Saturday, 16 April 2016
"Charming" is an unusual word to use of a venerable ancient monument but Usk Castle has that magical quality. It is owned by the Humphreys family and has a relaxed, intimate feel with plump chickens happily scratching, geese sometimes present and the reindeer for the annual Santa parade stabled here beforehand. I once stopped off there with my family en route for a long walk and we found ourselves still lolling in the sun two hours later. We then had a gentle pootle on the ramparts! On another occasion, the chickens were out on the grass and six golden brown feathery bundles started pecking our trousers gently as if they were administering acupuncture - so soothing!
A few dates
Construction was probably started soon after the Norman Conquest and the Keep is the earliest stone structure, built by Richard de Clare, aka Strongbow, after he recovered it in the twelfth century. The main imposing castle dates from the time of William Marshall (early thirteenth century) who won de Clare's daughter by knocking the future King Richard I off his horse in a joust. The first record is in 1138 when the Welsh seized it from the de Clare family. It has changed ownership many times. In 1185, £10.35 was spent on it by the Crown and there was a substantial garrison of 10 archers, 10 residents, 15 'mobile' sergeants, 4 watchmen, a chaplain and clerk. One wonders who did the cooking!
The last major event in the history of the castle was the battle of Pwll Melyn ( Yellow Pool) where the forces of Owain Glyndwr, led by his eldest son, were defeated by the English. Archdeacon Coxe wrote in 1799 that "no castle in Monmouthshire has been subject to more frequent assaults" and we know it was in ruins by 1587. It was probably in 1750 that the old gatehouse was converted into Castle House by the Duke of Beaufort.
More recently Simon Jenkins described it as "wild, unmanicured and idiosyncratic" and, although it has been tidied up and is very well maintained, it remains informal and personal. Visitors are asked to make a small donation and transfer a pebble from one bowl to another for record keeping, surely the most delightful way of keeping accounts.
Usk Castle is a short walk north from Twyn Square and is well worth the detour, being both relaxing and atmospheric. There is glamping at nearby Castle Knights in Medieval (style!) pavilions as well as events throughout the year. Weddings can be held here and where better? If you fancy a short walk you can take the path to the right of the car park and see the Medieval battle site of Pwll Melyn. The number 60 bus will take you on to Raglan with its imposing castle or, in the other direction, to Caerleon with its Roman remains.
For opening hours click here: the castle is open during reasonable daylight hours.