On Tuesday Mandy and I ventured to Pembroke to visit the castle of its once lord and master William Marshall – one of Mandy’s personal favorite historical figures. As for me, I knew very little about him when we arrived. One of the first things I did learn was that he purportedly stood 6′ 6″! After walking through every hallway, doorway and chamber of Pembroke Castle, I have no idea how the man walked upright when even I had to duck on occasion. For the record, I’m 5’8″.
I further learned (from Mandy) the First Earl of Pembroke was hailed as the greatest knight who ever lived, never losing a single joust in some 500 tournaments. I had to ask if he competed against “normal” men as a means to feed his ego. Pshaw! Mandy says he was a humble man. I’ll have to take her word for it.
Now, if you want to know more about this fascinating man … read a book! Heh heh. I know I will be checking out the history of this giant knight. Traveling has that effect on me, in general. Visiting historical sites always makes me to want to learn more than what the placards teach me. There goes my TBR pile.
As you will see from the pictures, Pembroke is one of the largest castles in Wales (certainly second to Caernarfon, but we’ll get to that beast in another post). This thirteenth century castle sits on a bluff of limestone along the Pembroke River. The site itself has a history going back 12,000 years which makes the present castle seem contemporary … almost.
As usual I wanted to check out some of the area, so I hopped out of the car around the corner from the castle. For fun, below is a rough idea of my exploits. Not sure why it has me jumping into the river. Perhaps that’s how the mapping technology tracks my elevation changes.
I approached castle from the southwest and walked around the base, following the flowing river.
Rounding the castle, I came alongside a block with a giant gate. The block (as I would later learn inside) is the Great Block Hall which housed the hall (obviously) and the kitchen. But what is truly interesting about this part of the castle is what lies beneath it.
Go back 12,000 years to the Palaeolithic Period (aka the Old Stone Age) and you will discover a giant opening under the castle where cave dwellers once lived. Through the centuries, Wogan Cavern was home to many others, including ancient Romans. The medieval folks who built the castle on top of the cavern used the space to store stuff, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a popular hang out as well. The cave was very cool – temperature-wise, in addition to being just plain cool. On a hot day, who wouldn’t retreat down there?
And the acoustics …? Wow. This place would have made a terrific medieval concert hall. Air conditioning and phenomenal audio!
Above, you can clearly see how the cavern was sealed off with a defensive wall and gated entrance. Had to keep those cave dwellers out, I suppose. The difference between the older windows and the transitional architecture is also apparent.
Past the Great Block Hall and Wogan Cavern, I approached St. Anne’s Bastion – a small castle within the castle added on in the 14th century. Today, it houses the castle café and guest bathrooms.
Past St. Anne’s Bastion I came to a slipway and a floating dock. Several swans were paddling about, so I sat on the dock to watch. This, of course, was their cue to approach. As I had nothing to feed them, they waddled up onto the slipway and started a group preening session … for my entertainment, I can only assume.
Continuing my trek around the curtain wall, I came to this majestic looking stack of stones called the Northgate Tower which I assume (once I entered the castle) I climbed to the top of and took several impressive pictures. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything specific about the history of this particular tower. It looks intimidating. It defended the castle. I’m sure lots of shenanigans went on inside it – guards pranking each other, secret rendezvous – none of which we’ll ever know … for sure.
And finally, we enter the castle. Mandy and her mom were nearly much done inside because I had taken a long time walking around the outside. They would eventually go for lunch at the charming Cake Shop across the street. I’ll tell you all about that later.
See! I told you I took some impressive pictures, except I’m fairly certain I took these from the tippy top of the Great Tower and not the Northgate Tower because this is the view looking north-northwest at the Pembroke River flowing toward the Milford Haven Waterway which leads to … anyone? Bueller? You in the back row. That’s right. St. George’s Channel. Yeah. I didn’t know that either. I looked it up.
An interesting tidbit about the Milford Haven Waterway (which you can’t see in any of the pictures and probably don’t care, but I’m going to tell you anyway) is it used to be a valley but was flooded at the end of the last Ice Age. Now, remember those cave dwellers who hung out in Wogan Cavern? Those same hominins may have witnessed the creation of that natural harbor … if they survived. And you didn’t think there’d be a connection, did you? Moving on …
Here’s another view from the top of the Great Tower, looking down onto the chapel grounds to the west. The walls of the chapel itself are still standing, but the only thing left of the bishop’s living quarters are the base stones.
The wealth of history attached to this castle is too immense for me to cover in my little travel log, but I can’t continue without mentioning its biggest claim to fame as the birthplace of the English king with Welsh ancestry: Henry Tudor. You’ve heard of him, right? The War of the Roses. Richard the Third. The Battle of Bosworth. Father of Henry VIII. Yeah. You know him.
Apparently, for years historians believed Henry Tudor was born in the chamber as pictured below. There he is swaddled in the hands of his nanny. There’s his mom, Lady Margaret Beaufort, sitting back and letting everyone else take care of him. Edward Tudor, the little nipper’s dad, isn’t in the picture because, unfortunately, he contracted the bubonic plague while imprisoned in Carmarthen Castle and died three months before Henry’s birth – on the tail-end of one of many disastrous Welsh rebellions against the English monarchy. Read a book!
Henry Tudor’s actual birthplace may have been discovered elsewhere within the castle walls. Excavated just last year, a building of “high status” was unearthed and is still being analyzed. You can learn about the incredible discovery here.
I’ll take a slight detour to make mention of the weather. The day started out warm and sunny. As I dashed from tower to tower, the sky grew darker, and the clouds finally opened and poured buckets of rain on us. I took shelter in one of the upper levels of the Dungeon Tower. Looking north-northwest, you can see the dike across the Pembroke River in the distance (not sure what it’s really called considering it has an inlet … not my area of expertise). The foreground structure is part of the Norman Hall, the oldest part of Pembroke Castle.
Below is a better idea of the layout with the Great Tower on the left and the Dungeon Tower in the middle.
The wind whipped and howled outside the castle walls. I quickly acquired a great admiration for the medieval castle builders as I was treated only to a breeze, even standing in an open doorway. I assume they knew which side to add the doors and windows. Or perhaps I simply got lucky. I watched people scatter for different parts of the castle for cover. Mandy & her mom were safe at the Cake Shop, having gotten a little wet on the way.
Only minutes passed before the rain came to a halt. I emerged from the Dungeon Tower to continue my adventure. The wind died and the blue sky returned post haste … as you can see.
Famished, I finally decided to join Mandy and her mom at the Cake Shop. Mandy had been texting me pictures of the menu and her delicious-looking lunch. As I headed for the exit, I couldn’t resist popping into this strange doorway to where? The steps leading up to the doorway were tall … very tall … making it impossible (for me, anyway) to take them two at a time. I’ll give you one guess.
Yep. It’s a privy. I would have guessed it to be William Marshall’s private lavatory because of the high steps (ha ha), but it was added on in the 17th century – 400 hundred long years or so after his death, so I guess not. The interesting notion about this particular privy is its location – outside. Personally, it’s the first one I’ve seen with access directly from the courtyard. It makes me wonder what took the castle dwellers so long to build one outside.
Now comes the part I indicated would come later. I rushed out of the castle and down the street to the Cake Shop. The ladies were enjoying a leisurely dessert, letting me have my fun scampering around the castle. What to order? What to order? Everything on the menu sounded wonderful. Everything in the front cases looked scrumptious. Many places require you to order at the counter. I was delighted to have a waitress … until she came to the table with her order pad only to tell me they had run out of food.
Question: Why the heck did she have a pad in her hand, raised ready to take my order?
Force of habit? Torture device? Could she not tell how hungry I was?
Fine, I said. I asked if I could order a milkshake. She said, yes. I had three flavors from which to choose, none of which were vanilla – which is what I wanted.
You may recall (because you just read it seconds ago, unless you’re a really sloooow reader) I mentioned food in the front cases which apparently were not available to order. At least, none of it was offered to me.
Dejected, I walked off alone in search of food. I found a small market a few doors down and bought a banana. It was a lovely, little shop with fresh looking fruits and vegetables and other sundries, including cobb nuts which I had never seen. The proprietress offered me one to try. (I haven’t cracked it open yet.)
Thus ended my adventure in Pembroke, a beautiful city situated around an amazing castle. Like many of the towns, villages and hamlets we pass through, the residents show a deep pride in their history and heritage. Street after street bursts with color, generating a vibrant sense of hospitality and appreciation.
We hit the road again, our next destination – Carew. I knew next to nothing about this particular castle. Okay. I knew absolutely nothing … except Mandy told me they used it to film the La Pierre scenes from A Discovery of Witches, so I was all in!
Carew is a low-lying, 13th century castle in Pembrokeshire surrounded by mudflats and salt marsh. Historical points of interest include … Hm. I got nothing.
Aw. That’s mean, isn’t it?
Really, I didn’t know anything about this castle before 60 seconds ago. Like many other castles, Roman remains have been excavated on the grounds, so it was obviously a strategic site. No doubt the importance of its location is related to the Carew River and nearby mill, though earliest evidence of the mill only dates back to 1542.
Sir Nicholas de Carew was lord of the castle through the late 13th century, early 14th century and is responsible for many of the stone buildings in the inner ward. He was a soldier, a husband and a father. I’m sure he lived an exciting life, especially given the time period, but we’ll never know any juicy details.
As luck would have it, the castle also passed through the hands of Sir John Perrot at the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Rumor has it, he was the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, which would make him the illegitimate grandson of Henry Tudor. See how I made a connection back to Pembroke Castle? Juicy stuff. It gets better.
Sir John was granted Carew Castle in 1558 then later appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1584, followed by a turn as a Member of Parliament in 1589. As politics go, he made some enemies along the way, and accusations were cast. Sir John also made several derogatory comments regarding Queen Elizabeth’s legitimacy, a dangerous thing to do, especially considering his own situation. In any event, he found himself locked up in the Tower of London, charged and convicted of high treason. Sir John’s sentence was postponed for some time, leaving him to hope for a royal pardon. He never received such a grant as he died in prison before the year was out. Very juicy stuff.
After the passing of Sir John, the castle reverted to the crown then later was sold back to the de Carew family. From 1607 until 1660, the castle continued to change hands until finally ending up again with the de Carew’s for the last time. The castle was abandoned in 1686, left to scavengers for building materials.
Now, on to the castle. For more fun, here’s an aerial view of the castle and my trek around it.
Mandy dropped me off at Butts Lane so I could walk around the mill pond. I ran into several locals hanging out with their dogs and captured some astonishing views of the castle.
I also came across a familiar site …
More crab catchers! These folks were having better luck than the dad in Torquay. I did not stick around for the grand releasing of the crabs, preferring instead to continue my journey around the mill pond.
The skies remained blue as I came up alongside Carew on Castle Lane (an aptly name road). Mandy and her mom were inside somewhere, and I had taken the long route so I started running. Turns out, I was not the only one. Seems the road encircling the castle and mill pond is a popular running track for the locals. I passed several folks running in the opposite direction. Oops. Guess I was going the wrong way.
Inside, were several different phases of architecture from medieval to early modern, as you can see in the window designs.
As I do not have any additional historical information to share, it’s time to talk about Discovery of Witches. The Great Hall at Carew Castle is where the show filmed much of episode 1.06 in which Diana Bishop (Theresa Palmer) is held captive by crazy-wishes-she-were-Diana Satu Järvinen (Malin Buska) and the nefarious-talks-to-a-witch’s-head Gerbert D’Aurillac at his private little getaway castle – La Pierre.
As you can see from the pictures above and below, Carew Castle was the perfect setting for Diana’s suspenseful torture scene. The authenticity of the location must surely have enhanced everyone’s performances. Rewatching the scene after visiting the castle put me right back there between the decrepit walls.
Afterward, Mandy came to my rescue by driving us to The Forge, a restaurant founded in an old blacksmith’s shop. At the end of a long day of castle adventures (and no lunch), I was rewarded with the world’s best hot fudge sundae where the creamy vanilla ice cream, hot chocolate fudge and luscious whipped cream are all locally churned, melted and whipped! I don’t have the same sweet tooth in the US as I do in the UK because there’s something special about their dairy products and desserts which make their sweets not quite as sweet which is very sweet to me!