December 27, Wales.
It was getting cold. I was staying with Jerry, a friend from Ammanford in Wales. We had placed a thermometer outside overnight and this morning it gave a conservative reading of 0°C. Apparently it had dropped to -8°C overnight. Needless to say much of the outdoors was frozen.
Today’s plan was to visit Carreg Cennen Castle, a well-known fort which featured in Welsh history. However our mode of transport was playing up. We examined Jerry’s car to see if we could rid it of its stuttering accelerator.
Tinkering around, but arriving at no conclusion we decided to put up with the vibration and head off towards the castle.
Driving around the green Welsh countryside reminded me of regions of Victoria, Australia. Plenty of ice (frozen rivulets) on these narrow roads as we passed by ancient stone houses and tidy villages. Flocks of sheep grazing on the short frozen grass.
We drove out to Carreg Cennen Castle and parked the car. Quite a climb to the castle’s entrance. An imposing site, built on top of a remote crag about 100 meters above the River Cennen in the Breacon Beacons National Park. ‘Carreg’ is Welsh for stone. So we have ‘the stone castle above the River Cennen’.
The present castle dates from around 1300, when it was built as an English outpost by one of Edward I’s barons. Its strongly towered enclosure, protected by a succession of pits, drawbridges and gatehouses was thought to be unassailable. It finally fell to Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh insurgents, and later, during the War of the Roses became a base for bandit Lancastrian, diehards who terrorized the countryside.
The castle was taken by the Yorkists in 1462. This ‘robbers den’ was then laboriously dismantled by 500 men with picks and crowbars. Still they didn’t totally raze it, as there was lots of castle left for visitors like us to explore.
We followed a gallery passage which led to a natural cave beneath the castle rock which we went to look at. It was probably a prehistoric refuge and was incorporated into the castle’s defences. It was a pleasure to feel the crunch of frozen grass beneath my boots, which were starting to wear down. It was nearing time to replace my boots, again.
Wales has an amazing variety of castles to visit for those castle-explorers amongst us. Two books I recommend for anyone planning to walk in Wales are:
The Matter of Wales by Jan Morris, Penguin 1986
Princes and People – A Story of Wales by John Miles, Gomerian Press 1969.
Good luck – and let me know how you get on in this marvellous land of Wales.