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Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Caerphilly Castle

They say a woman haunts the pediments of Caerphilly Castle.  Shes' Alice de la Marg, wife of Gilbert de Clare, the forlorn lover of a knight, Griffiths de Fair who was hanged in Ysterad Myrach . It is said she died of a broken heart. She appears on the ivy clad walls so they call her "The Green Lady"

I grew up from infancy hearing these stories from my Welsh dad, as well as stories of his life down in the pits at the Bedwys Navigational Collieries nearby where he worked from age 14 til his mid twenties when he lost his mining cards during the big strikes of 1930's and was forced to immigrate to Canada.  Dad used to play in the castle when he was a boy.  Now it's a national heritage site, one of the est preserved Norman castles in Britain.

Caerphilly, formerly just a mining village, a few miles north of Cardiff in the Rhymny Valley has now grown into a fair sized town.  The collieries at Bedwas no longer exist and the slag heap is overgrown with grass and new houses are built up the slopes where dad used to walk every day to go down in the pits.  I love walking around the old 'village' part of Caerphilly and along Windsor street where he used to live.  I have visited the house there several times when the old uncles were still alive.

The castle dominates the centre of the town, its formidable grey stone walls still seeming as dauntless as they were in bygone days.  A moat, hedged with bullrushes, encircles the castle and on both sides there is a lake adding extra fortification.  The northern lake is small now but the southern little lake attracts a lot of fishermen who loll in the grassy banks with their umbrellas for shade, catching small fish (not sure what kind).

I call it 'my castle' because I have known about it for so long it feels like it's 'mine' and I started visiting here back in the early '70's  and have come many times since then.
The Great Hall, Caerphilly Castle

Exploring the Castle
This time, I found there were several more passages pen so I explored up and down the narrow spiral staircases leading to various rooms in the towers, some very large rooms that had fireplaces, and way up again to the top of the turrets just under the flags.  There was a long narrow hallway leading to another part of the castle that eventually led down to the Great Hall where they hold wedding receptions and other functions these days. I got some good ideas for visualizing the fortress of Amphipolis in my Shadow of the Lion novel. Although it would have been a different type of structure it would have had the same sort of layout which had been hard for me to visualize before.  I also got some good ideas when I visited the collection of siege equipment because some of these implements were actually invented and used by the ancient Greeks. In particular the giant cross-bow and stone throwers were used by the ancient Greeks.  One of the siege engines was actually used by the Chinese 5000 years ago.

Seeing around Caerphilly
I know the old part of the village quite well and had to stop for lunch at the Old Courthouse, which is now a pub, on Monday.  I sat on the patio with the marvellous view of the castle and had a leisurely lunch after my walk around town. Yesterday we drove out to another suburb where Joyce, my cousin Jan's mom lives and later we went for a pub lunch.  Jan is the distant cousin who has tracked us all down and connected so many of the family members, many of whom all lived around Caerphilly but until last summer's reunion had never met.  I'm staying with my cousin Sheila, daughter of dad's eldest brother Bert, and also spending time with her daughter Andrea (and tomorrow Pauline, the other daughter, will come down from up near Chester in the north) My cousin Chris is hoping to come down from Worcester on Thursday too.

At the moment I'm at Andrea and Paul's house using the computer.  This is a grand old house that was once a mansion belonging to the mining bosses back in Dad's time.  Interesting isn't it, that the house of one of those same bosses who was responsible for my dad losing his mining cards, because dad was a union organizer and refused to speak against his fellow workers,  is now the home of my cousin Sheila's daughter.

This afternoon I'm off on a tour of one of the heritage villages, St. Fagans, so I'll post another blog about that in a day or so before I leave Wales on the weekend.

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