere. We visited the Tudor Merchant's House (National Trust) and were fortunate to get there and look round just before a gaggle of excited school children arrived. Photographs were not allowed, but we bought two photographs of the interior. I was pleased to see that in the absence of buying Tudor furniture (which is of course, rare and expensive) the Trust had commissioned several new pieces, made from oak, which were based on Tudor designs and beautifully made. The carving was so crisp on the four poster bed upstairs on the top floor and I fell in love with an aumbrey cupboard on the wall and have put in a request to my husband, who may just be able to reproduce it - though I must confess, my hands were wanting to have a go at the carved and pierced design on the cupboard fronts . . .

We walked past the harbour and up to the Museum. I had visited it before, but not for several years now. However, there was an admission charge of £4 a head - many museums in Wales are now free entry and I am afraid we just turned on our heels and said, "Sorry, we can't afford it." If I am beginning to sound like a skinflint, then so be it, but days out for us have to be on the frugal side - we'd paid to park, two admissions to the Tudor Merchant's House, bought lunch (bread and ham) and things soon start to add up.

This huge tower is part of the town walls shows that defence of Tenby was once paramount - note the arrow slits below the battlements.

This is Major Tom, a lovely Shire who was nuzzling my hands gently, hoping for treats!

He gives carriage rides around the town.

The Tudor Merchant's House.

Inside the Tudor Merchant's House - these two purchased photographs subsequently scanned. Above is the exquisite marriage chest upstairs. You weren't allowed to touch any of the furniture, but this one screamed "touch me" . . . and we had to walk away, hands in pockets.

This is an "Aumbrey Cupboard", made in 1990, from oak, and stunning. I have told my dearly beloved that he has to make me one, but I want to be involved with those stunning carved doors. I shan't hold my breath, but watch this space . . .

Walking up past the Harbour, with more Georgian town houses in view.

What a brace of splendid Regency doors! The blue plaque above mentions that George Eliot stayed here whilst on holiday, and wrote furiously!

My husband walking towards the Museum through one of the castle entrances.

Looking back across the town from the castle.

The watchtower which is in the centre of the castle mound.

There were several splendid cannons - this one pointing back towards Carmarthen Bay.

This will tell you a little bit about Castle Hill. (Click to enlarge of course).

Looking down onto the rock which used to house a small private zoo.

Isn't this gloriously BLUE?! Apparently Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton spent a dirty weekend here back in 1802. The other side of the building has uninterrupted sea views.

One of the little side streets which the camera saw fit to "gloom" as it was so sunny.

This little cutway leads down to the Harbour, past the Tudor Merchant's House which is just on the left with the tall chimney.