A Trip to Cardiff Castle

Where possible I try to visit places I might not otherwise get to see when out working. The other day I had a few hours to kill in between some film making I was doing for a client of mine and I took the opportunity to have a visit to Cardiff Castle. I decided I would take the more expensive option and have the guide tour which set me back £14 which at the time I considered quite expensive, but most likely give me the best experience of the castle and grounds.

Cardiff Castle is an impressive building, particularly on the outside as the wall is massive and wraps itself around a large area right in the centre of the city. You cannot avoid the dominant crenelations as you drive or walk around around the city and the entrance tower is spectacular and definitely draws you in. What I didn’t appreciate though was that most of what you see is actually Victorian and not all that old. The oldest part of the castle is the Motte, the mound that the 14th century keep stands on. There are bits and piece of the original Roman fort and some elements of the Norman wall, although not really enough to get terrible excited out. The old shell of a keep on the motte dates from 14th century, which is pretty old and very impressive and you can access it and climb the stairs to the top. However, it is only a shell and there is not a lot to show you exactly how it might have looked or to inspire you as to how it was used by the Norman barons.

The main house as I mentioned is mainly Victorian and although very ornate with lust decorations, it sports a 19th Century view of the middle ages which I found curious but not really helpful to someone who is interested in the medieval period. The guided tour was only limited to the house and although the chap was very knowledgeable, you really got the sense he was going through the motions and didn’t really engage with the audience. I wanted to ask many questions, but he was constantly checking his watch and I felt pushed along.

All in all, I think there many things missing from the experience at Cardiff Castle and I do believe that the cost of entrance is far too excessive.

I am not an expert!

This thing I call the Bald Explorer is about passion. It is rooted in the enthusiasm I have for our historic past, but I must make it totally clear that I am not an expert. I don’t even know in truth what being an expert really means. I am not an academic or a historian. I have not been to university to study a preordained course of work to achieve either knowledge nor obtain a piece of paper with qualifications attached.

So far the experiments in video presented on this web site and the telling of history as I see it have been useful as a development method, but are not yet the final work that I wish to present to you the viewing public. I am very much aware that I am still finding my feet and exploring the tools of film production to impart the passion about the history of Britain and its amazing relics which are here to see, feel and touch as well as wonder at and be amazed by. But let me state quite categorically that I do not in anyway feel that I have achieved the correct method of conveying that emotion and shall, as best as I can, given all the financial restrictions and time constraints, continue to search for the path that brings forth the best way to engage with my audience.

More than anything else though, I acknowledge that I am not an expert in any of this and in fact that is not ambition of the Bald Explorer. It isn’t about becoming the fount of all knowledge on the given subjects or quests within each video presentation, but simply to demonstrate that this country in which I live and have my being has a utterly fascinating past, an important and essential one, one that explains who we are and potentially where we are going. My goal is not to bore people with dry facts and figures and tell them all this is good to know, but to share my passion, enthuse and engage and explain why I think all these historic events and buildings, relics and stories matter and are important to us now. I may not be right, but it is my explorations and conclusions that I wish to impart

I have realized looking back at the work so far carried out that I haven’t in anyway achieved this, but by simply grasping that fact, I am hopefully going to find it easier to determine the correct path in the future. I hope that I shall slowly master and over come the technical constraints and tackle the problems of video production, the challenges of using the camera and presentation styles to convey in a linear way the essence of my story, and cope with the limitations of access to historic materials, buildings and places so that the audience can appreciate the message and enjoy the experience with me.

Thank you for your support and visiting this website.

Offas Dyke Walk – Podcast

Richard and Harriet take a walk along Offa’s Dyke near the lovely town of Montgomery in Montgomershire in Wales.

Offa’s Dyke is a massive linear earthwork, roughly followed by some of the current border between England and Wales. In places, it is up to 65 feet (19.8 m) wide (including its flanking ditch) and 8 feet (2.4 m) high. In the 8th century it formed some kind of delineation between the kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh kingdom of Powys.

Download as Podcast.

Where are the Marches?

If you look on the usual maps of Great Britain, you may well find such exciting places as the Peak District, the Malverns and the New Forest, but curiously you wont necessarily find a label announcing the Marches. And that is unusual because the March of Wales has been around, in terms of identification, long before the others had their moniker’s attached.

You also be surprised to learn that, and please correct me if I am wrong, there are no brown signs indicating when you have entered or left the Marches. In the next Bald Explorer, I intend to discover why that is.

The Anglo-Saxon Christian King Offa is said to be responsible of the 70 mile man-made ditch that runs almost the entire length along the border between England and Wales. He was the King of Mercia from 757 to 796AD. His famous Dyke was at the beginning of trying to define where one country starts and the other finishes, but nothing in the Marches is as simple as that and both the Anglo-Saxons and the Welsh kept pushing the borders forwards and back.

When the Normans invaded just after the middle of the 11th Century the lines became even more blurred. This borderland was handed over to a series of Barons who turned their territory into mini kingdoms complete with independence from the crown. The Welsh were pushed west and up into the mountainous hills and castles and strong holds were constructed to guard the frontier lands. But this great region was not stable, even from themselves. The Welsh would battle against their own countrymen and the Norman Lords did likewise. The Marches became divided and parceled up further increasing the lordships, kingdoms and consequently, the resentments. This continued for hundreds of years.

Even though Henry VIII eventually took away the Marcher Lords power and dissolved their independence, forming new shires and counties in the mid 16th Century, the term Marches has adhered to this undefined borderland. The map may depict in black and white an exact spot where the each country switches to the other, but those that live in the Marches may tell you that they live neither in England nor Wales, but somewhere far more unique; that fascinating place in between.

The Making of the Bald Explorer

In November last year the cameras were rolling as the Bald Explorer ventured over the famous Romney Marshes looking for Smugglers of the 17th and 18th centuries. In February, this year, the video was completed and released on Youtube and the Bald Explorer website. But who is this bald explorer chappie and what has this got to doing with walking?

My name is Richard Vobes and I am a keen film maker and avid walker. I love the British countryside for its diversity and  variation of landscapes, scenery and fabulous pathways through villages and towns in between. For me British history is wrapped up with the countryside, whether that be the old drovers paths where shepherds once took their sheep or the routes from the coast that free traders would carried their illicit contraband along. So it seemed a good idea to marry both my interests together and make a series of videos about them. As I also happen to be follically challenged the shows title seemed to suggest itself.

The Bald Explorer is on his bike

To date there are three episodes of the Bald Explorer in the same number of different counties of England; Kent, Sussex and Shropshire and I have many more planned. The Welsh Marches are beckoning me at the moment for a spring production.

To make a quality video that people will sit down and watch for thirty or forty minutes is quite a challenge and requires much planning. It all starts with the research. Being an avid reader that isn’t so much of a problem and having chosen my subject area I start to gather the interesting facts, stories and legends and make a list.

Before I start to write a script I need to go and walk about on ‘location’ as it were and get a feel for the place. There are technical things I am looking for too. These would include practical logistics, such as parking sites, toilets, access to walk ways and historic monuments; permissions, feasibility and even the health and safety of filming in certain situations. Its also essential to discover if there are not so immediately obvious obstacles to worry about, such as am I going to shooting under a flight path. You cannot always tell from a map if the quaint little lane is in actual fact extremely busy and therefore too noisy to film on or the desired historic building is actually covered in scaffolding and undergoing renovation.

Having determined that the locations are suitable I start working on the script and trying to tell the story in a way that is both interesting to the viewer and also allows an opportunity to show off the wonderful assets this country has. Filming is all about compromise however and even though you might have all the bases covered when it comes to actually getting down to the shooting side of things there is plenty that can go wrong. The weather is not least one of them.

I try where possible to shoot on good days. Not only does it look pretty, but also its much nicer to work in. The winter of course doesn’t guarantee this and another issue I have to think about is the short days. It gets dark, from a video perspective at 3.30pm and that really limits what you can squeeze into a day’s shoot. On the plus side, the sun is low and the shadows long and this can result is some stunning photography.

Filming a cutaway shot for the Smugglers Tale

Once the footage is shot it is then over to the editing process. This is alike putting a jigsaw puzzle together and one of my favourite parts. Its where the production really comes to life and I can be my most creative. Choosing the music, the graphics and creating special titles are all part of the fun although it can take time to get it right.

For me though, the whole point of making the videos is to encourage others to get out and explore the areas and realise there is a lot more to the eye when to take a jaunt through the British landscape. Every building has a story. Every town has a legend. It makes walking so much more fun if you know some thing about the place you are visiting. Think of the battles and sieges around the castles of England and Wales that have taken place, the old timber framed pubs that once were important coaching inns and the abandoned canals that at one time provided the only way to transport coal and stone across the county.

My top five favourite places so far filmed are:

1. The County Town of Lewes.

Located about 7 miles from Brighton, Lewes once was an extremely important town in all of Sussex. It has the assize courts where the Acid Bath Murderer, John George Haigh, was tried in 1949. Tom Paine, one of the founding fathers of America lived before heading to that continent  and where the important Battle of Lewes took place by the Barons against the King in 1264. Henry 111 and his son, Prince Edward (later Edward the first) was defeated by Simon De Montfort in a dreadful and bloody battle around the slopes leading to the now ruined castle. It is a town that has its own battles with modern day bombers who target parking metres, so be careful where you leave your car!

2. Shrewsbury
This is another county town, in the beautiful countryside of Shropshire. It is quite unique, set as it is within a large loop of the River Severn on a promontory and containing an amazing collection of Elizabethan timber framed houses as well as stunning Georgian properties. Apart from the obvious places of interest, like the castle, its old market place and so forth, the ‘shuts’, the maze of narrow passageways that crisscross the town are just wonderful to explore. Close by, another important battle was fought in 1403 between Henry IV and Henry Hotspur from Lancaster. It was a tricky pitched battle and where the young prince, soon to be King Henry V learned his skills before taking archers to Agincourt twelves years later.

3. The Long Mynd and the Shropshire Hills
Staying in this stunning county and heading up to the south west takes you on the boarder with Wales and consequently into beautiful rolling hills which are almost unknown to people from other parts of the UK.  This glorious part of the world, with its peculiar outcrops of rock, like the Stiperstones and huge swathes of purple heather are an inspiration to the happy rambler. I have filmed both at sun rise and sun set and even danced in the early morning for part of my videos. Without a doubt, its is better than many places on this Earth and luckily so unpopulated with tourists and professional walkers.

4. The Romney Marshes
You might describe this as a little Norfolk because it is so flat, but you would be wrong to continue the comparison. Steeped in history for the midnight activities that went on during the smuggling era and the importance of the now long gone ports that once provided the King with his first navy, it has an unusual quality. Deserted churches, abandoned and now in ruins lie in the middle of farmers fields, shingle bays that move with the tide greet the visitor as they explore the once boggy marshland. And near by Rye, a town that has that lost in time quality about it.

5. Mystic Wiltshire
The land of stone circles, long and short barrows and ancient tombs is what Wiltshire is to some. It was where the antiquarians first began their interest  with our ancestors and pillaged there early burial chambers looking for treasures.  Places like Stonehenge of course still hold on to the idea of pagan rites and a place of druids. I love it because it takes you into a world where the truth is never certain and you can dream of past worlds and forgotten communities.