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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The White Tower

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The White Tower, which stands on a prominent spot on the sea front in the city centre is probably the best known sight in Thessaloniki.

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It was built in 15th century as a fort as part of the city’s defences and replaced an older 12th century Byzantine fortification. It was later reconstructed by the Ottomans.

It doesn’t look particularly white these days. It got it’s name when it was whitewashed at the end of the 19th Century, but this has largely worn away leaving the natural honey coloured stone visible. The paint might not have stuck but the name has!

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Originally, it was surrounded by defensive walls that enclosing the tower and which were could support heavy guns, but they were demolished at the beginning of the 20th century. These walls are clearly visible in some old photographs and the foundations can still be seen.

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Today it’s a museum containing a very interesting exhibition about the history of the city and with great views over the city from the top of the tower. Entry was a relatively modest 4 Euros, which included an audio guide.

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Shrewsbury Abbey

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Shrewsbury Abbey is a large Medieval church standing on the opposite side of the English Bridge from the old city centre. As with many old churches it’s been altered and adapted over time and, consequently, displays a mixture of styles – Romanesque, Gothic (the later, Perpendicular style) and Victorian Neo-Gothic.

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It was founded as a Benedictine Monastery by Roger de Montgomery in 1083 although there had been a Saxon church on site before the Conquest.

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The church which survives today was originally part of a complex of buildings which, other than a few remnants, are long gone – some demolished following the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of King Henry VIII and others by Thomas Telford when he built the main road that runs alongside the Abbey.

After the dissolution of the monasteries there were plans for the church to be designated a Cathedral, but that never came to fruition. It continued to serve as a place of worship, though, as a rather grand Parish Church.

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The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, written by Ellis Peters, are inspired by medieval Shrewsbury. Cadfael is a Welsh Benedictine monk at the Abbey in the first half of the 12th century. He was played by Dereck Jacobi in the TV series of the stories, although it was filmed in Hungary rather than Shrewsbury.

The Abbey used to have a shrine to St Winifride, a 7th Century Welsh saint. In the 12th Century Monastaries wanted to have relics which would attract Pilgrims and earn them ncome so the Abbot had the remains of Winifride brought from her place of burial in Gwytherin in North Wales. The shrine was destroyed and the relics can now be found in Shrewsbury’s Roman Catholic cathedral and Holywell in North Wales. However, there’s a window devoted to the saint in the Abbey, installed in 1992, designed by stained glass artist Jane Gray.

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There’s also a window by the same artist celebrating the fictional monk, Cadfael.

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The Abbey was built in the Romanesque (Norman) style with substantial round pillars supporting rounded arches and a substantial part of the original building still stands in the central section of the Nave.

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It was remodelled in the 14th Century when the tower was built. This required replacing the Romanesque arches at the west end of the nave with bays with stronger pointed Gothic arches supported by slender columns.

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After the dissolution the west end of the Abbey was closed off and fell into ruin. There was a wall at the end of the Romanesque nave. The west end was rebuilt in a Neo- Gothic style during the Victorian era, designed by John Loughborough Pearson.

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IMG_2331A new clerestorey was also created above the Romanesque and Gothic nave.

 

A war memorial tablets close to the west entry of the church includes the name of the First World War  poet Wilfred Owen.

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Outside the Abbey, there are still some remnants of the monastery

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