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.
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.
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.
My walking buddy Harriet and I stayed over in a fabulous 16th Century coaching inn just outside the very popular walking resort of Betws-y-Coed in North Wales at the beginning of the year (2012). We wanted to have a very simple introduction to the wonders of the Snowdonia National Park. We were not aiming to go climbing any mountains on this occasion as the weather wasn’t forecast to be brilliant for views, so instead we took a river walk which I have to say was delightful. Have a listen to the podcast below…