Castlemartin Firing Range in 19 clicks

Aye travellers!

The Tour de Wales goes on! As promised we are back on track again and ready to report about our adventures during the summer. Good news is that November is almost finished and we will be greeting the much more people-friendly December in less than a week! Christmas spirit, better weather and lots of festive markets to go to! We cannot wait to visit the Victorian Fayre in Worcester, and this year we are also planning to see the German Market in Birmingham. As usual, so much to do, so much to see and so little time – oh well, the life of a cultural blogger is a difficult one. Choosing between the places to go can be a heart-breaking task indeed J

Have you missed previous stops on or tour around Wales? Use the links below to see where we have been before:

Ogmore-by-Sea Review Part 1: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/one-castle-a-day-ogmore-by-sea/
Ogmore-by-Sea Review Part 2: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/one-castle-a-day-ogmore-by-sea-part-two/
Saundersfoot in 20 clicks: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/saundersfoot-in-20-clicks/
Barrafundle Bay in 30 clicks: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/barafundle-bay-in-30-clicks/
Broadhaven South in 27 clicks: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/broadhaven-south-in-27-clicks/
St Govan’s Chapel: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/one-castle-a-day-st-govans-chapel/

All right, our last destination was the St Govan’s Chapel – beautiful, tiny place of worship near the village of Bosherton. The chapel is located at Castlemartin Fining Range, a piece of land now owned by Ministry of Defense that once belonged to the posh landowners, the Earls of Cawdor. Castlemartin is worth visiting for its breathtaking sights and truly impressive limestone cliffs but it also has a rich history. Interested? Follow us!

Have you ever wondered where the name Castlemartin came from? If you think it’s a combination of two words “castle” and “martin”, you are very close. The village built on a sandstone peninsula was founded around 5th or 6th century. It had an impressive motte-and bailey castle erected by Norman and Scandinavian invaders in the 11th century and large farms that supplied food for local residents and Marcher Lords. The castle didn’t survive to our times but the remains can be seen even today. They are quite extensive and measure 70m x 60m. Well preserved remains of a ring-bank and remnants of the outer ditch can also be located. Amateur archaeologists will be delighted to know that Normans have used foundation of an earlier building to create the castle, probably an Iron Age Roman fort.

Excellent photographs of the castle remains can be found here:

http://map.coflein.gov.uk/index.php?action=do_details&numlink=305415&cache_name=cG5tcnNuYW1lLGhhZm9kIGNvcHBlcndvcmtzX3NlYXJjaHR5cGUsYWR2YW5jZWQ

The village grew steadily around the castle and in the 13th century a Catholic church dedicated to St Martin has been added to the community. Within few years, the village became known as the Martel Castell, the Castle of St Martin, or Castlemartin for short. The church is still standing and has been renovated in the 19th century thanks to the generous donations by the Cawdor family. Today the parish is known as St Michael and All Angels. There is a different church also known as St Michael and All Angels in Stackpole. In Wales things just cannot be simple! We haven’t seen the churches yet, but next time we are in Pembroke, Rita is going to photograph them from every angle. You have her word for that.

Once again, please visit the website of Royal Commission on the ancient and historical monuments of Wales. This excellent site offers the best and most accurate information on almost any listed building in Pembrokshire:
http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/308940/details/ST+MICHAEL’S+CHURCH,+CASTLEMARTIN/

Castlemartin nowadays is a sleepy village that offers good BB accommodation to tourists and climbing enthusiasts. It may not be impressive but not many people realize that it is one of few remaining places in Wales that has been entirely English-speaking for the last 900 years or more.

We have mentioned in our previous entry that Castlemartin Training Range has been established in 1939, just before the start of WW2 as a place where the British Army and fleet could train undetected. This remote coastal location was perfect for this goal and Ministry of Defense used every possible legal trick to take the land away from the noble family. The range covers 2,390 hectares and 12 nautical miles off the coast. It consists of two parts: Range East available to tourists (this is where St Govan’s Chapel is located) and Range West that is closed off to visitors and you need a special permission to enter. The permission is granted quite often these days and many organized climbing groups come here to conquer some of the most impressive limestone walls. We have seen several red metal climbing poles on Range East but we didn’t have the chance to see the climbers in action. Rita is secretly planning to team up with some local climbing expedition and go with them to take some pictures – we tell you it will be some truly magnificent photo-session. If you’d like to enter Range West, be prepared for a 40 minute military style briefing about security and safety! Here’s another very interested link and several times when the briefing will be held in 2015: https://www.thebmc.co.uk

Range West is known for its wonderful fauna (you can spot rare wild orchids there as well) but Range East is also very interesting. There is an old training ground used by military personnel, tanks and vehicles during the war, Cold War helicopter landing pads made out of stone, antishelters, bunkers and even small rail tracks for heavy cannons. Urban legends mention that several secret weapons were tested in those shelters but the data is classified and nobody knows anything for sure. Our guide has mentioned several big transmitters and radars being created here in 1950’s and 1960 but majority of them went out of use before our birth and what remains are the stone pillars and bare foundations. Those who like reading about military equipment will be delighted to know that Range East is considered unique and is preserved for its historical and educational value. An excellent article about the can be found here: http://content.yudu.com/Library/A1qcir/PembrokeshireMilitar/resources/15.htm

Here are our favourites pictures from the Castlemartin Range tour:

1.

Castlemartin Range

Castlemartin Range

2.

View from the top

View from the top

3.

Castlemartin Range near the St Gowan's Chapel

Castlemartin Range near the St Gowan’s Chapel

4.

High Cliffs

High Cliffs

5.

Beach below with a sharp rock knowns as The Beacon or The Lighthouse

Beach below with a sharp rock known as The Beacon or The Lighthouse

6.

Closer look at The Beacon

Closer look at The Beacon

7.

Large beach at the other side of the Range

Large stone beach at the other side of the Range

8.

Red climbing post near the old bunkers

Red climbing post near the old bunkers

9.

Stone circles - they were used as a practice targets for military planes

Stone circles – they were used as a practice targets for military planes

10.

Closer look at the circles, this one was made in early 1960's

Closer look at the circles, this one was made in early 1960’s

11.

Don't look down!

Don’t look down!

12.

Old bunkers from The Cold War era are not longer used by the military and their entrances have been bricked up.

Old bunkers from Cold War era are not longer used by the military and their entrances have been bricked up.

13.

Castlemartin Range information board for the tourists. The range is closed for 44 weeks a year

Castlemartin Range information board for the tourists. The range is closed for 44 weeks a year

14.

Long ravine with derelict train tracks

Long ravine with derelict train tracks

15.

Old navigation station is actually still operational and is being used to monitor the weather conditions alongside the Pembroke coast

Old navigation station is actually still operational and is being used to monitor the weather conditions alongside the Pembroke coast

16.

Rockly plateau is now home to hundreds of rabbits

Rocky plateau is now home to hundreds of rabbits

17.

The magnificient coastline looks splendid in the sun

The magnificent coastline looks splendid in the sun

18.

Cracked stone surface crates mini lakes and rock pools

Cracked stone surface crates mini lakes and rock pools

19.

It may look nice and calm, but the ocean is very dangerous around the range with many hidden vortexes and strong currents

It may look nice and calm, but the ocean is very dangerous around the range with many hidden vortexes and strong currents

You want to know more? Look no further, we have selected the best websites to give you more information about the subject:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castlemartin_Training_Area
http://www.milfordmarina.com/castlemartin-range-1/
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/castlemartin-firing-notice–2
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/27471/Castlemartin.pdf
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/43344/dte_info_leaflet_pembroke.pdf
http://www.pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk/website/m/enjoy/mEnjoy00.asp?a=106

http://cy.nationaltrail.co.uk/pembrokeshire-coast-path/blog/national-trail-officers-survey-7-castlemartin-range-trail

And if you meed something extra: A great info about the range – print the map if you want to discover all roads and walking trails – castlemartin_range_trail

We are leaving Castlemartin behind and moving onto something bigger and better (in our humble opinion of course). The last stop on our Tour de Wales will be the lovely town of Pembroke. If you haven’t seen the grand castle there, you haven’t seen the beauty and splendor of medieval Wales!

Return soon
XXX
Rita and Malicia Dabrowicz

One Castle a Day – St Govan’s Chapel

Hello, hello and hello!

Welcome again dear readers – Tour De Wales continues! As we promised, the entire month will be dedicated to the land of red dragon and we have plenty of beautiful sights to show you. Be prepared for another exciting adventure!

Map of the local area

Map of the local area

If you have missed our previous entries, please take a look at the following links:

Ogmore-by-Sea Review Part1: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/one-castle-a-day-ogmore-by-sea/
Ogmore-by-Sea Review Part2: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/one-castle-a-day-ogmore-by-sea-part-two/
Saundersfoot in 20 clicks: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/saundersfoot-in-20-clicks
Barrafundle Bay in 30 clicks: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/barafundle-bay-in-30-clicks/
Broadhaven South in 27 clicks: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/broadhaven-south-in-27-clicks/

Today, we will take you to one of the most mysterious and wild places in Wales – The Saint Govan’s Head. This remote but very popular location is perfect for entire families: history freaks will have a chance to learn about 12th century chapel, kids and dogs will have enough place to wander and those who enjoy sitting down will have plenty of room to set up picnic tables.

Closer look at the map

Closer look at the map

Chapel map

Chapel interior

Before we published this entry, we had a small discussion. Should we first write about Castlemartin Firing Range or should we introduce our readers to the chapel straight away? Castlemartin Firing Range is an absolutely wonderful place and since Govan’s Head is a part of it; our initial thought was to write about the range first. A bit later, we changed our minds. Three previous entries were dedicated to the beautiful shores of Wales and another photographic entry would be quite boring. So, enjoy the historical trip to St Govan’s Chapel with One Castle a Day and we will return to Castlemartin range some other time.

Picture of a picture - this is how St Govan's chapel looks through professional lence

Picture of a picture – this is how St Govan’s chapel looks through professional lance

Dramatic cliffs around the chapel - you will not find more beautiful sights anywhere else

Dramatic cliffs around the chapel – you will not find more beautiful sights anywhere else

Do you remember that we have left Stackpole Eastate and moved a little bit further? Two miles is not a big distance, but what difference it can make! The sandy beaches and azure blue water are now behind us and it’s time to investigate the rocky cliffs and limestone coastline that are Pembrokshire’s trademarks. Govan’s Head is actually one magnificent cliff named after an Irish Saints – but we need to start telling the tale from the beginning!

Enchanted steps

Enchanted steps

Valley surrounding the chapel looks like surface of an alien planet

Valley surrounding the chapel looks like surface of an alien planet

When Stackpole Estate fell on the hard times, part of the land has been taken away from the earls of Cawdor and given to the army at the beginning of 1939. It was a harsh blow to the proud landowners who felt betrayed and soon completely abandoned the grand mansion and returned to their native Scotland. Land taking was a necessity at that time. British Army lacked a good training grounds and the remote location (with a great overview of the Welsh coast) was a suitable place to train future soldiers and test the new equipment. Of course, Earls of Cawdor received a small payment for the land but not what it was truly worth. The Second World War was just starting and the government had little patience or the necessary resources to negotiate with the gentry. The entire transaction was quick and a bit ugly – what’s more important, there was no way back. To this day, Castlemartin and St Govan’s Head are the property of British Army and the training grounds are active for 44 weeks a year. To visit the brilliant place you have to pass through military gate and several guard stops. We were truly lucky – just few days before we arrived, the range was used for training and nobody was allowed in. To let the tourists know, the Army is putting notices in Bosherston’s village pub, but if you are here for the first time, you will not know about it. We were passing through the security checks with our hearts on our sleeves, expecting an abrupt stop and arrest for trespassing. After several minutes of travelling, we arrived at a large car park when we were informed that the range was open to visitors. We have never been happier!

Majestic lime stone walls

Majestic lime stone walls

The roof of the chapel with a bell cote

The roof of the chapel with a bell cote

Just one look is enough to understand why the Earls were so angry about losing this piece of land. The range is breathtaking! We have never seen such wild beauty, high cliffs, natural stone arches and rocky shore. We are also very pleased that the range is off limits for the majority of the year. It is now rarely used for arterially training and became some sort of a natural reserve with many endangered birds nesting among the rocks and feeding its young. The military polygon is also perfect for small animals; the wild meadows and uncut grass help maintain the diversity of local fauna and flora. Don’t get us wrong, the range is still actively used for any kind of military training, but the part opened to visitors has been mostly preserved for its ecological and scientific value.

The slate roof is a modern addition to protect the ancient building

The slate roof is a modern addition to protect the ancient building

We don't know  when the roof has been created, probably around 18th or 19th century

We don’t know when the roof has been created, probably around 18th or 19th century

The cliff known as St Govan’s Head is located some 700 meters from the car park and you can get there by walking along the turfed footpath. It is worth going there first before seeing the chapel but we will leave the decision to you. We have seen the chapel first (the entrance is situated just at the edge to the car park) and wandered to the cliff after – if we knew, we would do it the other way around. All legends about St Govan start at the cliff and the action moves to the site of the chapel. It almost felt like watching a movie from the end and then skipping to the beginning. We have a real vivid imagination and we could see with our mind’s eyes how the entire story unfolded. Some people however arrive here just to admire the views and they don’t care in which order they are visiting places.

Entrance to the chapel

Entrance to the chapel

Well defined archway leading to the single chamber

Well defined archway leading to the single chamber

According to legends, St Govan or Gofan was an Irish traveler who arrived to the United Kingdom by boat to visit his friend or mentor. His profession is not known, different versions identify him as a monk educated by Saint David, a teacher, a merchant, a poet and even as a thief. There is also a tale connecting Gofan with mystical Gawain, one of the noble Knights of the Round Table who came to Albion looking for a place to rest as an old man. Govan’s roots might be shrouded in mystery but all legends agree that he crashed at the Welsh shore in dire circumstances. The boat that Govan hired to take him to Great Britain was attacked by pirates and the entire crew was slain. Govan somehow managed to escape and swam to the shore near the Govan’s Head. Pursued by bandits, Govan ran along the rocky beach, climbed the rocks and looked for a place to hide but there was nothing around him. Fearing for his life, he started to pray and then miracle happened – a small fissure in the lime stone opened, allowing him to sneak inside. Pirates scouted the area for hours but they could not find him. Thinking he might have drowned, they finally left and Govan was able to leave his hide-a-way. He made his way to the nearest village (probably Bosherton) where he alerted the local inhabitants. The villagers took him in, gave him food and a place to sleep but Govan was not yet safe. Local people were terrorized by pirates and many of them have lost their lives trying to protect their homes. Govan listened to their stories and decided that running away would not solve the problem. They needed a plan and military help from local ruler. He volunteered to return to the coast to watch the waters waiting for the pirates to return. Upon seeing them he was to alert the villagers and then they would call the King for assistance. We will never know if the plan worked, but for many years, Govan lived in the cave that opened for him and was respected by villagers. His fame grew bigger and bigger and many traveled to see him or to seek his advice. He ate fish and drank water from a small spring that after his death became sacred – the water could cure blindness and other ailments.

Inside the chapel - please excuse the bright lights  streaming through the windows. It was hard to take good quality pictures during the midday. the chapel is situated especially to receive a lot of sunshine in the summer

Inside the chapel – please excuse the bright lights streaming through the windows. It was hard to take good quality pictures during the midday. The chapel is happily situated to receive a lot of sunshine in the summer

Doorway from the inside of the chapel

Doorway from the inside of the chapel

Legends cannot be taken for historical truth, but it has been established that the site of what is now known as St Govan’s Chapel has been used since the 6th century. Archeologists surveying the chapel have discovered signs of an earlier building, probably a small monastery or a single dwelling. The chapel as we know it today has been erected in the 13th century at the exact place where St Govan has supposedly died in 586. His body is now believed to be buried under the main altar. To reach the chapel, you need to climb down 52 steps and you have to do it very carefully as there are no rails and the steps are slippery even on a clear day. This single chamber chapel is built into the side of a tall limestone cliff in a small triangular valley. It has a tiny steeple with a bell-cote and measures only 6.1 m × 3.7 m. Its slated roof looks a bit out of place – it is a modern addition raised to protect the entrance to the grade I building.

People leave graffiti on the walls of the chapel since  the middle ages - we didn't feel inclined to do the same

People leave graffiti on the walls of the chapel since the middle ages – we didn’t feel inclined to do the same

Chapel's end seems to be semi-collapsed

Chapel’s end seems to be semi-collapsed

Other way out of the chapel

Other way out of the chapel

Main altar - legends say that St Govan's body is hidden underneath it

Main altar – legends say that St Govan’s body is hidden underneath it

Small cross made of straw left by one  of the pilgrims

Small cross made of straw left by one of the pilgrims

There are two stories connected with the chapel. One tells the tale of a silver bell that St Govan used to alert the villages with when the pirates were spotted and the other claims the steps to the chapel are enchanted. The small bell was given to St Govan by the King and it was made of purest silver to give a clear and loud sound. Each time the pirates were getting near, the bell would ring so powerfully that the villagers were able to hear it. Infuriated that their attacks were so easily thwarted, the pirates stole the bell and thrown it into the ocean. Govan prayed long for the bell to be recovered and his calls were heard by the angels. They removed the bell from the ocean floor and hid it in a large stone near the chapel so the bell would not get stolen again. From now on, St Govan had to tap the stone twice and the bell would ring, thousand times stronger than before alarming not only the nearest village but the entire coast as well.

Chapel seen from the outside - back entrance and the bell cote

Chapel seen from the outside – back entrance and the bell cote

Postcard shot - we are very pleased with this one!

Postcard shot – we are very pleased with this one!

Our favorite myth is that about the stairs leading to the chapel. The steps said to be magical and their number depends on many things: the weather, the time of the day or night, how many people were going up or climbing down. Some tourist guides swear that the difference can be huge: between 74 for certain gentlemen to 35 for the ladies. We have seen the groups of visitors counting each step very scrupulously but we haven’t asked about their mathematical skillsJ. To be very honest, it is easy to make a mistake – some steps are nearly invisible, some are cracked in half and people could count them separately, others are connected and potentially could be counted as one step. It doesn’t matter how many steps you counted, the number will be unique to you and maybe you can use it to play lotto! The chapel has long been associated with good luck; some still believe that a wish made there will come true.

Sacred spring and  another steps leading to the coast where St Govan was running away from the pursuing pirates

Sacred spring and another steps leading to the coast where St Govan was running away from the pursuing pirates

Chapel as seen from the shore

Chapel as seen from the shore

Chapel from  the cliffs - our farewell picture

Chapel from the cliffs – our farewell picture

The chapel may be small and simple but it makes strong impressions on those who visit it. If you’d like to learn more about this fantastic building, please take a look at the following links:

Visit Pembrokshire: http://www.visitpembrokeshire.com/attractions-events/st-govans-chapel/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Govan
Wikipedia again: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Govan%27s_Chapel
Pembrokshire Coast: http://www.pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk/website/AppAccess4All/stgovans_head.pdf
Britain Express: http://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=645
Destinations UK: http://www.destinations-uk.com/articles.php?country=wales&id=115&articletitle=St%20Govan%20Chapel,%20Pembrokeshire

Coastline seen from the valley

Coastline seen from the valley

St Govan's Head in the distance

St Govan’s Head in the distance

The cliff walls are excellent for climbing - just not when the military training takes place!

The cliff walls are excellent for climbing – just not when the military training takes place!

Well, our visit to the lovely chapel of St Govan came to an end. In few days’ time, we will write about the Castlemartin Range and then we will finish our tour the Wales with a visit to the magnificent Pembroke Castle! Come back soon!

Lots of love,
Rita and Mal D.

One castle a day – Ogmore-By-Sea part two

Ahoy!

Welcome back again!

Thank you kindly for returning back so soon! We are thrilled that so many people have read the first part of our review from the trip to Ogmore-by-Sea! It seems that our column, One Castle a day, generates a lot of traffic for our little blog. It is a cheering thought that we are not the only ones who love history, local legends and visiting all the strange places! If you have missed the previous entry, here’s the link to the article:
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/one-castle-a-day-ogmore-by-sea/

Castell Ogwr

Castell Ogwr

Ogmore Castle photographed from the entrance

Ogmore Castle photographed from the entrance

Today, we will try to interest our readers in Ogmore Castle, a tiny ruined Norman fortress that is sadly overlooked by tourists. It is a truly romantic place and we cannot think of a reason why, it doesn’t get much coverage. When we started researching the topic in preparation for this entry, we couldn’t find many historical facts and a trip to local library was necessary to be able to learn more. Yet, our efforts were rewarded and we will be happy to share the knowledge we have gained!

Main ruined wall  and the former courtyard

Main ruined wall and the former courtyard

Main wall - the biggest original fragment of the castle still standing

Main wall – the biggest original fragment of the castle still standing

Compared to the castles we have seen in the past, Ogmore Castle may not look as impressive or grand. Indeed, it has been constructed not as a seat for the king or a local lord, but simply as a protective fortress overlooking the newly conquered lands. We don’t know when exactly the castle has been built, but the chronicles mention that “Ogor Castelle” was being completed sometime around 1106. An earlier fort or fortified manor might have existed before the castle, as the crossing between River Ogmore and River Ewenny was an important strategic point and a trade route for the Welsh tribes since at least the 10th century.

The Keep

The Keep

Stone Pillar located in the middle of the courtyard. There is an recorded information about the castle installed nearby

Stone Pillar located in the middle of the courtyard. There is an recorded information about the castle installed nearby

Known to the Welsh as Castell Ogwr, Ogmore Castle played an important part in a defensive line against the Welsh attack on barely established Norman domain in Glamorgan Vale. Along with two other fortresses, Coity Castle and Newcastle Castle in Bridgend, Ogmore served as a fortified border separating the Welsh from Norman invaders. Creation of such barrier was essential – the political situation of the region was complicated after the major Norman victory and successful campaign of Robert Fitzhamon in 1075.

Lower part of the castle

Lower part of the castle

Entrance to lower castle in greater details

Entrance to lower castle in greater details

This additional building  was probably a prison. After torrential rains, it is filled with water

This additional building was probably a prison. After torrential rains, it is filled with water

To understand why Ogmore Castle was so vital to Normans, we need to tell you more about Robert Fitzhamon himself and his connections at the royal court in London. Robert was a proud grandchild of Hamon Dentatus, a powerful noble man, holder of many titles and lands in Normandy. He didn’t fight at the battle of Hastings and is not mentioned in Doomsday book, but several of his close relatives are. Robert probably arrived to England after 1066, after being called by the new king – William the Conqueror. The reason for his arrival is not certain, but Robert quickly has been dispatched deep into Wales, continuing William’s policy of conquest and unification of the British Isles. His skills and bravery quickly won him the respect of other knights and by 1075 Robert won several battles in Glamorgan area, successfully driving the Welsh army away. In recognition for his service, Fitzhamon was named the first Lord of Glamorgan.  By 1088, Robert’s position was so strong that he has been chosen as an adviser of William Rufus (Wiliam the Red), William the Conqueror’s son in his struggles against his older brother Robert Curthose. The events known now as Rebellion of 1088 had serious consequences: Robert Curthose has not been successful in claiming the English throne and Wiliam Rufus became the most powerful ruler in Europe, not only being crowned the King of England but also taking much power away from Robert in Normandy.  Fitzhamon found himself working for the richest ruler in the world and his faithful service has been rewarded greatly  – he received the feudal barony of Gloucester with over 200 fortified manors. As baron, Robert Fitzhamon became the most powerful of the Marcher Lords and continued his conquest of Southern Wales until his death in 1107. A popular legend mentions Robert and his Twelve Knights of Glamorgan winning numerous battles against the Welsh royalty and cunningly gaining the Cardiff Castle for themselves. You can learn more about their heroic deeds here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Knights_of_Glamorgan

The lower castle as seen from the side of the stepping stones

The lower castle as seen from the side of the stepping stones

Another look at the castle from the stepping stones

Another look at the castle from the stepping stones

Ogmore Castle from the parking (a bit distant picture!)

Ogmore Castle from the parking (a bit distant picture!)

According to the legend, one of the Glamorgan Knights was named Sir William de Londres (also known as William of London) and he was given the Ogmore province to govern. At first Williams was pleased with Fitzhamon decision as he found Ogmore to be very beautiful and fertile land. However, he soon realized the whole area was under constant attack from the Welsh and was considered the most dangerous to rule. To keep his borders intact, William constructed “Ogmore triangle” – three castles and Ewanny Priory in the middle. All buildings have been given thick stone walls and natural protection provided by hills and rivers.

Stepping stones  just before the rainfall

Stepping stones just before the rainfall

And the grazing flock not bothered by flocks of tourists

And the grazing flock not bothered by flocks of tourists

Ogmore Castle has been captured only once during the Welsh attack in 1116. William de Londres had to abandon it for a short period of time, but his butler, Arnold led the defense and managed to get the castle back with minimal loss of life. He was later knighted and received the castle and manor of Dunraven as reward.

Ogmore Castle has been rebuild several times. The first person to change the original structure of the building was Maurice de Londres, William’s eldest son, who created an oblong keep, now the highest surviving building and the oldest  keep in Glamorgan. A wooden palisade was replaced by a new stone wall in 1200 and a new bailey has been added later. By the 14th century, the castle enclosed an area of 164 feet (50 m) in length by 115 feet (35 m) in width with well designed courtyard,  additional private buildings, administrative center, a court house and elaborate two story high gateway. Lise Hull writes in her book “Britain’s Medieval Castles” that despite rather basic exterior (consisting of “irregularly shaped field stones, glacial pebbles, Lias limestone slabs held with brown mortar), the interior of the castle was modern and quite luxurious. The castle had round-headed windows decorated with Sutton stone ashlar that was considered uncommon in the 12th century, a great hall with kitchen and an ornate fire place on the first floor, a latrine tower and private chambers on second floor equipped with large garderobes (added roughly 100 years later). Castle rooms were decorated by paintings and tapestries. Sadly, the ruins we can see today are showing only a fragment of the original castle  –  three walls, the keep and some external buildings have survived.

Main entrance to the castle and the wooden bridge above dry motte

Main entrance to the castle and the wooden bridge above dry motte

This arch is the  only fragment remaining today from the original two story gatehouse

This arch is the only fragment remaining today from the original two story gatehouse

Two local legends are connected with Ogmore Castle. We have mentioned the first one in previous entry, but by mistake we called the haunted spirit a Gray Lady. Her true name is Y Ladi Wen (“the White Lady”) and she can be seen around the stepping stones looking for her lost treasures. The other legend is quite interesting and it is worth writing about.

After losing the Ogmore Castle to the Welsh (and then getting it back thanks to the actions of Arnold Butler), Maurice de Londres swore revenge. Each Welshmen captured in the woods belonging to the Norman nobles was to be tortured and then sentenced to death.  One day, during a hunting party, Maurice’s knights found a Welsh poacher aiming at a stag with his arrow. Caught in the act, the proud Welshman was brought to the court at Ogmore to meet his destiny. Entire castle came to the yard to witness the torture and the execution of a mysterious stranger, but despite pain, the young man would not scream or beg for mercy. He introduce himself as a Welsh prince and admitted that hunger suffered by his people forced him to hunt in the forest. The prince refused to apologize, blaming the Norman invaders for the fate of his people. His proud speech and bravery impressed Maurice’s daughter so much that she pleaded with her father for the life of the Welshman to be saved. It was her birthday as well and she wanted no gifts or jewellery, only the prince to be spared. Her father agreed, the Welsh prince would live yet the girl pressed  for more. She begged her father to give the Welsh people a land where they could hunt freely. De Longres wasn’t pleased with such request but yet again he complied, but under one condition. The land given to the Welsh was to be as big as  the distance his daughter would walk barefoot from the moment until the sundown. The girl was offered no shoes and she was to set on her journey at once. The girl didn’t think twice – she left the castle and traveled for miles and miles, over hills and valleys. She stepped on a rock injuring herself but she  would not stop, she kept on going until she reached the sea. Two soldiers followed her and reported to her father how far she went. On the next morning, the Welsh prince has been set free and was told  about the girl’s sacrifice. The distance she covered was given to Welsh as promised and the prince could return home. The girl and the prince have never met again, but her kind deed was known among the Welsh tribes. The beach the girl arrived at is now called Southerndown and the land is known as the Southerndown Common. It has belonged to the public ever since.

Place to rest

Place to rest

Another look at the main wall   - take a look at the  well designed windows

Another look at the main wall – take a look at the well designed windows

You can still see the signs where the second floor once was!

You can still see the signs where the second floor once was!

Southerndown is a popular beach near Ogmore-by-Sea and we plan to visit it next time we go there. Doctor Who fans will recognize it as Bad Wold Bay from “Doomsday”, the place where the 10th Doctor and Rose Tyler said their final goodbye’s.

Additional information about the castle can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogmore_Castle
http://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=498
http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/ogmorecastle/?lang=en
http://www.tipiwales.co.uk/thestoryofogmore.html
http://www.castlewales.com/ogmore.html

Ogmore Castle had  long and thick walls protecting the castle against the Welshmen

Ogmore Castle had long and thick walls protecting the castle against the Welshmen

Once impenetrable, the castle walls are now full of holes and  "back  entrances"

Once impenetrable, the castle walls are now full of holes and “back entrances”

And we are done! We are leaving the beautiful Ogmore behind us and we are moving on to Saundersfoot! Come back in a few days time, our next entry is going to be amazing!

Have a great evening,

lots of xxxx
Rita and Mal D.

One castle a day – Ogmore-By-Sea

Bore-Da Dear Readers!!

We cannot believe that the lovely autumn is finally over. The long, sunny days are now gone and this past week we had a truly winter weather. Of course, the cold doesn’t affect Malicia, as she is living on a beautifully warm Mediterranean island, but Rita had to put a warmer underwear on not to freeze off her backside. Ah the glorious November weather in the rainy United Kingdom. No worries, we refuse to be affected by the sudden temperature drop and we don’t plan to hibernate for the next 6 months. Instead, we have decided to survive the dark days of winter by remembering all those fascinating places we have seen this year. Be prepared to visit some of the most breath-taking sites in West Midlands, historical buildings and wild beaches in Wales with us!

Welcome to the beautiful Ogmore-by-Sea

Welcome to the beautiful Ogmore-by-Sea

To be very honest with you – this year has been all about Wales. We have traveled to Cardiff to see the premiere of Doctor Who Season 8 at St. David’s Hall; we went to Doctor Who Experience, discovered the Cardiff Rift and newly redeveloped Cardiff Bay. We visited the coastal town resorts of Sandersfoot, Tenby, Pembroke and many others. Today, we will start with a small coastal gem named Ogmore-by-Sea that sadly is usually overlooked by tourists and tour guides. It is hard to understand why that happens. Ogmore is beautifully situated, has a large sandy beach that is perfect for swimming and surfing, dramatic coastline and is not crowded at all, even in the high season. You can get there from Cardiff under 15 minutes – this is a perfect place for a family holiday that doesn’t get the tourist traffic it deserves.

Ogmore Beach

Ogmore Beach

There is a lot to do in Ogmore. The village has a small medieval ruined castle located in the same heart of the community, an established riding school well known for its long beach horseback rides, ancient stepping stones allowing the tourists to get across the river and great restaurant called “Pelican in her Piety”.  You don’t have to worry about booking a place to stay for the night – several good quality bed and breakfasts and houses to rent are available all year long.  You can turn long weekend into an affordable mini holidays for the entire family.

The beach at Ogmore has a sandy part but majority of the coast is covered by stones

The beach at Ogmore has a sandy part but majority of the coast is covered by stones

The weather can be  very unpredictable  - the sunshine is quickly followed by rain

The weather can be very unpredictable – the sunshine is quickly followed by rain

One word of advice though. Ogmore is what we call a one street town. All attractions the village has to offer, rented accommodations, pubs, castle, riding school and the beach are located quite far from each other. To explain it better: the castle and riding school are located in the same heart of the village. River Ogmore estuary and picnic areas with picturesque walking trails are on the outskirts near water plant facility. The beach is situated about a mile outside the village. Everything is located along one very busy road that runs through the entire area. You will not find any sidewalk or even a safe public path to move between the places worth seeing. We are discouraging anyone from walking along the road, you will have to drive and look for a free parking space.

The stones from the beach are  a popular paving materials - many drives in the village are paved with them

The stones from the beach are a popular paving materials – many drives in the village are paved with them

The stones can serve as  house decorations as well - they look truly elegant in the bathroom (we have a marine theme)

The stones can serve as house decorations as well – they look truly elegant in the bathroom (we have a marine theme)

We have been to Ogmore many times in the past and almost every single time we are witnessing some sort of traffic incident. The drivers (locals and tourists) are racing through the village at about 70 m/per hour without thinking about pedestrians and animals. The number of cars that are literally thrown out of the road into the private drives is simply scary. During our last visit, we have seen three drivers losing control of their vehicles and nearly crushing into sheep or people. Ogmore farmers are using grazing techniques to feed sheep and horses and keep the local hills well cultivated. The animals roam freely and sometimes the flock decides to move to the other side of the road quite unexpectedly. If you don’t mind traveling short distances to see different parts of the same village (it is still worth it) please visit Ogmore. In other case, consider taking your kids to Doctor Who Experience or to Barry Island.

This green fields are the flooding plains for the River Ogmore. At the high tide, the plains located near the estuary, are completely covered by water

Those green fields are the flooding plains for the River Ogmore. At the high tide, the plains located near the estuary, are completely covered by water

The constant tides have left a permanent scars  along the flooding fields

The constant tides have left a permanent scars along the flooding fields

Now, we have complained a lot, but in reality, Ogmore is pretty as a picture. Once you find a good parking space and you are moving far from the roads, you are as safe as rich person’s money on a Swiss account. Ogmore-by-Sea is located in the Vale of Glamorgan, one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. The entire village, hills, beach, coastline, Merthyr Mawr Sand Dunes, churches and even the old bridges are considered an area of special scientific interest and are protected. Don’t be surprised if you met local researchers or biologists taking samples of water, soil or flowers – such sights are considered pretty normal around here. Those who come to Ogmore quite regularly can tell you which parts of the beach/sand dunes would be off limits to the public during the research. We have seen a group of  Glamorgan University students collecting data about the marine life from the rocks and it was pretty epic. All the scared students running up and down the beach with probes and reporting to their professor – it felt so good to watch them work hard while we were sun bathing 🙂 Life is not fair kids!

River Ogmore estuary - the currents are dangerously strong, be careful when crossing!

River Ogmore estuary – the currents are dangerously strong, be careful when crossing!

Flooding plains turning into grass sand dunes

Flooding plains turning into grass sand dunes

The Welsh name for Ogmore-by-Sea, Aberogwr, means the Mouth of River Ogmore. The river Ogmore flows into the sea just outside of the village creating a wide estuary. It may look like a shallow place to cross to the other side (the dunes are perfect for a long walk), but be careful, the water currents are very strong here and we had to give up in the middle of our journey. The water is very cold even at the height of summer and the currents  go in all directions. They can sweep an adult man off his feet! Walking along the estuary is hard and we recommend a pair of  sturdy shoes for the excursion. Don’t ask what happened to Rita’s pair of sandals after a short distance. Spare yourself the horrors of destroying your favorite summer shoes and go for Karrimors. Your feet will thank you, believe us!

This is not Broadchurch - the coastal rocks at Ogmore are as impressive as those in Dorset

This is not Broadchurch – the coastal rocks at Ogmore are as impressive as those in Dorset

You will need a pair of sturdy shoes to walk around here!

You will need a pair of sturdy shoes to walk around here!

Now, for such a big history freaks like us, it wouldn’t be fun to visit if Ogmore-by-Sea was just another pretty seaside tourist destination without any historical background or at least a legend to follow. Luckily the town has an ruined castle to admire and a terrible reputation! Sounds interesting? Delightful – we will take a closer look at the castle in another entry, but today we will try to discover more about the fascinating caves on the beach, the stepping stones near the castle and finally learn more about the very unusual name behind the local pub. Off we go!

Ogmore-by-Sea is a favourite swimming spot for  surfers and labladors

Ogmore-by-Sea is a favorite swimming spot for surfers and Labradors

Strong Atlantic winds can be a bit dangerous but the waves are spectacular

Strong Atlantic winds can be a bit dangerous but the waves are spectacular

If you think that Ogmore-By-Sea inherited its name from Ogmore river, then you are mistaken. The Welsh word “Og” means a cave and it’s perfect for a location filled by sharp cliffs and dramatic coastline with shallow rocks, pointy edges and hundreds of caves and coves all over. The caves are now a major tourist attractions drawing crowds of climbers and kids who love to play hide and seek among the maze of stone corridors and tight passages. Since the Middle Ages, Ogmore has been known as a graveyard for ships, a place where strong Atlantic winds and shallow waters were especially dangerous. According to popular local legend, the Ogmore River and its estuary were an important water trade route, allowing the goods to be transported from Bristol and other cities.  To deploy the goods, the ships had to come deep into the bay, as close to the shore as it was possible. If they were successful, the cargo would be then loaded into small boats and taken to the shore. To ensure the safety of such operation, a castle has been built to scare off the pirates and robbers. Unfortunately, the allure of wealth was so strong that the entire area soon was plagued by organized crime. The castle defenders were powerless against the thieves who would put up lanterns on the cliffs at night, tricking ships into believing they were showing a safe passage to the shore. Many ships crashed against the Tusker Rock (also known as Ynys Twsgr, a massive reef about two miles off shore from Ogmore visible only at the low tide) and many people lost their lives. Each victory was well celebrated by the bandits – they would store all stolen riches inside the caves, sit around the campfires, drink and sing loudly. The winds would lift their songs for miles and their voices would ring in the silence of the night even in the village.

Majestic overview of the beach

Majestic overview of the beach

The villagers were terrified and prayed for help. Their prayers have been listened to one morning when a group of pirates woke up after another raid only to find out that the way our of the cave have disappeared, leaving them stranded inside, with almost no air and plenty of gold. For the first time in their lives, the robbers understood the error of their ways and begged the God to be merciful. They promised to abandon their shameful profession and to protect the shores and its inhabitants. God allowed them to leave and the robbers remained true to their word – some of them become monks and traveled all over the Wales preaching the glory of God, some joined the Ogmore castle defense and fought against their former companions and others settled in the village earning their keep in an honest way. The last ship was wrecked near Ogmore on April 23, 1947 claiming the lives of 40 crew members and the rescuers.

The coastline rocks are still very impressive

The coastline rocks are still very impressive

Another look at the rocks - they look beautiful and wild, the pictures don't do them justice

Another look at the rocks – they look beautiful and wild, the pictures don’t do them justice

There is little historical evidence of organized shipwrecking at Ogmore but the tale of plundering and redemption is very vivid, especially if you hear it sitting on the sand surrounded by ancient caves. What we found truly unique about the lime rocks is that they seem to be alive! The Carboniferous limestones are covered in fossils and moussels and they look incredibly beautiful. You can read more about the geological structure of Ogmore at: http://www.swga.org.uk/pdf/ogmore.pdf

Lime stones covered by sea weed and fossils

Lime stones covered by sea weed and fossils

Fans of Pirates of the Caribbean series will be delighted to know that there is also a cave known as Davy Jones Locker. You can visit it, but you’d need a professional climbing equipment: http://www.southwalesmountaineering.org.uk/wiki/Davy_Jones%27_Locker_and_the_Sea_Caves

Another interesting legend connected with Ogmore-by-Sea is the tale of two lovers living on the opposite sides of River Ewenny. Ewenny is a tributary of River Ogmore and flows just behind the Ogmore castle.  The lovers were able to see each other only when the tide on the river was low and the separation took a huge toll on the love-struck youngsters. When the girl fell ill, the boy was not able to see her for many days and  became very worried. According to tradition, he asked his fellow villagers for help and together they created a stone pathway to the other side. The couple was reunited and soon after the whole village was celebrating their union in marriage.

People crossing the Ewenny river using the ancient stepping stones

People crossing the Ewenny river using the ancient stepping stones

There is also a different version of this legend. The stepping stones were created for a wealthy lady, an occupant of the Ogmore Castle. Her riches were so great, she had to hide her possessions in a secret storage outside of the castle walls as she was running out of places in the treasure vaults. She would visit the storage every night to try on her priceless jewelery and admire her reflection. One fateful evening returning home, she slipped and fell into the dark waters. The secret storage has never been found but the gray lady is still protecting the gold. Some travelers have seen her standing on the shore looking in the direction of grass sand dunes. Maybe the treasure is hidden there? Who knows? The stepping stones were probably placed across the river around 11th of 12th century and originally there were 52 stones. Today the number is smaller but you can still reach the other side without getting wet. The last place we would like to mention in this entry is the pub – Pelican in her Piety. This traditional English pub has a very unusual name! It serves an excellent food and each time we arrive in Ogmore, we treat ourselves to a splendid meal.  The interior is beautiful – you can relax in front of a huge fireplace with real logs and dry off your clothes if you got caught in a downpour like we did! The weather in Wales can be moody as a spoiled Persian kitten, we tell you!

Pelican in Her Piety

Pelican in Her Piety

The pub has been in operation for more than 250 years, maybe even more. From the beginning it was connected to the nearby Ewenny Priory, Benedictine abbey founded by either William Londres, lord of Ogmore Castle or by Arnold le Boteler, a Norman knight in service of William. The owners are not sure but before the dissolution of monasteries in 1535, the building was probably used as a food storage for the Benedictine monks. After establishing the Chrurch of England and separation from Rome, the monastery buildings were sold into private hands. Ewenny Priory along with all possessions were purchased by sir Edward Carne in 1546 who took the ancient Christian symbol of a pelican feeding her young with her own blood as his personal coat of arms. In 1741 the pub was passed as a martial gift to Tubervilles Family and the detailed history of the place is now written down on place-mats. You will never be bored again while waiting for your order to arrive!

There is no need to order side dishes - the portions are epic!

There is no need to order side dishes – the portions are epic!

Ewenny Priory on CADW: http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/ewennypriory/?lang=en
Pelican in her Piety official website: http://www.pelicanpub.co.uk
Pelican on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Pelican-in-her-Piety/153241731375609
Pelican on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pelicanogmore

There are few other things worth mentioning. Ogmore is home to Farm Riding Centre, a well known horse riding school that organizes wildly popular two hour treks along the beach, and Ogmore Farm Tea Room, a cozy nice place that serves delicious cheesecake with pineapple and berries. They also have a cat statue  near the entrance!

Ogmore Farm TeaRooms

Ogmore Farm TeaRooms

Official website for the school: http://www.rideonthebeach.co.uk
Trip Advisor entry for the Tearooms: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g186458-d3357524-Reviews-Ogmore_Farm_Tearooms-Bridgend_Vale_of_Glamorgan_Southern_Wales_Wales.html

Few interesting links if you still want to know more:
Please return again shortly as we will go and finally pay a visit to the romantic ruined castle!
Have a great day!!
Rita + Mal Dabrowicz
P.S.

The second installment about Ogmore Castle can be now found at:

https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/one-castle-a-day-ogmore-by-sea-part-two/

One castle a day – The Baskerville Hall

Ahoy comrades!

Another day, another journey and another interesting place to see! Forget the boring days at the office when you have to curb your imagination and concentrate on Excel spread sheets and invoices! The monotony of ordinary life magically disappears when we set out to discover ancient ruins, wild spots and castles. Well, this column might be entitled “One castle a day”, but sometimes we make a small excursion and go where no castles can be found. Remember our trip to Malvern Hills to see the fabled British Camp, an Iron Age fort? It was hardly a castle in traditional sense of the word, but what a royal experience it has been!

Welcome to the The Hall of Baskervilles

Welcome to the The Hall of Baskervilles

Woof, woof, there is a dog on the roof!

Woof, woof, there is a dog on the roof!

Our personal definition of a “castle” is quite broad. It includes all mansions, manor houses, forts, fortified houses, real castles, ruined castles, mock castles, palaces, grade I and II buildings, remains of a castle (including archaeological digs and motes) and all other locations where a castle might have once stood. The reason why we decided to include so many objects in this column is very simple. Today’s understanding of the term is completely different than before. The meaning has evolved and changed with each age, historical period, culture or even a society. Let us give you an example. A simple wooden fort in Iron or Bronze Age would be considered a castle by local inhabitants as it housed the chief of the tribe. Renaissance palazzo before the unification of Italy was treated in the same way. Even 200 years ago (just a blink of an eye in the history of a mankind), country manor houses in United Kingdom were sometimes referred as castles. In general, a castle was a main residence of a local ruler and his family, a seat from where the leader ruled over his or her land. It served many purposes: a family home, a court of law, a capitol, a prison, a garrison, an academic and scientific centre, a temple or even a monastery. It was the heart and soul of a small community, a large kingdom or entire country. Nobody really cared of detailed descriptions, technical terms or labels – they are the invention of 19th century. There was no need for confusion. Look at the popular fairy tales you know from your childhood. Princes, kings, queens, princesses, the nobles – they all live in castles. Very simple and zero problems. It could be fun to add a bit of historical realism to folk tales and legends but that’s not what we are going to do. Are there any long houses and mead halls in Eddas? Is Cinderella living in a mock castle with a large mottle, drawing bridge and neo gothic towers? Is Rapunzel kept in a keep? What about Pocahontas? Is she sleeping in a wooden Indian fort or maybe just a tipi? So many questions and no answers! Please don’t be frustrated if one day you will come across an article about a pyramid or megalithic temple. They are not castles per se but treat them as monuments of our history and development. One monument a day is not a good title  so let’s stick with castles. Castles are cool!

A black dog on the thin hot roof...again

A black dog on the thin hot roof…again

Arcade entrance in detail

Arcade entrance in detail

The castle of the day is a noble residence erected in 1839. Quite new compared to the old proud ruins we have described in previous issues. Yes dear readers, we are about to embark on a trilling adventure that features big black hounds, a world renowned consulting detective (the one that invented the job!), a family curse and a posh hotel with a swimming pool!

Arthur Conan Doyle, a medical man, the pioneer of forensics and a talented detective in his own right is one of the most beloved and well-known British authors. Hundreds of books, essays and scientific papers have been dedicated to his life and work. He had several official biographers and even his personal letters and diaries have been published. Each step he took, each town he visited, every person he had ever known – everything has been studied, documented and investigated in the smallest details. There is nothing new under the sun – as Sherlock Holmes himself used to say. It would seem that the popular author has been stripped naked to just bare facts, numbers and dates. A tragic end for a person who earned his living by writing murder and mystery tales!

Baskerville hotel - view from the gardens

Baskerville hotel – view from the gardens

Baskerville Hotel - main balcony visible from the gardens

Baskerville Hotel – main balcony visible from the gardens

If we ask any respectable Sherlockian about “The Hound of Baskervilles”, we would receive a very quick answer. The book has been released in 1902, is set in 1889 and is one of four novels written about the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson. Upon release, the book received rave reviews and to this day, it is considered the best book penned by Conan Doyle. In 1999, The Hound of Baskervilles” was given a perfect rating from scholars of 100 – a score so rare that only a handful of books in existence have been rated that high.

It is wildly accepted that a young journalist from Daily Express, Bertram Fletcher Robinson introduced the writer to the legend of gigantic phantom dog roaming the moors of Devon. At that time, Arthur Conan Doyle returned from his long stay in South Africa and started thinking of writing again. He was so impressed with tales heard from the journalist that he immediately thought of them as the next case for Sherlock Holmes. As for Robinson, there are several surviving accounts of his friends and family members recollecting that he was very proud and boasted that he was the one who ensured the resurrection of the unsociable genius. Indeed, such accomplishment cannot be easily ignored. Doyle pushed Sherlock Holmes to his death along with Professor Moriarty eight years earlier during the events of “The final problem” and refused to mention him ever again. Many people tried to persuade him to change his mind but none has been successful. Doyle felt that the pressure and public demand for sensational stories were dragging him away from more ambitious work. It is also worth mentioning that Bertram Fletcher Robinson had a coachman named Henry Baskerville who received a copy of the book  signed by Conan Doyle himself with dedication that he was sorry for borrowing the coachman’s name and turning him into a main character. This particular copy has not survived to this day, but Henry Baskerville was a real person. He is listed on the 1901 census as living in Ipplepen and being in the service of Earl of Devon, of Powderham Castle. According to Sherlokian historians, Henry often picked up the writer from Bovey Tracey or Ashburton railway stations and drove him to Heatree House in Manaton, a large residence of Kitson family with whom Conan Doyle was closely acquainted with.

Another view from the gardens  and Rita's favorite shot

Another view from the gardens and Rita’s favorite shot

Gardens - view from the right side :)

Gardens – view from the right side 🙂

It seems that everything has truly been said and written about the “Hound of Baskervilles”.  We have convincing proofs of  inspiration, we found the real Henry Baskerville and even the house that became the infamous Baskerville Hall in a book. Nothing new under the sun, indeed! No more mysteries, no more allure – just plain, old boring facts.

You don’t have to be  a master detective to deduce that there is something more to the story of Baskervilles. We mentioned a posh hotel with a swimming pool at the beginning of this blog and this is when things are getting really interesting. What would you say if we told you that everything you have read so far is  incorrect? What if  Arthur Conan Doyle was a cunning man who preferred to keep few mysteries of his own? What would happen if all Sherlokian scholars have been mislead just like the writer wanted them to be? We are going to start a small revolution here and prove that the original Baskerville Hall is not even close to Devon. Revealing a real place where the best crime novel of all times has been born might come a shock to you, so be prepared. Welcome to the small  Welsh village of Clyro, the last secret place of Sherlock Holmes!

Clyro (Cleirwy meaning “Clear Water” in Welsh) has always been a tiny hamlet hidden amongst the lovely Welsh hills. The village lies in Powys municipality and has approximately 600 inhabitants. It is located some 2 miles away from Hay-on-Wye (a site of internationally acclaimed literature and arts festival) and about 25 miles from Hereford. There isn’t much that people from Clyro could use as their claim to fame. A large castle once existing in  the 14th century is now gone and all what’s left is a large dried motte. A small Roman fort has been discovered about 20 years ago in the village centre but according to archaeologists, it never played any important role and probably has been abandoned several decades after being constructed. Even the picturesque village church called Saint Michael and All Angels, thought erected in the 15th century, has been completely remodeled in Victorian times. History lovers could only be interested in Francis Kilvert, a curate of the parish church between 1865 and 1872 who  regularly wrote about the village and its inhabitants in his excellent diaries. The diaries are counted among the finest examples of memoir genre in English literature and are still in print. Kilvert lived in Ashbrook house that now serves as a private art gallery and a commemorative plaque has been placed there in celebration for his contribution to the local community.

Picnic area with an old oak felled by thunderstorm a week earlier

Picnic area with an old oak felled by thunderstorm a week earlier

Small stone steps  leading from the restaurant into the heart of the gardens

Small stone steps leading from the restaurant into the heart of the gardens

On the outskirts of the village, a weary traveler will find a tall, grey stone mansion that has been standing there since  its creation in 1839. Today it is a hotel, but in Conan Doyle’s times, this  grand mansion belonged to an ancient noble family, so old that their genealogical roots could be traced to the Norman conquest and Battle of Hastings of 1066. The house is known as Clyro Court but in reality this is the true Hall of Baskervilles.  How can we be so sure, some of you may ask? Well, read on and we shall give you five undisputed proves that show we are 100% right!

 1. English country side – Arthur Conan Doyle is Scottish, but he chose to make his most famous character strictly English. Sherlock Holmes tells Doctor Watson that  “My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class”. Holmes has a great knowledge of  English country side, habits of its people, folklore tales, local legends and he is an expert on country manors and houses as shown in “The Valley of Fear”.  His mastery is explained in books through his  ancestry and may suggest that Holmes’ close or extended family lived in a country manor similar to that of Baskerville Hall.  However, Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character and all his knowledge comes from the writer, Arthur Conan Doyle himself. It is possible that Edinburgh based doctor simply researched the topic of  English land gentry in smallest details to make his detective  realistic and  believable.  Or maybe he had good teachers. Arthur had a large circle of friends, most of whom were children of landowners in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and in Devonshire. Two specially close friends were the Kilverts from Devon and Baskervilles from Clyro – both old, entitled noble families with large manor house residences. They would make a great source of information to the writer.

Main balcony  - picture taken from below. The balcony can be accessed at all times fby the guests.

Main balcony – picture taken from below. The balcony can be accessed at all times by the guests

The famous main staircase inside the hotel

The famous main staircase inside the hotel

2. The Baskerville Family – Clyro Hall has been constructed by Thomas Mynors Baskerville (1790 – 1864) second son of Peter Richard Mynors from Treago near Ross-on-Wye and Meliora Powell.  He inherited the title and estate in Wales from his third cousin, Colonel Thomas Baskerville who passed away on May 4th 1817 without leaving any heirs. Thomas Mynors was married twice, first to Anne Hancock (she died childless  in 1832) and then to Elizabeth Mary Guise with whom he had six children. He died in 1864 and was succeeded by his first born son, Walter Thomas Mynors Baskerville. We are not sure if Arthur Conan Doyle befriended Walter first or became acquainted with him through Walter’s son, Ralph Hopton but it is believed that he visited Clyro  Hall just before Walter’s death in 1897 and it wasn’t his first stay there.  Between 1900 and 1910, Conan Doyle was a constant visitor and even a business partner to Ralph.  Ralph inherited Clyro Hall in 1905 and two years later decided to enlarge the estate by  buying two well prospering farms in Radnorshire. Powys Council Archives are in possession of an official legal document signed by Ralph and Conan Doyle after the purchase. The writer is either acting as a witness or a surety.

3.  Popularity – Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson made Arthur Conan Doyle a millionaire and the first celebrity writer in existence. The demand for new stories featuring the detective was so great, that people were queuing in front of  The Strand Magazine’s offices on Southampton Street long before opening, something that has never happened before. The novels and short stories were often sold out within hours and the public still wanted more. Many Londoners were looking for Baker Street ready to hire the duo whom they perceived as a real people. Arthur Conan Doyle had to hire a literary agent who was helping him reply to fan mail and his personal life began to leak to news magazines (an early 20th century equivalent of tabloid press). It is understandable that the writer wanted to remain anonymous and enjoy the privilege of working undisturbed by fans or the press. David Hodby,  a current owner of Clyro Court, is convinced that the Baskerville family were a bit troubled that the author used their name and a local legend of phantom black dog in his work, allowing the readers to identify them easily. They asked Conan Doyle to move the story from Welsh border to some other location. It wasn’t a hard task to do – at the time of writing “The Hound of Baskervilles”, Arthur was staying in Devon and gladly agreed to protects his friends. The fact that a coachman he used from time to time was also named Baskerville, served as a perfect cover up.

Fire place and two Victorian chairs placed in the middle of the staircase - perfect observation point

Fire place and two Victorian chairs placed in the middle of the staircase – perfect observation point

Looking down from the gallery at the fire place

Looking down from the gallery at the fire place

4.  The Phantom Dog – a legend of the big black dog is very popular in English folklore. Every region has at least one mysterious hell hound appearing in solitary locations and bringing death to those who see it.  Conan Doyle’s first wife Mary Louise (nicknamed Louisa) had extended family living in Wales and introduced the writer to the story of Hergest Ridge, the Black Vaughan and Elen the Terrible. This is a fascinating tale and quite a nice detective story in itself.  Being a crime writer, Arthur Conan Doyle was no doubt inspired by it and used it in his book. You can read the story yourself here:
http://www.were-wolf.com/articles/Black_Vaughan.htm

5. The Baskerville Hall – “The Hound of Baskervilles” gives the reader a detailed description of Baskerville Hall. John Watson finds it gloomy, mysterious yet beautiful. Strangely, the interiors of Clyro Court are almost identical with the design of the fictional
manor! Please take a look at the attached pictures and you will immediately see that a “square balustraded gallery (that) ran round the top of the old hall, approached by a double stair” is right there! Doctor Watson also mentions that his bedroom was very spacious and located next to Henry Baskerville’s. Clyro’s Court rooms are unusually large (most of them contains Victorian styled four poster beds with carpeted stairs) and are located very close to each other. The dining room has a dark ceiling with old beams exactly as described in the book and the billiard room where Watson relaxes with a cigarette is located at the back of the building and serves now as the hotel’s office. Clyro Hall has large gardens and grounds surrounding the manor (130 acres) that can be seen from the first floor’s bedrooms. Again, just as described by Conan Doyle, the manor is surrounded by wooded park and a moor.  Do you remember the famous night walk among the yew trees? A yew alley can also be found near the house as well as “grassy space which lay in front of the hall door”.

Magnificent roof

Magnificent roof

Gallery  that runs around the main hall - as described in the book!

Gallery that runs around the main hall – as described in the book!

Clyro Hall is now known as The Baskerville Hotel. It has been changed many times since Arthur Conan Doyle’s era. It has been sold in 1945 to local council and served as a boarding school until 1986 when it was bought by  David Hodby. The hotel is a perfect retreat for a family holidays, even well behaved dogs are welcome! Some quests we know were complaining about loud music coming from the night club, but it is a popular destination for stag and hen parties! And we cannot forget about the heated indoor swimming pool and sauna – what else can you ask for?

You can book you stay at:

Baskerville Hall Hotel
Clyro Court – Hay-on-Wye – Powys – HR3 5LE
Tel: +44 (0)1497-820033 Fax: +44 (0)1497-820596
Email: info@baskervillehall.co.uk

A couple of links for you dear detectives in training:

Baskerville Hall Hotel:
http://www.baskervillehall.co.uk
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Baskerville-Hall-Hotel/168875793159331

Old picture of the Clyro Hall taken at the beginning on 20th century. Please excuse the poor quality but we couldn't find any other copies on the Internet.

Old picture of the Clyro Hall taken at the beginning of the 20th century. Please excuse the poor quality but we couldn’t find any other copies on the Internet

Baskerville Family history:
http://www.benybont.co.uk/other/ess-art/hound.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baskerville_%28surname%29
http://www.burkespeerage.com/search.php (type BASKERVILLE ands scroll through results)
http://www.houseofnames.com/baskerville-family-crest (Baskerville coat of arms explained)

Photograph of the Great Hall 100 years ago

Photograph of the Great Hall 100 years ago

Articles about the sensational discovery of Baskerville Family’s 42 pieces cutlery set auction from 2008:
http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/hound-cutlery-tracked-down-2167935
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/mid/7427998.stm

Gallery around year 1912 - this is how the court looked like during Arthur Conan Doyle stay

Gallery around year 1912 – this is how the court looked like during Arthur Conan Doyle stay

A very interesting article about the rest of the Baskerville set and a fantastic investigation! Sherlock Holmes would be proud!
http://www.ascasonline.org/articoloAGOS161.html

Breakfast served in the day room

Breakfast served in the day room

Bigwood Fine Art Auctioneers – auction house that was selling the cutlery set in 2008:
http://www.bigwoodauctioneers.com/index.php/info/aboutus
https://www.facebook.com/bigwooduk/info

Sitting room

Sitting room

Our trip to Baskerville Hotel wasn’t planned at all. They have a large parking space that was used by Hay-On-Wye Literary Festival  after torrential rainfalls turned the traditional field parking in town into a lake. We took the opportunity to walk around the lovely gardens, see how the hotel looks like inside and we even discovered that a very known person has booked a room there!  It is definitely a place worth visiting – especially if  you own a big black dog (Labrador retriever) like us!

We don’t know if we managed to convince you, but at least you have now something to think about. With the new series of Sherlock returning  next year, there will be plenty of interest not only in the excellent acting duo (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman) but in the Clyro Court as well!

xoxo’s
Rita and Malicia Dabrowicz

One Castle a Day – British Camp & Malvern Hill

Hey there soldiers!

Stand in line, straighten up, no lollygagging! This is your captain speaking. Welcome to another edition of “One castle a Day” and we can tell you straight away: we are hundreds of miles away from any castles today! Real soldiers and vagabonds like us are not interested in artsy-fartsy ruins or anything as simple as sightseeing. When we go out, we like to work hard and play hard.

Combat boots on, brothers and sisters in arms! There will be a lot of climbing and those of you dear readers who find little or no pleasure in wild beauty or trekking, can skip this entry altogether. We are hijacking the blog (just for a little bit) to take the brave ones into the wilderness that inspired excellent books like Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia!

British Camp Information board

British Camp Information board

British Camp fort illustration

British Camp fort illustration

Map of Malvern Hills

Map of Malvern Hills

Your intuition is correct – we are off the see the Malvern Hills, one of the biggest tourist attractions in West Midlands. The Hills are known far and wide and are strategically located in the heart of the Three Counties: Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire.

Look below, our military intelligence prepared a short  useful report about our destination. A bit of statistics always comes in handy :

Number of hills 22 (including End Hill, Table Hill, North Hill, Sugarloaf Hill, Worcestershire Beacon, Summer Hill, Perseverance Hill, Jubilee Hill, Pinnacle Hill, North Black Hill, South Black Hill, Tinkers Hill, Herefordshire Beacon (British Camp), Millennium Hill, Broad Down, Hangman’s Hill, Swinyard Hill, Midsummer Hill, Hollybush Hill, East Raggedstone Hill, West Raggedstone Hill and Chase End Hill)
Highest points Worcestershire Beacon – 425m
North Hill – 397m
British Camp Hill with Herefordshire Beacon – 338m
Number of springs and holy wells  88
Total length of trails and                                                               roads  160 km (100 miles)
Total length of hills in a  straight line 13 km (8 miles)
Total area of natural reserve 105 square kilometers (41 square miles)
Official site http://www.visitthemalverns.org/malvern_hills_leaflets
Herefordshire Beacon

Herefordshire Beacon

Beautiful view from the top on Herefordshire and Worcestershire

Beautiful view from the top on Herefordshire and Worcestershire

Malvern Hills panorama

Malvern Hills panorama

Malvern Hills raw, untamed beauty can literally heal body and soul. Running up and down the green gables is a great exercise and your mind can finally rest as well. No telephone calls (the reception is poorly), no shouting bosses, no emails or laptops (unless you take it with you). Clear, fresh air, cold wind and wide open space everywhere you go. Locals say that Malvern Hills are magical – human race has been living here since the prehistoric times worshiping the powers of nature and pagan gods on the hilltops. Wild animals can be seen roaming the valleys and endangered birds are nesting despite millions of tourists coming here each year. The legend says that the Hills are indestructible – they have been created at the beginning of time and will last until the time itself runs out. They offer comfort and peace for those who look for it. All you need to do is to sit down, close your eyes and listen. In few minutes you will find yourself in a completely different universe. It is truly amazing what can you hear: wind whistling among the rocks, buzzing of the bees, skylark singing, strange whistles made by buzzards and distant echoes of laughter and talking. But there is more: concentrate harder and you will realize that birds of prey are floating nearby and their wings slash the air like arrows, rare High Brown Fritillary Butterflies are dancing above the ground and a family of dormice is just starting to eat their lunch. And in the background, the most soothing music of the Hills can be heard – the gently singing of a mountain stream.

Long way up

Long way up

Trails

Trails

And yet another road

And yet another road

Tiny brooks made of rain and snow-melt water flowing lazily among the rocks are crystal clear. They are said to have healing properties and several miraculous springs are in constant use since the middle ages. Great Malvern has been a spa resort since the 17th century and even today people are coming here to recover after hospital stays or prolonged illnesses. We have seen lots of tourists on wheelchairs, walking with canes or slowly climbing supported by their partners or relatives. It’s really uplifting seeing them trying so hard to get back to health – that’s the spirit we say! Nothing comes easy but climbing the hill is incredibly rewarding. Kudos to everyone that tries!

Did you know that royal family has been drinking Malvern Hills bottled water for few decades now and Queen Elizabeth doesn’t go abroad without a large supply? This is not an urban legend or a patriotic tale repeated by Malvern based tourist guides. Local holy wells built around 14th century have been thoroughly tested and the analysis will amaze you. The water is filtered by Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rock, one of the oldest in the entire United Kingdom. The rocks are estimated to be 670 million years old and are extremely hard. Water drops are perfectly filtered by large cracks in the stone cleared of any impurities and dirt but at the same time, they are unable to do any damage to the stone! Water has been penetrating the rocks for millions of years and yet the scientists can find none or very little minerals in it. We are sure you are familiar with the ever famous saying by Ovid that simple drop of water can dissolve mountains. It is a scientifically proven fact, yet Malvern Hills seems to be an exception to this rule. A true miracle of nature and so close to us!

Tourists resting on the trail

Tourists resting on the trail

The main road

The main road

Deep rows better known as ditches were constructed to  keep palisade in place

Deep rows better known as ditches were constructed to keep palisade in place

Bottled water from Malvern Hills can be purchased in hotels, shops in the city centre and on trails. Thirsty travellers are usually stopping at St. Anne’s Well, a popular café that offers good food and nice selection of ice creams and refreshing drinks. Another attraction of the café is a natural spring located in a small separate building on the right hand side from the main entrance. The water sprouts into tiny basin and visitors are able to drink straight from it. Please try not to make a mess when you are using the spring. We have seen several jokers that thought it would be funny to throw food or their dogs into the spring. Malvern Hills are protected by law and you will be quickly removed in case of any trouble. The whole area is designated as a Biological and Geological Site of Special Scientific Interest and as National Character Area 103 by Natural England. It was also recently named as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and any antisocial behavior will be severely punished. A special reminder from Malvern Hills Conservators we were asked to pass: don’t leave the trails and wander through the hills on your own. Walking paths, stairs and trails have been created to make the visit smooth, easy and safe. Going off road is not prohibited but can be fatal for many protected species of fauna and flora. Just one step in your heavy boots can crush rare plants (bracken, gorse, harebell or a black poplar) or kill great crested newts or adders that live on the hillsides. Malvern Hills is a nature reserve with acid grasslands, mixed broad-leaved, semi-natural and ancient natural woodlands so treat it with respect. Smoking and littering can earn you a 3B’s (big boot to the backside) – you have been warned!

Impressive earthworks changed the entire hill range and neighboring valleys

Impressive earthworks changed the entire hill range and neighboring valleys

Earthworks number 2

Earthworks number 2

And number three

And number three

The beauty of the hills can melt even the hardest heart of a soldier but this is not why we are here today. Our interest lies on the very top of Herefordshire Beacon Hill. This is where an ancient hill fort has been located. Historians do not know the real name of the fort but the Iron Age settlement is commonly known as the British Camp. The unusual name has been coined in 1879 during major excavation works led by F G Hilton Price when the archeologist tried to distinguish this particular structure from other forts in the region that were constructed by Romans. It is believed that the large settlement (around 120 wooden huts encircling large castle-like building) has been created  more than 3,500 years ago by native British or Celtic tribes.  Legends say that the fort has been attacked numerous times and survived intact until around 48-43 AD when it was probably burned down along with other forts  at Midsummer Hill, Bredon Hill and Croft Ambrey near Leomister and subsequently abandoned. According to folklore, British Camp was an important strategic point against the Romans and it was defended by famous chieftain Caratacus, prince of Catuvellauni tribe from South-Eastern part of Britain. After losing the battle, Caratacus has been taken to Roma as a prisoner and was to be killed after the triumphal parade. However,  he was allowed to address the Roman Senate before his execution as a token of respect for his bravery and fighting skills.  His speech given in front of  Emperor Claudius made such a big impression on everybody that Caratacus was not only pardoned but also received full civil rights and a house in the capitol! Truth or not, he spent his remaining days in Rome and passed away sometime after year 50 AD. His name is mentioned by several credible Roman historians so we can be sure that he lived peacefully and was held in great esteem.

Stairways to heaven

Stairways to heaven

Road to Worcestershire Beacon

Road to Worcestershire Beacon

One of the deepest ditches  found  during our trek

One of the deepest ditches found during our trek

British Camp during its heyday looked like a big wedding cake with multiple layers. Extensive earthworks forever changed the entire hill and even today we can easily identify where certain buildings or defensive structures were located. Deep ditches  were dug especially to hold tall palisade or a stake wall (up to four meters tall), narrow passages led to four city gates and living quarters were spread evenly around the rampart built on the top of the hill. Round huts had no chimneys but could accommodate extended three generation family. The rest of village grounds were used for farming and animal grazing. As you can see soldiers, British camp was self sufficient and could withstand not only prolonged occupation but also harsh weather and famine.  Archeologists haven’t found any temples or places of worship inside the fort, but religion was an important part of  everyday life and it is almost impossible for such a large, permanent settlement not to have a designated place for praying.  Some theories mention that  celebrations and rituals could take place on a main square in front of the rampart, but we have no evidence to support it. We don’t know how many people lived in and outside of British Camp, but the number could be as high as 4000. Very impressive indeed!

Water reservoir  near Little Malvern Priory - we haven't been there yet, but  we are returning for sure!

Water reservoir near Little Malvern Priory – we haven’t been there yet, but we are returning for sure!

Tomb Raiders, beware!

Tomb Raiders, beware!

Strange marks found on the hillside of  Hertfordshire Beacon - it looks like a devil's hoof :)

Strange marks found on the hillside of Hertfordshire Beacon – it looks like a devil’s hoof 🙂

Now, we promised not to mention any castles, but we are forced to eat our own words. In 10th century, Harold Godwison, the last Anglo-Saxon king in England constructed a small bailey castle within the fort, using its location and remaining walls  as additional protection. The castle didn’t survive  to this day but you can clearly see the foundations on aerial and satellite photographs.  It was probably erected at least ten years before the Battle of Hastings and was known locally as Colwall Castle. Harold died at Hastings and the castle was passed from hands to hands, finally being given to Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and 1st Earl of Worcester sometime around 1130. Waleran and his twin brother Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester, re-modernized the building in early 1150 adding new walls and guarding towers. Sadly the castle was burned down by Henry II just five years later and was never renewed.  It is a bit of a shame as Malvern Hills could benefit further from having yet another landmark worth seeing.

British camp, Iron age earthworks and a beautiful scenery are not the only attractions that each tourist should see with their own eyes. There are plenty of  interesting places that we haven’t discovered yet and that’s why, another expedition was called for. Our next trip will take us to Gullet Quarry, Little Malvern Priory, Wynds Points, Pink Cottage and The Giant’s Cave! Soldiers just cannot wait!

Unusual road sign!

Unusual road sign!

Go West

Go West

 

Till our next time!
Stay safe and come back again shortly.

xxxx
Your commanders,
Rita and Malicia D.

 

One castle a day: A trip to London part 2

Ahoy travelers!

Welcome on board, welcome! Please sit down comfortably, fasten your seat-belts and be prepared for another adventure. We might not be traveling through space and time but still, amazing places are waiting to be discovered. Our photographer-in-chief, Malicia is signalling that we are ready for a take off. London, here we go again!

If you have not seen the first part of our review from the trip to London, please click on the link below and our excellent board computer will display all information on your personal screen:
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/one-castle-a-day-a-trip-to-london-part-1/

Coat of Arms at at the Main Entrance to The Tower of London

Coat of Arms at at the Main Entrance to The Tower of London

As you know, Tower Hill offers so many attractions and ancient nooks that you can wander around for ages and you won’t see everything that’s truly worth viewing. We remember spending there so much time, that our feet got sore from walking and we had to sit down to take a rest. Since resting is boring and walking is fun, let’s not waste anymore time and take a closer look at the most impressive building in the neighborhood: The Tower of London!

1. Tower of London

Don’t be fooled by the name – The Tower of London is not just a single tower. This is a majestic castle constructed on the north bank of River Thames and is formally known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress. In direct opposition to the castles we have seen before, Tower of London isn’t ruined – it is a fully functional museum opened for visitors. If you ever have a chance to see it, please take a full guided tour.  Be prepared to pay a lot of money, especially if you are traveling with friends or family, but it is so worth to see it all!

The Tower of London - be afraid, be very afraid...

The Tower of London – be afraid, be very afraid…

The castle has been founded sometime around 1066 during the Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror. To fully celebrate his new found victory and strengthen his rule over Britain, the new king and his advisers undertook what the historians call the most extensive castle building program in Europe’s feudal history. William is credited with founding more than 47 castles; another 30 probably have been built by his generals and knights. The majority of castles survived to our times but many have fallen into disrepair or were taken down. One thing is worth mentioning here -bricks and stones used to constructs William’s castles were of excellent quality, they were re-used in creation of other buildings even several centuries later!

Designed to become a symbol of power and authority, The Tower of London was considered to be the most important castle by the new ruling elite. Its thick defensive walls and tall steeples dominated the surrounding area and brought fear and respect to local residents. Popularly known only as a prison, the castle consists of a complex of several separate buildings within two rings of walls. A 50 meter (160 ft.) moat is also included. We can easily call it a multi functional building: a fortification, prison, status symbol and splendid royal residence constructed to the newest and most luxurious standards in one.

All along the Watchtower!

All along the Watchtower!

The Tower of London has been extended several times, especially in 11th, 12th, 14th and 17th century, additional works were also necessary to fix the damages suffered during the London Blitz. During Williams’s reign, the castle was a center of politics, cultural events and administration. In later centuries, the Crown used this massive castle almost exclusively as a prison or defensive post which greatly contributed to the poor reputation of this magnificent structure. Throughout the medieval period (especially during Tudor times when many people have been imprisoned there) the Tower was a mere symbol of oppression. Londoners bitterly hated it and were afraid to even mention the castle by name. At some point, discussing the Tower was forbidden in local pubs and inns as it was spoiling the moods of the patrons.

We do not intend to write a historical essay about the castle. If you require more information, please refer to Wikipedia or visit the official site of The Tower of London at: http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/

The old walls surrounding the Tower of London

The old walls surrounding the Tower of London

However, there is a few very interesting facts that you might want to hear. The first person ever to become imprisoned in the Tower was Bishop Ranulf Flambard. Ranulf was kept under the lock and key after he demanded high taxes from the local inhabitants circa 1100. This unlawful act earned him a luxurious cell with two personal servants and a right for a party once in a while. Bishop didn’t enjoy his golden cage and bribed his captors to help him escape. During an official evening meal with the security guards on 2nd of February 1101, Bishop managed to dissolve a sleeping medicine in wine and escaped on a rope through the window when everybody fell asleep. This act of bravery earned him his freedom but also accusations of witchcraft and selling his holy soul to the devil.

In the 14th century, Margaret de Clare, Baroness Badlesmere spent a full year in the Tower after the assault on Queen Isabella. When Isabella arrived with her royal guards to Leeds Castle, Baroness not only refused her the admittance but also ordered her archers to shoot at the Queen. Isabella’s guards protected the monarch but six of them have lost their lives. Please don’t judge Margaret de Clare too harshly. Queen Isabella is popularly known as She-Wolf of France. Extremely well educated, highly intelligent and ambitious, she has met her match in Margaret. Both women have a lot in common: they were married young for political reasons and were expected to follow and serve their husbands. They had to live in turbulent and unstable times and fought hard to find their own place in the world. Historians believe that Isabella’s unexpected arrival at Leeds Castle during pilgrimage to Canterbury was a clever plot to attack Margaret’s husband, Baron Badlesmere who fell out of royal favor. Margaret knew that allowing the Queen into the castle would not only disrespect her husband’s direct orders but also give Isabella a chance to destroy the plans for rebellion against Edward II. Margaret paid a dear price for her loyalty: she and her children were imprisoned and  Bartholomew de Badlesmere, 1st Baron Badlesmere was killed. Isabella’s victory was short-lived too. Her own son, Edward III ordered the execution of her lover Roger Mortimer, removed her from the court and kept her away from politics and power.

The famous Torture Chamber

The famous Torture Chamber

And if we are mentioning Roger Mortimer, we have to say that he was the  main hero of another famous escape from The Tower that took place in 1322 when Sir Mortimer, 1st Earl of March was sentenced to imprisonment in the lower part of the castle. Thanks to generous bribes handed to the sub–lieutenant and his men, Earl escaped the royal prison in a boat, but spent several hours digging his way out through a wall with a shovel.

It is worth mentioning that The Tower was not only the place of torture. Joan of England (1321–1362), known as Joan of the Tower was born there on 5th of July 1321. The youngest daughter of Isabella of France and Edward II was connected to the fortress throughout her entire life. As a princess, she visited the Tower repeatedly over the years and was given her own private quarters. Later, when her husband, David II of Scotland has been imprisoned there by Edward III, Joan was granted the rights to visit him in hopes to produce an heir to the Scottish throne. As you can imagine, sex was not enjoyable and Joan never got pregnant.

According to popular beliefs, The Tower is haunted by several ghosts: the murdered Princes (Edward V and Prince Richard), Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford and even a grizzly bear!

A perfect gift card. Let's go shopping!

A perfect gift card. Let’s go shopping!

2. The White Tower

In the heart of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress stands a massive white building commonly known as The White Tower. Again, despite the name, White Tower is not technically a tower at all – it is a keep, also known as a donjon. In medieval castles, the keeps were always the strongest structures designed to withstand prolonged sieges and attacks. As the rest of the fortress, The White Tower served several purposes. As a self reliant building, the keep offered a solid protection in case of a war. Thick stone walls rising nearly up to 30 meters could survive not only cannon balls but also mortar fire, the most advanced weapon known to a man in the middle ages. The keep had a luxurious interiors suitable for a the royal couple, several administrative rooms, garrison, servants quarters, a chapel and towers that offered a perfect look out points.

Even by today’s standards, The White Keep is a gigantic building, strikingly impressive. It has been founded in 1065, but the construction started more than a decade later, sometime between 1075 and 1079. Archaeological testing also proved that at least two long breaks in construction occurred:  the first in 1080’s and later around 1090–1093. We do not know the reasons for the pauses but historians debate that they were probably caused by financial difficulties. Constable of the Tower, the oldest existing military title in Britain, was usually given to the most senior soldier stationed in the castle. The Constable was in charge of the  entire fortress when the King was away. The position was especially prestigious as it came with personal lodgings, servants, royal grants of land or money, fantastic salary and sometimes a noble title. Not to shabby, eh?

The White Tower

The White Tower

We visited the tower several years before it underwent a 2 million pounds restoration in 2011.  Right now the monument is a sparkling gem as the pollution gathered during the centuries has been successfully removed. The frontal facade has been restored to former glory and was bleached with traditional technique used to whiten walls since the reign of Henry II.

3.  St. Thomas Tower and The Traitor’s Gate

St. Thomas Tower is one of 21 towers constructed around The Tower of London as an additional protection to the White Tower and the inner walls. Constructed around 1270 on orders of Edward I, St. Thomas Tower lies in the heart of the great fortress. Along with two other neighboring towers, the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower, they are known as the Medieval Palace as they served as royal lodgings for Edward and his father, Henry III. Historic Royal Places charity managed to reconstruct Edward’s private bed chamber withing St. Thomas Tower and it is now open to visitors. It consists of 13th century furniture (four post bed, chests, table and chairs), beautifully painted fireplace and wall decorations. St Thomas Tower can be rented for wedding receptions through May to September and will accommodate a party of 40 guests. Just be warned, the price to pay will be royal!

A gate build underneath St Thomas Tower is known as the Traitor’s Gate. It was built by Edward I to provide an easy water gate access to the tower straight from the river Thames. Originally intended to deliver food and weapons , the Gate  gained a sinister reputation in Tudor era.  Royal prisoners were brought to Tower on a barge, passing under the  London Bridge where they could see the heads of killed prisoners displayed on pikes. Both, Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More, entered the Tower by Traitors’ Gate.

St. Thomas Tower and The Traitor's Gate

St. Thomas Tower and The Traitor’s Gate

3. Tower Bridge

Located near the Tower of London, The Tower Bridge has been named after the fortress. Built between 1886 and 1894, it was officially opened by Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) and Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark) on 30th of June 1894.
The Tower Bridge is one of the instantly recognized symbols of the capitol and is universally known. There is little need to describe it as the bridge is as famous as the Queen, red phone boxes or The Beatles. We can add that it took 5 architects to oversee its construction, nearly 500 engineers and thousands of workers. The bridge is 244 meters long and its twin pillars anchored in the river bed weight 70.000 tones each.  Tower Bridge is extremely popular with tourists and sometimes it’s hard to pass on the other side of town without stopping because somebody wants to take a picture! Expect  larger crowds in 2014 as the bridge will be 120 years old!

The bridge serves also an an art gallery. Please check the official website at: http://www.towerbridge.org.uk/TBE/EN/

Lower view of Tower Bridge

Lower view of Tower Bridge

Tower Hill panorama with The Tower Bridge.

Tower Hill panorama with The Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge as seen from River Thames

Tower Bridge as seen from River Thames

4. The battle of Canary Wharf

As you know, Rita and Mal are huge fans of Doctor Who. Being in London, we just couldn’t resist visiting one of the locations used in the show. For “normal” human beings, Canary Wharf is an important business district and second  financial center in the capitol (the other being City of London). For a respectable Whovian, it is a site of a deadly battle between Daleks and Cybermen, with humanity trapped in a crossfire (July 2006). Thanks to the Tenth Doctor and several of his associates, mankind survived this horrendous experience but many lives has been lost. It is here that The Doctor also lost his beloved companion Rose after she became trapped in an alternative universe without the ability of ever coming back again.

We have paid our respects to brave Torchwood operatives and the common men and women of London who sacrificed everything for the sake of our planet. Enjoy the pictures and don’t forget to watch an excellent documentary about the battle entitled “Doomsday” produced by BBC with memorable performance by David Tennant (as Tenth Doctor) and Billie Piper (as Rose Tyler) among others.

Canary Wharf just two years after the battle

Canary Wharf just two years after the battle

The site has been known to Whovians simply as Doomsday

The site has been known to Whovians simply as Doomsday

Our trip to London Town is slowly coming to an end. We hope that you have enjoyed this strange mix of history, modern photography and a bit of science-fiction!

Our next destination will be a true castle again, so stay tuned!
We will see you shortly.

Don’t leave anything on board (except for tips for the captain and the crew!)
XXX
Rita and Mal