WITH shared transport being frowned upon because of the pandemic only four adventurous ramblers joined William from Penarth and District Ramblers for what is fast becoming his annual trek on the famous adventurous Three Castles Walk, which could not be achieved last year because of lock down. Meeting at the lovely ruined Skenfrith Castle in Monmouthshire on a warm but overcast June Sunday morning, despite a rather ominous weather forecast of rain the whole day fortunately remained dry.
Following the Norman invasion William the Conquer granted lands to William FitzOsbern who controlled the marches in the early 12th century and by 1160 a motte and bailey castle was constructed on the banks of the pretty Monnow River to defend the border between England and Wales. Then because of continued Welsh attacks, the castle was partially constructed in stone by Ralph Grosmont before King John granted this castle along with White and Grosmont castles to Hubert de Burgh in 1201. Skenfrith boasts an impressive circular keep built on a high mound and in medieval times was surrounded by a deep moat, but by the 16th century was in ruins.
After paying a visit to the castle which is under the care of the National Trust they set off by road past St Bridget’s Church which was built in 1207 from red sandstone. It was extended in the latter middle ages and again during the 17th century and its west tower has an unusual timber belfry. Heading across the Norton Brook at the aptly named Dry Bridge they journeyed towards Norton Court which was originally owned by the Abbey of Parc Grace Dieu. In the 15th century King Henry VIII granted it to Sir Thomas Herbert and during the 17/18th centuries it was occupied by the Walter family of Grosmont.
Fields brought them on past Lade Farm and down an old sunken lane beside Lettravane Farm to pass through ripening corn fields and through Llyfos Wood to emerge onto a grassy bank where they paused for their mid-morning break, whilst taking in the views towards the Black Mountains away in the distance shrouded in mist and low cloud.
Refreshed and moving on towards Tump and Middle Cwm Farms the imposing White Castle came next on the journey, standing tall on a hill and guarding an ancient route between Wales and England with its far reaching views. This military outpost was originally guarded by deep moats and after 1185 Ralph Grosmont added more fortifications when he divided the castle into two unequal parts with a towering curtain wall. Hubert de Burgh made alterations to its structure in the early 13th century and after being involved along with Skenfrith and Grosmont castles in skirmishes with Owain Glyndwr, by 1538 the castle was abandoned.
A steep descent to reach the bridge at Pont Gilbert brought them across the delightful Trothy River for the lovely riverside meadow walk through the Glen Trothy Estate, where the late Victorian mansion house, built in 1883 with its lavishly decorated private Roman Catholic Sacred Hearts Chapel, are Grade II listed buildings.
A steady climb through Lower to Upper Green brought them to the pretty little St Mary’s Church at Llanfair for their well-earned lunch break and a short rest before passing Llanfair Wood for the long and challenging climb to the wooded Graig Syfyrddin with its summit of Edmund’s Tump, standing at a height of 423m and views towards Grosmont village nestled on the hillside above the River Monnow.
A steep descent and a short climb brought them up into Grosmont, where cold drinks and ice creams were available at the village shop before viewing the third of the tri-lateral castles, this originally built by William FitzOsbern and also abandoned in the 16th century. The last climb of the day towards Upper Graig gave them fine views to Garway Hill, then onward to pass White House Farm, along a lane with wild hops growing in the hedgerow to Box and Trevonny Farms.
Through the meadows and past the old weir and Garway Mill and up a lovely track at Birch Hill towards Malthouse Wood and below them in the valley the welcome sight of Skenfrith Castle. Arriving back at their start it was time for the tired, happy wanderers to unlace boots, have a quick cold drink and head for home.
You can follow the group’s exploits before, during and after lockdown on Facebook.