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A castle’s made of sticks and stones
They’ll last awhile for us to see,
But fill a wall with a Welshman’s bones
An ye’ve got him for eternity.
A single large room with a garderobe (toilet) filled each of the six floors.
|Floor of William's keep, with well on left, garderobe|
far right off camera.
The Apron Wall around the bottom was added by the son. He gave it six turrets, one of which has a postern gate with little stairs leading down to the water of the moat.
The 4th Earl of Worcester is thought to have built the Moat Walk, with its wall niches for Roman figures. In 1600, this with the garden, orchards and fishponds, were all considered to have been quite sophisticated. The family lived in grand style before Charles I lost his head. Before this unsavory regicide, his son, 16-year-old Prince Charles (II), had come a-calling on a fundraising tour for dad and Lord Herbert was a Marquess when Charles rode away.
This did not bode well when Cromwell’s roundheads (the king’s killers) came a-calling in 1646. Raglan was put under a long siege and the handsome castle was bombarded by heavy artillery. This was not enough to bring the tower down, so the soldiers battered the top with pickaxes until two sides collapsed. The fall of the powerful Raglan is thought to have virtually marked the end of the English Civil War.
Then the townspeople dredged the moat for treasure and the ponds for carp. It is not known if the books and papers in the prestigious library were stolen or destroyed, but they no longer exist and it was a tragic loss of historical records.
After the war, the Somersets let the castle decay. It provided a quarry; also, chimneys, window frames, staircases and sculptured accessories were looted. Then it became a romantic ruin...that term is starting to ring hollow, isn’t it?
I take a photo of the picturesque first-place winner of toilet signs embedded in the rock, say good-bye to kitty, who has turned into a live, romping creature, and we drive to Hay-on-Wye. Passing the raw and magnificent Black Mountains, we look for a spot to stop for a photo. Farmland rolls up the hills and colors range from gray to blue to deep purple, all revealing Old Red Sandstone ancestry that extends back to the late Silurian geological period 443 million to 416 million years ago. This was the time 60% of marine species on the planet were wiped out. Fooh and I are in awe as we stand by the side of the road--here is the sandstone that formed way back then, which neither one of us can realistically imagine.
The dilapidated 1070 Norman, 30-foot square keep, may be the oldest in Wales and shows repairs that may just be holding it together. Some stories say Maud de Braose (née Maud de Saint Valery, another interesting family) built up the castle in 1200 but it appears she only added a gate arch. She was, though, a terrifyingly strong warrior woman who was often left to defend the various castles she and William de Braose owned, and in myth, she is called a witch or sorceress.
The de Braose history is long and fascinating: Blood feuds with the Welsh, complex association with several kings, and famous names galore. The first William de Braose came over with William the Conqueror and imposed his great power and will over the Saxon landscape. There are many castles and ruins throughout this area of Wales that the family was associated with.
Well, of course there are always the most intriguing legends. This one appears to be true, though varying somewhat. Maud’s husband William, the great-grandson of de Braose, was adept at king-making and king brown-nosing. So, he was familiar with the details of what happened to King John’s nephew, Arthur (Eleanor of Aquitaine’s grandson). Eleanor had gone to stop Arthur from attacking her youngest son, King John, and Arthur locked her up. (The men in her life locked her up quite a bit—remember The Lion in Winter, with Katherine Hepburn--and Peter O’Toole as Henry II?). John captured Arthur and a popular story says at some point in his drunken stupor, he managed to kill him, with de Braose fully aware of the treachery.
With this knowledge, William de Braose began taking home a lot more bacon, gaining lands and finally becoming the most powerful magnate in the country. Why King John didn’t have him furtively murdered, who knows? Meanwhile, King John was developing a certain paranoia regarding negotiations with wealthy barons, and he started asking for hostages, which was normal when a king didn’t trust the persons he was making deals with--clearly William de Braose being one of them. Maud refused, saying she wouldn’t trust a child of hers with someone who murdered his own nephew.
Uh-oh. Realizing her faux pas, she tried to send the Queen four-hundred head of her white cattle, which didn’t go. Husband William ran off, leaving Maud with the consequences of her mouth. This infuriated King John to a murderous degree and he had Maud and her son William put into the dungeon at Windsor Castle. Some stories have them walled up inside the dungeon. The family story says they were left with a bit of food, but many days later were found starved to death. A cleric wrote, ‘She seemed to have died kissing his cheeks but closer inspection revealed they had been chewed on.’
Her runaway husband, William, wound up at the French King Philip’s court, telling the tale of King John strangling the 16-year old Arthur and throwing his body into the Seine. English nobility went crazy. Later, when John was forced to sign the Magna Charta, they added Clause 39, to protect citizens from that sort of thing, ‘except by lawful judgment’, whatever that means when you are in power.
Hay Castle only stayed in the de Braose family for thirty years, but what a thirty years, and they went out with just a little croak. William and Maud’s grandson, another William, was caught in the bed of Llywelyn the Great, ‘having it off’ as an old record says, with Llywelyn’s wife, Joan. He was hanged a few days later and his Castle Hay and town were burned.
|Castle Hay (on Wye)|
I drag us up very steep stairs to the mansion-castle, in the middle of the village. There is a book store inside and that’s all, but we can see the walls. It is disappointing to not be able to see it all, but it is a crickety building and fire-damaged. We peer past ends of bookshelves, trying to see all we can. I’ve read someone who says it looks like a copy of Wuthering Heights patched together with duct tape. An apt description.
|Within the castle walls on motte.|
By 1977, he must have been reading too much history (I know the feeling). He declared Hay an independent kingdom, with himself the monarch. Wielding an old toilet plunger for a sceptre and riding his horse, by now the Prime Minister, he sold low-cost peerages to tourists. Booth was inspired to turn Hay into a book town and now it is. The ten-day Hay Festival, held every year in late spring, draws over 500,000 tourists and occurs in other countries now.
|Lovely Florence Hotel on River Wye, near Monmouth, |
with Offa's Dyke (now walking path) across river.
Dinner comes from a Tesco store and back to the Florence Hotel. It is a lovely evening meal-- big salad, sandwich and clotted cream, which I eat out of the container. How crude.
My last evening by the River Wye is spent sitting on the floor downloading photos. I am pleased with my toilet sign and am considering a newspaper article on my fascination with the old loos. I realize in all of the historical British movies I’ve viewed, I have never seen the Virgin Queen or Henry VIII go to the bathroom. Why this avoidance of something so basic, with all of the intimate sex scenes and candid conversation? I say, ‘Up with loos!’ ~
1 April: A walk this morning involves snooping around the garden and outbuildings, then up the hill. It is glade-like, under beeches, oaks, wych elms and conifers, with groundcover of wood fescue, lots of ferns, bluebells (I think, having never seen them), snowdrops, and the flower of Wales--the cheery daffodil. Birdlife abounds, though in the forty-eight hours since I left Cornwall, my brain has not sprung forth with the fountain of avian knowledge so I am as inept at identifying them as I was in Luxulyan. I was told the tawny owl, redstarts and different types of flycatchers are here, along with the nocturnal badger, and smaller critters. I do see a rabbit and by gosh, I know what it is. The Wye mosies along, through such lushness of greenery--the Wye River Valley seems a perfect spot to live. Attention anglers: Great salmon fishing.
I get a little tour around the Florence before I leave. My room was out of the way and I would have preferred to be in the house, as I was alone in the ancient outbuilding. It is a sweet old house in the lower Wye Valley and was the first licensed business here, as a cider inn. The location couldn’t be more beautiful, looking over the River Wye and Offa’s Dyke walking path. They are good proprietors who keep really nice lodgings, in a beautiful setting...but the homey, personal B&B is probably the way for me to go ~
The A49 drive north, on the borders in and out of Wales and England in Herefordshire, is pastoral and lush. In a ten-mile radius of Hereford are many beautiful gardens, famous and not, to be visited. Hereford was settled on the north bank of the River Wye by the Saxons, in the early 600s. Its rural, unpopulated location has made it a strategic location for military links--it remained safe during World War II and is still used by the Crown for its military.
The gorgeous Romanesque Norman cathedral is the main draw here. We are disappointed that the castle no longer stands. One can visit the Castle Green to get a sense of the immense power it must have been. Earthworks and part of the surrounding moat remain, while ruins lie under the grass of this structure that John Leland called ‘the fayrest, largest and strongest castle in England’.
Since I want to see Croft Castle, we reluctantly pass through Hereford and onto the A4110 we go. The Croft family has lived here for almost 1,000 years, having come over with the Conquest—Lord and Lady Croft still have apartments. It is a chunky castle, with one turret and four slim castellated towers remaining from the original 1400 castle. After the slighting by Cromwell’s men, it was restored in the late seventeenth century, converted into a mansion. I can see the difference between the old and new construction and windows were installed, in place of slits. In the late 1700s, it was given a gothic makeover.
The main hall entrance, with its 1930s decor, used to be the carriage track into the courtyard. I love to see what used to be in what is now, not liking the past to be completely obliterated. Through a door, a gentleman waits to hang up coats and I believe this is a good idea, so I give him mine and he gives me a ticket. Fooh is quiet in his nest, behind me. Now down the narrow, Long Gallery, where the many family portraits tell the story of the Crofts. The Oak (paneled) Room is the only room that has a common footprint with the old castle, in the west turret.
We have a ghost here, whose skeleton was found in the 1930s. The tall medieval man in the wall is thought to be Owain Glyn Dŵr, who ended up in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part I, as Owen Glendower.
Owain was a living Welsh hero, who represented the old royal houses of Wales. After being hailed as the Prince of Wales, he led the Welsh (or Glyndwr) Revolt against the English for twelve years, in the early 1400s. His main enemy was a crony of the usurping Henry IV. At first it looked like the Welsh would win, but fortune turned on him; then his wife and two daughters were taken to the Tower of London and died there within six years.
Now that he was a hunted guerrilla leader, Owain went underground and was never heard from after 1412, even though the new King Henry V pardoned him twice. He is still honored for leading the most tenacious revolt ever seen in those days and for the passion and loyalty with which the Welsh people followed him. If, in fact, this spectral figure that appears and fades here at Croft is Owain Glyn Dŵr, hopefully he will let us know what on earth he was doing at Croft to wind up in its wall, as no one here seems to have a clue.
Down the stairs toward my coat, I see a couple looking into a room behind the stairs. It is a toilet. My gosh, and what a neat one for my loo story. I am not allowed to take photos, but Fooh has no qualms about side-stepping a few human rules and tells me to ‘get that photo!’ I sneak back up the stairs until all people wander away and I tiptoe down to shoot a picture. Just after the flash, here comes the gentleman and gives me my coat. Whew.
In the meadow is the remainder of the excavated old ringwork, which was the first fortified site of timbered buildings here. Looking on the map, there is a plethora of ancient sites for anyone aching to get out and taste a bit of English-Welsh history.
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