Out Now!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Churches take time to mature

St Giles was an C8th hermit who lived in the forests surrounding Nimes and according to legend lived from the milk of a red deer. In protecting the deer against hunters he took an arrow in the leg and subsequently became the patron saint of cripples. I was pondering all this as we approached the church of St Giles a mile or so from Goodrich Castle. The earliest reference to the church was in 1196 but it was extensively rebuilt in the C13th  and C14th

Thomas Swift, the grandfather of the more famous Jonathan Swift was the Royalist Vicar there 1624-58 and successfully hid the treasures of the church from marauding Roundheads; but what struck me was its windows, especially the super patriotic one below incorporating the Union Jacks and the legend of St George in a glorious burst of colour. No doubt in the near future some will soon demand its removal for one reason or another.

We wandered on, traipsing through cow pasture and cutting our way through nettle-infested paths. Herefordshire has many curiosities, including Ferris Wheels in the middle of nowhere – eat your heart out London Eye.

It also has Alpacas - in this case invisible ones or perhaps wearing camouflage. 

There are at least three Alpaca farms in Herefordshire, and you can, if you are that way inclined, go on Alpaca treks—just you and an Alpaca along with a collection of like-minded souls and the Herefordshire countryside.

Fresh from the walk we nipped across to the Forest of Dean to St Mary’s Church at Kempley. 

For those who need to know about these things, the church has the oldest roof in Britain and some of the finest wall paintings. These were ‘whitewashed’ during the Reformation when we had our own Robert E Lee moment.

The three planked door above leads to the church tower and the wood is over 800 years old.
The church itself was begun in 1095 by Hugh de Lacy on the site of an earlier Saxon church and completed in the early C12th. The roof timbers date from 1120.

The wooden porch is also C12th and hides the even earlier Norman arch with its characteristic zigzag pattern.

They say that walking through ancient woodland brings peace to the soul. The same is true sitting in silence in equally old churches. For those of a more robust disposition there is an alternative. The medieval village of Kempley has two Churches. Because of the marshy ground the village relocated a mile away where much later (1903) a second church was built – St Edwards, dedicated to the ‘Confessor.’ The poet John Betjeman praised it as a ‘mini-cathedral of the Arts and Crafts movement,’ but for me it needs another thousand years to mature.

And  finally for those who savour the macabre, in 1995 two bodies were found in nearby fields, the mortal remains of two victims of the serial killer Fred West. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Goodrich Castle and the Tubular Ghost

We didn’t pick a particularly nice day. The weather was overcast, turning the Herefordshire countryside into Mordor littered with castles. Goodrich castle is one of my favourites and right on our doorstep. It was built in 1095 by Godric of Mappestone, a Saxon thane. Initially constructed from earth and wood, it was designed to guard the borderlands from the turbulent Welsh. 

The stone keep. It was originally higher and had battlements

Entrance into the Keep. Note how thick the walls are.

A stone keep replaced the original castle in the C12th and reflects the age where defence was paramount and comfort came a poor third. The walls are so thick there isn’t room to swing a cat inside,  and the obese have no chance of climbing the stairs. These follow the corkscrew model and are exceptionally narrow. From the top you can see the Welsh hills, the surrounding terrain and a threatening sky.

Some people inadvertently catch UFOs in their shots. I seem to have caught an alien structure. It wasn't there when I took the photo and I have no rational explanation. 'Tubular Ghosts.'

The castle guarded crossing points to the River Wye, the old Roman road from Gloucester to Monmouth and was part of a chain in the Hereford—Ross-on-Wye area. The Keep also has its own ghost, an Irish chieftain who was imprisoned and died there.
The  square Keep shown below looks substantial but its weakness lies in its corners. As the castle developed towers were built round ie without corners and so therefore harder to undermine.

We are walking around the castle towards its Barbican and Gatehouse.

The inner Keep and a round tower augmented with buttresses or spurs..
As you can see the gatehouse is high in the wall and approached by an elevated path leading from an outer Barbican.

As you approach the Gatehouse and pass through, you can see the usual arrow slits to either side, and the murder holes from above. What is unusual however is the proximity of the Chapel to the Gatehouse. This is taking ‘Muscular Christianity’ to the extreme, for in the wall is an arrow slit—part of the defence of the Gatehouse and when the bar was drawn back to open the great wooden door, it passed through an aperture in the Chapel wall and blocked both altar and tabernacle.

Entering the Gatehouse. A very beautiful lady is inspecting an arrow slit on the other side of which is the Chapel. 

 Above the Gatehouse. Note the two 'murder holes' from which from which all manner of things could be dropped on attackers. At the back of the two apertures are the slits through which the portcullis was raised and dropped. 

The Gatehouse and Chapel as seen from the inner ward. Roaring Meg is in the foreground. Small but powerful and perfectly formed. 

In time the castle grew larger. From this wall you can see the original line of a roof and the extension above it. The wall also gives a view of the moat and the spur on rounded tower.

A view of the solarium from the Gatehouse. Below this were storage rooms and a postern gate that led to the  moat.

Exiting the gateway and view little changed from the C12th. 

The castle was built on a natural outcrop of rock. This along with the spurs or buttresses seen here made mining the walls or towers almost impossible. 

The castle was slighted by the Parliamentarians in the English civil war. Parliament’s forces were led by Colonel John Birch, and his canon – ‘Roaring Meg’ —is the first thing you see as you pass through the gatehouse. The castle however got its revenge. His niece, Alice Birch, fell in love with Charles Clifford, a dashing young Royalist. They tried to escape before the final assault but were drowned in crossing the River Wye. Their ghosts haunt the castle to this day.  

Saturday, 2 September 2017

It was the best of beers, it was the worst of beers.

Two weeks ago, on a Sunday, we met up with some friends in Abergavenny. The heavens opened in a deluge and animals wandered two by two in search of an Ark. No Ark that day, but we did find two pubs on the high street: The King’s Head, which was closed, and the Coach and Horses which was open. We huddled in shaking umbrellas and headed for a table next to an unlit fire. First impressions were good: a quiet, convivial atmosphere of locals enjoying the pint or five before the working week started. Most of them seemed to be drinking lager (this is the way my mind works) but I headed for the two ‘real ale’ pumps: Brains S A and Wadsworth 6X.

The S A used to be labelled Skull Attack, though it's long since lost the right to that claim. Skull Nibble might be more appropriate, but at least it has a taste. This particular pint had a metallic taste as though it had been in the keg since Boadicea or before.

 I went for the Wadsworth 6X after that and the evening became just a little bit worse. The first sip told me everything, and I had a hundred or more sips to go. (I know, I could have just left it, but beers are only unfinished in Soaps)

 I can’t say it tasted like bat-piss not even goat-piss, because until then I’d tasted neither, though I suspect goat-piss has more body. This thing tasted chemical and sweet, like the old and appalling Double Diamond but thinner.

What a difference a week makes.

The following Sunday we went to the Queens Head in Monmouth, a pub that provides live music twice a week and a pub that once hosted Oliver Cromwell who may not have approved.

I chose a Wye Valley brew,‘The Hopfather.’ The first sip . . . I groaned. Groundhog day, and I definitely couldn’t take the beer back since it had been bought for me, and the act would have been doubly ungracious. I sipped very slowly girding my loins for the  next sip and the one after that.

What made it bearable was the music –Belleville Swing – a quartet of three guitars and double bass. They played Django Reinhardt and were absolutely brilliant. Better still they glowed with happiness, possessed by the music and the mood they created. And they made very bad beer almost bearable.
I got down to the last four inches of the glass and called it a day.

‘Anyone want another?’
‘You haven’t finished your’s yet.’
‘It’s not brilliant.’ I can do understatement.

I took the empty glasses to the bar, including my unfinished pint. I ordered a Kronenburg lager for myself – a standby when confronted with the undrinkable. Neil, the landlord, dutifully pulled me a Kronenburg then noticed my unfinished drink.  He raised an eyebrow and nodded. ‘Off was it?’

‘Bloody awful,’ I said.

“Try this one instead. Butty Bach. Fresh barrel. On the house.”
On the house. Those magic words.

Eyebrows were raised when I returned with the drinks and positioned the Kronenburg and Butty Bach side by side. The rest of the evening was excellent.