Two Castles and Rather a lot of Books! ……. Newcastle Emlyn, Wales and Hay on Wye, Herefordshire, England


Woolly says – With our life plans starting to come together it’s been a very busy couple of weeks, as Jo has spent time boxing our things and frantically searching the world wide web for her ultimate business opportunity, I have tried to remain calm and collected as I’ve worked on the website and supervised operations in general. With yet another trek into Wales planned, I felt the need to point out to my carer that we actually need to see things of interest not just large numbers of campsites and caravans! This had prompted the response of ‘if you sort it then I’ll do it’ I took her at her word and set about planning.

Having set off early we hit the roads and had already cruised through Aberystwyth before midday and on along the coast, I rolled down my window and took in lungfulls of the fresh sea air.  Our nights destination was Newcastle Emlyn a town on the River Teifi, straddling the counties of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire in West Wales which was close to a campsite and also had a small castle, business came first as we sped through the small town and into the forested areas beyond it to a small site.

As Jo spoke to the owner I ambled down to the river and sat enjoying the sound of the water gushing over the rocks and watching the sunlight reflection on the river, before I had even got to contemplating what my next snack might be she arrived by my side, apparently this wasn’t for us and having followed her back to the car I had to agree that the site was in need of a huge overall to meet the needs of holiday rentals.

A lovely area but the caravan I had come to look at needed a lot of tlc as did its surroundings, it was a no, but for my small friend it would mean we could check out the castle which I knew he had been looking forward to.

Woolly says – Having checked into our room for the night and dumped everything down I led the way through the town to its highlights.  Strategically located on a steep-sided promontory overlooking the River Teifi records state that it was probably built by the Welsh lord Maredudd ap Rhys in about 1240. It changed hands many times over the years in battles between the Welsh and English, and during the English Civil War. Standing and looking at the ruin now I felt that it probably hadn’t been the biggest of places to start with.

The thickness of the walls were impressive and the view would have allowed the soldiers to see approaches from miles away, according to legend it was also the place where the last known dragon had been killed, I looked around nervously hoping that there were no fire eating monsters about before trotting down the step path towards the river.

We sat for a while watching the water and the wildlife pass us by and talking about our two forthcoming moves, one back to the digs we had been in previously and a more permanent one to our new little home in Welshpool a week later.

As both of tummies started to rumble, we set off to find food and settle in for the night.

Woolly says – With breakfast consumed we piled into the car and set course for the Brecon beacons, the roads were icy and the trees and passing land was covered in a coating of frost, visibility was zero as the car crawled along.  Sadly, one of the places I most wanted to visit wasn’t open to the public until later in the year, Jo had already promised that we would return and given the views or lack of them the whole of the Beacons would also have to be covered on a second trip.  As we cleared the fog and could finally see a paw in front of us, we glided into one of Jo’s favourite towns.

Hay-on-Wye is often abbreviated to just “Hay”, and is a small market town and community in the historic county of Brecknockshire (Breconshire) in Wales, Powys. With over twenty bookshops, it is often described as “the town of books”, and is both the National Book Town of Wales and the site of the annual Hay Festival. Unbeknown to yourselves dear readers, Jo has two addictions in life, books and chocolate buttons, having banned herself from going to Hay the chocolate button addiction has remained and increased probably to comfort her for the lack of book buying!

Over 20 years ago I would find myself in Hay on a monthly basis returning to Stourbridge my then home with a boot full of reading matter, having purchased more and more bookcases to hold my wonderous tomes the house had reached capacity so the book buying had to stop and the only way of achieving that was to place a self-inflicted ban on the buying of them.

Woolly says – With this in mind I knew I had to be vigilant at all times otherwise I might find myself walking back having been replaced by a pile of books!  I’d never been to the town before but my research had told me that there was a castle.  Hay Castle is a medieval fortification and 17th-century mansion house, originally constructed as part of the Norman invasion of Wales, the castle was designed as a ringwork overlooking the town in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. It was rebuilt in stone around 1200 by the de Braose family and then had a turbulent history, being attacked and burnt several times during the First and Second Barons’ Wars, the wars with the Welsh princes, the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr and the Wars of the Roses. In the 17th century a Jacobean mansion house was built alongside the medieval keep and the property became a private home. Serious fires in 1939 and 1977 gutted the castle and, despite repairs in the 1980s, by the 21st century much of the building was derelict and unstable. As we stood looking up at the tarpaulin it appeared that restoration work had finally started which meant we couldn’t look round and could only imagine how it was going to look on its completion. 

The town was bustling with a small market selling local produce we wandered past the cheeses and breads and stood looking at the 700 year old cheese market tucked in between the shops, it must have seen a lot of cheddar over the years.

A small road led us to the Clock Tower, built in 1881, at a cost of £600 it was tiny but fitted in well with its surroundings.

Everywhere we looked there were books and book shops, honesty bookcases lined the road where you could select you chooses and just leave the money.  As Jo led me into our third shop declaring that is was her second favourite one I left her to it and ambled through the shelving units finding myself astounded at the organisation as each and every book was in it’s own special section by subject, the temptation to move one from architecture and place in the philosophy section was huge.

My carer seemed to be doing well in the ‘not buying books’ league as we wandered along the main street, she paused outside some large shop windows and looked sad.

Although many of the book sellers are still there it appeared that a large number had gone including what had once been my favourite which was a place, I could happily lose myself in for hours at a time.

Woolly says – With the number of For Sale and To Let signs it did seem that the small town was struggling to survive in the current finical climate.  Our final stop was apparently her third favourite book store, The Hay Cinema Book shop was huge, as Jo disappeared I found myself trotting up and down book lined passages going deeper and deeper unground until I started to fear that I might never find my companion again, I plonked myself down in front of a section on British birds and wondered if anyone had ever been completely lost in there and if there might be any dead bodies to find from those that had read themselves to death! 

In the distance I heard my name being called and shouted out to alert her to my presence, Jo arrived with a beaming smile clutching a book to her chest, ‘Just the one Woolly’ she said, well one wasn’t to bad but it was probably a good idea to pay and get out before one turned to two and the need to purchase books returned.

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