Goodrich on the Ground

Oh, glorious Goodrich! After flying over this beautiful medieval castle the other day, I got to wander around its majestic towers and russet walls yesterday. And what a beautiful day it was.

As the aerial photos show, it stands above the rolling countryside of the Wye Valley near the Anglo-Welsh border, guarding an important crossing point in the river. But despite putting out a message of who was boss in the area, this particular castle can claim to have led a fairly peaceful existence, only having been besieged once, and that wasn’t even during the Middle Ages. So the story of Goodrich is best told through the people who owned it, because despite being tucked away in a rural idyll, the castle was owned by a string of medieval celebrities stretching all the way back to the 11th Century.

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On the approach: the castle standing proudly in its cavernous craggy ditch

But first you have to admire its sheer presence. Standing proudly within an expansive dry moat cut from the hill, it’s almost as though the castle’s towers have grown up out of the craggy rocks that support it. Four huge round towers and a barbican protecting the impressive gatehouse all surround a modestly-sized inner courtyard, and as you wander through the rooms, you can sense the presence of these charismatic medieval owners.

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Exploring the gatehouse

The name Goodrich is an overhang from the first recorded occupant of the land, a man called Godric Mappeson, who was probably a Saxon noble. There’s documented evidence to tell us that by 1101-2 a certain ‘Godric’s Castle’ was in existence, and the name stuck when a Norman family, the de Clares took possession of it during the civil war between King Stephen and Henry I’s daughter, Matilda in the 12th Century. Gilbert de Clare and his son Richard ‘Strongbow’ supported the king, and Gilbert acquired the title Earl of Pembroke for his loyalty. It was most likely around this time that the grey stone keep was constructed, and this would have been the focal point and the main symbol of power of the earlier castle.

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The earliest part of the castle: Goodrich’s modest keep still takes centre stage in the inner ward

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Enjoying the view from the top of the keep

But symbol of power or not, this was the Middle Ages when fortune could be a fickle mistress, and trouble hit Richard ‘Strongbow’ de Clare after he inherited Goodrich. When Matilda’s son, Henry II, became king in 1154, he took a dim view of the de Clares siding with his mum’s rival. To make matters worse, Strongbow sloped off to Ireland against the king’s instructions, where he fought with the exiled Irish King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, to regain his throne. In return for his help, Dermot gave Strongbow his daughter Aoife’s hand in marriage and the succession to his kingship.

The couple’s daughter, Isabella, would eventually inherit Goodrich, along with all Strongbow’s lands in Ireland and England, including Chepstow and Pembroke. But Isabella was married off by Richard I (the Lionheart), so her property and fortune passed to her new husband. But she still did well, because her betrothed was none other than William Marshal, the greatest knight in history and all round gorgeous pin-up hero of the day. ‘The Marshal’, as he was known, is another post altogether, and is one of the best characters of the whole Middle Ages. Having raised himself up from humble beginnings he became not just our most respected soldier and statesman, but he ended up as Regent of England for Henry III. William was one of the greatest castle builders of his time, and although we don’t have any solid evidence of work at Goodrich, it is very likely he strengthened its defences in towers of stone. However, the striking red sandstone edifice you see today came about in 13th Century, thanks to a despised French half uncle of Edward 1st (of Welsh castle fame).

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Enjoying the 13th Century great hall

Goodrich filtered down through descendents of William and Isabella Marshal, ending up in the hands of Joan, one of their grandchildren. In 1247 Joan was also married off, by Henry III, to his unpopular half brother, William de Valance, and it was under his ownership that the castle took on the form we see today. He may have been seen as a foreign upstart by many English nobles, but the king and the then Prince Edward loved him. He accompanied Edward on crusade in 1270 and, supported him as king during the first Welsh war of 1277-8. William’s loyalty saw builders sent by Edward to create a barbican to mimic that of the Tower of London, and to reshape Goodrich in the latest fashion. But in 1296 William died after being wounded in a skirmish, so it was his wife Joan and her household that lived at the castle for long periods, where records of her expenditure on food and provisions suggest she may have thrown a few memorable parties.

The castle was further altered over successive centuries as it passed from distinguished courtiers to prominent military figures, but the beautiful bolt-between-the-eyes building that dominates the landscape to this day belongs to the 13th Century, to William de Valance and his partying widow Joan. A wander round its walls will not only show you the latest in 13th Century castle design, there are also remnants of all the mod cons afforded to the de Valences in their refurbishment of Goodrich. The solar block and guest rooms have their own built-in wash basins as well as ensuite facilities, and there are some tantalising clues in the fine architecture as to the level of luxury the de Valences enjoyed.

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All mod cons: one of the many plumbed-in hand basins added during the de Valence 13thC rebuild

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The solar block, or private apartments. These rather grand twin arches are believed to be modelled on a similar design at Chepstow Castle

No visit is complete without a walk around the dry ditch, where you can appreciate the scale of work needed to balance those towers and their massive buttresses on the chiselled crags. The ditch also contains the remains of the stable floor. It was the horses housed here that were led to safety during the only siege that befell the castle, during the Civil War in 1646, a reminder of which lives in the inner ward in the form of a famous cannon. Roaring Meg, as she is known, was forged locally on the orders of the Parliamentarian commander John Birch as a powerful weapon of their attack. Another castle left in ruins thanks to the machinations of Oliver Cromwell.

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Roaring Meg – one of the cannons that did the damage

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The south-east tower from the moat – how impressive is that?

Underneath the arches

The moat runs underneath the high bridge between the barbican and the gatehouse

But even after a ravaging by the roundheads, Goodrich remains one of the best preserved, and certainly one of the most captivating of medieval castles in England. Its walls echo with the dramas of its successive owners, yet somehow, when I’ve been there and admired its beauty and its outstanding position amid the verdant Herefordshire landscape, I feel a deep sense of peace, soon followed by a longing to return once more to the embrace of its warm, majestic walls.

62 thoughts on “Goodrich on the Ground

  1. Everyone talks about old cold drafty castles, but all the castles I have been in were kind of cozy. Despite their size, they didn’t have huge rooms, probably because huge is very difficult to heat. Some of the biggest castles I’ve been in was the Nimrod Fortress. It’s the biggest Crusade-era castle in all of Israel, a mountain-top stronghold that goes back to the 13th century. With views of much of the Golan, the Nimrod Fortress (nothing to do with the biblical Nimrod, by the way … I don’t know what the real name was or why) is situated on a peak neighboring Israel’s highest and only snow-capped mountain, Mount Hermon. And when we were there, it was wide open. You could literally just walk in, climb the staircases or down into the lower reaches. It is enormous and extends from one mountain across a chasm to another mountain … and it is in surprisingly good condition, especially considering that the area is also an earthquake zone and many of the big castles are in ruins. Not from wary or sieges, but from earthquakes. This one has stood throughout. I remember how surprising cozy the inside of the castle was. And of course it is that lovely pink marble from which the mountains in that area are made, so it has a bit of a glow to it.

    I’m betting that people managed to find their castles pretty comfortable. Drafty? Probably, but they understood fires and tapestries and rugs … and lots of dogs to keep your feet warm.

    Oh, found this: Nimrod Castle is a medieval Ayyubid castle situated on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon, … The area is under Israeli occupation and administration since 1967 together with the adjacent Golan Heights. … It was named Qal’at al-Subeiba, “Castle of the Large Cliff” in Arabic. … Crusader Castles.

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    • Hi Marilyn, I’ve just googled Nimrod castle as it sounded so interesting, and it looks a real stunner. No wonder you were impressed with it. I think it looks cosy too. When I go to a castle like Goodrich, I don’t see a ruin, I see it as a comfortable fortified living space. And as for drafts, absolutely, they had loads of fires, and they did have ways of keeping out drafts such as tapestries and wall hangings and even shutters or – in some cases – ‘horn’ windows made of thin slices of horn soaked in water, flattened and then assembled to make a covering that would let in some light whilst keeping out the draft. They were a clever lot back in the Middle Ages. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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  2. Love the pictures! It is so interesting to learn about this castle as there are so many parts I never knew about. American history is so different as it started so much later. I love seeing and learning about this time period and structures like this!

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    • Thanks Robyn. Yes, American history is different – but I can claim to have got married in George Washington’s ancestral home in a village called Sulgrave, near here, so we do share a fair bit of history too. But British history stretches back a very long way, and I never used to be interested in the older stuff until I discovered how amazing and colourful the people and the castles are. Now I’m crazy about it, as you can no doubt tell! I’m so glad you’re enjoying learning a bit about this time period – it’s a pleasure sharing it with you.

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  3. I love that dry-cut moat! Superb-looking castle and great photos. Your photos are very artistic by the way – I like the poses you’ve made in the gateways etc. and how they’ve been photographed – really arty.

    I love your clothes too. Strangely enough, while I was trying to sleep off nightshift, I was remembering those mediaeval belts ladies used to wear and yours reminds me of one. I must have been overlooking you while you put your post together or something! 😉

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    • My goodness, you must be psychic! I had the belt made – it’s chainmail and deliberately medieval in style!

      Yes, the moat is pretty awesome – and together with the castle it really does pack a punch. Thanks for the lovely comments on the photos too. I have to admit, I didn’t know a couple of them were being taken!

      Nightshift? What is it you do now? Does shift work affect your energy levels – presumably not much if you’ve been away for 3 days of running! 🙂

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      • Nights are my natural way around which is why I’ve worked shifts for 35 years or so now – I could never cope with 9-5 and working 5 days a week and being up in a morning!

        When I say I was on the hills 3 days running, I actually meant in a row. The only running I did on my hill walks was downhill – I can’t run uphill or very far on the flat!

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      • My goodness, neither can I! Any running at all is laudable to my mind. I think you’re amazing in what you’re achieving and the adventures you take on. Just goes to show you can’t keep a good woman down. 🙂

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      • Ah, I see. Wow – that’s impressive too. You’ve got to be brainy to work in IT – it’s beyond me though!

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      • I’m not surprised – just the thought of IT frazzles mine. But I can sympathise, because my poor tired brain is being frazzled by Latin at the moment. Too much grammar! 🙂

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      • I agree, it’s been fascinating to see how many of our familiar words stem from Latin. As for learning it, it’s mind-numbingly difficult, frustrating and infuriating, and just when you think you’ve cracked the grammar they pile a load more on you. I was saying the other day that working with Latin is more a case of decoding it than translating. But I love it all the same. It’s beautiful, clever, concise and timeless – and where would we be without it? 🙂

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  4. I really enjoyed reading the history of this castle. It was interesting to learn that the Roundheads who damaged the castle and that, apart from that one attack, the place was the peaceful location of grand parties. Your detailed research is admirable. I can’t imagine where you found out all that information.

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    • Thanks for your lovely comments Suzanne, and I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Goodrich. I’ve been there many times as it’s such a magnificent place, and it’s amazing how you gather so much information over time – especially if it’s somewhere you love. It’s the links with the other characters in history that help to build up a picture of who fits in where. Goodrich was without doubt home to some big characters. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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    • Thank you so much for the lovely comments – it’s not hard to take great photos of though, if I’m honest, because it’s a stunning and atmospheric castle – all you really need to do is point and shoot – the castle does the rest… Thanks for reading. 🙂

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  5. Great piece Alli and cool pics :0) Interesting you mention the Norman family, the de Clares. My family name dates back to the Normans. In fact the village of Stoke Bliss in Worcestershire was named after our Norman family de Blez, recorded several times in the county from the 13th century.

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    • Thanks, Gareth, and I’m pleased you enjoyed it. I really wish I knew about our family history as far back as that – you’re so lucky to know your Norman roots! I’d dearly love to find out who my medieval ancestors were, and one day I hope I can. If Stoke Bliss was named after your family, I guess that must be around where they settled after the conquest. I wonder if they had a castle?! 🙂

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    • That’s great to hear – I’m really pleased you were keen to see the ground results! It’s something I do every now and then, so there’ll be another of this type of castle features one day. So glad you liked it, and thanks for reading. 🙂

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  6. Another super post Alli. I don’t know how you connect all these family names together. I’m pleased to see that you had some decent weather which makes a good trip even better still.
    I’m already looking forward to when you write about William Marshall who featured in one of my recent posts, but somebody I’m keen to learn more about. Thanks for sharing another one of your fascinating experiences

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    • Thanks Malc, and I’m really pleased you enjoyed this ground visit to Goodrich. It was, indeed, a beautiful day which is always good for pics! However, I have to say I find the place very atmospheric in not such good weather too. It’s that kind of place.

      William Marshal is truly one of the best characters of the Middle Ages. I’m hoping to cover him after a trip to Chepstow which was his main home. He’s a joy to read about, and a true hero and all-round good egg. And he had the kind of life that novels are made of. Thanks for reading, as always. 🙂

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  7. I know what you mean about photographing castles in not such good weather. I’ve deliberately gone out to capture just the sort of atmosphere you’re talking about. I can’t wait to find out more about William Marshall. Sounds like a real knight if chivalry.

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    • The first time I went to Goodrich it was a damp and darkish day in winter, with the odd bout of very fine drizzle. It sounds horrible but it was perfect. There was hardly anyone there so it was really quiet, and so eerily atmospheric you could almost see the medieval inhabitants. I fell in love with it straight away.

      ‘The Marshal’ was indeed a knight in the true sense of the word. In his eventful life he served 5 English kings, and ruled on behalf of Henry III because he was only 9 when King John died. Looking forward to sharing his story with you. 🙂

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    • Oh, thank you for such kind comments, Albert. The research isn’t a hardship to undertake if I’m honest. I love the stories so much and I find them so exciting and engaging that it doesn’t feel like work at all. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Goodrich Castle from both the air and the ground. Hopefully I’ll follow it up with another castle two-courser before long! Thanks for reading, as always. 🙂

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