Here we were, set on Plan B having been told that Plan A, which was to climb Pen y Fan with our two youngsters in tow, was way too dangerous in thick mist, so we had come to Carreg Cennen Castle, on the western side of the Brecon Beacons for a day out in the fresh airs of Wales.
We have a bead from Wikipedia that let us know some origins of this amazing structure – Carreg Cennen Castle (Welsh: Castell Carreg Cennen meaning castle (on the) rock (above the) Cennen) is a castle near the River Cennen, in the village of Trapp, four miles south of Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire, Wales. Of course there’s much more to it than that and our first views of this well preserved ruin atop the limestone precipice is stunning and we drive into the car park below champing at the bit to get up there to see it close and to stand on its highest tower.
If you were going to build an impregnable castle this would have been the one, it’s situated on such an incredible strategic site and in its heyday must have been an inspirational piece of real estate to be lord and master of, and to be hailed as such. I imagine it in days of old bedecked with flags curling brightly in the wind, adding height to the already formidable walls, pronouncing the power of those within to permanently withstand any unwelcome visitors.
We climbed the steep path, each step bringing even more spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Wales is wonderful in the vastness of its green mosaic hills and downs, farm fields and scudding clouds and from the escarpment of the castle there is the impression of being firmly in charge of all life below. The sheep wouldn’t move from their resting places on the sun-warmed castle stones that lie in the entrance, they are comfortable with their visitors and just carry on munching and watching as people come and go.
Our two young girls, one daughter and her school friend, raced ahead to start climbing the inner walls, perching above us at every turn of a secret corridor, obviously no fear of heights. We plug on, looking through every archer’s peep hole, marvelling at how any attacker would even think they had a chance to climb the precipices let alone dodge the arrows and flaming sheep that would have met their attempts to sneak over a back wall or two.
On the precipice side itself you truly get to appreciate the grandeur of this castle, the sheer drop to the valley floor below is frightening to those who suffer from vertigo, it is also the view from the Lord of the Castle’s bed chamber and must have been the setting for many a glorious rising sun shining through windows that no-one, and I mean no-one, could ever have peeped through from the outside. This is what it means to sleep well without a worry in the world at night, plenty of fresh air, a great fireplace, loads of minions parked in the corridors in case of intruders and all the bad people locked up in the dungeons below.
The Dungeons! Well, not as such, instead Rhodfa i’r ogof (Passage to cave) and the hand-hewn corridor that slopes downwards to the dark, scary chambers below, mark the skills of yesteryear’s master stone workers. Such an impressively carved ceiling! When we reach the chamber itself, complete with crumbling stone steps disappearing into the darkness, we recall the torches-for-hire back down at the entrance gate and the girls decide these chambers are a must see so we must go and fetch. I go with them, fork out the small sum required, hand over my driver’s licence as a bond, and let the girls return with Helen to their dangerous dudgeons whilst I carry on down the hill to the cafe in the farm barnyard for my traditional, everywhere I go, cup of coffee and a slice of cake.
Today it is carrot cake, Welsh serving size (they don’t do things by halves in Wales) and I enter the massive barn setting that is the venue for many weddings in this terrific setting. The plate glass scenic windows hold back the whistling wind and I am snug inside, with my coffee and soon to be finished cake, watching Red Kites hang, glide and dive down through the valley looking for their prey below.
Carreg Cennen Castle would be equally impressive covered in snow, mists or whatever else the Welsh climate might bring to a day. With so much history to mull over thousands of years from its prehistoric iron age fort origins, to Roman camps, to many battles between Welsh, Norman and English forces and then an ironic 20th Century contractual twist of fate that put it back into the hands of a Welsh family without a drop more blood needing to be spilt, the memories will call to an open mind.
Turner painted it, people get married here, there are campsites nearby, and dreams aplenty for all who mount the steep paths to take in this spectacular place.
Helen and the girls rejoin me. More cake, another coffee, some fizzies, amid tales of turning off the torches and squealing with fright, a great day out for all.
Don’t forget to collect your driver’s licence! It’s not easy writing to a ticket seller’s box in the Western Brecon Beacons!
See our Brecon Beacons fine bone china mug featuring Carreg Cennen Castle at http://www.hkwhite.co.uk