New Abbey Cornmill

The New Abbey Cornmill is located by the Pow Burn in New Abbey in Scotland on land belonging historically to the Stewarts. It is water-powered and dates to the 18th century. Americans shouldn’t be confused by the fact that it’s called ‘corn’ mill. It was always designed to create oatmeal. “Corn” is a generic term for grain in the UK. There may have been a mill at this location as early as the 1200s as part of Sweetheart Abbey. The current mill was built later, but it is still known as “Monk’s Mill”. In the mill are examples of hand-powered grindstones, like those used since prehistoric times. Harnessing water to power mill wheels was a great step forward and dates in Britain at least back to Roman times. Even until the 1800s, country mills like New Abbey ground oats and Read more…


Wigmore Castle

Wigmore Castle is a medieval fortress located in the March in northwest Herefordshire. It was built initially after the Norman conquest of England by the first earl of Hereford, William FitzOsbern, who also built Chepstow Castle. Fitz Osbern rebelled against William the Conqueror in 1075, however, in what has been called the ‘Revolt of the Earls’, prompted by William’s refusal to allow the marriage of Fitz Osbern’s daughter to the Earl of East Anglia. At their subsequent defeat, and FitzOsbern’s death, King William seized Wigmore and gave it to one of his faithful followers, Ranulph de Mortimer, and from then on it was the seat of the Mortimer earldom in the March. The castle has gone through many reconstructions over the centuries, most of which took place in the 12th-14th centuries, before the decline of the Mortimers after the execution Read more…


Warkworth Castle

Warkworth Castle is a medieval castle first built in the 12th century. It is located in Northumbria above the River Coquet. Though the castle was probably a seat of the Saxon earls of Northumbria before the Norman conquest of England, Warkworth initial construction as a motte and bailey castle is credited to Henry, the son of King David of Scotland, after he became Earl of Northumberland in 1139. Henry II, after the death of both King David and his son, repossessed Northumberland after 1150, granting it to Roger fitz Eustace. His son, Robert built the castle we see today starting in 1199. The castle then played an important role not only in the wars with Scotland, but in the internal wars within England, having passed to the powerful Percy family, who played a role in the deposing of Richard III, Read more…


Bryn Celli Ddu

Bryn Celli Ddu is located on Anglesey near Llanddaniel Fab. It means ‘the mound in the dark grove and is one of the finest prehistoric passage tombs in Wales. The burial chamber was the last of a series of prehistoric sacred constructions. The first evidence of a site here are 6000 year old post holes, the purpose of which remains unknown. These were followed around 3000 BC by a henge, along with a circular bank and ditch. Then the mound and passage tomb which are still visible today were constructed. The passage is roughly aligned with the Summer Solstice sunrise, such that near sunlight shines on the back wall of the burial chamber. Individual human bones, both burnt and unburnt, have been found within the chamber and passage, indicating a variety of funeral practices and that the tomb was used Read more…


Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn castle is a medieval castle first built in the middle of the 15th century by the Campbells of Glenorchy. It is located on the northeastern end of Loch Awe in Scotland. From the 1400s, the Campbells were one of the most powerful clans in the Scottlish Highlands. For the next 150 years, they grew in power until they controlled most of the area, with Kilchurn being an important seat. By the 1700s, however, the Campbells were walking a line between support of the Protestant king William and the Catholic Jacobites. The Campbell fortunes went into a steep decline after the English takeover of Scotland, and by 1770, the castle was abandoned. The castle was initially built as a five-story tower house, but was expanded in subsequent years to include a curtain wall that encompassed more structures, including a dining Read more…


The Invention of the Chimney

The chimney was invented at some point in the Middle Ages, probably in the 11th century. It was a huge breakthrough in home/castle construction, and one of the most important inventions in a period with many. Northern Europe is cold, and people needed to keep warm. Maybe this seems like a strange topic for a blog post, but I’m sitting here by my nice warm fire, typing into my laptop, while it’s about 15 degrees outside (F).  I am not a medieval person, but I hate being cold and get grumpy if my house is below 68 degrees (and with the fire, I can get it a lot warmer than that). Round huts in which many early peoples lived did not have chimneys. They had fire pits in the center of the room, with or without a hole in the Read more…


Chateau des Baux

Chateau des Baux is a medieval fortress located on the Les Baux plateau in the South of France. The first mention of the castle is in the 10th century (900s) when it was ruled by a lord called Pons de Jeune, though evidence indicates the plateau has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The legend says that the original ruler was descended from Balthazar, of the Three Magi who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The Wars of Les Baux began in the 12th century when the Lords of Baux resisted their incorporation into the Kingdom of Catalan. By the 14th century, Les Baux came under the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of France, which the lords also resisted, to the point of burning and pillaging the surrounding area between 1386 and 1398. During the 12th century, the castle was largely reconstructed Read more…


Abbey Cwm Hir

Abbey Cwm Hir is located in Powys, north of Cilmeri near Llandrindod Wells. Known in Welsh as Abaty Cwm Hir, it was a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1176 by a Welsh lord, Cadwallon ap Madog.  Unfortunately, Cadwallon, who was the lord of Maelienydd, was killed three years later by Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, leading to a blood feud between two families. In the process, the abbey, which was remote to begin with, was neglected. The abbey’s prospects improved in the 13th century under the patronage of the princes of Wales, Llywelyn Fawr and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. Twice the Normans burned abbey granges, which were rebuilt with money from the prince. In 1231, the abbey was fined 200 pounds by the Normans for aiding Llywelyn Fawr. After the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282 at Cilmeri, his headless body was Read more…


Wiston Castle

Wiston Castle is located in the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth, in South Wales. It’s one of the best-preserved motte and bailey castles in Wales, built by an early Flemish settler to Deheubarth with the exceptional name of Wizo. (a motte is a small hill, usually fortified, surrounded by an open area, or bailey, inside an outer wall). Wiston Castle first appears in documents in 1147 when it was attacked by the Welsh, in an attempt to evict the Flemish from Wales. Flemish settlers and fighting men had been brought in by Henry I, actually to counter one of his own barons, Arnaulf de Montgomery. They stayed to be a countering force to the Welsh in the region. Wizo seems to have chosen an existing Iron Age settlement as the basis for his castle. The motte was thrown up across the bank Read more…


Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle is located on the western end of Hadrian’s Wall at an old border between Scotland and England. Currently a Norman Castle dating to the 12th and 13th centuries, Carlisle was a palace and seat of the British Kingdom of Rheged until it was conquered by William Rufus in 1092. For hundreds of years, even before the arrival of the Roman legions, a British kingdom was centered on Carlisle. Once the Romans conquered Britian, they made where the castle stands today the nucleus of the fort of Luguvalium, which by the middle of the second century was one of the most important military bases in Roman Britain. The British returned after they left and then in turn were conquered by the Normans. Carlisle was besieged both by Robert the Bruce in the Scottish wars for independence and during the Read more…


Tomen y Mur

Tomen y Mur is located in southern Snowdonia near Bala. Tomen y Mur, which means Mount in the Walls. The site is a mashup of Roman, Norman, and Welsh settlement and is one of those special places whose history covers thousands of years, beginning prior to the Roman Conquest. Welsh mythology references the place with a story of Lleu and Blodeuwedd in the Mabinogion. Starting in 78 AD, the Romans built walls, a fort, barracks, baths, parade ground, and small amphitheater—one of the few for just military personnel but an indication of the hardship of the posting, all to counter the Ordovices, who’d wiped out a Roman legion in the 50s. The Roman response was to move into the area in force and almost eliminate the entire people. Tomen y Mur was built to oversee the remaining few and protect Read more…


Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle was begun in March 1283 as part of Edward’s Iron Ring of Castles and mostly completed by 1289 to the tune of 15,000 pounds (over ten million today).  The previous castle in the area was at Deganwy, which is visible from Conwy’s walls but was destroyed during the wars with King Henry and not rebuilt. Edward built the castle on the western side of the Conwy River as a foothold in the heart of Gwynedd in order to control an important river crossing. To build the castle and town Edward destroyed the monastery of Aberconwy, patronized by the Welsh princes. He also destroyed Llywelyn’s llys (palace). Like many castles of the iron ring, Conwy consisted of a castle and planted town of English settlers, all surrounded by massive stone walls with 8 great towers in a relatively compact Read more…