Caerphilly Castle

Nothing says British history like castles. The word originally meant a fortress or stronghold, though Disney has managed to make in synonymous with a medievalish looking palace. That isn’t totally their fault, though. Nor is it totally inaccurate. Castles were definitely inhabited by rich people. But not because they liked a grand facade of wealth. Rather, they liked to be safe from their enemy’s soldiers. Caerphilly castle is just such an example. It was built by a nobleman who’s family was intent on subjugating and dominating the surrounding area. Having a castle meant he could be relatively safe from attack, while having a base from which to deploy his men and maintain control. Being safe from attack wasn’t just theoretical either. In 1294 the Welsh, unhappy about being taxed and repressed, rose up. Morgan ap Maredudd led a force that attacked Caerphilly. Half the town was burned, but they couldn’t take the castle—in which our nobleman Gilbert de Clare was cozy and safe.

Ruins at Caerphilly Castle, Wales. By Jameson Gardner Art

In its day, Caerphilly castle was quite revolutionary. It had extra-fortified gatehouses on concentric defenses including artificial lakes and moats. It even had a semi-fortified island where the townspeople could come during a conflict. Just because it was a fortress didn’t mean the noble family shouldn’t live in style—so, their interior accommodations were rather lavish.

Hundreds of years of decay, shifting soil and possibly some intentional blasting during the English Civil War, while rendering it a little less grand, have given it the patina of age and authenticity that sparks your imagination. Yet, enough restoration has been done to guide your imagination in the right direction. Our visit was accompanied by cloud and rain—it seemed only appropriate.

Restored windows at Caerphilly Castle, Wales. By Jameson Gardner Art

The windows in this restored section of the castle show that accommodations for the noble family weren’t so bad as the shabby arrow loops on the exterior walls might suggest.

Outer defenses of Caerphilly Castle, Wales. By Jameson Gardner Art

Ivy growing on ruins at Caerphilly Castle, Wales. By Jameson Gardner Art

Crumbling stone ruins at Caerphilly Castle, Wales. By Jameson Gardner Art

Duck near water defenses at Caerphilly Castle, Wales. By Jameson Gardner Art

Once upon a time, the water defenses may have repelled attackers. But they certainly aren’t repelling a variety of waterfowl.

 

Glastonbury Abbey

Flowering vines growing from the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, UK. By Jameson Gardner Art

When we explained to our hostess at the countryside bed and breakfast that our next stop was Glastonbury, she told us that it was a very interesting town, “very spiritual.” I wasn’t sure precisely what she meant, but I had a vague notion that as the site of the ruins of an ancient abbey, it was likely a peaceful place where pious people could go to commune with the divine. It turns out that wasn’t really her meaning.

After we found a car park and I got change for the ticket machine from an auto parts store, we headed for High Street and the abbey. It quickly became apparent what our hostess meant by “spiritual.” High street was loaded with shops selling crystals, incense and energy spray (I’m not entirely certain what that is…). I’m not going to disparage anyone’s path to spirituality—I just wasn’t expecting the residents of a town that claims to be Avalon, the resting place of King Arthur, to make me feel like I was in Santa Fe.

The Abbey was completely different. The large expanse of grass and ruins, filled with myth and history, was quiet and peaceful in comparison. Though people speculate that monks may have invented the graves of Arthur and Guinevere to draw pilgrims in a time of financial need, it feels nice to wonder if maybe it wasn’t true, and maybe that patch of white flowers is growing there for a reason.

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, UK. By Jameson Gardner Art

 

Whether you believe that King Arthur was buried here, or that the Glastonbury Thorn was really grown from a clipping of the tree that sprouted when Joseph of Arimethea drove his staff into Wearyall Hill, there is something about a place like this that makes you feel connected to those who have gone before. We didn’t have a problem wandering here for a few hours.

Marker at site of supposed tomb of King Arthur, Glastonbury, UK. By Jameson Gardner

 

White flowers in Graveyard by Lady Chapel at Glastonbury Abbey, Sommerset, UK. By Jameson Gardner