Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Home Again!

Okay! After 35 hours of traveling, including a four hour drive to London, a ten hour flight to San Francisco and seven hours of waiting in an airport longue, I am finally home and recovered from jet lag.

At 12:01 am on April 2nd I will select the winner of this cool gift basket. Leave a comment on one of the Welsh related posts and you will be entered to win. Then check back to see if you have a little Celtic luck.

Pembroke Castle

I’ve saved the best for last. I made the hour drive from Cardigan to Pembroke to visit Pembroke Castle. What a site! Pembroke has been restored nearly to the state it was in after Sir William Marshall did the first major stone construction on the site.

There is evidence that the site has been occupied for over 12,000 years. The Wogan, a vast cavern deep under the bedrock was occupied during the Paleolithic Ice Age. I walked down (and up) forty steps to get to this amazing site under the castle. The river Teifi flowed right by the opening of the cavern and would have made a handy escape route should the castle ever have been bridged.

The original castle was a wooden construction, built by Roger de Montgomery, a cousin of William the Conqueror, sometime around 1093. His reign as Lord Pembroke was short as he died in 1094.

It was Roger’s youngest son, Arnulf who built Pembroke into one of the earliest Marcher, 

or borderland, lordships. The Marcher lords had nearly unbridled power and so were able to dominate most of southern and western Wales.  However, house Montgomery came to an untimely end in 1102 when Arnulf and his brother rose against the new English king, Henry I.

Henry I held power over Pembroke until his death. To keep the Welsh princes in line he took as a hostage Princess Nest, who 

eventually became his mistress and bore him a son. She was considered the Helen of Wales, causing a minor war when she left her legal husband for a handsome young prince. Nest was astute at political maneuvering and her issue formed the basis for many strong Welsh dynasties. But more of Nest in a later post.

The great stone construction was not begun until 1204 when

William Marshall marched into Pembroke at the head of an army to claim his wife’s inheritance. The first stone building he erected was the Great Keep. It is huge. Yes I climbed all the way to the top. After the first four, I had to 

 and rest for a few breaths on each flight, but the view was worth it.

Unbeknownst to many, Pembroke is the birthplace of Henry VII, 

therefore it is the ancestral home of the Tudor Monarchy. Henry Tudor was born there in 1457 and he used his attachment to the great British kings to encourage fealty when he successfully attempted to take the English crown.

The castle has played a role in many of Britain’s important historical moments including the invasion of Ireland, the War of the Roses, and the civil war of the 1640’s, after which Oliver Cromwell ordered the walls breached and the fortification slighted. But in the 1880’s it was reconstructed back nearly to its medieval brilliance by Sir Ivor Phillipps, who then set up a trust to continue maintenance of the buildings and grounds.

Though many tried, in the whole of its existence this amazing fortification never fell to invaders. Pembroke Castle is a testament to the building skills of the Normans and one of the jewels of the British Historical Trust. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

North Wales

I took half a day to drive up to North Wales to meet some acquaintances of a friend. Bridie Przibram and her husband Ian and son Kyle were kind enough to let me stay at their home on the outskirts of Wrexham and to take me castle hopping the next day.

Bridie is a professional theatrical costume designer and Ian supervises a group of answering service professionals. Kyle is eight and goes to school. He also takes fencing lessons so he and Bridie were off to class after we had a lovely dinner of homemade chicken curry. Ian and I chatted about fencing, books, being Goth parents and books.

This family reads a lot. Part of the new extension on their house includes floor to ceiling bookshelves. They have all kinds of books from a medieval who’s who to classic literature to cutting edge science fiction and horror. The nice thing is they encourage Kyle to have the imagination that only comes from reading books. After fencing, Ian sat down for an hour and read a really cool story with Kyle. It’s great to know that bedtime reading is still an important part of family life. I also got a short lesson in speaking Welsh. That “w” that looks like it’s in a weird place is a vowel. It has a sound like “oo” in “Boo”. At least now I can pronounce a lot of those place names on the map.

Next day we rose early, had a full English breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, grilled mushrooms, and baked beans (Bridie had the beans. Ian disagreed as to whether breakfast had to include the beans to be considered “full”), then we were on our way to Caergwrle Castle. 


 Caergwrle is a beautiful castle at the top of a good sized hill.  From the crest you can see how the village eventually formed around the fortification. Like many castles in Wales it is a ruin, but you can still feel the history of the place. 

Built between 1277 and 1282, it was the stronghold of Dafydd a Graffydd who started an ill fated rebellion which led England’s Edward I to launch his successful military campaign in Wales. 

 We managed to get in a bit of sword fighting before descending the hill and moving on to Flint Castle.

Flint Castle is a much larger fortification situated on the Dee Estuary, a bit further north. It is part of Edward I’s Iron Ring of Fortresses built in the 13th century.


As the next day was Mothering Sunday, Bridie, Ian and Kyle were off to visit family and I was on my way home.

Thanks to this great family for giving me a taste of Northern Welsh hospitality. 

For more Pics of Caergwrle and Flint check out Part 2.


Next Time: Pembroke Castle

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Treforgan Farm and Llangoedmor Pt 2

Here are a few more pics of the farm

Treforgan Farm and Llangoedmor

Though my journey to Wales was an adventure, since arriving here it could not have been more wonderful. I am staying at a beautiful holiday retreat called Treforgan Farm, nestled in the countryside just outside of Cardigan. It really is a farm as well as a place for a nice get away.

Jane and Jeff Hayward are the wonderful people who own and run the place. Here's Jane on her way to take the ducks to the pond. 

There are all kinds of animals here. Three dogs, ten cats, ducks, chickens, and cows.  That's Lucy on the left. She’s a friendly girl and likes to greet everyone who arrives during the day. And here’s Buttercup. She had a bit of a cold on this day and so stayed in the barn when the other cows were in the field.

Aside from all the animals, the Haywards also own the holiday cottages and campsites. I’m staying in the Little Box Cottage. (See pics in my earlier post). But they also have a bigger cottage that sleeps five and they are doing enough business to redo one of the barns into another holiday cottage.

Here’s Jeff cleaning working on the new place. They have been busy building and painting and getting it ready for the upcoming spring and summer holiday season. And there's Nigel the nice man from the pub who drew a map for me. He's the electrician. That's how he knew how to get to the farm.

Treforgan Farm is considered part of the village of Llangoedmor. I discovered that llan means church, and there is a church here, complete with graveyard. The oldest grave I found was from 1798. 

Here are some of the residents I spotted on my walk around.


I couldn't have picked a more lovely place to spend two weeks. My thanks to Jane and Jeff for their warm and welcoming hospitality. To see more pics of the farm check out Part 2

Next Time: North Wales

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cardigan and Cilgerran-Pt 2

Approaching the Castle

  Crossing the Moat

One of Many Loopholes  
for defending the castle

The East Tower

Inside the East Tower

Me at the West Tower

Inside the West Tower

  The Outer Yard

Next Time: Treforgan Farm and Llangoedmor

Cardigan and Cilgerran-Pt 1

After recovering from my trip to the west, I spent the morning just a few minutes away in Cardigan. It is an ancient Welsh cultural and commercial centre on the Teifi River Estuary. The town was founded in 1093 by the Norman Roger de Montgomery. Now a thriving market town of about 4000 people, it is famous for its many festivals. The town is full of Georgian and Victorian buildings, traditional shops, and inns. Cardigan’s largely unspoiled townscape and its rich cultural heritage make it a very special place to visit and enjoy. (See Pics above)

On St Patrick’s day, I made a trip to Cilgerran Castle, the scene of Kissed by a Rose, Book 2 in my Scorpion Moon series. Cilgerran is a small town, just about a 10 minute drive from Cardigan. The castle is the UK National Trust List. Fortunately, this is the off season and I pretty much had the entire place to myself. My first sight of the west tower was so awe inspiring that I had to stop in my tracks and look up. (See Cardigan and Cilgerran-Pt 2). Though for my time period, the castle would not have been nearly as big, I can still imaging people walking the bulwarks and shooting arrows out of the loopholes. I wondered how women dressed in long kirtles and bulky cloaks, managed to climb all those narrow winding stairs.  I am really inspired to write now!

Next Time:   Llangoedmor and Treforgan Farm