A medieval castle, a chestnut tree and Hercules

Chirk Castle is a magnificent medieval castle not far from where I live and I like to go there for a stroll around the garden and park. With its rounded towers it has a very distinct shape which reminds of Beaumaris Castle, another of the famous castles of Edward I along the north Wales coastline.

Chirk Castle was built by Robert Mortimer de Chirk between 1295 and 1310 to guard the Dee and Ceiriog valleys and as the local administrative centre. It has changed hands many times in the beginning with some of its owners being very important men of their age and recognised for their services to the crown. Even a future king – Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III) – once owned it. But there is also another side to it. During the medieval period five of its owners were executed for treason, their estates seized by the Crown – caught up in wars that rumbled on for centuries.

Chirk Castle is the only Edward I marcher fortress that is still inhabited today and has been in the hands of the Myddleton family since 1595.

The gardens offer just the right mix of formality and lush flower borders with stunning views across the valley and the surrounding area. Actually the Hercules statue has probably the best view and he got here in a very ‘posh’ way – he was flown in by helicopter from his previous place in the lower woods. You will see a picture with a lonely plinth further down which used to be where he was positioned.

But it is worth to look beyond this and have a walk around the adjoining parkland. Various trails offer an insight into some interesting facts about the castle and the area and you might even see some wildlife and (almost) wild ponies.

And don’t miss the magnificent chestnut which has supposedly been here since the time of Henry VIII.

Even though I visit the house every time I’m there, I didn’t take any photographs as it is quite dark and my camera often struggles with these conditions. Best thing is to go there and explore it yourself. Chirk Castle is managed by the National Trust.

Erddig Park and its castle

It’s funny how you tend to write about places you travel to but hardly about the ones right at your front door. While visiting Erddig Hall and the adjoining park for the annual apple festival this weekend I realised, I had never written anything about this beautiful place just outside of Wrexham even though I visit it several times a year.

Erddig Hall is one of the country’s finest stately homes and, as well as the park, managed by the National Trust. In Erddig Park you can find the ingenious Cup and Saucer and the lesser known Motte & Bailey Castle. This old castle mound seems to be one part of the park which is often overlooked and not so well known. Even on beautiful sunny days when the park is enjoyed by many, you can have the old motte-and-bailey castle all to yourself. One of my neighbours, who lived in this area for more than 30 years, didn’t even know it existed.

When visiting Erddig Hall I like to include a little stroll through the country park so why don’t you join me. And yes, the park is much bigger than what you will see right now.

Even though the park might look like it was created by nature, it is actually the work of landscape designer William Emes who worked at Erddig from 1768-1780. He planted many trees and manipulated the flow of water across the park. His most famous feature is the Cup and Saucer waterfall.

One of the lesser know features of the park is the Motte and Bailey Castle that was incorporated into Emes’ design. Built by the Normans in the 11th century, the Motte and Bailey Castle’s purpose was to enforce their control over the local area. All that is left today are some earthen mounds hiding between the trees but once the castle would have dominated the skyline. When Emes started his work 700 years after the castle’s originial construction he planted an avenue of trees on its summit named Cathedral Isle. Back then the avenue was leading to a spectacular view over the surrounding landscape but nowadays the trees are just too high to see much.

The park surrounds the hall and offers, apart from the beautiful woods, many meadows and a lake – Llyn Erddig. Also included in the park is a section of Wat’s Dyke, a 40 mile long defensive earthen dam built in the 8th century.

I will do a proper post on Erddig Hall soon but as I had mentioned I was going there, I have included some pictures of the house and garden. It was nice seeing it so busy for the apple festival and I’m sure I’ll be back around Christmas for some Victorian Christmas inspiration.

Getting in the Christmas mood

One of the stranger things in my job as a Graphic Designer is that I start working on Christmas designs when everybody else is thinking about summer picnics and trips to the beach while the sun is shining outside (one year I had to start the first Christmas design by the end of January). By the time winter and advent has arrived I am more or less sick of snowflakes, reindeers, Christmas trees and Santas and it takes some effort to get me into that Christmas mood again. Usually visiting a Christmas market with a mulled wine (or two) and a bratwurst helps.

I missed many events because I was spoiled for choice, running out of time or some days the weather was just too bad for my taste (I don’t mind it being cold as long as it’s dry).

I always like the atmosphere at the Chester Christmas market (and I don’t mean the Winter Wonderland!) and what better way to combine a visit to the market with some late night Christmas shopping and the Winter Watch Parade.

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So not the Christmas market but it looked pretty.

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The Winter Watch Parade is popular with young and old.

‘A Tudor Yuletide’ at Little Moreton Hall near Congleton in Cheshire was a bit different. The warm welcome drink at the entrance was much appreciated and I learned some things as well.

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Defying the rules of physics since Tudor times – Little Moreton Hall

‘Logically it should not still be standing up!’ but fortunately for us, Little Moreton Hall defied logic and physics for over 500 years. Also the Tudors, or those who could afford it, loved sweet flavours, a fact that sits quite well with me as I have a sweet tooth myself. I didn’t mind that the marzipan, or marchpane, looked like bacon, it was gorgeous.

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The Long Gallery, the reason why the building has its top-heavy appearance and has been described to look “like a stranded Noah’s ark” in the National Trust guidebook.

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The windows created interesting patterns

Saying that, I had to discover that I am not a fan of Tudor chicken paté. The volunteer had warned me I might be in for a surprise but I wasn’t prepared for this. Rose water, almost overpowering. Because the Tudors had a sweet tooth they even wanted their chicken paté to be sweet. Thanks, but no thanks.

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Live music in the hall that was set up for a feast.

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What Tudors would eat, if they were rich enough

The German Christmas market in Birmingham is one of the biggest German markets outside of Germany. I either get my yearly fix of mulled wine, bratwurst and Quarkbällchen (plain donuts) here in Manchester. I also managed to fit in some sightseeing and shopping which is always a bonus. But as last year, some people really should think about some of the aspects I wrote down in my personal code of conduct for Christmas markets.

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In need for some German Christmas treats

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It looks even prettier when night falls

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View from the library on the ice rink near the Christmas market.

Wrexham had some events on offer as well. The Victorian Christmas market is always nice and this year marked the first appearance of the Coca Cola Truck in town.

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Holidays are coming to Wrexham this year.

Chirk Castle was the setting for a medieval Christmas market this year. Unfortunately it rained when I visited so the courtyard with the market was deserted and everybody wanted to get into the tower for come craft workshops and the grotto. It also meant I head the other rooms in the castle more or less to myself.

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Due to the weather the courtyard was kind of deserted

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I wonder if one of the presents is for me…

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Not quite my idea of a Christmas menu

Finally I went to Erddig House, not for Erddig Glow which I heard was fantastic, but to take a look at some rooms that had been set up for Christmas dinner in the 1920s or 30s and all with real candles. It created a magical if quite dark atmosphere and was definitely worth the visit.

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Christmas in the 20s/30s – real candles were used in the chandeliers etc

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It was quite dark so you had to watch what you were eating. Thankfully the cooks were highly skilled.

Next up, hopefully, will be the Christmas market in my hometown Bonn in Germany on its last day and I will have myself another mulled wine or Feuerzangenbowle and bratwurst.

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My next and final destination – Bonn Christmas market.

Merry Christmas to you all!!

Brymbo’s Industrial Heritage

24 years today, on 27th September 1990, the last furnace at Brymbo Steelworks had been tapped and by chance there was a Brymbo Heritage Project Open Day today that provided a good opportunity to have a look around the former site and learn more about the past of this area.

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The original No. 1 furnace built by John Wilkinson

When someone mentions Brymbo most people think of steel but you can also find 300 million year old fossilised, still upright, trees here and coal had been worked on these hills since the 1400s. But when the industrialist John Wilkinson, who owned nearby Bersham Ironworks, purchased Brymbo Hall in 1792 and founded Brymbo Ironworks, that’s when it really took off. By 1796 Wilkinson had erected the first blast furnace and ever since iron and later on steel had been produced on this site until September 1990.

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The Machine Shop dates from 1920 and is one of later steelwork buildings

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Inside the Machine Shop

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A lot of things to discover

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Heavy machinery

Today some of the buildings still stand, including the original Wilkinson No. 1 furnace, and Brymbo Heritage Group offered free Guided Walks and 4×4 Tours around the works. Some buildings have suffered severly during the heavy snow fall last March and their roofs collapsed but repair works have already started.

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Overview – you can clearly see the collapsed roofs

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The old workshop I believe. The roof has been taken off already.

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Imposing

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Agent’s House – Wilkinson turned these cottages into offices in the late 1700s.

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Not originally from here, I think, but they had some like this one as well

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You really get an idea of the size of things

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These were basically just tipped over to unload

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I really like it when you can get close to things and even touch them

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More buildings reclaimed by nature

For safety reasons we weren’t allowed in all the buildings but you could still look inside. Also some of the remaining details on the buildings are intriguing.
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My special thanks go to Colin and Keith who walked us around the site and offered some interesting facts and anecdotes. I should have taken notes really but what I remember was a comment on the D Furnace about its size and power “She was an animal. She was a beast.” I think that says it all.

For more information and how to support Brymbo Heritage Group visit
www.brymboheritage.co.uk

St David’s Day – flags, parades and daffodils

Last Saturday marked the celebration of St David’s Day in Wales. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales and the first day of March was chosen in remembrance of his death.

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Saint David portrayed on a window

A native of Wales, Saint David (Welsh: Dewi Sant) was born towards the end of the 5th century, his date birth is still uncertain, and became a famous teacher and preacher. He founded several monastic settlements and churches including a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosyn (The Vale of Roses) on the western edge of Pembrokeshire, the spot where St David’s Cathedral stands today. This foundation became an important Christian shrine and the most important centre in Wales. He most possibly died on 1st March 588. Apparently some of his last words whilst being prepared for his death were: “Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil.”

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The parade in Wrexham ended at Queens Square

This year I thought I’d take part in some of the festivities for a change and as the sun was shining I headed into Wrexham for the parade and Welsh market. It was really nice seeing the children in their traditional outfits and enjoying themselves. Another thing to notice as well is that almost everybody is wearing a daffodil pin (the daffodil is a national symbol of Wales). The parade ended with some music, a couple of speeches and the national anthem ‘Old Land of My Fathers (Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau)’. And to be honest, it is quite something to have a town square full of people sing the national anthem. Makes even me feel somehow patriotic about my adopted home.

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The children definitely had fun

Next stop was Chirk Castle where there was free entry and a free performance by the Fron Choir, so not to be missed.

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Next stop – Chirk Castle. I’ve never seen the car park that full.

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Chirk Castle was built in 1295 by Roger Mortimer de Chirk as part of King Edward I’s chain of fortresses across the north of Wales.

Unfortunately there was a bit of rain and hail while I was driving there what meant that the first set of the choir took place in the castle’s chapel which was way too small for all people to fit in there. So unfortunately I missed the first set but luckily the second one took place in the courtyard as the weather had improved. The choir was impressive as ever and the setting just perfect.

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People are gathering for the Fron Choir performance.

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I’m a big fan of the Welsh male choirs, especially the Fron Choir.

What a way to celebrate a nation and its patron saint.