My second day in England, I’m happy to say, was much more pleasant than my first. We had quite the adventure.
The first item on our agenda was to travel out of Shrewsbury to see Wenlock Priory. The town of Much Wenlock is a beautiful place, as well as the surrounding countryside. These rolling green slopes form the setting of a lot of events that might have happened just outside of Shrewsbury in my Mercia tales, especially Sons of Mercia Vol. 3 about Edric the Wild. Eadric Streona’s descendant, Wild Edric, most certainly held lands around this area.
(I apologize ahead of time for the largeness of some of these images. When I get the chance I will scale them down a bit)
We parked near old Wenlock Priory, which began as a religious house in 680 AD founded by Merewalh, King of Mercia. At first it housed both men and women, and for awhile Milburge governed as abbess (she later became a saint). Earl Leofric of Mercia and his wife Godiva transformed the abbey around 1040 AD into a college for priests. Later a Norman Marcher lord, Roger de Montgomerie (an important character in Vol. 3 of Sons of Mercia, Edric the Wild), acquired the abbey as part of his lands from William the Conqueror. Being Norman, Roger originally filled this place with Norman monks and made the locals angry. Skip to the year 1504, when the monastery was destroyed in the midst of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. Not much of the monastery remains now.
The two stone structeres here once connected as one large nave. One can still see the round bases of pillars that once supported more stone.
It was so very peaceful here. We spent a lot of time standing still and listening to soft baa-ing of sheep in the distance–actually, it got quite loud at times!–and the gushing of the wind over the stones. We were the only ones visiting the priory and had it all to ourselves.
This was once a chapterhouse where monks would have gathered every day to read a chapter from the rule of St Benedict, discuss self-discipline, and make administrative decisions about priory matters.
After spending a long time in the serene setting of Wenlock Priory, we got back in our (ginormous) Ford Galaxy and made our way further south to Ludlow.
In Ludlow, we first discovered the difficulty of driving through small towns in England, which is that two-way streets will generally have room in the middle for ONE car, due to other cars being parked on the sides! Here is a picture we later took in Clun, but I think it demonstrates my point:
That is a two-way street!
In any case, we made it through Ludlow, parked, and grew much more relaxed as we began to walk around.
We continued from there to take a look at the intimidating Ludlow castle looming over the town. It was an early Norman castle built by Roger de Lacy.
As awesome as Ludlow Castle was, my husband and I had an extremely important item on our agenda, and it was starting to rain. Our goal was to see Richard’s Castle, or at least the ruins of Richard’s Castle, because Richard FitzScrob and his son, Osbern FitzScrob, are important characters in one of my books. I knew that if I could find the castle ruins, it would be one of the most direct connection to one of my ancient characters that I could make.
Little did we know, finding Richard’s Castle was one of the most challenging things we’d done yet.
I didn’t have an address for Richard’s Castle, but I knew approximately where it was on a map. To make matters more confusing, the actual castle ruins lay within a *town* called Richard’s Castle, which is a much larger area. We put in the closest address we could manage into our GPS and set forth. I felt confident that between all our maps and the power of our navigational system, we would be set.
Boy was I wrong.
As we kept driving south, the road got smaller, and smaller, and smaller. Eventually, we were driving on a road like this:
Believe it or not, that is a two-way road!! As you can see, there was absolutely no visibility, and no room to get out of the way if another car came along. If another car came along and the both of you did not smash each other, the only thing to do was back up slowly until you came to a rare wedge of space which gave you both room to pass.
There were miles upon miles of these roads!
Eventually we found a sign pointing to a “Historic Church,” leading down a road like the one in the picture above. I knew that the ancient St Bartholomew’s Church, built by Osbern FitzRichard, lay somewhere near Richard’s Castle, and that this was the best lead I would probably find (by that point the GPS was useless). My knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel, and John and I were both about to pass out from stress, but we had come this far. Richard’s Castle had been one of the sites I most wanted to see on this entire trip, and I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I turned back now. So down the road we turned.
Well, the wheel-clutching terror continued for at least another hour. One unnamed road branched off into another, so on and so on, with no signs and no visibility helping me figure out where to go. Eventually, I grew so desperate I pulled over and asked two of the local residents for help. They were nice and pointed me towards the right direction, and though I still didn’t find it immediately, I knew at least that I was close.
At long long last, we found Saint Bartholomew’s Church! I can hardly describe my relief as parked our car and walked through the hedgerows towards the ancient church built by Osbern FitzRichard.
I am no longer a very religious person, but Saint Bartholomew’s Church was the most solemn and faith-inspiring places I’d ever visited. We were the only ones there, of course. As we stood inside we heard the constant whisper of soft, howling wind against the stones. Even when the sound of the wind rose to a high pitch, we felt protected inside. My husband and I both felt inclined to whisper to one another even though no one else was around. We stared at the ancient pews and stained glass windows and, for awhile, didn’t speak at all.
But alas, our journey was not finished … we still had not found Richard’s Castle.
Finding the castle took another good half hour of searching. We drove a bit further on the unnamed roads. We came back to the church and nearly gave up and then tried again. Then still nothing.
Finally, my husband decided to focus on what one of the locals had told me: to reach Richard’s Castle, go “through” the church. We had already walked all around the church and found nothing. But by this point we were desperate, and the only thing to do seemed to be to keep walking through the trees behind the church.
And there it was.
After passing over the ditch and the remains of the bailey walls, we got to this:
It may not look like much now, but around 1000 years ago, this was the motte that formed the pinnacle of Richard’s Castle. On top of this motte could have been the large stone keep overlooking all the rest.
What an amazing feeling to have found it.