Category Archives: Historic places to visit in Britain

In search of King Arthur in sand-swept Pennard


Image of Pennard Castle

The lonely, sand swept walls of Pennard Castle, Glamorganshire, here showing the twin-towered gatehouse.

To come from the seas,      across sandy shoals,

By boat on the waves     to beach at Pennard

Lets all see a castle     so grand and serene

That folk are at once     all won over with joy!

When I was a knight     in these lands long ago

I came to this place     so proud on my horse

And jousted with jollity     in jaunts with my friends

In front of King Arthur,     the fairest of all,

And lovely Waynor     with her wondrous grey eyes.

With Sir Bors and Sir Lucan,     boystrous and bold,

And also Sir Lancelot     that most skilful at tourney,

I fought in the field     with my lady’s sleeve

As a token of truth     in telling of my love.

The banners all blue     and those others so bright

Did fly in the wind      afloat and a-flutter

With silks all soft blowing     which I myself saw.

By those walls on those cliffs     all those knights made a clatter

As hoof and hard armour     all hammered at once

And cheers rose in chanting     with every man’s challenge

Until at the close     when a champion was called.

But those days are now done,     they have drawn to a close,

Which once bore brave witness     to chivalry wondrous;

The winds which blew banners     have now brought just sand

And that castle I knew     has all crumbled and cracked.

Where Arthur watched from,     those walls are all wracked

That once saw that fighting     in those long-off days

And the land and the village     and all those loyal folk

Have all dwindled and gone     as the sand drowned them all in

its way.

We look upon that fort

So strong in Arthur’s day;

It is sadly now but nought

And his knights all gone away.


About Pennard Castle…

Pennard Castle on the Gower Peninsula is a small stone castle, built on a former ring work castle. It is lightly-built but in a commanding site which safe-guarded access to the land below it, in particular the valley of the Pennard Pill which advances inland from the beach. According to Cathcart-King, it is first mentioned in 1322; the remains today comprise the remnants of a twin-towered gatehouse, a small round mural tower, a larger square tower, a section of wall and the foundations of the great hall. The life of the castle was short, succumbing to the incursion of sand dunes in the fourteenth century which also led to the decline and then desertion of the neighbouring village. In his evocative, if somewhat inaccurate description of the ruins (and their cause) in the 1920s, CWC Oman states, with a somewhat laconic air, “It is a melancholy site, half filled with drifting sand; for though it stands on a rock, the wind has piled it deep with fine detritus from the neighbouring golf links – where may be seen the only signs of life in this rather depressing corner of the peninsula”. 

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Image of King Arthur

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Arthurians and others with an interest – this blog is written in the style of the fourteenth century alliterative poets.

I am currently crowdfunding my second book through Unbound, in this case the Alliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur’s Death), written by an unknown hand in c.1400.

If you would like to pledge for your own limited edition copy, with your own name in the back as a supporter, please click here.


More images of Pennard Castle…


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Filed under British History, British Landscape, Castles, Castles of Wales, Gawain and the Green Knight, Historic places to visit in Britain, King Arthur, South Wales, Touring Britain, Welsh History

Brentor on Dartmoor by foot and on high


Church of St Michael of the Rock, Brentor

Church of St Michael of the Rock, Brentor, Dartmoor, Devonshire

Up out of Tavistock,      along the straight road,

We come now to Brentor      bold like a stark thumb

As it stands above Dartmoor      alone dark and brooding;

A church there for years,     challenging and cheerless.

Yet climb with me stranger     with stout legs and striding,

Let your boots bound on boulders     till you get to the top,

And there you’ll find solace     with blowing winds blasting

Against the tight granite     which grips God’s home here.

Push that door smartly     for it scrapes the flat stones

Of the entrance to this place     which is dark inside;

Fear not the cold gloom     or your eyesight in gloaming

For warm welcome breath     sweet blows on your face

Of the grace and the glory     of those gone before

Who made this place special     to prick at your soul!

Glass of Saint Michael,     great granite font,

Monuments left      to those lost long ago;

Plain yet so precious     these simple-formed things

Hold you in their grasp     almost weeping in pain

As they tell of their stories     of lives long since spent

And once lived in the cold     before you were alive.

I Pray now in penitence     for sport I have made

In blissful unknowing     of blood shed and blown

In the tors of old Dartmoor     tight-lipped and unspoken

But placed on these walls     that speak now to me and

Don’t hide.

Brentor upon its rock

Is for miles like a guide

Helping travellers to unlock

That wind-blown countryside.


The church of St Michael of the Rock (St Michael de Rupe) at Brentor, Devonshire, stands 1100 feet above sea level on an extinct volcanic cone, the prominence of which has long attracted people to the site. The base of the main rock is surrounded by the remains of an Iron Age hill fort.

The church itself, diminutive by any standard and most likely some form of chantry chapel, was established by Robert Giffard in the 12th Century although much of this has long since disappeared, being enlarged and rebuilt over the centuries. Much of what we see today dates from the 13th and 15th centuries although with considerable restoration in the nineteenth century which has obscured a great deal of the early work at the site.

Elements of the original building survive in the form of the font, of plain type, which dates from the fifteenth century and the tower. The exterior also includes an unusual sun dial on the southern face of the tower; curiously the church, despite its diminutive size, retains a door on its northern and southern sides.

For more details, please see the Historic England listing here

Coming soon by the Author:

Michael Smith’s new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be published in July 2018. To pre-order your special collector’s limited first edition – different to those which will appear in the bookshops – please click here

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The Viking Stones at Gosforth


Image of Gosforth Cross.

Almost like Yggdrasil itself, the Gosforth cross rises from the tree of life to be crowned with a cross.

Coming down that lane from Lakeland’s scratching crags

On Gringolet I ride towards the green of coastal plain,

And there alight at Gosforth as it lies in lowering sun

With its memories of raiders who once came this far inland.

A little bland, perhaps, this place it seems – but not on close inspection;

For there within its hedgy bounds a cross soars up to skies

That tells of Vikings and their ways, and what became of them,

When heathen gods were banished by all those that did live here.

From ashen roots of Yggdrasil its round stem turns to square

By which its upper reaches speak the triumph of the Lord

With triquetra carved declaring of the Holy Trinity

While further down our eyes will see Loki, Sigyn and more.

The church seems new compared to this but looks can be deceiving:

Inside more Viking carvings kept by those who came before.

Two hog-backed graves, all humped and whole, found buried in old times

And fine upon the wall we find the Fishing Stone of Thor!

Six hundred years have lapsed since I last walked round here

in awe:

This church has been much changed

(And with it, ancient lore);

Its stones all rearranged

Yet what joys lie through the door!


History

St Mary’s Church is to be found in the centre of the village of Gosforth in Cumberland. Although the building gives the initial appearance of being a typical Victorian church (it was rebuilt in the late 19th Century), it still retains many features from its earlier incarnations, with the oldest internal fabric dating from the 12th Century.

Of particular note is the great cross in the churchyard, which stands over fourteen feet tall and is decorated with scenes which have been interpreted as showing different elements of Norse mythology. The churchyard also contains the stump of a second cross.

Inside the church, the visitor is treated to two fine hogback graves with detailed and ornate carving. These were found buried under a 12th Century section of the old church building when the Victorian restoration of the nave took place in 1897, and clearly pre-date the original wall.

The “Fishing Stone”, also in the church, may be a fragment of the second cross outside. It features an image of Thor and Hymir the giant as they fish for Jormungandr, the great serpent which encircles the world.

Listing Details to be found here

New Book by the Author:

Michael Smith’s new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be published in July 2018. To pre-order your special collector’s limited first edition – with your name in the back – please click here

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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.

New Book by the Author: Michael Smith’s new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be published in July 2018. To pre-order your special collector’s limited first edition – with your name in the back – please click here

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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.

New Book by the Author: Michael Smith’s new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be published in July 2018. To pre-order your special collector’s limited first edition – with your name in the back – please click here

 

 

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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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