A Little Cumbrian History and Pre-history

The day after my walk up High Cup we decided to go out for a drive and visit a few sites in the vicinity of Penrith. Our first stop was a few miles past Brougham Castle – Brougham Hall

This old hall, enclosed within battlements, was built in the 14th century and after years of dereliction has been restored (in fact, still being restored) by a Charitable Trust. It’s free to visit and although there isn’t as much to see as in the nearby medieval castle, it was tointeresting looking around. Some of the buildings have been converted into workshops and retail outlets for a number of small businesses and we had a mooch around the displays. There were several potters and makers of ceramics and I spotted a room of kilns, which I suspect are used communally. There’s also a cafe on the site.

Our next stop was only a few miles away; Mayburgh henge, a prehistoric site at Eamont Bridge on the edge of Penrith, right by the M6. Expecting to see a circle of stones, we were initially a little surprised when we parked up by the site not to really see anything. But when climbed up a steep slope in the middle of a field we realised that we were actually standing on the henge, which was a large oval bank, three metres high, constructed of pebbles collected from the nearby river. It surrounded a central enclosure, in the middle of which was a single standing stone, almost three metres high. (There was a flock of sheep grazing inside the enclosure – more shoe cleaning required on return to the car!).

The English Heritage website tells us that

seven others accompanied this: three more in the centre, forming a square with the fourth, and two pairs flanking the entrance. 

….. (the henge) probably dates to the end of the Neolithic period or the beginning of the Bronze Age, about 4,500 years ago. The function of such large monuments is not fully understood, although it is thought that they played a role in social or ritual activities, perhaps involving trade or astronomical observations.

My photographs really can’t give a proper impression of the structure and it’s scale, so the following aerial shot is pinched from the English Heritage website. You can see how close it is to the M6 which must have been having a quiet day given how few vehicles can be seen.

There’s quite a number of prehistoric sites dotted around Cumbria – there’s another Neolithic earthwork henge close by – King Arthur’s Round Table , also under the stewardship of English Heritage. We didn’t stop to take a look properly but drove past it as we set off to drive to our next objective which was near near Little Salkeld, a village a few miles to the north east of Penrith and on the other side of the A66.

Long Meg and her Daughers

Long Meg and her Daughers is probably one of the most well known of the Prehistoric sites in this part of Northern England. It’s a very impressive oval stone “circle” The monument is 109metres by 93 metres made up a large number of glacial erratic boulders, some standing and some lying prone on the ground. It’s said that you can never count the same number of stones in the circle twice – and if anyone is able to count them all twice and arrive at the same number the spell could be broken and bad luck would ensure! (There’s actually 59 and would have been more in the past)

Long Meg is the tallest stone, about 3.5 metres high, that stands apart from her “daughters” outside the circle, to the southwest. Made of sandstone, a different rock than the stones in the circle which are rhyolite.

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There are carvings on the surface of Long Meg

Cup and ring marks on the Long Meg stone.

It’s hard to say whether they were carved by the creators of the monument or by later visitors (the carvings on our “local prehistoric monument – Pike Stones on Anglezarke moor are fairly recent).

Local legend has it that Long Meg was a witch named “Meg of Meldon,” who, along with her daughters, was turned to stone for profaning the Sabbath as they danced wildly on the moor. Alternatively they were coven of witches who were turned to stone by a wizard from Scotland named Michael Scot. Take your pick! But the large Meg stone certainly had the profile of a haggard witch from some angles

Long Meg – the profile of a witch?

Again, it’s difficult to gain a proper appreciation from my photos so here’s an aeriel shot pinched from Wikipedia

There’s apparently a decent walk that takes in the monument and other points of interest. Sharon writes about it on her blog. Something for another day!

Until recently visitors had to park up on the roadside, which must have been rather chaotic especially given how narrow the nearby roads are. However, there’s now a decent sized car park just a short walk away from the site.

Stratford – The Guild Chapel

We went back into Stratford on a sunny Wednesday. the offspring wanted to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, but we’d been before and as entry is quite expensive me and J decided to give it a miss and have a wander round the small town.

After visiting Waterstones (and ending up buying a couple of books – more to add tot he pile 😂), walking a little further down the street we spotted this chapel and a notice enticed us to have a look inside.

It’s the the chapel built for the Guild of the Holy Cross, a medieval religious organisation created in 1269 which existed until it was abolished in 1547. The Guild membership consisted of gentry, wealthy merchants and tradesmen from Stratford – it probably acted like a sort of Freemasons where the members looked after each other while carrying out some charity work as a public relations exercise. According to Wikipedia

The guild reached the peak of its influence in the late 15th century, when it had become the town’s semi-official governing body, and probably included all of the more important townsmen.

The picture at the top of this post shows their Guildhall and the adjacent alms houses. The chapel was built at the end of the Guildhall – you can see the tower in the photo.

The Medieval Guild Chapel is a Grade 1 listed building and the Historic England listing tells us that the chancel was built in the 13th Century, with some alterations done around1450. The nave and tower were added in around 1490 and comprehensively restored in1804. Further restoration and refurbishment in the 1950s.

During the 19th Century Medieval wall-paintings were rediscovered which had been covered over by limewash during the Reformation.

In Medieval times most churches would have had paintings on the walls to educate and, literally, put the fear of God into the congregation. Even those who were able to read would be unlikely to be able to read the words of the scriptures themselves because until the Reformation the Bible was only available in Latin. The clergy and the Feudal Ruling Class didn’t want the Lower Orders to get any ideas about equality from reading the New Testament!

Following the Reformation, when English translations of the bible became available, the paintings, images, statues and the like were banned by a Royal Injunction by Elizabeth I 1559 which required the “removal of all signs of superstition and idolatry from places of worship”. So the paintings were covered over with limewash (Shakespeare’s dad was allegedly involved in this), which actually served to protect the them – although some have been lost, including some scenes from the Legend of the True Cross when the Chapel was re-modelled in the 19th Century.

Today, however, some of the paintings have been uncovered and can be viewed by visitors to the chapel. A team of historical archaeologists and digital heritage specialists from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, have carried out a major study of the paintings and created a digital model.

The large mural painted above the chancel arch (probably at the beginning of the 16th Century) represents the Day of Judgement, otherwise known as the Doom,

This is what the York team think it would have looked like. (The large cross and silhouettes of two figures – one on either side – were not actually part oft eh painting. there was originally a physical cross and two statues there which were painted around. Now they’re gone they’ve left behind their “shadows”

Another large painting on lower west wall – the Allegory of Death is the best-preserved of the Chapel’s wall paintings.

The York team’s reconstruction can be seen here.

Not all of the paintings are on display. Most have been re-painted with limewash to preserve them, but there are a few which visitors can peek at!

There’s a couple of good websites about the chapel and the paintings here and here plus a website about the York University project.

After looking round the chapel we made our way to the river for a stroll before joining the offspring for a drink in the Garrick, the oldest pub (reputably!) in Stratford –  in a timber framed building dating back to the 1400’s.

After that we walked towards the river, crossed the bridge then walked along the other side

before crossing back over on the chain ferry.

We then made our way back to the RSC. Popping inside we asked how much it cost to go up the tower. It was free! (with the option of making a donation – which we did).

The tower was added during the renovation and remodelling between 2007 and 2010

and after taking the lift to the top we had some good views over the theatre, the town and the nearby countryside.

Wife and daugher took the lift back down an then went shopping. Son and I descended by the steps (more fun!) and sheltered in the shade while we waited for them. It was then back to the car for the short journey to our accommodation.

A brief visit to Knaersborough

Last week we’d been up to the North East for a few days. I had a work commitment up there so we took the opportunity to stop over a couple of nights and visit some family. On the way back home we decided to break the journey and stopped off at Knaersborough, somewhere I’d never been before.

It’s an old town, going back to Norman times, if not before, with the remnants of a Norman fortress. Although in the middle of Yorkshire it used to be part of the Duchy of Lancaster. It’s very close to Harrogate (which I have visited several times for work and pleasure) and was the main centre in the locality until mineral waters were discovered in the latter leading to it’s development of a spa resort and subsequently outgrowing it’s older neighbour in size and importance.

We only had a few hours to spare – especially with the short hours of daylight during this time of the year, but that was enough to get a flavour of the small town. We parked up in a car park on the edge of the town centre and then made our way down to the market square. It was market day, so we had a mooch around the stalls before looking for a suitable hostelry to grab a bite to eat. The small town isn’t lacking in cafes and the likes, and we decided on the Six Poor Folk a cafe bar located in a former hospital for paupers, dating back to 1480. It was quite small and could only “cater” for a small number of patients, hence its name.

It was very cosy and nicely decorated inside (with appropriate spacing and other Covid precautions)

and was even frequented by the Town Crier

We bought ourelves a tasty light lunch (I had the steak sandwich) and J treated herself to a glass of mulled wine

Well fed, we wandered over towards the ruins of the Norman castle, taking in the view over the River Nidd far below.

There were dark clouds in the sky, but some sunshine kept breaking through lighting up the keep.

The castle was held by Royalists during the Civil War but was captured by Parliamentarian troops. As with other Royalist strongholds, it was subsequently dismantled leaving the ruins we see today.

Inside the grounds there’s an impressive Tudaor building which today houses a small museum

with displays, including furniture from when it was used as a courtroom during Tudor times, and exhibits about the castle, the town and notable former residents.

After visiting the interesting little museum (entry fee only £2) we had a mooch around the small town centre. The buildings looked to be largely Georgian. I noticed that quite a few of them had tromp d’oiel paintings on their exterior.

Knaresborough used to a centre of the linen industry and there’s a number of old textile mills that have been repurposed, like the one below which is an art gallery and framing shop

The most famous person associated with Knaersborough is Ursula Sontheil, better known as Mother Shipton. Born in 1488, during the reign of Henry VII, she found renown as a prophetess, allegedly foretelling the future of several monarchs, the Great Fire of London in 1666, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. the cave where she is supposed to have been born is a popular tourist attraction, which include a petrifying well which “turns everyday objects into stone” by the precipitation of minerals onto their surface when submerged. There’s a statue of the prophetess in the Market Square

close to a second celebrating another former resident, Jack Metcalf, better known as Blind Jack, who lost his eyesight due to smallpox at the age of six. Despite this he found fame as a musician, tourist guide, soldier (who was present at the Battle of Culloden) and road engineer.

After purchasing a couple of slices of Yorkshire curd from a local baker’s to take home with us, we headed back to the car and then set off on the journey home. It was only 4 o’cock but was already starting to go dark.

We enjoyed our brief stop in the town and may find ourselves back there again to explore further in the furture.

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

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.

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

Caernarfon Castle

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After a grey day on Wednesday, Thursday was forecast to be a scorcher, and so it transpired. We’d decided to drive over the Menai Straits and make use of our Cadw memberships by visiting Caernarfon Castle. This is probably the most impressive of all the castles that Edward I had built following his subjugation of Wales. It was built to intimidate, impress and also to act as the main administrative centre for North Wales. Some say it was meant to look like the walls of Constantinople with bands of different coloured stone and multi-sided, rather than round, towers. Like Beaumaris and the other main castles in North Wales it was built by the sea to make it easy to reach and supply. A bastide was also constructed, surrounded by walls that even today are pretty much complete.

Edward’s son was born here and he had him crowned as Prince of Wales, again as a mark of authority and to consolidate his rule over the conquered territory. Two other Princes have been invested there, In 1911 and again in 1969.

Having navigated our way through the old town, we parked up in the quayside car park which is right under the massive walls of the south side of the castle.

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We walked round to the entry on the north side, flashed our Cadw cards and entered the courtyard. Unlike Beaumaris with it’s double ring of curtain walls Caernarfon has only perimeter wall. But there were still lots of towers to climb (up spiral staircases) – nine in all not counting the gatehouses with their barbicans – rooms and passages to explore and battlements to walk around.

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This is the Eagle Tower, the fanciest of all of them, with its triple cluster of turrets (you can only see 2 of them in my photo as the third is obscured by one of the others). 

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Some views along the battlements

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Looking over the ward

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Views over the town towards the mountains

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And over the Menai Straits to Anglesey.

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A number of the towers had had floors restored, which is unusual , which gave a feel of what it was like to live in the castle.

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Inside a Garderobe

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Some of the exhibits in the towers

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After spending a few hours looking round the castle it was time to explore the old town. It was getting quite hot (this was the hottest day of the year so far and temperature records had been broken in the south of England – it was not quite as hot here) so some of us were starting to flag a little,

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so we stopped for a brew in this rather nice little deli / cafe.

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before wandering around the streets. There are a few interesting shops including an excellent independent bookshop (where we ended up treating ourselves to a few volumes) and a gift shop selling interesting artistic objects rather than the usual sort of tourist tat.

The old walls are still pretty much complete, but they can only be viewed from the ground.

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I wanted to get a shot of the castle and the best viewpoint is from over the other side of the river, which meant crossing over the swing bridge.

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As I was snapping my photos the bridge opened to allow a tour boat out of the harbour.

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After it had passed the bridge swung back round. But although it looked as if it had closed, it looked like something had gone wrong as the gates didn’t open. After a wait of several minutes the operator walked over and told the crowd waiting to cross that the gearbox had broken and that he had phoned somebody but it would be several hours before it would be fixed. Now it’s a major detour to the next crossing point – several miles – so especially as the bridge was to all intents closed (but not quite engaged) – there was, to say the least, something of an uproar. There were clearly no contingency plans to get people back across to the other side. So it was a case of “people power” as those able to do so climbed over the fence and walked over the bridge. There was nothing the operator could do to stop them. But some elderly people were stuck and would apparently have to wait in the hot sun until ether the bridge was fixed or arrangements were made to get them back over to the other side.

So, a little crisis to end what had been a good day in Caernarfon!

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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Glendalough Monastic City

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Before and after my walk around the two lakes at Glendalough I took the opportunity to look around the Monastic City, an early Christian monastic settlement founded by the Celtic saint, St. Kevin (Caoimhín in Irish) in the 6th century although mst of the surviving buildings are from the 10th to 12th centuries. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in this part of Ireland being only an hour’s drive from Dunblin. I’d visited the site with my wife 9 years ago, but thought it was worth another look.. 

The view towards the site is dominated by the 33 metre tall Round Tower.

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It was built almost 1000 years ago by the monks of St. Kevin’s monastery. Round towers are found all over Ireland and there are various theories about what they were for. However, the Irish name for the towers is “Cloigtheach”, which translates as “bell tower”. It is also thought that the towers were sometimes used as a place of refuge for monks when the monastery was under attack from Vikings and other raiders. They may also have been used as lookout posts and as beacons foe approaching monks and pilgrims. The Glendalough tower is a fine example, many others are partially ruined, although the conical roof had to be replaced in 1876 after it had been struck by lightning.

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St. Kevin’s Church better known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen is a nave-and-chancel church of the 12th century. It is called St Kevin’s kitchen because people believed that the bell tower was a chimney to a kitchen.

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The Cathedral is the largest of the seven churches around Glendalough.  It was built in several phases from the 10th through the early 13th century.

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Originally, the site was enclosed within a circular wall. Most of this has gone but gateway remains and is Ireland’s only surviving example of a medieval gateway to an early monastic city. The arch is built with Roman style columns and the stones were cut specifically to scale and they held themselves up without the need for mortar.

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Thessaloniki City Walls

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At one time Thessaloniki was completely surrounded by massive city walls. They ran all along the northern side of the city, descending down the hills on the the eastern and western flanks down to the sea, and continuing along the seafront. They were constructed during the Byzantine era in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries AD, with later modifications by the Ottomans.

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As the city grew and expanded, large sections were demolished as part of the Ottoman authorities restructuring of the city. The walls along the sea wall were the first to go at the end of the 19th century, followed by large sections in the lower, flat area of the city. However substantial sections remain along the top of the hill and on the east side of the old city.

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We climbed the steep hill beside the walls up to the Trigonion Tower at the north east corner of the fortifications on a hot afternoon. There were great views down to the bay. I could just about make out the distant mountains, including Mount Olympus, but view was hazy and they don’t show up on my photos.

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The tower was built in the 15th Century on the foundations of a previous, Byzantine structure.

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The walls are constructed of stone with some horizontal bands of brickwork. I reckon that the stonework would have been whitewashed (I saw evidence of this along a more sheltered, less weathered, section) with the brick work forming contrasting bands like the old walls of Constantinople. Caernarfon Castle was constructed like this deliberately to mimic Constantinople.

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There’s a substantial stretch at the top of the old city, which we followed before descending back down towards the sea front,

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