Castles in the Forest of Dean

gloucsThe loveliest and most enigmatic area of Gloucestershire, the Royal Forest of Dean, is wonderful to visit just about any time but is especially stunning in Spring and Autumn when everything is renewing or changing before winter. There is a plethora of iron and bronze age hillforts to be visited here along with interesting Roman ruins. In the 18th century visitors to the area around St Briavel’s exclaimed over the “beautiful and romantic scenery that surrounds these ruins.” Along the far west and running in a southward direction, this gateway to south Wales had to be used, in a fashion, to fend off retaliatory Welsh raids. Gloucester was considered vulnerable and so you’ll find very little of medieval military leftovers even though the evidence was once as thick as the forest itself. Don’t forget that some castles were once quite formidable but possibly abandoned early rather than late.Dymockcastletump

Castle Tump at Dymock, directly ten miles west of Tewkesbury in the northwest corner of Gloucestershire above the Forest of Dean, is a motte all of 14 meters high with a bailey along the southeast. It was eradicated during the Anarchy when the castle was given to William de Braose ( son-in-law of Miles de Gloucester ) by Henry II circa 1160. Today a farm is located near the site.
English_Bicknor_village_signSome miles south and right on the Wye River border which separates Wales from England, English Bicknor Castle’s remains consist of a motte at the center of two concentric outer bailey walls, producing a circular castle 150 yards in diameter seated near Symond’s Yat and Lower Lydbrook. The existence of Bicknor is documented in the Domesday book of 1086 and once known as Bicanofre but was recorded as a hamlet in 1066. (There is a Welsh Bicknor indicating a division of the city.) The motte was placed against the southwest corner of the site, where the ground slopes as a natural embankment rampart. A square stone keep may have been built at a later stage atop the motte. At the beginning of the Anarchy the castle was controlled by Miles de Gloucester but Bicknor miraculously escaped destruction and was still in full use at the beginning of the 13th century. Further conflict is undocumented as is the castle’s certain demise. For age and location, the castle is literally neck and neck with a small Norman parish church dedicated to St Mary which has beautiful English_Bicknor_Castlesiteinternal stone masonry along with sculpture from the beginning of the 12th century and loaded with interesting 14th and 15th century artifacts. The original church tower was seated centrally and built from the soft local sandstone which became unsafe but was sited within the outer courtyard of the motte and bailey castle. Only the exterior stonework of St Mary’s 13th century west tower is original, however. Norman masonry has been found within the motte, suggesting at least part of the castle was builtin stone and while nothing is left of the castle’s actual structure today, the location is still identifiable. This typical early Norman defense work may have been built in the reign of Henry I of England or King Stephen during the first half of the 12th century and was demolished or destroyed by the late 14th century, but why and how is not documented. Legend has it that it may have faced destruction during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr.
Head southwest, a short distance toward the north bank of the River Severn near Cinderford and you’ll find Littledean Camp, Glasshouse Woods and Howle Hill Camp. Littledean and the rest were Norman castles constructed to protect local villages and they worked as a type of screen to also protect the city of Gloucester from Welsh incursion. Littledean was concentric but small- sixty feet in diameter- equipped with an inner and outer bailey with a high vallum (rampart) wall originally fifteen feet in height with the motte integrated with the outer wall. Diversely, Glasshouse Woods was an 11th century ringwork designed most likely as an outpost to Littledean and Howle Hill.
Newnham-on-SevernAnother site along the north bank of the River Severn, a short distance away in a south direction, Newnham-on-Severn is a quiet and pleasant village which claims a good example of a platform motte of a castle. Location of this motte is questionable because the Severn would have provided more than enough protection, very much like a wide moat so it’s presence would have been unnecessary. It may have had a small tower with an outer wall at some point. You’ll find it located near the village church and the view from the river bank is idyllic.

Lydney_Park_GardensA 12th century Norman stone castle, Little Camp Hill, located within beautiful Lydney Park high on a hilltop above a floodplain, was uncovered back in the 1930s during an excavation revealing a curtain with an entrance flanked by a small tower keep with inner and outer baileys. Laid out to the natural shape of the hill, nothing was above ground but the outline was pentagonal with uneven angles and had a rectangular tower with a gateway, an additional tower and curtain walls. Its construction is attributed to William FitzOsbern and the entire park has been under the ownership of Benjamin Bathurst since 1719. The remains of a Roman temple also grace the site along with gardens, deer park and 17th century Lydney House. Some people believe that features of Lydney Park, such as Dwarf Hill, were inspirational to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books describing Hobbiton! info, call: 01594 845497



a. gatehouse  b.King’s chambers and chapel  c. keep d. Hall range

e. the Peel   f. tower  g. moat (yellow)

St_Briavels_Castle_-_geograph_org_uk_-_520136Overlooking the Wye Valley near Tintern Abbey in Wales, you’ll find the remains of St Briavels Castle which occupies a spur right on the edge of the border built by royal mandate of Empress Matilda for Miles de Gloucester, the Earl of Hereford, in 1141. As a moated Norman enclosure castle of the 12th century it has much more to show us than most castles today and the fact of its formidable appearance is also a miracle considering its proximity to Wales. As a matter of fact, nothing English is quite that close and is still, technically, English except for English Bicknor ! By sight, it’s best known for its massive round twin-towered gatehouse which was built by Edward I in 1292 and 1293 costing what was then a huge sum of £477. The royal architect, James of St. George, carried out the planning and building of the site as it was at that time. During the time of Henry II a square great tower keep was added but began to collapse by 1752 from stone pilfering and finally completely fell down in 1777.
St_Briavels_Castle_1823_BrayleyandTomblesonOriginally built as a royal administrative center for the Forest of Dean it was under construction for fifty-four years during the 11th and 12th centuries and became a favorite hunting lodge, of course, for King John who visited every November for that purpose. He built the stone curtain wall between 1209 and 1211 complete with a tower and gateway. The king’s lodgings were also built during his reign and were almost finished before he passed on. By 1228 the castle was used as a factory for constructing quarrels for crossbows and as an arsenal for iron crossbow bolts which were manufactured in the iron forges within the forest. During Edward II’s reign in 1300, the old wooden chapel was rebuilt in stone and in 1310, an extension to the castle wall was constructed at a cost of 40 with a new tower referred to as the Peel which followed the line of the old motte affording extra protection to the keep. Many Kings and their royal favorites had their chance at custodianship, especially during the War of the Roses and as the centuries passed it eventually became a court and notorious debtor’s prison. The conditions became bad enough that a prison reformer by the name of John Howard documented the outrages going on in the castle in 1775. After riots broke out there was a parliamentary investigation in the 1830s and eventual reforms, such as the Debtors’ Act of 1869, closed the castle’s use as a prison although it ceased being used as a prison by 1842. Before the turn of the century extensive renovations started and were finished by 1906. Today, ironically enough, it is a youth hostel and has been so since 1948. As an English Heritage protected site it is open to the public and the castle is listed as a Grade I listed building and a scheduled monument.
St_Briavels_castleSt Briavels is a must see for true medieval castle enthusiasts because even though it has been rebuilt many times through the centuries, it was never rebuilt for familial comfort and there was no attempt to make what was essentially a utilitarian castle more ‘fashionable’. It is essentially, therefore, what it was and that’s extremely rare among medieval castles still standing. Considering that Lady Anne Clifford did not have a hand in the rebuilding, it is awesome to see. The former in-filled moat is now a garden, portions of the stone curtain wall still stand where the 66 feet tall polygonal keep once stood along the south side and domestic buildings including a hall, solar and chapel remain along the northwest directly behind the gatehouse. Henry II rebuilt the castle keep in stone by 1160 and used it as a metalworking center. By 1172 he received huge quantities of building materials from the castle! The domestic range was reserved for a castle constable and of course, the King. All of the just mentioned were restored to their current condition in the 19th century. Some remnants that appear to date from the 13th century include a hall range, fireplace and capitals. The hall and solar, as the largest unit in landmass, are two-storeys in height and sit opposite the chapel which dates from the 14th century. These were updated with 17th century features, such as window treatments and the chapel was refurbished. An interesting feature is the Forester’s Horn chimney, set at the end of the domestic range and can be viewed best outside the castle walls. It is a type of sculptured crest of the forest warden’s horn which signifies the castle’s authority through forest law (which is much more severe than regular English law). Some buildings used for imprisonment still stand and show graffiti that dates from 1671 !
St_Briavels_Castle_Gateway_PassageThe most celebrated feature of the castle, the gatehouse, was described by Pevsner as “magnificent…a very fine example of the royal masons’ work of the period.” It is the most massive and sturdy gatehouse I have seen with two large D-shaped towers flanking a 48 feet deep passage linked above by a large room for a garrison. Defenses with such gatehouses were inside as well as outside and mirrors those at Caerphilly, Tonbridge Wells and the Edwardian Welsh Castles, of course. Edward I took gatehouse security quite seriously so St Briavel’s was equipped with three sets of portcullises. More than likely the huge stores of ammunition and money on the site necessitated the internal security of the castle. By comparison, several Welsh gatehouses such as those at Harlech and Beaumaris had slots for three portcullises but generally only made use of two. Smaller portcullises were installed here to prevent passage to the porters’ lodges. Both towers are reduced from their former height and the drawbridge is sadly gone having been removed sometime in the 20th century.
St_Briavels_Castle_Forest_Horn_ChimneyIf you take a good look at the bases of the twin towers you’ll see triangular darkened areas where the defensive spurs once stood and are now removed. These provided additional security by preventing or discouraging undermining during sieges. Goodrich Castle near Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire has quite a few such spur defenses on many of the towers, which look like little or tall pyramids at the bases of those round towers, giving the castle a rugged medieval aspect that is difficult to forget. St Briavel’s spurs were obviously much smaller and may have been added strictly to prevent undermining whereas Goodrich had to face down siege engines hurling large stones. Chepstow in Wales, not far away, also has the same type of spurs and may have been the model for St Briavel’s- being neighbors, after all! The southeast of the gatehouse was rebuilt after collapsing some years ago and may appear almost new by comparison to the rest of the castle.

stay at St. Briavels Youth Hostel T-0845 3719042

Castle_Wild_Emily_SenkoThe Castle Lady

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North Gloucestershire Glories

glos_mapThere are faint remnants of motte and baileys throughout Gloucestershire which do not concern most people except for the possible history attached to these apparitions and only a few of those converted to stone castles have substantially visible remains. Many mottes were built or plowed over or leveled but Roman remains fared much better in Gloucestershire. A prime example is Castle Hale, aCastle_Hale_former_site 12th century motte which was located at the city of Painswick. It was a small castle built by John fitzPain, who was a supporter of Empress Matilda. The castle was most likely heavily damaged at some point by Stephen but the final blow was its razing in the 16th century to make way for a new courthouse. The Anarchy put a quick end to many motte and baileys, regardless of their lords, but I would remind everyone that castle ruins which are still visible on their sites were redeveloped at some point and at various times in history usually from the humble beginnings of a motte with a ditch.
Gloucester_Castle_former-siteDirectly north of Gloucester, Tewkesbury has numerous historic buildings to see, however fortifications or military architecture has been reduced to one. This area shares a part of the Malvern Hills with southern Worcestershire. Northeast lies the Cotswold Hills and all roads lead into late 18th century Cheltenham (a spa town that shows off multitudes of terraced houses built in Neo-Classical style on wide avenues- one called The Promenade) which is holding its annual music festival this month. If you stay over you’ll want to visit the Museum and Art Gallery and Cheltenham Imperial Gardens which were laid out in the early 19th century. Further northeast is Chipping Campden and Stow-on-the Wold. In the area of Winchcombe most of the castles are simply gone but quite close to Sudeley Castle which I will cover soon on a separate entry. The just mentioned towns are delightful to visit, in any case, and offer their own unique delights and some interesting Landmark Trust properties to stay in, as well.
King_Johns_Castle_Mythe_ggrph_993266If we head north to Tewkesbury, situated between the Avon and Severn rivers, we’ll find quite a few interesting alternatives to our usual fare. King John’s Castle, close to The Mythe (which overlooks the town) has an interesting tower which may date back a thousand years! It has no connection to King John nor is it part of a castle but once formed part of a residence of the Abbots of Tewkesbury. Overall a rather pleasant-looking Tudor structure, the upper portion of the semi-detached tower appears to be medieval, while the bottom half has more lias stone coursework. It’s a curiosity to be sure! Nevertheless, the main attraction of the town is St. Mary the Virgin church, a Norman abbey, which was saved by the locals when they produced L453 in pay-off to Henry VIII who would not have spared it otherwise during the Dissolution. It rather dominates this pretty little half-timbered and Cotswold stone housed riverside village. Tewkesbury itself is an exceptional town. All along the main street and connected narrow lanes, you’ll see both medieval and Tudor buildings interspersed with more modern buildings!
On Church street you’ll find the Merchant’s House, a restored medieval shop at numbers 34-48 and you can also tour the ancient houses flanking the Abbey grounds which were saved by a doyen, Jeremy Benson, on behalf of the Protection of Ancient Buildings. He saved them from certain destruction back in 1965 after local trustees had given up and were prepared to do their worst. The medieval row was built by the Abbey before Henry VIII’s Dissolution and were obviously left forgotten and derelict- with their oversailed upper storeys and lean-tos. Now completely restored to glory they (possibly) never had- are let to regular tenants. One is a botanical museum and another 15th century structure is the Merchant’s House and as a one-up, two-down is set up exactly as it would have been as a store-front shop in medieval times. You can visit the downstairs parlor behind the shop which features a ventilated open hearth, stuccoed walls and an adjoining kitchen with all the accoutrements of long ago. Wood-block stairs lead to the bedroom, which is not as authentically furnished but left largely as it was with no embellishment.
Tewkes_StMarysTwo Landmark Trust properties worth occupying are located right within the town. St Mary’s Lane boasts an 18th century set of houses at numbers 30 and 32 which doubled as studios for framework knitters and stocking makers (once the chief employment of Tewkesbury) for more than a century! Upon first glance you’ll notice that the second floor windows are very unique and illuminate the actual work studios. These two houses, one which accommodates four and the other, six people, were saved from dereliction back in 1969 as the only such kind still in existence. Above and below those second floor windows were the actual living quarters for families and each has a small yard in the anterior. A third similar unit was placed into the possession of the local preservation society.
The Landmark Trust completely reconstructed caved in roofs and repaired the restTewkes_StMary'sLan_PWatson_03-10_26 of the building from the results of roof damage- such as new stairwells and added bedrooms. Number 32 is particularly charming with a steep winding corner staircase and wonderful view of the nearby abbey from a third storey bedroom. Both houses are filled with light, cheerfully decorated and the upper floors look out over the unique domestic landscape of Tewkesbury. They are very close to the River Avon which is lined with boatyards and other aquatic activities.

Tewkes_StMarysLaneAbbey_gtehse_extNinteriorVery close by is another Landmark Trust property which is leased from the Abbey’s trust. Late medieval Abbey Gatehouse, once part of the Abbey Church, was restored in 1849 by James Medland who replaced quite a bit, but not all, of the stonework. It’s impossible to tell the difference between restored stone and the originals and has a very medieval atmosphere on the outside but is so authentic but fresh, beautiful and comfortable inside you may forget you’re sleeping in an ancient gatehouse ! Imagine your surprise in the morning when you look out the west window and notice the abbey is your next door neighbor! Accommodations include a beautiful first floor room with a gallery on one end which houses facilities and up top you sleep beneath the molded beams of the roof, painted in matching colors to the choir vault of the abbey!
The sole genuine castle for Tewkesbury, Holme Castle was at one time the manor house of the earls of Gloucester at Tewkesbury in the 12th century and became a royal household when King John married Isabella, the Countess of Gloucestershire. It has been speculated that it was nearby the site of the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. Today’s limited earthworks do not boast Holme’s once magnificent structure but the castle was destroyed for a second time rather early in the 13th century and rebuilt to greater proportions, most likely in stone, by the 14th century. I would venture to guess that it may have been a courtyard castle. An historical stone marker erected in 1932 was placed further southwest of the actual site stating that the castle was burnt down in 1140. This most likely was the first Holme motte and bailey built in wood, if the marker is to have any credence at all and the attack of 1140 was a retaliation of Waleran de Beaumont on behalf of King Stephen being as how he was one of the king’s supporters.

As a Saxon and Medieval manor it was built atop the southwest side of the town on Holme Hill just above vineyards where the scant ruins of masonry and foundations were still visible in 1836 to Leland and abuts the banks of the River Swilgate. Excavations carried out in 1974-75 revealed and yet destroyed the remaining foundations of a chapel, dovecote, gatehouse, apartments, barns, stables, furnaces and waste dumps.
A moated area which is supposed to have been eventually used as fishponds are now barely visible as earthworks with historic aerial photographs but have been leveled and are not immediately apparent from the ground. Bronze age artifacts were found at the site as well.

WinchcombeVery close to Stanway village, just northeast of Sudeley Castle, two more motte and baileys, Winchcombe and Hailes are located within the area near the town of Winchcombe. The area’s nominal castle, built on the northeast edge of the city of Winchcombe was built during the period between 1140 and 1144 by Roger, Earl of Hereford (a charge of Empress Matilda) but was destroyed during the Anarchy and after being abandoned suffered the same fate as Castle Hale. Hailes Castle was built near St Peter’s church right within Stanway village and though it was moated and strengthened by Ralph of Worcester during the most difficult years of the Anarchy it only survived in ruins until it was replaced by Hailes Abbey in 1240. Even the moat was filled in leaving no trace of its existence.Hailes_Abbey




campden-house-old_wbh-2In the far northeast corner of the county Chipping Campden is a pristine relic protected by the Campden Trust. From 1929 they set out to keep the town as a model Cotswold town and have managed marvelously. The local stone is beautiful and rustic- a wonderful combination if you enjoy historic towns and their pride and joy is the remains of Italianate Campden Manor of which building commenced in 1613 by Sir Baptist Hicks, 1st Viscount Campden and of the same family as Michael Hicks who’ll you remember as the owner and restorer of Beverston Castle. Both men were ancestors to the Earls of St. Aldwyn.
Campden_EastBanqHseWhen approaching the town from the northwest along B4035 visitors will see ruins which are the remainders of Campden Manor in the form of Old Campden House, the Italianate North Lodge gateway, West and East Banqueting Houses (with buttresses!) and the Almonry- all protected and maintained by Landmark Trust, so you’ll be able to actually stay in these properties which are always livable. I highly recommend doing so because once you look around you’ll definitely want to stay awhile and take in the treasure trove of historic buildings. It will be just like you stepped back in time!
Campden_W_Banq_HseThe old Campden estate was finished by 1620 at what was then an enormous price of 29,000,-eleven acres of buildings and gardens! By 1645 a devastating fire destroyed quite a large portion of the original buildings. It is not known whether it was done by design or accident but it happened on the eve that the Roundheads approached and it was not rebuilt but what remains today was saved and restored. When limestone is burned it takes on a pink hue and if you pay attention on your CampdenWestBanqH_CS_june03tour of the city you’ll see where materials from the original Campden Manor was reused for other buildings. The remaining aforementioned buildings survived the fire and all still retain their solid stone roofs and Sir Baptist Hicks’ coat of arms. The banqueting houses and magnificent gatehouse with its ogee domes are let to guests and there is much still left to see on the estate, such as the Almonry, some scant remains of the old manor and wonderful gardens which feature intricately built, raised walks.
Grevel_House_02The links below will give you a great guide to the town for a walking tour which starts with Grevel House, the oldest house on elegant medieval High Street and concludes at the 15th century Church of St. James built by the town’s wealthy wool merchants with a tomb of William Grevel who was described as ‘the flower of the wool merchants of England.’ You’ll want to pay particular attention to the 17th century Market Hall on the tour because it was built in 1627 by Sir Baptist Hicks and the interior is as marvelous as the exterior with its pediments and gables and wonderful roof timbers. Grevel House is also quite elegant and distinguished from its neighbors with a double-story bay window and original gargoyles. Set aside some time to go to the top of Dover’s Hill and take in the magnificent view of the Vale of Evesham.

Chip_Weston-Park_JenniferLutherThomasNot far away, Weston Park, south of Broadway (in Worcestershire) has a sizable motte and bailey from the 11th or 12th century. It was built on the end of a ridge at Saintbury and imparts great views along the north. This sandy knoll rises about ten meters along the outlay and has been artificially scarped with a relatively shallow ditch. Along the southeast traces of wall have been found and the summit of the hill are two circular hollows which indicate that they were made at a much later date. Quarried at some later time, it has been speculated that this was a Giffard manor house and most likely was a hundred court house.
stow_centreIf you head a little further south you’ll find Stow-on-the-Wold which is 800 feet above the surrounding countryside atop what was once an Iron Age hillfort. Many roads converge there including the Roman Fosse Way (now the A429 within the county) and it has been a market town since the Norman lords planned the town. Regular fairs have been held there since a royal charter was set up in 1330 and you’ll be charmed during your visit with tales of the heavy wool trading which has taken place. An annual horse fair is carried on to this day on the edge of town. It’s a great English village in which to stop, stroll around and drink in the history and culture. I have no reason to believe a stone castle ever stood on the spot but I’d be surprised if no one ever tried to build one there.
Upper_Slaughter_ChurchJust a little further south are the Slaughters, Upper and Lower. A motte and bailey built upon a promontory fortification during the Anarchy in Upper Slaughter was incorporated with a part of the church of St Peters. Only faint earthworks remain of the elongated motte but it’s the only castle I’ve heard of utilizing a church!

with lots of great views and news,

Castle_Sonnalp_jpg_2The Castle Lady

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Earth: The Undefended Fortress

Imagine this….

Earth-Orb6The earth started out as a round land mass with one very large continent.

The ocean surrounded the continent like a moat.

Comets are like siege missiles hurled by an unknown enemy.

Over the centuries comets and the terrific storms which have been hitting the land mass
eventually broke up the continent into smaller continents.

(Hint: Get a really good wall map of the world and look at the continents. If you bring them close together on the map they fit together as if they were once joined. See how South America fits together very well with Africa and the east coast line of North America comes together with Europe like a missing puzzle piece ?)

At first the continents were like towers because the force of some of these space missiles made a mess of the continent. The Grand Canyon appears to have been split wide open.

Eventually, the fragmented continents got flattened. People built towers.

According to the Bible, on one continent a tower was erected called the Tower of Babel. (Genesis 11:1-9)

All these super intelligent men tried to figure out their world
and all the time they had it right,
they just couldn’t see what was on the other side of all their knowledge.
Try as they might they could only fathom the natural world as they knew it.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into the tower and are saved. (Proverbs 18:10)

There is no time to analyze the tower or the heavens.

Get inside!

CastleLady_tn_spring_2013The Castle Lady

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All about the Hits !

It’s been a long time in between the present and the last time I posted the hits on this blog since it’s been a WordPress blog. So, here’s something on the stats Papillon_16especially for all my faithful followers. This blog started out as an MSN Live Space only eight years ago but it accrued a lot of hits before I ever migrated to WordPress in 2011. At that time I had built up 67,375 hits which was very high considering what average hits for blogs were in those days. If you scroll down the entirety of this homepage you’ll find the hits I’ve accrued since migrating and you can add that to my migration stat up above to keep the numbers fresh. That amounts to 130,143 hits right now as I’m writing. In a couple of seconds it will be more! Nice !

Just to be different this time I thought I’d add a few more fun facts which might interest my readers:

Papillon_20On December 17th 2012 this blog clocked a milestone in the most hits ever in one day at 177 ! That’s pretty high considering that the average day of hits for this blog is between 40- 50 ! Before that day my all time high number of hits in one day remained at 148 from February 17th 2011 only a short time after migrating my blog! It took awhile to beat that stat but I remember that my first post on WordPress was on Valentine’s day and the title of my entry was Red May be My Only Color ! Apparently everybody loved it.

My recent Berkeley Castle entry got the most hits ever for a single entry in one day at 133 on May 7, 2014, two days after it was posted ! We’ll see if anything ever tops that- and if it does I’ll be sure to let you know.

Toodles !

CastleLady_yoga_lotusThe Castle Lady

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With the Tide and the Sunset


I cannot be awake
for nothing looks to me as it did before,
Or else, I am awake for the first time,
And all before has been a mean sleep.
-Walt Whitman


There are those who fight against the light
until they can fight no more
They weary themselves with their God-given right
’til they’re carried on waves to the shore
but they go out with the Tide and the Sunset.

We all need to feel that we’re in control
our choices ours alone
If freedom is the only right we’ll extol
write this down in stone…
we’ll go out with the Tide and the Sunset.

SunsetPoolJuly 1, 2014 All rights reserved 

author, Evelyn M. Wallace


Castle_pensiveThe Castle Lady

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Garrisoned Gateways of Gloucestershire

BeverstonC_Sam_and_Nat_BuckWelcome to the heart of the Cotswolds ! Surroundings of Gloucestershire include Wales’ Monmouthshire which borders the Forest of Dean. It is marked by the River Wye and Offa’s Dyke but Marcher lordship territory resided mainly within the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire further north. As a result, the Norman invasion quickly penetrated into South Wales where the areas of Gwent and Glamorgan conjoin with the Forest of Dean. Very few of western Gloucestershire’s earliest castles are in evidence and the remaining military architecture consists of the shell keep at Berkeley Castle and the gatehouse of St Briavels (both built under the supervision of William FitzOsbern, the Earl of Hereford). Bristol and Gloucester Castles have all but completely perished while the remaining late medieval castles are Beverston, rebuilt portions of Berkeley and the ruins at Sudeley Castle. As a late renaissance quadrangular castle with the old ruins landscaped over, Sudeley is quite interesting to visit while Thornbury Castle Hotel, in South Gloucestershire, thrives as the last Tudor castle constructed in England. Both Sudeley and Thornbury are unique amalgams of medieval and Tudor manors. -The Castle Lady

Glos_cny_mapThe Cotswold area in Gloucestershire can be identified in a triangular land area bordered by the cities of Winchcombe, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Stroud along the west- Stroud, Cirencester and Fairford along the south- and Oxford to Stow-on-the-Wold along the east. This concentration of stone houses was supplied by a fifty mile long range of limestone hills which stretch all the way from Bath in a northeasterly direction. It fueled much building of magnificent churches and opulent town homes with stone which can vary from warm beige tones in the north, pearly pink in the central area and light gray in the south. The stone is absolutely glowing in sunlight and quite soft which lends itself to carving- evidenced in baroque and classical detailing. A good cross section of the variety of stone can be seen in Winchcombe’s 15th century gargoyles. Cotswold stone was also used as far afield as St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The first castle built under the supervision of William FitzOsbern was erected at Gloucester after which the Normans moved westward, through the Royal Forest of Dean, to build the castle at Chepstow (originally, Strigoil) in Wales. The Severn widens at a far northern point of Gloucestershire, just below the city of Gloucester and becomes the Bristol Channel, dividing Gloucestershire from the Forest of Dean and Wales. Many motte and baileys were built along this area referred to as West Gloucestershire. Gloucester Castle and walls were intended to shield the city from Welsh incursions but most of those early castles were abandoned soon after the conquest and never rebuilt in stone. The motte remains, scant though they are, remind us that England was once saturated with the Conqueror’s emissaries and their wooden castles all over England. Bristol Castle, now considered a part of Somerset, was a substantial fortification which guarded the south and Herefordshire’s southern fortifications created a military network for Gloucestershire’s northern region later on. FitzOsbern’s son, Walter de Gloucester took possession of his holdings, followed by his son, Miles de Gloucester. From Miles lineage the primary castle became Gloucester Castle and by the end of the Anarchy was an important stronghold connected with battleground conflict (circa 1139-53) between the legendary rivals, King Stephen and Empress Matilda. Pro-Angevin supporters are responsible for most of the barren mottes left behind and can’t even be seen or have been built completely over after they were destroyed by Stephen centuries ago. By the 16th century nearly all of Gloucestershire’s stone castles were in disuse or destroyed and those few were brought into use as administrative bodies or even jails. Architecture thrived here during the late medieval period with fortified manors and further prison reform rendered castles completely useless leaving only three occupied castles as private homes in the present day.

Beverston_castle_CMichaelHogan_July6-2006As a neighbor to Bristol Castle of Somerset, stone vestiges of Beverston Castle (located just west of Tetbury) in South Gloucestershire, are still in evidence. Originally constructed by Maurice de Gaunt in the 13th century, Beverston was another seat of the Berkeley family and was passed down to a long list of other families in the ensuing centuries. The header drawing  shows the likeness of the castle during the time that Michael Hicks was the lord of the castle indicating that this was drawn in 1732. Maurice de Gaunt was responsible for the pentagonal tower (depicted on the left of the header drawing) for which he obtained a royal license to crenellate after 1229- being given license and pardon from Henry III. After his passing in 1281 it was remodeled by Thomas Lord Berkeley (the same one who reconstructed Berkeley Castle) in the following century when he added a quadrangular curtain with a twin-towered gatehouse plus an upper floor and rebuilt all the towers. Further modification occurred late in the 15th century when a small square tower was erected.

According to tradition Beverston was rebuilt with the spoils won at the Battle of Poitiers, which would point to the period between 1356 and Thomas’ death in 1361. At one time it was a rather small quadrangular stronghold; only the west range and its square flanking towers survive in ruins. All considering, with the passage of time and neglect, the ruins appear well enough to substantiate historical drawings of the castle so we can see what the castle looked like in the 13th century. The west range contained a solar above a vaulted undercroft, a gabled North tower projected diagonally, the South Tower (which was somewhat larger) contained a chapel at first floor level, with an elaborate vault and delicately-carved sedilia and a small oratory resided in the chamber above.
Beverstone_BYRNEC_WILLIAM_GM2Today, a late 17th century house (with dormer windows all along the roofline) occupies the former site of the Great Hall along the south range and gives the overall look of Beverston as that of genuine Romantic ruins a là Sudeley Castle. An outer gatehouse with rounded flanking towers remains but is also in ruins. The Berkeleys sold Beverston in 1597 and by the time of the Civil War what remained was torn down under vicious assault from the Roundheads. In 1644 the garrison surrendered following the capture of its governor, who was caught in transit to pay a visit his mistress in the village! At various times the garden is open to visitors, otherwise you can see the private property from the road.

Newington_Bagpath_motteAbout three miles west of Beverston Castle just off of the A4135, you’ll find Lasborough and Newington Bagpath. Both are mottes in very close proximity to each other and you can visit them within minutes of each other. Lasborough is 11th century and was originally about forty meters wide and eight feet high with no trace of a bailey. It may have been a siege fort or meant to operate in conjunction with Newington Bagpath. Quarrying and plowing has also obscured the earthworks lasboroughof the Lasborough site making it difficult to observe. It most probably was never more than eight feet in height, the surrounding ditch has been obliterated and a northern ditch with an enclosure may be a part of the motte. An entrance appears to be located on the north side and the enclosure tapers towards the south end. Newington Bagpath located very close across Hay Bottom is a bit more exciting with a handsome motte, most notable for its location in the depths of the Cotswold countryside. It gives great view.

Cirencester_Castle_Park_Ln_former_siteSoutheast from Tetbury, you will come to the capital of the Cotswolds, Cirencester, which has an ancient Friday market offering a large range of culinary products and once had a castle which is completely obliterated and built over. You will find evidence of ancient sites here which will be worth your while to visit. The Church of St. John (the) Baptist dominates the old part of town and contains one of the very few pre-Reformation pulpits (early 16th century) to survive intact and its wineglass appearance is quite unique, at that. CirencesterHistorically, Cirencester was a center of mosaic production when it was known as Corinium by the Romans. Chedworth benefitted from their production, certainly, and if you check out the Corinium Museum on Park Lane you will see a large cross section of art with classical and animal subjects that are absolutely stunning in detail. While there, you can get several walking guides in leaflet form which will help you find historical sites, among which is the site where Cirencester Castle once stood. As the story goes, it was built in the 11th century in timber and later, early in the 12th century, was rebuilt with a square keep in stone. Cirencester’s castle was small but did become a site of skirmish between Empress Matilda and King Stephen. First seized by Robert, Earl of Gloucestershire on Matilda’s behalf it was attacked in 1142 by King Stephen who took control of the castle during a surprise attack and set it ablaze.
Cirencester1800As you look a little further you will find a Norman arch, intact, on the Abbey grounds and only a bit further along you will find a portion of the original Roman wall. On the west side of town, known as Cecily Hill, you’ll find Cirencester Park which was laid out in 1714 by the first Earl of Bathurst along with help from Alexander Pope. The mansion seated on the grounds is famous for its massive yew hedges quite possibly the tallest in the world.

Chedworth_Roman_Villa_2012_-_View_from_northeastDue northeast, Chedworth, one of the largest Roman villas in England, is located five miles southwest of Northleach at Yanworth, hidden in a dale in the heart of the Cotswolds which sprawls into the valley of the River Coln. This is quite possibly one of the most pleasant of its kind to visit and has been studied since the time of discovery in 1864. According to evidence uncovered, the villa became the home of rich Roman Christians! Even though well isolated, its position gives the feeling of Mayan ruins especially with the incredible 4th century mosaics unearthed here many of which are out in the open air and not entirely warehoused as some of the Roman ruins are in the southern part of England. As a Roman dwelling which has been estimated to be as early as the second century and built onto as late as the fourth, Chedworth was a part of the early frontier of Roman occupied Britain; a part of the Fosse Way which extends very far north. As a matter of fact, the Fosse Way extends all the way from Exeter in the south to Lincoln. Among twenty three villas within a ten mile radius, Chedworth originally provided housing to war veterans and the sequestered location would have provided true protection against Saxon invasion but most likely suffered heavy casualties by the time of the battle of Dyrham in 577 concurrently with the defeat of the British kings of Cirencester, Gloucester and Bath, which is further south.
Chedworth_Roman_VillTriclinium_mosaicHere, you begin to understand the meaning of the collapse of civilization and a fallen empire. The ranges are largely self-evident with a latrine block, dining and bathing areas and primary living room but the bath houses are amazingly equipped with Turkish baths, sauna, cold plunge and fascinating mosaic floors with few remaining Bacchanal figures. Excavations have been ongoing from the time of the original discovery by a gamekeeper who found artifacts while digging to find a lost animal. The original archeologist was James Farrer who worked for a period of two years unearthing most of the ancient site.
Today Chedworth is dominated by a 19th century neo-Tudor museum which had been a hunting lodge in its earliest inception and later a custodian’s house. It now houses smaller finds. In 2011 the National Trust constructed a shelter, added for the purpose of preservation using the remains as a base. Controversial though it may be, it is actually quite attractive and serves a great purpose.
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Miserden_Castle_siteOn the A417, between Gloucester and Cirencester, an impressively substantial motte and bailey, with some masonry ruins left, known as Miserden Castle is seated on a rocky spur beside the River Frome in Miserden Park which is no less than 600 acres of pasture and forest northeast of Stroud. The castle had a sixty foot wide shell keep which was protected by a stone wall and guarded by a moat fed by the Frome River on the north side. Built and named for the Musard family, in the latter part of the 11th century, it was left derelict by 1289. Robert Musard, the assumed builder, was ambushed by King Stephen’s men in 1146 and forced to surrender on the threat of being killed and he did not survive. At that point the castle was seized by Philip of Gloucester, who was Empress Matilda’s half-brother. It stood, remarkably, through Henry II’s reign, whose campaign to destroy adulterine castles was generally thorough. Henry VIII hunted in the inclusive deer park in 1535 but at some point, the castle was abandoned for the erection of a manor house where a mansion now stands on privately owned land. In 1548 Edward VI granted the property to the Kingston family in whose hands it remained until 1614.
Sir William Sandys came into possession of Miserden in 1620 and almostMiserden-park-jan-2013-0081 immediately began building a house, set on a bluff overlooking the river and graced with terraced gardens. From 1833 to to 1927 the house passed down through many families by inheritance and outright sales. Edwin Lutyens was employed to remodel the house after a fire in 1919 and the present appearance is that of his work.
Brimpsfield_Castle todayWhat is left of Brimpsfield Castle only a short distance away, along what was once Ermin Way (an old Roman road), will not impress, but it was part and parcel to the same conflicts that Miserden faced. Built in the 11th century it became a stronghold to the Giffards by the 13th century and the small amount of masonry shows that it was rebuilt in stone between the 12th and 13th centuries. John Giffard, 2nd Lord of Brimpsfield, rebelled against King Edward II and was executed in 1322. Thereafter the castle was destroyed and the remains of the moat can still be seen and grassy mounds mark the position of the buried curtain wall.






Rodborough Sham Fort is seated 500 feet above the town of Stroud on Rodborough Common. It was built in 1761 by George Hawker and is visible from some distance away. This renaissance medieval gem may be a sham but it looks quite impressive especially where it sits. Protected and owned by the National Trust the castle is left unoccupied but makes for a rather attractive backdrop for Stroud and the surrounding countryside.

Not more than five miles northwest of Stroud and three miles north of Stonehouse in the Severn Vale, a 12th century motte and bailey of the deBohuns known as Haresfield Mount can be found in the village of the same name and features a square design that has been measured at fifty meters across with the usual motte in the center which may have been as much as ten feet in height on a northeast oriented diagonal. Surrounded by an 18 feet wide ditch, the center of the motte is a level platform about 35 yards square and two and a half feet high. Between that and the parallel with the moat is a small rampart around the circumference, possibly surmounted by a stockade once. Established soon after the Norman Conquest, it remained the possession of the de Bohuns until 1373 and there is a 14th century effigy in Haresfield church as proof. Written and some physical evidence suggests that it was the manor house of Haresfield and earthworks show that a gateway existed on the south west corner and a schedule described eight hearths in 1672 and eight years later a description states that the building ‘adjoin(ed) the great old stone house…(with a) moat.’

Gloucester_cathedralGloucester (as Glevum) came into existence circa AD 48 as a market town and crossing of the River Severn and Fosse Way, which connected the town to Caerleon (and its castle) in Wales by 81 A.D. This junction between England and Wales was governed from the Roman town known as Ariconium, which is very close to Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire (neighbor to Goodrich Castle). A road was constructed from there to a river crossing at Newnham-on-Severn and the port at Lydney. A Roman fort was built at Kingsholm, originally, and twenty years later it was re-established and extended on slightly higher ground nearby, centered at Gloucester Cross. Thereafter a civilian settlement grew up around it. The Legion based here, Legio II Augusta made preparations to invade Wales between 66 and 74 A.D. and eventually were based at Burrium (Usk) and Isca Augusta (Caerleon) in South Wales. By 97 A.D., the whole area were designated colonies by the Emperor Nerva especially for retired legionaries who enjoyed the highest status in the Empire. They were granted farmland but could be called upon as auxiliary armed forces. A large and impressive administrative basilica and forum market-place was built in the town and there were many fine homes with mosaic floors. Since Roman occupied Britain was divided into four provinces in the early 4th century it’s assumed that Glevum, as a colony, became the provincial capital of Britannia Secunda, in the same way that colonies at York and Lincoln became capitals of their respective provinces. Evidence, further afield, suggests that, at this time, Glevum possessed a mint. (A huge hoard of Roman coins was found only a decade passed at a surprising location which I will reveal to you on a forthcoming entry on Gloucestershire’s Castle Hotels!) Glevum’s population was high, as many as 10,000 people, and the entire area was mostly Roman in the second and third centuries, with a large number of villas which made use of traditional Roman farming methods. (Nearby Chedworth was the largest.) Gloucester_Roman_wall_discovGloucester’s City Wall originated with Roman legionary veterans very much like Chedworth and Cirencester. Glevum, after the departure of the Romans, was taken over as a Saxon Burgh. Historically, for most of England, this was rarely done but is found to be much more prevalent in the south of England. The rectangular plan was retained from its predecessor and from there, medieval Gloucester expanded westwards to the River Severn. Gloucester supported Parliament in the Civil War, and survived a month-long siege in 1643, intact. However, after the Restoration, the city’s defenses were demolished in punishment leaving nothing of the city wall above ground. Modern excavations (in 1979) revealed the East gate and the footings are on display inside a protective glass building which can be visited at various times during the summer. The round-towered, 13th century gatehouse can be seen overlying the former Roman foundations. Part of the Roman city wall and a flanking bastion have also been uncovered beneath King’s Walk.
The inside circuit of wall defenses were built originally with six town gates with the East Gate entered by Painswick Road, Bristol Road entered the city through the South Gate, from Wales and Hereford the city was accessed across Westgate Bridge and into the West Gate (it stood at the east end of the bridge). The Blind Gate was so named by mid-15th century and was entered by Water street at the northwest corner of the abbey precinct. London Road entered the city by the North Gate and Brook Street entered by the postern gate at the northeast corner of the walls. A moat encircled the eastern half of the town and between the postern gate and the North Gate a moat was provided by the southern portion of the River Twyver. The diverted waters of the Twyver were used to fill the moat along the south and east walls. Along the east wall the moat was referred to as Goose Ditch. There were two outer gates built along the north branch of the Twyver and Alvin Gate regulated Tewkesbury Road. No evidence indicates additional defenses, besides the Twyver River, to defend the outer north side of town.
Gloucester CathedralMurage, which was a medieval tax levied for the strength and restoration of defensive walls, was collected throughout the 12th clear into the 15th centuries for Gloucester’s walls and there is archaeological evidence to prove that the town’s defensive system was rebuilt soon after the Norman Conquest. By the 15th century, five of the town gates were the official entrances with porters collecting tolls and four of them were prisons by 1502 with a gaoler’s (jailer) lodging built onto one by 1590. The east gate housed women prisoners in 1560 and rooms in the various gates were also used as meeting places for some of the trade companies.
The royal castle at Gloucester, built beside the River Severn at the west end of the city is no longer in evidence but historical documents and sketches of the castle are available. FitzOsbern built this castle under direct command of William the Conqueror (who ordered the survey of England, known today as the Domesday Book, at this castle in 1086.) It seems that it resembled Bristol Castle with a large keep, built later by Henry I along with two walled baileys. Later extensions were carried out by Henry II and Henry III with the help of William Rufus. The largest tower was built circa 1112 by Walter de Gloucester, west of Barbican Hill. A 14th century sketch depicts a typical square keep with angle turrets and gatehouse which had a great bridge across the Severn and attached to the outer wall. Further building continued from the 13th into the 15th centuries. In the mid-12th century the dungeon had its first royal prisoner, King Stephen, when he was captured at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141. By 1228 it was the county jail and was finally demolished completely before 1787 to make way for the prison, built circa 1821, after Charles II had the entire castle razed. It was a pitiable end for a castle which happened to be a favorite residence of Henry III and crowned in the city’s Norman cathedral.
The cathedral is the pride of Gloucester and is a recommended stopover visit, by the way, as it is connected to many royals including that of Edward II whose tomb is still seated near the high altar. The abbot Thoky was able to rebuild the cathedral magnificently after 1331 in the wake of many pilgrims who came to honor Edward II and left large monetary donations. The abbot added the east window and the cloisters with fan vaulting which has been heavily copied throughout England. It is open daily to visitors who appreciate its 900 year witness to God and enjoy the glories of craftsmanship in wood, stone and glass, old and new. You’ll follow in the steps of the monks through the exquisite fan-vaulted cloisters. Also, the great east window, the Cathedral exhibition and crypt are just a few of the delights of this magnificent edifice. Within easy walking distance you’ll discover the Folk and City museums which illuminate the extraordinary history of Gloucester and its people. Whatever your length of stay, you’ll find there’s lots of things to see and do and when it’s time to take a break, Gloucester abounds with restaurants, cafes and pubs in the city and along the water’s edge.
Gloucester_Waterways-MuseumIn addition, Gloucester claims Britain’s Most Inland Port and the Victorian Warehouses have been utilized for countless period films and TV dramas. The Gloucester Docks served maritime traffic into the Midlands, when tall ships and barges lined up all along the Gloucester and Sharpness canal (where captain Howard Blackburn traveled during his epic single handed Atlantic crossing from Gloucester USA to Gloucester England in August 1899.) Best known for many award-winning museums, shops, restaurants and seasonal attractions it is well worth taking the time to delve into the local culture here. 

Castlefireworks_jeaderThe Castle Lady

with loads of fireworks inside !

Special thanks goes to

for a first hand account on Brimpsfield and Miserden

( North Gloucestershire castles are next, this month, with some nice surprises thrown in!)

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nil sine numine

(nothing without the divine will)

canute_HistoryToday_4_4_14Today I’m going to cover a bit of history involving a prehistoric King of England who was known as Canute (actually spelled Cnut). The funny pictured above is quite amusing to the average Englishman who just happens to be well up on his ancient history. To all others, any kings of the land who predated the Norman invasion are a mystery, usually. I found this on the History Today web site on April 10th and noticed the year and knew it had to be an invading king but the circumstances in the strip (or B.D. for all you French fans!) left me clueless as to who it could be. So I checked out my handy European Royalty Genealogy Chart (which I bought at the gift shop of Chateau de Villandry back in 2001) and tried to find the correct Rois d’Angleterre and came up with Knut le Grand of 1016 who reigned until his death 1035. His two sons briefly reigned for England both dying rather quickly. The Kingdom was restored to Edward the Confessor shortly thereafter and he, of course, ran the kingdom until William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066.

It appears in the strip that old Cnut is showing off his wealth and taking good care of himself but I’m going to tell you the story so you’ll at least get the gist of this subtle humor of which the British are so fond. This is a great illustration for the adage for many a lost cause: ‘can’t turn back the tide’. I’m sure you’ve heard this at least a few times although it is getting rather dated in the States. This depicts an actual event . Best told by one Henry of Huntingdon, Cnut was also a Danish king who set his throne by the sea shore (somewhere around the Saxon Holy Trinity Church at Bosham near Chichester in West Sussex) and when he was in full royal costume he was set to prove himself and commanded the tide to refrain from coming in and wetting his feet and royal robe. Of course, “continuing to rise as usual, the tide dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’ He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix and never wore it again “to the honor of God the almighty King”. Such humility from a very powerful king was just the kind of Romanticism of the 12th century which would turn heads. Kings aren’t known for such a trait and yet his character was impeccable. (Conversely, a sign put up on Southampton city’s Canute Road reads, “Near this spot AD 1028 Canute reproved his courtiers”.)Canute_rebukes_his_courtiers_Alphonse-Marie_Adolphe_de_Neuville
Later historians retold and revamped the story to lay things a little thicker and have Cnut staging the situation to rebuke his courtiers who were accustomed to flattering the king. Some similar Celtic stories of men who actually did command the tides include Saint Illtud, Maelgwn, King of Gwynedd in Wales and Tuirbe, of Tuirbe’s Strand in Brittany, France. I imagine they were exercising their God-given rights by the power of the blood of Jesus. I’ve tried it myself and it works !
Today’s use is more of a proverbial reference for politics or journalists twisting things to make their stories more clear. For instance, Stacy Head used it for typifying New Orleans city council’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or Mark Stephens in reference to Ryan Giggs as “the King Canute of football (soccer)” for his attempts of stopping “the unstoppable tide of information ” on the internet in the 2011 British privacy injunctions controversy. The comic strip shows a King Canute who planned ahead and makes a very arrogant show of his ability to thwart the tide by normal physical means. I suppose if we wanted to turn it into our favorite slapstick humor in the States a sudden flash flood would’ve been in order to keep the king humble. LOL.

Divine kisses from


The Castle Lady

By the way, nil sine numine happens to be the motto for Colorado. FYI

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70 Years Ago

d-day-banner_70_anniAs a milestone year in the heavily chronicled second World War, the battle at Normandy will stand alone as one of the most difficult but most rewarding battles that took place to free the French people from the tyranny of the Nazis. Those soldiers, British, American, Canadian and their families who have made the pilgrimage back to these areas of invasion are many. To view the graves where our men were permanently laid to rest is a point of poignancy and recollection which emphasizes the serious cost of human life imposed on so many, besides the holocaust itself.
One does not have to have a direct tie to this war or even have existed at the time, such as myself, to understand the significance of this particular battle. In each Memorial Day celebration we honor our soldiers but if you visit Normandy this year you will be greeted with quite a bit to see and do in following the same paths of these brave and sturdy warriors for freedom.
Normandy_1944Itineraries are actually signposted on the roadways where paratroopers landed, in French and English. Even with restoration many of the abandoned fortifications on the beaches, memorials, museums and cemeteries stun the casual visitor to a foreign country. Organization into actual itineraries are trails which follow the sequence of events regardless of each soldiers role in the invasion and counter attack. You will find these if you hang around long enough to see it all. There is operation Overlord (or L’Assaut), D-Day- The Onslaught (or D-Day-Le choc), Objective- A Port (or Objectif- Un Port), The Confrontation (or L’Affrontement), Cobra-The Breakout (or Cobra-La Percée), The Counter Attack (or La Contre-Attaque), The Encirclement (or L’Encerclement), The Outcome (or Le Denouement.)
Normandy 21Many of Normandy’s towns offer something of memorials or museums or both. A good place to start would be the town of Bayeux (pron. ba-yuh) as it was the first French town to be liberated. On the roundabout in the old town the 1944 Battle of Normandy Museum with its exhibition of tanks, guns and armored vehicles used in the battle is open all year (tel. Opposite to the museum is the British Cemetery and Memorial, honoring the memory of 1,837 missing British servicemen.
After Bayeux, the search of the D-Day landmarks and beaches will follow a scenic route that traces the coast, through the seaside villages that were close to the battle, which took place on five principal landing beaches- Sword (farthest to the east), Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah (to the northwest). Two were named for the places where the military who landed came from- hence Omaha and Utah. Along the way you will wend your way through small villages filled with grey stone buildings and whose tall walled farmhouses and barns form their own fortifications scattered around the battlefields. The route numbers identify various segments but there is basically only one road that hugs the coastline.
Arromanches-mulberry-1If you head for the coast northeast of Bayeux to Gold Beach you’ll find the lively seaside town of Arromanches. This wide expanse of golden sand was a landing beach commandeered by the British troops. In June 1944 a floating harbor was erected in a gigantic crescent in the bay. This harbor was designed by British Engineers on English soil, then shipped over the channel and is comprised of massive concrete blocks, floating fore-piers with ten kilometers of floating pier roadways. Seventy years of Atlantic storms have done little harm as most of the exhibition harbor remains and several enormous sections marooned on the beach are available to see up close. The D-Day Museum is right there with displays of models, photographs and films of the military operations of June 1944. ( It is closed in January). On the hillside above town is Arromanches 360 where an 18-minute production, the Price of Freedom, is dramatically shown on nine screens of this theater in the round.
Arromanches_memorial_2If time allows, you might want to continue east to explore the beaches of Juno and Sword. If you head west along the coast from Arromanches to the village of Longues sur Mer you can take the country road outside the village as far as to the bluffs to an open-air museum. Here, a walking path weaves through the wheat fields to abandoned gun emplacements, overlooking the stretch of coastline that the German artillery so fiercely guarded. Longues sur Mer is the only naval artillery battery on the Normandy coast that still has its guns.
Only five kilometers further along the coast, tucked on an inlet, you’ll find a quaint small fishing village named Port en Bessin which has a museum with a collection of remains found on the sunken warships. Inland from the water’s edge leaving Port en Bessin you’ll come to Colleville sur Mer, where the road out takes you to the American Cemetery and a 170 acre plot overlooking Omaha Beach. 9,387 white crosses stand in perfect alignment on a backdrop which overlooks sand and ocean. It is as poignant as it is gorgeous with paths that weave along the bluffs, a nearby chapel and a dramatic memorial.
normandy-beachesContinuing along the length of Omaha Beach to the town of Saint Laurent sur Mer, which hosts a museum, Musée Omaha, you can pore over a collection of vehicles, weapons, uniforms and insignia which were found on the sandy battlefield. Both Omaha and Utah Beach, which lie northwest in Normandy, is where the American army landed under the direction of General Bradley. Follow the coast around Pointe et Raz de la Percée to the dramatic overlook of Pointe du Hoc. As you stand on this rugged stretch of coastline, pockmarked by bombs on the ruins of the German fortifications, it is difficult to comprehend the courage of the American soldiers who braved scaling the cliffs and stormed the enemy believing this was a strategic stronghold. A few more kilometers away at Camp Maisy, the Musée des Rangers focused their exhibition on the specially-trained American unit and the capture of Pointe du Hoc.
From here you can easily travel the stretch north along the coast to back to Utah Beach or leave the coast and travel south to St. Lô, a short drive from there will bring you to Mont Saint Michel which you will want to see if you have never visited it before. I have never forgotten my visit there in 2001 and it will add greatly to your experience of traveling in France. To get a great view of it you can visit my official web site page for the famous citadel: and click on Mont Saint Michel.

Seventy kisses from

Castle_L_SpringThe Castle Lady

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Iris: Flower of the Rainbow

by Graeme Grosvenor
ISBN 0 86417 771

A Book Review

Although I have been a big fan of the Iris for most of my life and have never passed the flower or groups of them without getting a good and close-up look, I can’t really say I have ever been an expert about this beauty of the garden but I have observed them enough that the information and brilliant photography by Jim Frazier and the author was absolutely fascinating for me as well as a delight to the eye. I thought I had seen every color and variety until I picked up this book at the library and highly recommend reading this absolute authority on the subject for anyone who admires Iris or, perhaps, other flowers in preference. Even a quick once over will give you a new appreciation for this particular botanical ornament named for the Greek Goddess who was said to travel on rainbows with messages between heaven and earth !
The color photographs in this hardcover book display the diversity, versatility andIris_2 possibilities of iris in all her hybridic and non-hybridic forms; the surprising Tall Bearded Iris like Hot Spice shows off several hues and tones of cocoa, gold and cream or the delicately spotted lavender-and-white Japanese Iris and Freckled Geisha are nearly drop-dead gorgeous. My personal favorites, single or possibly together, were all on page 36 where Tipsy Maid, Strawberry Love and Affinity grace the book. Beverly Sills on page 49 is a delightful shade of peach I have only seen in roses. None of the cross-bred hybrids look anything other than stunning but they can truly veer away from the traditional Tall Bearded variety which is iris in her purist form.
Iris_11Additionally, the text uniquely offers expert observations, drawings, photos and advice on how to use iris in the garden along with other plants or en masse in the same variety. I did not agree with the author on this point as it reminded me of a scene in the children’s novel The Little Prince in which he finds a huge rosebush and wonders how his single rose, back on his own planet, would feel about such a situation. To me, Iris is so unusual in all her forms and colors that a few interspersed in a varietal flower garden would only add more beauty without being obtrusive or disappear. Some of the iris that are not iris expounded on in the chapter that begins on page 213 would look very appropriate mixed with traditional iris, ironically enough.
The author, a retired math teacher since 1991, who studied the subject of irises overiris-flower a 30 year period while chronicling the book, goes into quite a bit of detail in using iris in almost every garden situation and this is where the strength of the text belongs. Along with giving advice on how to time the blooms, mix the flowers with perennials and shrubs, use in landscaping and with the extensive indexing of the individual cultivars Iris: Flower of the Rainbow is nearly encyclopedic in its scope. Divided into four basic chapters on the families, the information for each is completely comprehensive in documenting height, countries of origin, colors, blooms and normal blooming time, species and the hybrids and how to deal with the individual cultivars. Requirements of sun, soil, drainage and fertilizing, pest and disease control and planting instructions are given in great detail, expounding on the difficult business of hybridizing.
iris_10_flowerspicturesorgThe final short chapter, “The Future-2000 and Beyond,” on pages 263-271 is just fun and perhaps the photos are whimsical but you won’t want to miss the digitally altered Tall Bearded Irises in stark Kelly Green or black and baby-pink of a Louisiana Iris and the discussion of the future of this gracefully frilly and colorful fleur.

Avec fleur-de-lis et plusiers des bises,


Posted in Books, Ecosystem and other earth matters | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Last Flight

The poet who wrote this was the mother of a lifelong friend of my family, John Roddy. I did not know that John’s Mom was a published poet until she passed away more than a decade ago at the age of 87. Her obituary said that she was survived by seven grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. When I read this poem she wrote I was very impressed by the imagery and made me wish that I had known her as well as the Roddy family with whom I practically grew up. - The Castle Lady

I’ve climbed the highest mountain peaks,
And sailed o’er the ocean foam,
On silver wings I soared above
The valley that was my home.

Ascending now on snow-white wings
At close of a perfect day,
I catch a sunbeam in my hand
From the sun’s last lingering ray.

I have severed life’s fragile cord
Now I race to meet the stars,
Beyond the realms of time and space
And the sunset’s golden bars.


Forgotten all the ties that bound
Now at last I’m flying free,
Crosses of life are left behind
As heaven beckons to me.

The slender cord of life grew long
Now I search for heaven’s trails,
By evening star I chart my course,
Beyond earth’s transcendent veils.

On zephyred winds I leave behind
The earth where I long trod,
Then pass the flaming evening star
And reach for the hand of God.

- Florence M. Howery-Roddy

Flying to new heights,

Papillon_9The Castle Lady

Posted in Lest we forget, Poetry | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments