After our fun-filled week in Cardiff, we were nearing the end of our trip, and planned to spend the last few nights winding down at our friend’s house as we prepared for the big trek back to Australia. Unfortunately, this meant leaving not only Cardiff, but Wales as well. However, the direction we were heading meant we could make one last top in Wales, and gave us the opportunity to visit one more castle… Abergavenny. And yes, my Dad insisted on singing the song the whole way up.
For those of you who don’t know, Abergavenny is a small(ish) market town in the bottom half of Wales, close to the border. It takes about an hour to drive to get there from Cardiff, and due to my mum’s particular need to get up at the crack of dawn, we got there pretty early in the day. The castle has a museum on site, but we were gone before it was open as we didn’t have time to stay. But that’s okay, because there were large information boards around the ruins that gave us enough information to help us along.
As with almost every castle in the UK, we can thank the Normans for Abergavenny’s. The castle was initially established in about 1087, and was the scene for a bloody series of events. In the 1160s, the son of the Lord of Abergavenny, Henry Fitzmiles, was killed supposedly by the Welsh Lord of Gwent, Seisyll ap Dyfnwal. Without an heir, the castle and the lands passed to nephew, William de Braose. De Braose rebuilt parts of the castle and over Christmas in 1175, invited Seisyll and his son to the castle, together with other leaders from Gwent. The men were expecting reconciliation but instead met death, as De Braose had the men killed in the Great Hall in an unexpected act of revenge. In 1182, Seisyll’s family attacked and burnt the (then-wooden) castle down, although De Braose wasn’t there at the time. Violent!
The castle was later rebuilt in stone, and the ruins you see today belong partly to this version of the castle, and partly to later additions. Although there isn’t too much remaining today, I found Abergavenny Castle to be impressive and interesting never-the-less. The ruins are quite dramatic themselves, but against the pretty backdrop they really pop. With a couple of illustrations on the information boards and a wild imagination, I could picture just how magnificent the castle must have looked in its hey day.
How then, did Abergavenny Castle wind up in its sorry state today? Rather than negligence like we’ve seen with other castles, the damage on this site was deliberate. During the English Civil War, parliamentary forces were nearing the castle when King Charles I ordered its slighting to prevent it falling to their forces. Most of the buildings, including its stone keep, were destroyed, and some of the stone was later used for other buildings.
The only alteration to the site after its destruction was in 1819 when Henry Nevill, the Earl of Abergavenny, had a hunting lodge built atop the motte. This building today houses the museum, which focuses largely on local history. Amongst other things in its collection, including history relating to the castle, the museum house three rather interesting displays; a saddlers’ shop, a 1960s “Welsh Kitchen”, and a local grocery shop.
Although it initially does not look like much, Abergavenny Castle proves to be an interesting little stop. The grounds are very pretty and it would be nice for a picnic on a sunny day, the ruins are dramatic, and the castle’s history is interesting. The town of Abergavenny itself is sweet, so if you’re in the area, be sure to pop over and check out both the town and the castle!