On our next day of the Great British adventure, we finally left merry ol’ England and headed in Wales to see Chepstow Castle and Tintern Abbey.
The first stop was another William Marshal site, Chepstow Castle.
Chepstow, although a fine castle, is NOT one of the top stops in Wales. It was a border castle built by the southern marcher lords after the Conquest. Its purpose was to control the countryside and people. The castle fell into the hands of William Marshal when he married one of the richest women in the British Isles, Isabel deClare. The lovely lady happened to be Strongbow’s heir and as such she was an Irish Princess with a heck of a lot land in Wales and Ireland. After her father’s death, she was kept in the Tower (not as a prisoner, but as a ward of the king) until she was finally promised in marriage to William Marshal. (see the Tower Power post for our visit there) And, that is how he got the bulk of his land and money– even then it never hurt to marry well.
Shortly after the marriage, he got to work adding fortifications to Chepstow. Many of his improvements are still standing today. He added exterior defensive tower gates and improved the great hall and living quarters for his wife and family.
If you look closely at the hall, you can even see some Roman stone work which was recycled and added to the building prior to The Marshal taking over the castle. Does this mean it could qualify for leed certification?
If you are looking for a castle that has lots of traces of The Marshal this is a fine one to see. The castle also boasts the oldest, still intact, wooden castle doors. They would have been in use at the end of The Marshal’s time period and still in use while his children held the castle. The private chambers added by Hugh Bigod, William Marshal’s son-in-law, were closed during our visit for repair. They had been restored to the time period and would have been fun to see. The rooms would have looked a little something like the chambers we saw at Dover Castle, so at least we had an idea of what we were missing.
We were also lucky. Good weather prevailed and a local college was holding its annual educational faire about the castle. They had all sorts of demonstrations set up from shooting arrows to cooking medieval food. Plus, people were walking around the castle in period costumes. We meet a knight and a stable boy.
After finishing at Chepstow, it was on to Tintern Abbey.
This IS one of Wales prominent tourist destinations. The Abbey was founded prior to William Marshal’s lordship. However, he would have been familiar with it and he founded a second Tintern Abbey in Ireland. The Abbey is in ruins now, as are so many religious buildings. Henry VIII had a quite the time looting and destroying them.
There is an unquantifiable strangeness about being in a run down Abbey. There is no roof and the floors have long ago given way to grass. Cinco layed down in the middle of the church among the clovers and grass. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic, a nap or some relaxing meditation.
Every once in awhile, hidden among the grass you can come across an old stone. Some are pieces of the church floor but other are long forgotten graves of people buried in the church. It turns out Strongbow’s father–Gilbert deClare– was buried in the church. The stone graves scatter among the blades of grass are a little unnerving, still it is interesting to think one of them might be from Strongbow’s father.
Beyond the striking church, the ruined cells and other rooms don’t seem like much. It takes a great deal more imagination to turn them into a mind’s eye image of a mystical Abbey.
Next, we drove to Lamphry a very small village outside Pembroke. We stayed at a bed and breakfast on a small Welsh farm. Our host, the farmer himself, was EXACTLY what you would expect of a Welsh farmer: muck boots, high-waisted pants, and covered in lots of earth!
We drove into Pembroke and followed a BBC walking tour I found that took us past the medieval wall, past the site of the old mill, along the pond and around the outside of Pembroke Castle.
The Princess became fixated on the swans in the pond. She named them and created an entire back story for them–something to do with a lady in waiting, and an evil queen. I must admit, I have NEVER seen so many swans at once. The pond must have had 50 of them.
In fact, the kids were so in love with the swans we found a pub on the water and ate on the patio so the kids could continue watching them! Cinco even turned his French fries into a medieval fort at dinner!
When we returned from dinner, I made friends with a beautiful brown horse on his farm. The horse walked straight over to me and let me pet him. The kids were very interested in this but kept their distance. After a few minutes, he started tugging at my sweater looking for food. Or perhaps he found the residue of my dinner. Whatever the case, he quickly moved from tugging at my sweater to trying to take a bite out of my hand. Don’t worry, it didn’t hurt. It was mainly rather slobbery!!! I couldn’t stop laughing, it was startling unexpected! On that note, it was time for bed…