‘The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.’
In the chapel garden of St George, Usk Castle.
Soggy walking today around Usk. Didn’t go as far as we intended because, after exploring the abandoned damp railway tunnels north of Usk, we discovered the castle was open to the public. Dripping with rain and with walls vivid green with moss, this is worth a visit in better weather as well.
I love ancient ruins, particularly those which haven’t been sanitised by a heritage brand and rely on trust and your own good sense to keep you out of trouble. Such a castle is a rare find these days.
Established in 1136 by Richard de Clare on the site of a timber fort, Usk Castle has passed through a number of famous owners (and many came to a sticky end including Anne Boleyn) but it has been in the hands of the same family since the 1930s who describe themselves now as ‘custodians’.
The hens live in the remains of the Town Goal, there’s a rather splendid gate to nowhere in the main lawn, carefully placed sculptures, topiary and stormy views over Usk from several vantage points. Sheep graze peacefully inside the keep, a summerhouse sits where the Guard Tower was and there are some grand fireplaces halfway up the walls, reminders of past feasts in brutal times.
Studying medieval history at Swansea means I’ve traipsed around a lot of Welsh castles but this quirky, eccentric and atmospheric small castle is one to come back to.