Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A Brief Guide to the Outside of Raglan Castle

It's midday on Friday and I'm outside Raglan Castle, in Monmouthshire.

I often drive past here on my way back from south Wales and have stopped several times before with the intention of looking around the place. The first time I came the castle was besieged by workmen who had so covered it in scaffolding that it didn't seem worth hanging around. The second time it had just closed for the day. The third time I finally realised that you have to pay to get in, and was once again deterred.

Today I'm still in two minds about what to do, having forgotten how much the admission fee was. It turns out to be £3, which seems reasonable enough. But, this being the school holidays, the place is particularly busy. In front of me a couple of young boys are play-fighting boisterously with wooden swords which is, of course, exactly the kind of thing that boys that age ought to be doing on a trip to a castle. But I seem to have gotten into a mindset now where only the perfect opportunity to look around the place undisturbed will do for me.

The car park consists of a large area of short grass in front of the castle entrance, and while I'm hanging around hesitating I notice that there are one or two things to be seen here, for free.

On a small section of old grey stonework, presumably the remnant of something bigger, there is a plaque explaining the role of the castle in the English Civil Wars. At the time Raglan was owned by Henry Somerset, the first Marquess of Worcester, who was a staunch Royalist and reputedly the richest man in the country. In 1646 Cromwell's Parliamentarians laid siege to the place and subjected it to daily bombardments for several months before Somerset eventually conceded. It was the last of the great aristocratic homes to fall, and the new occupiers immediately set about trying to demolish the main tower, although this proved harder work than they had anticipated and so a large section of it still remains.

raglan castle

Behind the wall with the plaque on it, in the very back of the parking area, stands a venerable old oak tree which still seems very much alive despite having lost a long vertical strip of bark and being so hollow at the base that it looks almost as if it has decided to stand up out of the ground, perhaps  in preparation for walking Ent-like away over the fields.

raglan castle (2)

Oak trees can live for over five hundred years, so it's possible that this old specimen was already here when Cromwell's men arrived armed to the teeth and grimly determined to gain entry to the castle. I wonder what they would have thought of a man who was put off by a small admission fee and a couple of kids with wooden swords?

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