Final Stop: Flint
The day was getting late and Flint castle was our final stop, the last castle we ever saw in Great Britain, last… and possibly the least. It wasn’t much to look at compared to what we had seen, and the gate was closed so we weren’t even able to enter. Little did I realize just how significant this castle really was.
Flint was the first Edwardian castle built and the starting point of England’s invasion and colonization of Wales. The site was chosen for its strategic position: only one day’s march from Chester, supplies could be brought along the River Dee, and there was a ford across to England that could be used at low tide. 1800 labourers and masons began work in 1277 and finished in 1286, but not before Welsh forces besieged the castle in an attempt to uproot the English from their land. Even with the defences unfinished, the English managed to repel the attack and continue building Flint castle. In 1294 Flint was again attacked by the Welsh during the Madog ap Llywelyn rebellion. In a desperate attempt the constable of Flint set fire to his own castle to prevent its capture by the Welsh, “I’d rather be dead than see this castle in the hands of the Welsh!” He shrieked over the sound of burning timber, “Never trust a Welsh!” (Of course we all know that the Welsh are an excellent people, salt of the earth, truly). With the conclusion to the Welsh Wars, English settlers were given property titles in the new town that was laid out in front of the castle to promote English colonization. When the English Civil War came around, Royalists garrisoned in Flint castle and held it until 1647. Parliamentarian forces besieged the fortress for three months until the Royalists gave up and surrendered. Oliver Cromwell’s order to destroy every castle, preventing its reuse in conflict, was carried out at Flint, leaving the site of decay we find today.
Before Flint castle was slighted it was quite an impressive structure with a design unique to the British Isles. The castle was based on medieval French models where one of the corner towers is enlarged and isolated, serving as both a guard tower and a keep. Though small, Flint castle was built strong and sturdy with seven metre thick walls at the base and five metres at the top. Access was gained by crossing a drawbridge into a central entrance chamber on the first floor. A vaulted passageway would have run from the inner ward straight to the keep outside. Though it may not look like much now, Flint castle held out against many sieges in its lifetime and gave it all she had, one must respect that.
Not far from the castle, on the top of Flint Mountain, is a magic pool called Pwll-y-Wrach, or, “The Witches’ Pool”. It is said that the ellyllon, supernatural beings, congregate at Pwll-y-Wrach after dark. These Welsh spirits are not to be trifled with, as this tale will show, and the Witches’ Pool is a place where humans would do well to stay clear of. On a cold winter’s morning in 1852, a labourer by the name of Thomas Roberts was setting out to work. After walking a while, Thomas passed nearby the ellyllon’s pool and was suddenly confronted by a small boy in his path. Roberts tried to get the boy, who was completely blocking the trail, to move aside, but the youth paid no attention to his questions. Getting frustrated, Roberts attempted to push the lad out of his way but the youth, with incredible strength, tossed Thomas across the field to land next to the Witches’ Pool. An invisible force pressed down on Thomas’ head and no matter how hard he struggled he could not move. Upon hearing a rooster crow the magical force suddenly released Thomas and he quickly jumped to his feet. The strange boy before him looked at Roberts impassively and then proclaimed a prophecy, “When the cuckoo sings its first note at Flint Mountain, I shall come again to fetch you.” Thomas Roberts died the following May, 1853. He had been carrying out some building repairs at the village of Penyglyn on the mountain when a wall fell and crushed him. A young woman, who had witnessed the accident, said that it happened just as she noted a cuckoo come to rest on a nearby tree. She added that when the body was being carried away to Roberts’s home, the cuckoo had followed, singing all the way to his front door. What’s interesting about this story is that within historical records there truly was a Thomas Roberts who died in 1853, crushed by a wall. Whether it was poor building or an evil goblin behind the cause of Thomas’ death can simply be left up to the imagination.
Before the invention of gunpowder, which marked a new era of war, there was no military power greater than a castle. With a castle, a few men could defend themselves against an army of thousands, and one man could claim lordship over a country. Those who owned the castle held the power, and wars upon wars were fought to gain that ownership, conflicts that cost the lives of so many in the name of their Kings. But, despite their terrible past, these ruins left behind from a darker age provide us with a glimpse into a different world. Today they provide evidence of a turbulent history, astound us with their feats of engineering and beauty of design, and stir our imaginations into tales of heroes, princesses, and ghosts. Our journey through the British Isles gave us the chance to explore these epic strongholds, something that cannot be found in our country, and we pushed ourselves to see as many as we could find in the areas we were staying; England, Scotland, Ireland, and finally Wales. After 16 castles I have to say that I’ve had enough for now, though I do not regret it. My only hope is that after reading this you will be inspired to visit them yourselves, and experience the awe as you stand in front of some of the greatest British castles.