Friday was dry with sunny intervals so we returned to Wigmore Castle which D and I had visited last year and loved. Wigmore is one of those "special" places with a very strong sense of "place" and history and is SO atmospheric.
Wigmore Castle was a major centre of power in the Medieval period in the Welsh Marches. It is one of the largest castles along the Welsh border and is located on a steep ridge which assisted defence. Deep ditches and walls also strengthened the castle.
William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford, built a castle here c1069. It soon passed to Ralph de Mortimer and remained with the Mortimer family until the 15th century. Earthworks date mainly from the 12th century and most of the surviving ruins are late 13th or 14th century mainly from the time of Roger Mortimer who inherited in 1306. The original Norman castle consisted of timber walls on top of earthworks and was rebuilt in stone by Roger Mortimer.
The castle is made up of 3 parts.
- The Outer Bailey which would probably have contained stables and storage buildings such as granaries.
- The Inner Bailey surrounded by a deep double ditch and walls was the main residential area of the castle
- Above this a Shell Keep with very thick walls and a tower was sited on top of a motte.
Nearby were deer parks, fishponds, a dovecote and rabbit warren to provide fish and meat for the castle inhabitants.
Land in the valley was farmed and Wigmore Abbey (privately owned and not open to the public today) was founded where several members of the Mortimer family were buried.
When English Heritage conserved the site in the 1990's they decided to retain the wildness of the site. The castle had rare species such as Lesser Horseshoe Bat and unusual wild flowers, for example, Ploughman's Spikenard. Debris that had accumulated was left where it was. The Shell Keep can't be accessed at the moment and English Heritage is hoping to repair the steps.
The footpath to the castle was lined with frothing cow parsley and wild flowers such as germander speedwell.
First view of the castle with the shell keep high on the motte.
You gain entrance through the 14th century gatehouse - only the upper part is visible today with the rest buried between centuries of accumulated rubble and soil. Also to be seen are some of the preserved sections of the curtain wall.
Below the keep can be seen what remains of the Great Hall - just part of one wall are still visible.
The views are stunning.
The South Tower contains two chambers in the Inner Bailey which would have been used by guests. There are 14th century ogee headed windows, signs of window seats and a fireplace.
I spotted a fledgling Great Tit in the undergrowth and, after taking a few quick photos, I left it in peace and an adult flew down to feed it.
Plants in Walls
Great Spotted Woodpecker in trees just below one of the towers.
Following in the Footsteps of the Mortimers
- Wigmore is the starting point of much of the history of the Mortimers in the Welsh Marches and England.
- Wigmore was given to Ralph I Mortimer c 1075 and it became the Mortimers main residence held as tenants in chief directly from the king.
- It is one of the few Herefordshire boroughs mentioned in the Domesday Book.
- Over the following two centuries Mortimer descendants rebuilt the castle, making it larger and strengthening the fortifications etc. This work was done mainly by Roger III in 1262 and Roger IV in the 1320's.
- Wars and battles were fought around the castle for over 200 years and on occasion it was besieged.
- Roger IV Mortimer, due to the increased wealth of the Mortimers and the final conquest of Wales, rebuilt the castle into a palatial residence. In 1329 he held a great feast and tournament where his son called him "the King of Folly" for behaving like royalty.
- Archaeological excavations 1996-98 revealed that in the 14th century Wigmore Castle had glazed windows and the floors were laid with glazed tiles decorated with Mortimer motifs. It was also a military fortress as arrowheads and pieces of armour were found.
- During the 14th century Wigmore was still important as a Mortimer residence but the family also lived at Ludlow Castle which they had acquired in 1308.
- Wigmore finally declined in the early 15th century when Ludlow became the favourite residence.
- In 1601 the castle was bought by Thomas Harley of Brampton Bryan where he also had a residence. During the Civil War they couldn't defend both Brampton Bryan and Wigmore so Lady Brilliana Harley ordered that Wigmore be partially destroyed.