A trip to Painscastle with Sir Gawain


Image of sheep at Painscastle in Radnorshire/Powys

Sheep stand guard on the mounds of Painscastle in Radnorshire/Powys

 

To Radnorshire now as once was known we ride

And up beyond Clyro’s motte to mounds magnificent in the hills:

Painscastle now we see, peeping proudly from its fields

Surveying every scene of hereabouts, a silent bearer of old news.

What a place this was when I well knew its prime!

Built on Roman roots, we think, but rounded now by Norman spades

And cast in scarps scoured from the hill by sweat of men long dead.

Pain Fitz John its founder piled these heaps of earth

Upon this hill to stake his claim in marcher hinterlands;

Then lord Rhys did wrestle it in war from Maud whose name it also bears

In memory of her proud defence, defiant in the land against the Welsh.

Yet where are the walls that well I knew and halls and houses here?

All gone? All gone! Like barley blown away by autumn winds

And now not one stone stands upon another which once with king I saw!

Yet Henry did this place shore up when Welshmen rose again

And so Pain’s castle proud it stood against the warring spears

Built on the labour of Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and loyal shires!

But now up here silence only sings Paincastle’s siren call to tourists in

its sleep:

Pain and Maud have gone save for their name

With what’s left just ditches deep.

Is this what becomes of Norman fame;

Great mounds slow munched by sheep?

 

Painscastle in Radnorshire (Powys) is one of the finest motte and bailey castles in the Welsh marches and well repays a visit.  Founded in the early 12th Century by Pain Fitz John, Lord of Ewyas, it was re-fortified during the reign of Richard I by William de Braose III whose wife, Maud, defended it against the Welsh (and by whose name the castle is also known). Simple in plan, Painscastle comprises a large bailey, a small hornwork/barbican earthwork and an enormous motte.  The earthworks themselves are of great proportion; the site itself may once have had Roman origins.

Under threat from a new Welsh uprising, the castle was considerably rebuilt by Henry III and, between July and September 1230, his army remained there while the castle was “splendidly rebuilt in stone and lime”. It appears that much, if not all, of this work was robbed out in later centuries; the Inventory of Ancient Monuments in Radnorshire laconically laments this fact, stating accurately that the surface of the earthworks is “broken here and there by mounds, as though masses of overturned masonry were buried beneath the soil”. And thus it seems, even today.

Note to the visitor: located in a remote hamlet, the castle hides behind a farmhouse and it is only correct that permission must be sought from the farmer to see the remains.

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Sir Gawain and Gringolet go to St Neot in Cornwall


Image showing detail of mediaeval glass at St Anietus Church, St Neot Cornwall

Gruesome hanging shown in mediaeval window, St Anietus Church, St Neot Cornwall. Notice the counterweight.

In travelling all across the land I say

There are few gems more jewelled than just this place:

St Neot sitting in soft vales beside the Bodmin moor

Has much to marvel at, and more to see

Than in any place I know or I have seen these several years!

When I first wound with Gringolet in this world

In every church choice lights in chancels you would you see

But now our land has been levelled of such luxury

And empty now are many of the colours they once cast.

Not so St Neot calm above the winding road

For in its walls are wonders which bewitch

The eye, the soul, the senses and much more:

Glass from my own time, magnificent still methinks!

Look here, see Noah sailing in his ark

And there sweet ladies pray in soft calm thoughts;

Biblical stories beautiful in glass abound

In each and every light that lifts the soul.

Donors who once gave to this rich place

Are also shown, their arms as if caparisons

On this most holy church like cloth of gold in glass!

Fellow traveller, do not come this way without

a turn:

All who see St Neot sweet

Will gasp at what they learn.

They’ll never such another meet

Nor rich beauty will discern.

 

The church of St Anietus at St Neot has ancient origins stretching back to Saxon times. Since its rebuilding in the fifteenth century, the church has become famous for its remarkable collection of original mediaeval stained glass. These astonishing survivals include windows show the Creation, the story of Noah and of St Neot; each window is a joy to behold and well repays the journey to see. The interior also includes a wealth of monuments from different periods, in addition to a fabulous fifteenth century waggon roof. Even the churchyard contains much of interest, in particular a collection of ancient mediaeval wayside crosses. For more details of the church, please refer to this listing.

 

 

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Sir Gawain goes to Bygrave, an ancient settlement in aged fields


Image of St Margaret of Antioch, Bygrave, Hertfordshire

The delightful church of St Margaret of Antioch, Bygrave, Hertfordshire, which has Saxon origins.

The rains relented overnight revealing sun to bless the day

And so on Gringolet I ride the rolling road below the ridge

Where ancient men lie buried still in mounds majestic overhead;

And on to this shire’s soft edge I go and down to see Bygrave below.

This place has history as betrayed by boundaries of its bold fields

Which have the centuries survived as Saxon relics still and true

When others all around did under evil threat so ease to be enclosed;

A market place it once was but now more music do we hear

From roaming red kites high above than any padding in this street.

Yet Margaret of Antioch is here mild among this springtime bliss –

She presides in such a place as will most sweetly calm

The troubled minds of those who mingle mid the graves

And by the marshy moats which men once dug upon this mound

When few but brave men felt compelled to make their fortunes here

And those that did played nine men’s morris meekly by the church.

A simple place, blanched white in sun and shining like

A beacon in lands dark, remote, or bleak or bad

And which now are but a less-viewed vestige of a vanished age.

Let ancient Bygrave calm you too and capture in your troubled head

and thoughts

A time when folk did wander free

And played at idle sports

Below the shadow of some tree

In harvest time cohorts.

 

Bygrave in the county of Hertford is an ancient settlement which today sleeps atop rolling countryside just below the Royston Ridge. The church, St Margaret of Antioch, contains much of interest, including wall paintings, a fifteenth century font and the remains of a mediaeval rood screen. Parts of the building are Saxon in origin. The field system surrounding the village are of particular note; research shows that it was never enclosed. This landscape sensitivity report does give some cause for alarm, given that this ancient landscape has survived for so long. This particular survival is miraculous and it is Sir Gawain’s view that all must be done to protect it for future generations so they can know and understand how our ancestors lived.

 

 

 

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King Arthur’s Hall; all roofless and wind-blown


Image of King Arthur's Hall, Cornwall

The remains of King Arthur’s Hall on Bodmin Moor. The “Hall” is thought to be a Bronze Age ceremonial centre for cremation although some argue that it was a pound for animals.

Into Cornwall I climb seeking comfort from winds

Among lower levels of that lofty moor Bodmin;

Through fields richly-flanked by leaves of fair green

I come up to Blisland by blowing moor’s edge.

In that soft church I sit to regain of my senses

With its vault above me which arches twice vast

And shouts of Agincourt when its arcs were stretched

On shield-bearing angels, their wings wafting high

And sailing in joy over scenes from the centuries.

Rested, I rise onto Gringolet’s saddle

Who carries me slow up ascents to the moor

And there in the blowing wind blasting my body

And sharp-shafting showers that strike to the soul

I see that square building which bold sits in bog-land;

King Arthur’s Hall it is known in Kernow.

Yet no knight knows that place, not to my knowing,

The years have long passed that parsed of its purpose

And my uncle Arthur never nursed in that place

Ideas of adventure to alter his aims

For the season, or Christmas, or sweet holidays.

It is but a pound to pen but some sheep or maybe a place to bury

The dead.

Surrounded by gorse and granite stones

That Hall it must be said

Just now sits square in moors alone,

Its story long unread.

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Fettiplace lies by Lambourn’s levels


Image of tomb of Sir Thomas Fettiplace, East Shefford, Berkshore

The stately alabaster tomb of Sir Thomas Fettiplace at St Thomas Church, East Shefford, Berkshire

By the banks of the Lambourn Gringolet bides

Resting and watching the reeds in the river

As I edge to that church where in past age

I knew a knight who kept these lands.

Fettiplace true sleeps tidy now,

His eyes in alabaster cast about

Yet nought they see for soul has passed.

Yet that fine effigy fast as stone

Makes in my mind him quick as men did know:

Loud laughing round the boar with ruddy lips,

His loyal servants sing of his success

And his wife with charm well warms won hearts!

Now at rest he reigns in royal peace

By Beatrice in this calm and blessed bower

To touch the hearts and souls of those like me

Who ride

Down old and ancient lanes

On tracks that we decide

In search of what remains

Of what our memory cannot hide.



St Thomas’ Church, the subject of this blog post, is found at East Shefford in the County of Berkshire. This delightful building is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

A detailed architectural assessment of the building can be found on this interesting site, the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture.


 

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A new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight!


Image of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Michael Smith of Mythical Britain

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – new translation is being published by crowdfunding publisher Unbound.

On Gringalet again I ride now glorious Spring glows good

With lengthened leaves grown green that long

For coming summer’s sweet sun to soak.

My dallying days with other duties filled

Have caused a gap too great and gaunt;

I plea for pardon for pain so caused

By my bleak absence from this bench

As other realms awry drew me

Turning eyes north by tempting twists.

Now here is nice news I deem to share:

A new book of my legends, from Lancashire loyally –

The Green Knight translated with knowledge anew

And crafted with linocuts carved for your pleasure!

Yet it cannot be without your help offered

Most kind:

Will you help this book be born

By pledging pure to see it be?

Unbound lets books with your seed corn

Be read anew most handsomely.

Please help bring Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to a new audience!

If you would like to support a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated and handsomely-illustrated by Michael Smith, author of this blog, please do pledge your support at the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight page at publisher Unbound

 

 

 

 

 

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Into Laugharne in search of whispers


Laugharne Castle, Carmarthenshire, once the home of Robert Courtemain and the place where Henry II met the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth in 1189. Much of the castle today was built in the thirteenth century under the de Brians and was later extensively modified in the Tudor period.

Laugharne Castle, Carmarthenshire, once the home of Robert Courtemain and the place where Henry II met the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth in 1189. Much of the castle today was built in the thirteenth century under the de Brians and was later extensively modified in the Tudor period.

Sshh! it is quiet now after the blowing winds as qualmed Myfanwy waits

in the cobbled lane round the back for Mr Jones jolly to return from jaunts with jugging jars of ale alternative.

Silent, too, I have levelled at this old town of Llanffopohuoy on Gringalet by Pendine

where men now ride faster on destrier unimaginable in my mounting days.

It is day but day dawned delightful as a still, clear night;

out on the light, limpid water, seabirds in the sunshine linger.

The odd mew of gull, gullible tourist chit-chat and the chinking of china

in the tea shop by the shore can hardly shatter this silence now

but dark above us, standing stout, to shout stentorian

is the grey-stoned home of the Courtemains growling

through stilled lips at a land long lost when here

Lord Rhys met Henry to settle in much accord and who

in later years took this place from English hand

as through this part of Wales his lordship washed anew

before Llewelyn by destruction laid it low in later years.

Cast as Tudor palace this pile lived again

till fortune fair her back upon it turned and

where once was welcome then came weather

and homely husbandry fell sway to the humbling of the decades:

roofs fell in, ivy crept round and mortar to sand its destiny prescribed

until in recent years its stones afresh were stirred,

its pebbles polished for a poignant day

when poets proud would write their way

to fame and fortune and fate unkind

but whose fame immortal still blessed this inlet isle

held calm in deep Carmarthenshire long after they were gone.

I walk thus warily towards that place and now

where once was guard and garrison is but a shed

with gewgaws game to gently prise the silver

from the tourist’s tipping hand.

There sits Myfanwy, musically holding forth

by mouth with  friends and family at the  till,

happily diverting mind from home, home from men.

I approach for entrance and proffer pence appropriate;

her eyes swivel towards me as if a sudden

apparition apparent had chanced before her orbs

and then the words which all in Britain know so well

as a token of warm welcome – words thus spoke which

waft them home from worldly winds:

“We’re closed”, she crabs with apology none and in a moment

I was gone.

Mefanwy though your life be broke

don’t let it be to dark the sun:

’tis better you are softly spoke

so men can dream that you’re the one.

Laugharne Castle, Carmarthenshire, once the home of Robert Courtemain and the place where Henry II met the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth in 1189. Much of the castle today was built in the thirteenth century under the de Brians and was later extensively modified in the Tudor period.

Laugharne Castle, Carmarthenshire, once the home of Robert Courtemain and the place where Henry II met the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth and which, upon Henry’s death, was seized by Rhys in 1189. Much of the castle today was built in the thirteenth century under the de Brians and was later extensively modified in the Tudor period.

This view of Laugharne is the one which most who visit take back as their abiding memory of the place. It is certainly dramatic.

This view of Laugharne is the one which most who visit take back as their abiding memory of the place. It is certainly dramatic.

The entrance to Laugharne Castle today; until fairly recently, the castle was in a much worse condition and covered in ivy. Thankfully, the ivy has been removed and the ruins consolidated.

The entrance to Laugharne Castle today; until fairly recently, the castle was in a much worse condition and covered in ivy. Thankfully, the ivy has been removed and the ruins consolidated.

Laugharne today is more famous for the man who lived here than the Lord Rhys who seized Laugharne Castle in 1189. Dylan Thomas, creator of Under Milk Wood and other magnificent poetry lived in this beautiful spot at the end of his career.

Laugharne today is more famous for the man who lived here than the Lord Rhys who seized Laugharne Castle in 1189. Dylan Thomas, creator of Under Milk Wood and other magnificent poetry lived in this beautiful spot at the end of his career.

The banality of life, so much of which was celebrated by Dylan Thomas, is summarised in these garments, hanging in the breeze at the Boat House, Laugharne.

The banality of life, so much of which was celebrated by Dylan Thomas, is summarised in these garments, hanging in the breeze at the Boat House, Laugharne.

The Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd certainly had a great reason to capture Laugharne other than taking the castle itself; the view is quite wonderful.

The Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd certainly had a great reason to capture Laugharne other than taking the castle itself; the view is quite wonderful.

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