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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Saturday, 5 February 2022

A truncated tour of Chepstow Castle

Son the Younger's car was due for an MOT and service in Newport, and since the weather forecast was good and since he's moving Up North (to Coventry) soon, I decided to make the most of him, and spare him the misery of hours spent waiting in Dunelm for it to be ready.  

On previous such occasions we've been to Porthcawl and Merthyr Mawr, Llandaff Cathedral and the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagan's, and Kenfig Burrows. This time we headed east to Chepstow ... 

... and its monstrous castle which, I'm ashamed to say, I've never been inside in all my 60 years, despite having lived within 12 miles of it ever since the opening of the old Severn Bridge in 1966. 

I say monstrous because it really is - a colossal weapon of mass oppression, the building of which was started in 1067 by Baron William FitzOsbern, a Norman warlord. This makes it the earliest stone castle in Wales; yea, verily, the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. Look at these buttresses:

Marten's Tower, c1270 - 1306 (but named for regicide Henry Marten, who was imprisoned there from 1668 to 1680) 

The gatehouse, c1189 - 1219

And the original castle doors, which have been dendrochronologically tested, date from at least the 1190s, and are the oldest castle doors in Europe.

They look like they could do with a lick of creosote, though.

The castle is built atop limestone cliffs that form a ridge of land between the River Wye and a small valley known locally as the Dell. 

In the cellars of the Lower Bailey you can see where provisions would have been winched up from boats moored below the castle walls.

The cellar steps

Doorway into the Middle Bailey

Unfortunately - given that it had taken me so long to visit - the Great Tower, which is the oldest part of the building, the Gallery, the Upper Bailey and the Upper Barbican are all currently out of bounds, owing to conservation work. Although the people we saw wandering around at that end of the Castle looked more like speleologists than conservationists. 

The Great Tower is the oldest section of the Castle, the part Baron William FitzOsbern built, incorporating some already worked blocks of stone from the Roman ruins at nearby Caerwent.  We did get to see the typically Norman chip-carving on the tympanum, though, and an overhead gull ...

... which made a change from all the feral pigeons copulating in various crannies.

Another ancient door leads into Marten's Tower ...

... where's there's quite a lot of old graffiti on the walls.

Inside Marten's Tower

The romantic Chapel window, with nature imitating art

Views from the top of Marten's Tower included:

Across the Lower Bailey to the Wye

The Priory Church of St Mary and the old Severn Bridge

The 1816 Chepstow Bridge

Look, I'm the same height as a Norman warlord! (Or did they have to stoop?) 

After we'd done with the Castle, we made for The Cwtch cafe (where else?) for a little lunch and then headed to the Priory Church of St Mary, in the floor of which the aforementioned Henry Marten is buried. I'd run out of charge for my phone by then, but Son the Younger kindly took a photo of one of my favourite ever tombs, that of local benefactor Margaret Cleyton, who died in 1627, her two husbands, and twelve children (ten of them girls).  

It's the skeleton that fascinates me with its unfeasibly pristine teeth. (I do wonder how faithful was the restoration the tomb underwent in 1967.)

And then, after a ceremonial stand in the middle of the old Chepstow bridge, where Wales becomes England, it was back to Newport to drop Son the Younger off at the garage and home to Cwtch, who is now poised to learn how to ignore me in two languages. 

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