If you're looking for a lovely place for a day out in Wales, try Montgomery. This delightful little town still has the kind of small shops you thought had quite disappeared in this age of supermarkets and big chains. But here they seem to flourish in all their individuality, selling cookery books, crafts, pictures, clothes, and delicious delicacies to tempt the taste buds.
We spent a happy hour exploring the town’s museum, which was rather like the tardis, small and insignificant on the outside but large and fascinating within. Here we could examine tools used by local craftsmen, the bread oven and brewing vat from when the building was once an inn, and upstairs we learned about the local workhouse, the civil war, and other important dates in the history of the town.
Robert inherited his mother Mabel’s property when she was killed in 1082, an area which comprised part of the region between Normandy and Maine. It is due to this inheritance that Robert has come be known as of Bellême rather than of Montgomery. William the Conqueror died in 1087 and Robert’s first act on hearing the news was to expel the ducal garrisons from his own castles. By 1102 the castle was in the hands of Baldwin de Boulers, and it is from Baldwin that Montgomery gets its Welsh name, Trefaldwyn (Baldwins town). The de Boulers held the castle until 1215 when the fortress was destroyed by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth.
The rebuilding of Montgomery Castle in stone was commenced circa 1223 slightly to the south-east of the original wooden version. The architect of the new castle was Hubert de Burgh who also rebuilt Skenfrith, Grosmont, and White Castle in the Welsh Marches. From 1223 until 1228 masons built the inner ward, or donjon, on a huge rock overlooking the town of Montgomery. A gatehouse was also built, two towers and a curtain wall, a necessary defence as the castle was subjected to many attacks over the years, battered by various Welsh wars, and in the English civil war in 1643 when Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Chirbury, was forced to surrender the castle to Parliamentary troops by order of Parliament.
It is now little more than a ruin, if a stark, atmospheric one, and still worth a visit. You walk across a modern wooden bridge into the inner ward from where you have the most marvellous views of the town and the surrounding countryside. It’s worth the walk for that alone.
I’d be interested to learn if anyone knows why this particular circle of stones is built the way it is. Could it be part of a threshing circle? Or something to do with a former chapel? The pattern does not seem to be accidental. A mystery we may never solve.