To go to Dinefwr Castle, you take a bus from the stop outside St Peter’s Church. For about 40 minutes you are going past the sumptuous hills, breathtaking views of the fields and the cattle, but occasionally, as you may see on the photo on the right, there will be a small hill, on top of which – a castle’s ruins. When inquiring at the tourist centre about castles in the close distance from Carmarthen, I’ve been told there were three: Dinefwr Castle at Llandeilo, Dryslwyn Castle at Dryslwyn, and Carreg Cennen Castle at Trapp. I’ve chosen to go to Dinefwr Castle, and this proved to be the right choice. As a matter of fact, the booklet I’ve been given says that you’re charged for admission to Dinefwr. This is not true: if you’re only going to the castle, it’s free. If you also want to go to Newton Hall, to have a cup of tea, and to buy some souvenirs, then indeed you have to pay for admission.
When you enter Dinefwr Park for the first time, you walk for a while without having a slightest idea of where to go. It is, I may argue, the perfect state of mind when you’re about to encounter something as impressive as a real medieval castle. You begin to comprehend both the importance and the difficulty of the journey, when you catch a first glimpse of the castle (left). Still, the beautiful landscape that surrounds you makes you forget at once all the misfortunes of walking up the hill (right).
While on this excruciating journey, I’ve been thinking what it was like for people of previous centuries. I had a denim bag, and I wore jeans, a shirt, and a pair of rather comfortable moccasins. But I had neither hat, nor sunglasses, and I had to walk in the raging sunshine, which cost me the sunburnt forehead. If it was a rainy or stormy day, I wouldn’t even think of going to the castle, but previously the inhabitants of and the visitors to Dinefwr wouldn’t always have my choice. And so, what would this walk be for peasants with their carts, and baskets, and cattle; or for knights in armour, on horses; or for lords and vassals, with their court? With this thought in mind I finally reached the castle.
Dinefwr Castle not only survived en masse until today, it was well cared after in the 17th and 18th cc. – so well in fact, that some of the castle’s stones were used for its renovation. Some of the interior details of the 13th c. northern chamber block are well preserved, as you can see on the left. On the right image, you see the restored wall-walk and the 13th c. tower, viewed from the circular keep (you can see on the image above; it dates to around 1230s). Below you can see the northern part of the castle, which comprises the 13th c. tower, the 14th c. hall, and the 13th c. chamber block.
At Dinefwr you can’t help but also begin to contemplate on what it was like to live in a castle. A tourist notice at the castle’s entrance warns you against the bats. I haven’t seen any, but I surely heard the wings’ beating. If that was indeed a bat, I’m glad I haven’t seen it, otherwise my screams would be heard all over Carmarthenshire. Imagine if I were a fair maiden, inherently fearful of those creatures. As you can see, the castle’s windows are large, but the entrances are often not, which makes one remember that medieval people weren’t especially tall. The views from those windows, however, make you realise just how important was a castle as a fortress; how far it was possible to see from the window or from the wall; and how strong and deft were medieval archers.
Finally, at Dinefwr I was able to do something which I was thinking of doing for a while. I do like spiral staircases, but all of you who’d ever been on a medieval staircase would’ve noticed how narrow the stairs were. David Dimbleby recently showcased both the purpose of spiral staircases and the art of using them, when imitating the fighting with a sword in How We Built Britain. What we need to realise is that it wouldn’t be Mr Dimbleby (in comfortable shoes and with no sword) who would be exercising the martial technique, but the knights who would look and dress like those two on the left image. And so I thought: exactly how wide are those stairs? The widest part turned out to be of the size of my foot, and I wear size 3/4 UK (36/37 EUR). This also allows one to wonder at the size of medieval people’s feet.
Going from the castle was quicker, as I took a different route. The walking got tougher, however, and my soles were sorer and sorer, and the hot ground was only making things worse. Little did I know that all this time a Red Kite was soaring in rounds near the entrance to Dinefwr Park. When the next day after visiting the castle I went to the tourist centre in Carmarthen, I saw a book on the stand, with exactly this bird on the cover. ‘I saw it yesterday at Dinefwr!’ I exclaimed. ‘Oh, it must’ve been your luck’, an assistant, a young lovely woman, replied. ‘People come to Carmarthen especially to see it, but it’s a rarity’.
Seems like it was the reward for my journey in the footsteps of medieval Welshmen.
Links and credits:
The colour image of fighting knights is taken from the Knighthood, Chivalry and Tournaments Resource Library