|Manorbier Castle, looking up from the road|
On the southern edge of Pembrokeshire’s National Park area stands Manorbier Castle. The site, occupied in some form by castles, forts and cromlechs since Neolithic times, became the seat of Norman Knight Odo de Barri during the 11th Century. Its name derives from more than one possible meaning:
‘Maenorbyr’ - Maenor, meaning 4 Trefs, a Welsh form of land measurement
- Byr, from ‘Pyr’ the 6th Century Abbot of nearby Caldey
Island, or ‘Bier’ meaning corn or pasture.
‘Maen Y Pyr’ - Meaning ‘Stone of Pyr’, referring to the cromlech or tomb,
overlooking the bay called King’s Quoit (although no skeleton
has ever been found).
However the castle came by its name, it remained the home of the de Barris for over 250 years. Odo’s fourth son, Gerald de Barri is probably more famously known as ‘Gerald of Wales’, the witty chronicler whose 17 publications provide sources of folklore and personal experiences of his time. In 1188 Gerald described Manorbier as follows:
‘This is a region rich in wheat, with fish from the sea and plenty of wine for sale. What is more important than all the rest is that, from its nearness to Ireland, heaven’s breath smells so wooingly there...Manorbier is the most pleasant place by far.’
|A sculpture in the gardens, honouring Gerald of Wales|
Hardly surprising that Gerald bestows such love for where he was born, but it is indeed a beautiful place. In its heyday it had fruit and nut trees, an apiary, deer park, flour mill, dovecote, buttery, sheep grazing and wool and leather production and much more. What you discover when exploring the castle’s many rooms is that, from almost any vantage point there is a magnificent view to behold.
The former Guardroom is now a delightful and snug café and shop.
The chapel/crypt and an upstairs room are used for civil weddings, providing a grand and mystical atmosphere for the occasions.
By the end of the 14th Century, high running costs coupled with expensive and rare skilled labourers due to the Black Death, de Barri sold the castle and estate to two separate people. The ensuing confusion was resolved by Henry IV, when he granted the estate to the Countess of Huntingdon (mistress of Edward III) and other members of the royal family. Able to afford stewards to run the estate, the royal owners kept the castle until its sale to the local Bowen family in the 17th Century. In 1670 it was sold to Sir Erasmus Philipps for the sum of £6,000 plus his daughter for Thomas Bowen’s third wife. Since then, the castle has descended from Sir Erasmus.
It was a smugglers’ haven in the 19th Century and the barn was converted into a house in Victorian times and is used as a holiday home. During both world wars it was home to RAF servicemen and the castle has inspired several artists and writers, including Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and Siegfried Sassoon. Today it is a flourishing tourist attraction that remains, as Sassoon put it, ‘wild, austere, and ocean-chanted’ and will delight visitors of any age. It is well worth exploration and admiration.
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Acknowledgement:Factual information courtesy of the Manorbier Castle site, and the guide book written by Caroline Dashwood.
All photographs copyright E S Moxon.
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