Scarborough Castle

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Scarborough Castle is an impressive medieval fortress in a stunning location overlooking the town from high up on the cliffs. Given it’s setting, it rather reminded me of Chinon Castle in the Loire region of France.

We walked across the town from the museum and climbed up the hill to enter through the fortified gatehouse. The castle is under the stewardship of English Heritage so we were able to enter without paying the entrance fee on the day.

There’s evidence of human habitation on the promentry from pre-historic times and the Romans were here – they built a signal station on the cliffs. The first castle on the site was built in the 12th Century. It becam a Crown property during the reign of Henry II and over time was expanded to become a major fortress. It was beseiged, and badly damaged, during the Civil War, although, due to it’s strategic position on the coast, a garrison was kept here until the 19th century. Although a ruin today, there are substantial remains to explore and it’s location presents good views over the coast and town.

The remains of the fortifications are along the south of the headland, facing the old town. During medieval times the cliffs to the north would have been pretty much impregnable.

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A view over the Barbican towards the south bay

We walked past the Inner Bailey and bought a coffee from the kiosk next to the Master Gunner’s House – a later building. We then decided to walk along the top of the cliffsto take in the views before exploring the walls from the east side.

About half way along the cliffs there’s the site of a Roman signal station, one of a chain of structures built along the north east coast. There’s little in the way of physical remains of the Roman structure. A chapel was built on the site near a “holy” well, in about 1000 AD which was extended over the next few centuries and the visible stonework are the remains of this building.

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The well
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At the end of the headland we reached the eastern end of the castle walls. They’re still quite substantial.

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There’s remains of several towers and rooms incorporated with the curtain walls and ruins of other structures inside the Outer Bailey.

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We made our way to the Inner Bailey with it’s rectangular keep known as the Great Tower.

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There’s a viewing platform here that provides god views over the town, harbour and south bay.

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A view from the castle walls over the harbour
The Great Tower – it was badly damaged when beseiged during the Civil War
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Inside the Great Tower
View over the Inner Bailey from the viewing platform
The curtain walls seen from the viewing platform
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Looking back towards the castle on our way back to the car after our visit

Ripon Cathedral

It can a long, tedious drive back home from the North east. I didn’t fancy the chaos of the M62 after a bad, traffic jammed journey the previous Friday, so we decided we’d drive back across the Pennines on the A59 via Harrogate and Skipton. Not a fast route but likely to be more pleasant than the alternative. We also decided to break the journey so stopped at Ripon, somewhere we’ve never visited before. It’s quite a small town, and the major attraction, besides nearby Fountains Abbey, is the Cathedral.

There’s been a church on the site since the 7th Century, originally a wooden structure, which was replaced by a stone building in 672, one of the earliest stone buildings erected in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. It’s been twice destroyed (first by the Vikings and then by the Normans) and rebuilt. It’s been modified many times over the years, resulting in the building we see today. Like many of the old Cathedrals it incorporates several different styles of architecture, mainly Gothic but with some traces of Romanesque style. There’s even a remnant of the first stone church – the crypt.

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The west front is a very impressive example of the early English Gothic style, with it’s lancet windows

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Entry was free although you are supposed to buy a pass, costing £3, to take photos. I stumped up but there were plenty of people snapping away who clearly hadn’t.

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Looking at the lancet windows from inside the building

The first thing we noticed on entering the Cathedral was the installation suspended high up in the ceiling

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The Cathedral’s website tells us

Since May, 10,000 origami angels have been made by 100 volunteers and 300 school pupils, who have helped to create an inspiring host of angels in the nave of Ripon Cathedral. Each angel represents a dedication made during the COVID-19 pandemic to key workers and loved ones. Our volunteers range from 3 – 90 years old and are located across the region.

Cathedral website

The Nave was in a later Perpendicular Gothic style

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This is the old 15th Century stone font

I liked the impressive Arts and Crafts style pulpit, made by Henry Wilson in 1913 a.

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At the end of the nave, we descended down these narrow stone steps into the crypt

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This is the only remaining part of the original stone building and would hold the “holy relics” which are so important in the Catholic Church. It’s a tiny space and was only reopened recently, entry having been stopped during the height of the Covid crisis.

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The transept is one of the oldest parts of the main building, with elements of both Gothic and, with the rounded windows, the earlier Romanesque or Norman style.

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The highly decorative roode screen leads to the Quire (or Choir – take your pick as to the spelling!). The stone screen is medieval, but the stautes of Kings, bishops and saints are Victorian

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There’s a massive stained glass Great East Window – an example of Decorated Gothic – at the end of the Quire, behind the high altar. The glass is Victorian – the original glass was destroyed by Puritans during the Civil War.

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Looking back down the Quire (the light made it difficult to get a decent photo

The misericords on the choir seats were carved between 1489 and 1494 and depict various mythical figures. It is alleged that some of the figures influenced and inspired Lewis Carroll who visited the Cathedral (interesting as we were returning from Whitburn where there definitely is a Lewis Carroll connection.)

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The same workers also carved the misericords at Beverley Minster and Manchester Cathedral.

The massive spaces of the Nave and Quire in cathedrals can be overwhelming and I often find the smaller, more initmate, side chapels the most interesting. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is on the south side of the quire and has a modern look. The striking screen, meant to resemble lightning bolts, screen was designed by Leslie Durbin, a jeweller who designed the rear of the first pound coins and the Stalingrad Sword that was presented to Stalin by Churchill at the end of the Second World War.

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The altar frontals were designed by the (female) textiles expert Theo Moorman
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St peter’s Chapel, on the other side of the Quire, has a more traditional look

The altar is made of a reused font, possibly dating back to the medieval period. The painting behind the altar is a reproduction of a work by Reubens.

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The Chapel of Justice and Peace is located at the west end of the church, to thee north of the entrance

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Behind the altar are words of the poet Wilfred Owen, who spent his last birthday here in 1918, words that speak of tragedy and loss through war.

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It’s been a while since I’ve indulged my interst in art and architecture, so it was good to have the opportunity to visit this excellent example of a grand Gothic church. We spent a good hour looking round but had to hit the road. I’ll have to find time to take another look sometime, perhaps combined with a visit to Fountain’s Abbey. I’ve not been there for a while. And I do have coneections with Ripon – my family history research suggests I have a family connection – but I don’t shout that out, it’s hard to accept I might have some Yorkshire genes 😬

A walk from Winster

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The final day of my short break in the Peak District I followed another route from the Vertebrate Day Walks in the Peak District guide. Setting out from the former lead mining village of Winster, taking in woodland, heath, an ancient stone circle, gritstone rock formations and Elton, another former mining village. For at least part of this walk I would have been walking in the footsteps of some of my ancestors – my family history research had revealed that a great x 7 and great x 6 grandfathers had been born in Elton and my great x7 grandmother had been born in Winster. It’s likely that this branch of my tree originated a little further north, near High Wheeldon where I’d climbed two days before.

The family were lead miners and at one time, this part of the world, on the boundary between millstone grit and limstone geology, was lead mining country. My research revealed that, like a number of Derbyshire miners, moved to work in North Wales, in their case at the Minera mine near Wrexham. The father of the family died relatively young by modern standards at about 50. The nature of the work meant that lead miners were exposed to toxic dusts and other dangers and this was typical life expectancy.

I parked up in the free car park on the outskirts of Winster near the local school and after booting up and after a short walk along the road I climbed over a stile and set off across the fields, the grass still wet after the downpours the day before. No rain was forecast and although the sky was grey it brightened up towards the end of my walk.

I passed through a gate and entered the broadleaf woodland

The trees were quite dense and I had to duck under their branches in places.

After climbing up along the path I reached a track and then the route doubled back taking a dog leg through along a path higher up in the woods.

I passed the remains of of water wheel which would probably have been used to drain a former lead mine

I carried on along the path which emerged from the woods meeting a track. After a mile I turned off through fields of cattle and then past a farm and camp site before reaching the edge of Stanton Moor.

Stanton Moor is owned by Stanton Estates and managed by English Nature . The area has been occupied since prehistoric times and there are a large number of ancient monuments scatttered across the landscape, most of them hidden in the heather and undergrowth.

I crossed the moor

passing a number of millstone grit outcrops

passing Victorian folly, built to commemmorate the Reform Bill in 1832.

I eventually reached the Nine Ladies stone circle, an ancient monument in the care of English Heritage.

The names of the monuments derive from their associations with folk traditions, in which it is said that nine women were dancing on the Sabbath to a fiddler – the King Stone – and were turned to stone.

English Heritage
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Time to stop and take a rest and a bite to eat, perching on a gritstone outcrop, and then carried on across the moor passing an old disused quarry

until I reached the “Cork Stone”, on of a number of “megaliths” found on the moor, Supposedly associated with ancient rituals.

The Cork Stone is certainly associated with one more modern ritual – the footholds carved into the rock are evidence of the Victorian version of “bouldering“.

A right turn and a short walk along a path took me off the moor, joining a quiet road. After a relatively short walk on the tarmac , I turned off opposite a stone works, crossed a car park and took a path through the woods until I reached the small village of Birchover.

I took the track past the Druid Inn, which looked like a god place to stop – but I carried on.

The track took me through pleasant farmland

and finally a path through a field.

Crossing the road and then through a field I reached a track which was part of the Limestone Trail. Turning right I follwed this route heading through fields up towards Robin Hood’s Stride.

I took a slight diversion to visit the Hermit’s Cave at the bottom of the Cratcliffe Tor gritstone outcrop

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To be honest, I found it rather underwhelming!

Leaving the cave it was only a short walk to Robin Hood’s Stride, a large gritstone Tor.

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The legendary Robin Hood is supposed to have between the towers at either end of the tor. He must have had extremely long legs!

Time for another rest before carrying on across a field before meeting a minor road. I then had to tread the tarmac for about a mile before climbing over a stile and descending down and then up a path crossing fields of cattle heading towards my ancestral village of Elton.

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On reaching the village, the sun was shining. Given the family connection I had to explore a little. I had a look in the church graveyard but I couldn’t see any gravestones for possible family members. Not so suprising really as they lived in the early 18th Century and being poor lead miners it’s unlikely any ancestors buried here could have afforded a headstone.

I had a wander round the village . There were plenty of old houses, some of which may have been miners’ dwellings, although today they’re desirable and expensive stone cottages.

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The village isn’t very big so it didn’t take long to explore. I carried on along the road before rejoining the Limestone Trail heading towards Winster.

My route took me through the older part of the village, which used to be a market town and larger than Elton

I passed attractive stone cottages that were probably originally the home of the better off miners.

I had a wander down the main street

The village shop is owned by the local Community

The old Market House is in the care of the National Trust and was the first property they aquired in the Peak District back in 1906.

The NT website tells us

The House itself is two storeys high and rests upon a massive stone base. It follows the traditional pattern of such buildings, originally having the whole of the ground floor open with the upper storey supported by five arches. The date at which these arches were filled in is not known but it was probably during the decline of the market, between 1795 and 1855. The upper chamber is mainly of brick resulting in an attractive contrast with the stone arches and facings.

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and the building is listed by English Heritage.

I was starting to feel tierd by now so made my way back to my car. It had been a cracking walk with lots of interest and a good end to an enjoyable break. I headed home hoping to get back in time to watch the England v Germany match on TV. I hadn’t realised it was an early kick off but managed to get home in time to catch the end of the first half.

Claife Viewing Station

I’ve not written an architectural post for a while, mainly because restrictions over the past year have largely precluded visits to National Trust, English Heritage, Cadw and other properties, and I’ve been avoiding visits to towns and cities. However on the first day of my recent mini-break up in the Lakes I did have the opportunity to take a look at a historical curiosity close to the start and finish of my walk near the ferry terminal on the western shore of Windermere – the Claife viewing station.

This neo- Gothic style tower was built in the 1790s as a viewpoint over Windermere and became paricularly popular during the late Georgian and early Victorian period when viewing “picturesque” sites became the thing to do amongst the wealthy visitors to the Lakes.

It’s only a short walk from the ferry terminal, and is well signposted from there. You first reach the castellated wall at the entry to the site.

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A short way along the path and the tower comes into view up on the hillside. There’s stiff, but short climb up some steps to reach the tower.

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The original building on the site was constructed for one Reverend William Braithwaite in the 1790’s. He comissioned an architect, John Carr, to build a summer house a two storey octagonal tower in a neo-Classical Style. On his death, the land was purchased by John Curwen, the wealthy owner of Belle Island, the largest island on Windermere, which is visible from the tower.

The Curwens had the tower enlarged and modified in the neo-Gothic style which was becoming fashionable. They entertained their friends in the tower holding landern lit parties. Visitors were encouraged to enjoy the views.

The Picturesque is an aesthetic ideal popularised by William Gilpin in 1782., which he defined as

‘that peculiar kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture’

According to the early 20th Century architectue critic, Christopher Hussey, a Picturesque view has elemnts of

“roughness and sudden variation joined to irregularity of form, colour, lighting, and even sound”

Hussey, Christopher (1927). The picturesque: studies in a point of view.

Following popular guide books of the time, the visitor, on reaching a recommended viewpoint, such as the tower, would turn their back on the landscape, looking at the reflection in the Claude Glass. The National Trust website tells us

many amateur artists and tourists used a ‘Claude glass’ to frame the landscape. These small, tinted, convex mirrors were used to make a natural scene look more like a picture by the celebrated seventeenth-century landscape painter, Claude Lorraine.

National Trust

Pin by Corey Ackelmire on Too Old | Claude glass, Picturesque, Claude

Over the years the building fell out of use and deteriorated. Along with the nearby land it was left to the National Trust in 1962 and they have worked to partially restore the tower, making it accessible to visitors to get a taste of the views experieinced by the original visitors.

There’s views over the lake from both the ground and first floors

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On the first floor, the National Trust have inserted samples of coloured glass. The Curwens had

windows tinted with coloured glass, designed to recreate the landscape under different seasonal conditions. Yellow created a summer landscape, orange an autumn one, light green for spring, dark blue for moonlight and so on.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hawkshead-and-claife-viewing-station/features/claife-viewing-station-National Trust
View towards Ill Bell and the Kentmere Fells
View over the lake
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Interesting shadow effects

There used to be “viewing stations” throughout the Lakes, with seven around Windermere. As far as I know, Claife is the only one remaining.

LLigwy Monuments

Our route inland from Moelfre back to our accommodation took us past three ancient monuments, spanning a few thousand years from the Neolithic age to Medieval time. All three under the custodianship of Cadw

After a walk of about a mile on a minor road we took a path across the fields, emerging on a narrow country road. A short walk later we arrived at the LLigwy Burial Chamber, a late Neolithic burial chamber.

The structure with its massive capstone, weighing about 25 tonnes, would have originally been covered by an earthen mound with a small tunnel to allow access into the chamber. The capstone stands above a pit in the ground, a natural fissure in the limestone, and is supported by a series of smaller boulders. Consequently it has a more squat look than many similar structures known as cromlechs in Welsh.

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We think of Neolithic people as being primitive, but you can but wonder about their engineering skills and technology they had which enabled them to move such massive lumps of stone and to create structures that have stood for thousands of years. Shifting that capstone today would require some serious lifting gear.

Retracing our steps and walking a short distance further down the road we climbed over a stile and crossed a field to reach the second monument, the early Medieval Capel Lligwy. The Cadw website tells us that

Standing in a lonely spot overlooking Lligwy Bay, little is known about the history of this ruined 12th-century chapel. The stone structure that stands today was probably erected on the site of an older, timber-built Celtic church in the 12th century, when Viking raids on Anglesey came to an end and life on the island became more stable and prosperous.

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When we returned to our accommodation I realised we could see the chapel in the distance from the window in the living room.

After mooching around the remains, another path took us further across the field and into woodland. In a clearing we found the Din Llligwy Hut Group monument, the remains of a Romano-Celtic settlement which may date back further to the Iron Age.

The remains of several buildings, all surrounded by a perimeter wall, are clearly visible. “Din” refers to defensive wall.  The round structures were probably houses and the rectangular ones barns or workshops.

Although now largely hidden amongst ash and sycamore woodland, it is likely that it originally stood in open countryside.

There’s more information on the ancient settlement here.

Kendal Castle

After our visit to the Windermere Jetty we decided to spend the afternoon in Kendal, which is only a short drive from Windermere. Abbot Hall has closed for renovation and moernisation so we won’t be visiting as often as we have over the past 10 years, but it’s a pleasant town with some decent shops. We wanted to restock with some coffee beans and tea from Farrars and pick up some supplies from the Booths supermarket in Waignwright Yard (makes a change from Tesco) and we thought we’d walk up to the castle, as we hadn’t been there for a while.

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The Castle was built in the early 12th Century on a glacial hill left behind from the last ice age, to the east of the town. It was more of a fortified manor house  for the local barons, than a military stronghold, but it would have dominated the town, looking over it from it’s prominent high position. And it would have been a potent symbol of their wealth and power. The most well known family to be barons of Kendal were the Parr’s, whose most famous member was Katherine Parr, the sixth and last Queen of Henry VIII. Although some locals claim that Katherine was born in the castle this seems unlikely as it was no longer the family’s main residence at the time she was born. The castle was acquired for the town in 1896 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and is currently in the care of English Heritage. Effectively a public park, it’s a popular spot for locals and visitors for a stroll and to take in the good views on a good day.

Although cloud had come in since the morning visibility was still fairly good and there was a good view from the castle over the town and across to nearby fells. There was still some snow up on the summits.

Looking over the town to the Lakeland Fells
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Zooming in on Red Screes
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Yoke and Ill Bell in Kentdale
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Looking eastwards

Afterwards we walked down into the town passing many interesting old buildings. I’ll have to make a special visit, I think, to take some photos.

After we’d done our shopping we decided that rather than head straight home and get stuck in traffic on the M6 we’d drive the short distance to Staveley and have our tea in the Royal Oak. We arrived a little early as they only start serving food at 7, but that wasn’t a problem as that gave us a chance to relax with a (non-alcoholic in my case) pint!

Plas Mawr

During our day in Conway, after visiting the castle and before our walk along the walls, we decided to pay a visit to Plas Mawr, an Elizabethan town house on the main street in the middle of the town. It’s owned by Cadw and has been beautifully restored.

Plas Mawr is Welsh for the ‘Great Hall’, and it was built between 1576 and 1585, at a total cost of around £800, for a wealthy merchant, Robert Wynn, the third son of a local landowner who’d made his fortune by working for a Tudor diplomat, which led to him travelling across Europe. When he returned home to North Wales, he had the house built and it’s design is influenced by the Flemish buildings that had impressed him during his travels. After his death legal complications meant that ownership of the house took time to resolve and so it was left untouched, which is why it hasn’t changed much over the years.

Entrance is through the gatehouse which is on High Street. Visitors then pass through a small courtyard into the main building. It’s a self-guided tour but visitors are provided with one of those audio guides that you point at a data point to listen to the relevant commentary.

Robert Wynn wanted to impress his visitors to show off his wealth and the house has a number of features to try and achieve this, including some very fancy plasterwork. There were examples of this in the first room we visited, the hall. Cadw have had it restored, wit the figures of “Greek” priestesses and other symbols painted in bright colours. The owner’s initials featuring prominently.

There was plasterwork all over the house, even in the kitchen. It must have cost a fortune to have all this work done by travelling craftsmen.

After looking round the kitchen and pantry, the next stop was the brewery – an important room as until relatively recently water wasn’t fit to drink so the “small beer” (dilute ale) was the staple drink. Stronger beer would also have been brewed here.

The commentary made a point of stressing that the brewery was located directly underneath the master’s bedroom and that he would have had to endure some strong odours on brew day!

We then visited the courtyard and restored Elizabethan garden where we got a good view of the exterior. Notable features are the tower and the stepped gables, influenced by Flemish architecture and which would have been very unusual in North Wales.

Some of what looked like the original woodwork was visible on the exterior doors

Back inside we went upstairs to the top of the house. The large attic is where the servants would have slept.

The timber roof has arch-braced collar trusses, joined using an unusual system called “double pegging”, which was only used in the Conwy valley during the late 16th century.

In 1683 the Mostyns, who were a powerful family in North Wales, took over ownership of the house and over the years it was used for various purposes, with rooms subdivided and let out as cheap lodgings and at one time an infant school occupied some of the rooms. Cadw have furnished one of the rooms on the top floor of the house to show ho it would have looked when it was rented out by a poorer family

Moving down a floor, we saw the bedchambers of Robert Wynn and his wife.

More fancy plaster work in his bedroom

and here’s his privy, just off his bedroom. Rather a luxury for it’s time!

And here’s Dorothy’s chamber. He married her in 1588 after his first wife, also called Dorothy, had died childless. Although he was getting on in years they had 7 children together.

Most of the first floor was occupied by the very grand Great Chamber, the main room where the Wynns would entertain their guests. Of course, there was yet more plaster work

The remaining rooms on the first floor were devoted to an exhibition about hygiene and water provision. These would originally have been used as bedrooms for guests and the children of the family. We rounded off the visit by climbing the steep stairs and ladder up to the top of the tower where there were views over the town, castle, harbour and nearby mountains.

Plas Mawr is certainly a very well preserved and interesting building. It provides a glimpse into the life of a prosperous family living in a small town in North Wales during the Elizabethan period. The architecture is interesting too, showing the influence of continental styles on the British gentry.

Conwy Town Walls

Conwy was built as a bastide, a fortified settler town, surrounded by high masonry walls, built at the same time as the castle. The new town was populated by settlers who’d moved from England, probably from nearby counties such as Cheshire and the walls would have encouraged immigrants to settle there as they would have helped protect them from incursions by Welsh locals. The walls are extremely well preserved, running for three quarters of a mile, with 21 towers and three original gateways.

It’s possible to walk on top of them for a good proportion of their length. Who could resist?

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Looking over the southern section of the walls from the Castle

The towers, constructed at roughly regular intervals, are D shaped and “gap-backed”, which means that they didn’t have walls on the inside. They originally had removable wooden bridges to allow sections of the walls to be sealed off from attackers

There were great views from the walls across the town to the castle, harbour and nearby Carneddau mountains

Looking over the harbour towards the castle for the spur wall
a view of the castle over the rooftops from the southern section of the town walls

Conwy Castle

Conwy

After a week away in Ireland with work, I took a break last week . We’d thought about going away somewhere, but decided we’d stay at home and have a few days out. Things didn’t work out quite as we’d planned, but I still had an enjoyable week off.

On Monday we decided to take advantage of our Cadw membership and drove over to Conwy, about an hour and a half away in North Wales. I zoom past regularly on the way too and from Holyhead during my Irish trips, but it has been a while since we last visited the town.

Conwy (Anglicised as Conway), was founded along with it’s castle by Edward I during his subjugation of Wales in the 13th Century.  The castle and the town walls (which are still practically intact) form an imposing fortification that dominates a strategic position at the mouth of the River Conwy. They’re even more impressive when you consider they were built in 4 years between 1283 and 1287, at the same time as similar fortifications were being constructed further south down the coast at Caernarfon and Harlech.

Although there was a monastery nearby and ther had been a Norman Castle over the river at Deganwy, Conwy was a new town, built from scratch. It was a bastide, a settlement populated by English settlers from which the Welsh natives were barred.

After parking up we stopped for a brew and a cake in a nice little Turkish cafe in the town before making our way to the castle.

The castle is a massive structure with a high curtain wall with eight towers and is extremely well preserved.

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Spiral staircases in the towers have been restored so that it’s possible to walk a complete circuit around the battlements and visitors can also climb to the top of most of the towers.

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There’s great views from the battlements and towers over the town and the river

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It was a bit of a dull day, so the estuary looked rather grey, but attractive, nevertheless.

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There were views over to the mountains

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Looking over the battlements at the north end of the castle there was a good view of the three bridges – the new road bridge we’d driven over, the suspension bridge built by  Thomas Telford in 1822–26 and the tubular railway bridge designed by  Robert Stephenson which opened in 1849. The two older bridges are smaller versions of the structures built by the same engineers over the Menai Straits .

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Visitors need to take care as the steps, battlements and flooring is rather uneven in places. A slight slip coming down from one of the towers led to a twisted ankle that had some repercussions for our plans later that week.

Beaumaris Castle

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After spending the first night in our holiday apartment, we decided that we’d visit Beaumaris and its castle. We’d signed up to Cadw (the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage) so wanted to take advantage of our membership.

Rather than drive, we decided to walk the 3 or 4 miles along the Anglesey coastal path, which passed the top of the drive and went over to Beamaris along quiet lanes and through fields. It was relatively easy going – the hardest part was a steep final descent into the town – and took us just over an hour. We arrived after midday so it was time to grab something to eat.

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Beaumaris is quite a small town. The reason for it’s existence is the castle which was the last of the fortresses built for Edward I in North Wales to keep control over the newly conquered territory.

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Starting in 1295, the castle was built on marsh land at a strategic position at the eastern entry to the Menai Straits. The name of the settlement comes from Norman-French beaux marais, which translates as “beautiful marshes”. As with Edward’s other Welsh castles, a fortified bastide was also built alongside the fortress. Nothing remains today of the town’s fortification, but the original, rectangular grid street pattern is still evident in the old part of the town.

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Bastides were populated by English settlers – the Welsh were permitted to visit during the day and were forbidden to trade. Locals from the nearby Welsh settlement of Llanfaes were forcibly removed miles away to  the west of Anglesey, and settled in a new town, appropriately named “Newborough”. 

Beaumaris was the last of Edward’s Welsh castles. It was designed as a “state of the art” fortress with a symmetrical concentric “walls within walls” design, with four successive lines of fortifications.

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It’s considered to be the most perfect example of a concentric castle. However, it was never completed as Edward was distracted by wars with the Scots and the builders ran out of money. So it looks rather squat as the towers were never built to their full height. Nevertheless, it is still a rather impressive structure today and must have been intimidating to the locals during the 13th Century .

Our Cadw membership meant we had free entry into the castle plus a 10% discount on the guide book. There’s plenty to see and it’s possible to walk around a substantial part of the battlements which have commanding views of the Menai Straits and the town and over to the mountains of Snowdonia. It was a warm day, but rather grey and windy. The light was rather “flat” so my photos don’t do full justice to the majesty of the castle and the views.

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When the castle was built, the sea would have come right up to the south gate (land has been reclaimed from the sea since then) so that it could be supplied by sea.

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The outer walls were surrounded by a moat, and this has been restored so visitors can gain an impression of how it would have originally looked.

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The castle is built from local stone – different types were used and laid out to give a chequerboard effect.

The huge turrets – 16 in total – are regularly spaced around the walls.

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There were massive fortified gate houses in the north and the south walls.

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The “inner ward” contained the domestic buildings and accommodation for the garrison.

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Very little of these “everyday” structures remain, although we were able to visit the chapel

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Very attractive modern stained glass windows have been installed in the chapel.

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A little research afterwards revealed that they were created for Cadw by two Welsh artists – Linda Norris and Rachel Phillips, working as the Creative Partnership, Studio Melyn. On her website, which includes some good photos of the glass, Linda tells us that

We used the plan of the castle, large in scale and centralized within the window layout, as an underlying structure for the windows into which areas of colour and detail was placed. The patterns and colours reference medieval manuscripts, musical notation, coinage, heraldry and the marks of the masons who built the castle.

There are some other photos on the Studio Melyn website.

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