Day out: Chepstow Castle

25 Sep

Along the English-Welsh border, you’ll find many dramatic ruined castles (Raglan Castle), religious complexes (Tintern Abbery), and Roman fortifications (Caerleon).  One beauty we hadn’t seen before — Chepstow Castle.  (Free if your English Heritage pass is more than 12 months old, discounted if it is less.)

IMG_3739edThe massive main gatehouse and Marten’s Tower give a strong first impression.

IMG_3743edA wander through the lower bailey presents you with various wall walks, towers, and open spaces.IMG_3744edIn a side corridor near the service passage and kitchen, the oldest wooden castle doors in Europe — 800 years old — are on display, out of the elements.  IMG_3753ed I’m always interesting in looking UP.  Here you are seeing a slice of the Great Tower from inside the barbican around the middle bailey.IMG_3754ed How do those flowers get there?  What would it be like to step through that dark doorway?IMG_3756edA view back down the middle bailey.IMG_3761edThe marginally brave can walk up to the top of one of the remaining towers for a view over the town and the walls.  I don’t remember if this is peeking through a musket loop, a window, or just general falling-down-ness.IMG_3766edThe shell of the Great Tower remains, including the very sides of two dramatic Norman arches.  This is the oldest part of the castle, and may have been used by William the Conqueror as an audience chamber.  (HOW COOL IS THAT.)  The round-arched niches in the back (there are four, one is just out of frame) contain remains of their original 11th century decoration, and are considered to the be oldest surviving secular decorations in Britain.  So, that’s pretty cool, too.IMG_3767edAlong with picturesque views toward the river through the lower windows.IMG_3771edHandrailings on the walls — that’s more than we usually see at ruined castles.IMG_3774edOn the other side of the castle, views over the muddy Wye. That little iron bridge is fun to drive over — it’s one lane, and controlled by a traffic light allowing one direction of traffic to flow at a time.  It also marks the boundary between England and Wales.  Here be dragons.IMG_3776edClimb the south-west tower of the upper barbican at the very end of the castle, and look over the upper bailey and Marshal’s Tower. IMG_3782edClimb down past the cellars, and find the remains of an aristocratic private garden and the water gate under the river cliff.IMG_3785edAnd, from along the walls near Marten’s Tower, and get a better sense of the various levels and styles all sealed within the membrane of the Chepstow Castle walls.

To my very great sadness, the Earl’s Chamber was closed for renovation during our visit.  The chamber was a gloriette and is the only surviving, accessible example of this type of indoor architecture and design in Britain.  (I say ‘surviving’, but it has been totally rebuilt, recreated, and restored.  Either way, I was eager to see it.  Oh, well.)
IMG_3789edAfter exploring the castle  (take your time — bring dress-up — bring wooden swords — bring a picnic) don’t forget to wander through the hilly medieval town of Chepstow at the foot and side of the castle, or wander off on one of the many hikes through the area.

Or enjoy tea in a local tea room.

10559832_10203701525392789_6170788621271042918_nThere’s a special magic about coming in from a drizzle to a warm cup of tea in a cozy tea room.  And if you’re very lucky, there’ll be cakes.


4 Responses to “Day out: Chepstow Castle”

  1. Anonymous September 27, 2014 at 12:51 am #

    I continue to enjoy your blog immensely. You have a good eye for composition and lighting.

  2. thebookgator October 2, 2014 at 4:15 am #

    Lovely, as always. Excellent pictures coupled with amusing text… are the dragons on the Welsh side or the English? 😉

    • Monique October 16, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      Welsh dragons … they eat English lions!

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