Little late in posting this lesson, I hope you enjoy. Again comments and critique are welcome 🙂
A child’s imagination is like a sponge, soaking up wondrous tales of amazing adventures from the days of old. Eyes twinkle with delight as they envision faraway kingdoms, magical realms and wondrous creatures roaming the land. Little ears that harken to each and every spoken word, as their limitless imagination magically transforms them into fluttering fairies; flapping their iridescent wings, greedy little green goblins, gathering their precious gold, cackling witches on homemade brooms, wizards with scraggy gray beards who make croaking frogs appear and warlocks casting spells that make little girls disappear. Or maybe a dashingly handsome prince riding on his noble white steed, coming to rescue the damsel in distress from the fortress of stone. A Princess in a beautiful golden gown, attending a royal ball, or a mythical winged reptile with a crested head, with enormous claw and teeth that soars above the spiraling clouds of thick blackening smoke.
Growing up surrounded by luscious countryside steeped in such mythical stories and towering stone fortresses, I feasted upon such tales. Whenever my sisters and I would get to explore these vast, magnificent castles, we became enchanted princess’s waiting for a dashing prince to come rescue us. My prince, was most gallant, always coming to my rescue, with his velvet black hair fluttering in the breeze, a dashing smile and of course astonishing bravery, that prince of course was… My father.
“Mam, I feel sick.” I said with my head propped up against the inside of the car.
My mother looked over her shoulder and said, “Not long now, we’re nearly there.”
“Okay.” I closed my eyes, and let the gentle breeze whistle through the small gap of the rolled down window cool my clammy brow.
My dad turned yet another corner, agitating my already precarious queasiness. It didn’t matter how many times we traveled down the serpentine roads with their thick green hedgerows and strong trees with old branches laden with a covering of green. I never got used to the queasiness I endured. The prickly hedgerows abstained my sight line to our destination and even with the green around the gills feeling, that was allovershadowed by the excitement the crept all the way up from my toes to my young daydreaming mind. I stared out the window soaking up the spell binding views, then as we pass by a break in the hedgerow, the sharp hilltop comes into to my view as it dominates its surroundings. My eyes spot the gray stone fortress Of Castell Carreg Cennin spring into view, towering over the green farmland and the grubby fleeced coats of the numerous sheep in the fields.
The car came to a stop in the parking lot and I pulled on the door handle and I clambered out of the car. I took a took a big breath in and my face contorted as the smell of fresh air mingled with the whiff of animal droppings, invaded my nostrils. Still, I was glad to be out of the moving car and on solid ground. While everyone got out of the cars, I stood and pondered as I glanced at the fields all around and the babbling brook in front of me. The gentle rippling water traveled down streamtogive sustenance to the grass land and the chomping longhorns that grazed nearby.
“Alright, everyone ready?” My mother scanned everyone’s faces.
The reply was a resounding, yes, my family, Stuart and the Missionaries set off. I skipped along the gravel pathway that led to the farmyard and the old farmhouse up ahead. The closer we got to the farmyard the stronger the stink, I could see horses headed peeking over the stable door’s eying up the strangers invading their domain, the cows mooing and the roaming ducks quacking at our appearance.
“Wait here.” Said my dad, as he and my mother went inside the stone building that housed the tea room and gift shop to purchase our tickets.
Our admission paid, we started the climb up to the castle. It was quite the invigorating ascension for adults, but me, it became the beginning on yet another exciting adventure. We passed by the roaming bleating sheep and I had to watch where I placed my feet to avoid stepping in some freshly plopped cow pats or pebble like droppings from the tatty looking sheep. I kept plodding along the winding hillside the castle loomed at the side of me, it’s enticing ruins urging me to hurry and to explore its passageways and rubble. The higher up the hill we walked, the wind grew stronger, blowing my mother’s hair into a new hair style.
“Come on Alison and Judith.” I set off running as I wanted to be the first to get to the bridge.
My sister’s giggled and chased after me, I glanced behind only to see the adults dilly dallying as usual. I shook my head and wondered if they would enjoy clambering over strewn rocks and remnants of the outer fortifications and inner areas of Carreg Cennin. That thought only lasted for a second, then I was off running again. I reached the brow of the hill and before me stood the prominent outer wall and off to the right where the stone steps rose up from the grass showing me the way to the first wooden bridge.
“Come on,” my excitement bursting at the seams, “hurry up, will you.”
As I hurried on, everyone took their sweet time to reach me. The Missionaries were chatting with my parents as they all looked up in awe at the outer walls of such a majestic gray ruin. I huffed in annoyance and ambled across the first bridge, climbed the stone steps and waited at the edge of the next lumber bridge which resided in front of the main gatehouse. The wind whistled the crumbling walls and around my ears, as if were telling me an old secret. I stood and looked at the gatehouse and imagined the heavy wooden drawbridge, now an immovable bridge, with its chunky iron raising chains would have once been. I heard the chattering voices of my sisters coming up behind me and when everyone else finally reached me, we snapped some pictures. Glad that was over, I turned to face away from the castle for a moment and I admired the patchwork blanket made up of various shades of green spread out as far as my eyes could see.
“Helen, come on.” My dad called out.
I turned to see that everyone had gone ahead of me so, I gingerly walked over the aged muddy colored wood. My stomach churning with uneasiness, I glanced down at my feet and I could see the gloomy pit below with its rugged rocks staring back at me, warning me to watch my step, or else. I quickened my pace and when I stepped down onto the strength of the stone path I sighed; relieved that I hadn’t stepped on a rotten plank and fallen to the depths below. Just up ahead I could see the thick gap where with the portcullis once loomed overhead, I carried on walking and stepped under the stone gatehouse and into the inner ward. Lush green grass sprawled out before me and at the other end where the grass abruptly edge, the crumbling outer wall rose up into the graying skyline. I took off running.
“Look at me dad.” I yelled, as I climbed into one of intact baking ovens.
My dad strolled over to where I was, his hands shoved inside his heavy brown overcoat, my sisters followed close behind him. They clambered inside with me, we looked like sardines all snug inside their can, minus the pungent sardine smell. Within seconds Alison, Judith climbed out and my father extended his arms for me to jump into. Once free from the mini tomb, I spotted my sisters climbing the next spiral stone staircase. I followed them. I reached the top and it opens up onto a half wood, half stone walkway in which we could carefully lean over the railings and view the remnants of the great hall below. Devoid of its roof and many years of neglect, I saw that nature had claimed its victim. Vegetation sprouted out from amongst the cracks, dotting the whole great hall with pops of green. Even the strewn sticks that once resembled a birds nest could be seen in the large stone fireplace. Done with that, I didn’t wait for my sisters asI scurried back down the staircase and headed over to Stuart, the missionaries and my parents.
“Can we go down to the cave now?” I held my torch as I jiggled on the spot. My mother glanced down at me, her face serious, I smiled and said, “Please.”
The smile was returned and my mother said, “Of course we can,” she turned to look at Stuart and the missionaries and said, “This is Helen’s favorite part of the castle.”
My mother called out for my sisters to come back and we all headed over to the narrow entrance near the King’s Chamber. I eagerly went first. I carefully stepped down the narrow steps and into the steep vaulted passage that lead down to the cave. With one hand I gripped my torch, the other hand, free just in case I needed to grab onto the rope rail. Each time I passed the window openings, shorts bursts of wind shot through and onto my face. Everyone else cautiously walked behind me, in single file all busy chatting with each other. The entrance into the bowels of the castle loomed before me, butterflies rose in my no longer nauseous stomach.
“Wait for us.”
“Okay dad.” I squirmed and kicked at a stray stone on the floor.
“You can go now Helen, just be careful.” My mother said as she grew closer to me.
I descended the last set ofprecipitoussteps and the air no longer smelled fresh. A damp, musty limestone stench took over and breached my nostrils. I reached the bottom of the steps and before me, was the dingy passageway with its jagged rock face that had been hacked away many years ago. With everyone at the bottom we turned our torches on and they cast beams of light into the complete darkness that lay ahead of us. Slouching down as not to clonk heads on the rocks above us, we cautiously took our time as underfoot, the bedrock was slick covered limestone. I reached the small water hole, it isn’t much to look at, but the cave was dome shaped and held many wonders for me, of what may have happened down here during times of war and sieges. Over the years, many names had been carved into the rock formation informing future visitors of their existence. Against my parents vocal words which comprised of vandalism and respect, my sisters and I never did or have carved our name in the belly of the castle. With not much to see or do in the cave and with everyone havetaken their turn, it was time to ascend, the same way we came. Alison, Judith and I got to spend a little more time exploring, climbing the castle before it was time for the long drive home and a good scrub in a warm bath full of bubbles.
Over the years I have grown more in love with Carreg Cennin Castle. It stands proud and strong, even in its crumbling ruined state. It sits on top of a hill in the Black Mountains with the distinctive Welsh countryside spreading out around it like a warm green blanket. Its history, stories of war, Welsh Princes of Deheubarth and their Princess and magic gripped my interest from a young age. This was and still is my favorite castle in Wales and as a child this ruined stone fortress was an amazing playground in which I have so many fond memories. Castell Carreg Cennin is not just for children to explore, but for adults to remember of a time when they dreamed of being a King, a Knight or a Princess.
Copyright 2014 Helen Feriante. All Rights Reserved.