I had the fortune to be browsing a couple of books that time and ability prevent me yet from restoring, including a completely battered and ruined copy of The Book of South Wales, a tourist guide printed in the 1840s, and, if its condition is anything to go by, a companion on a vast sum of Welsh holidays. It was on one of my own holidays in that perfect country that I came across the book, tucked behind a number of others in a shop crammed to the rafters with old volumes. Missing the entire binding, pages grubby, with some missing and others detached, even the few pounds I paid for it may have been more than it was worth – but the content of it is indeed priceless.
I thought, kind reader, that I would be merry enough hereabouts to share a wonderful passage, which just happens to describe one of my favourites of those famous Welsh fortresses.
An Adventure at Kidwelly
Had in about the year 1845
Now to the Castle! The person to whom the key is entrusted lived out of the town, and although sent for, did not make his appearance. It was the grey of the evening. As we walked below the walls, and lamented the injuries sustained by the great gateway – now blocked up – Dr Johnson’s observation to Boswell came into our mind, that “one of the Castles in Wales would contain all that he had seen in Scotland.” The situation of the fortress was admirably chosen, the Gwendraeth forming a sort of natural moat round two sides. We gazed upwards to the graceful ruin of the Early English Chapel, which breaks the line of defence to the east; we admired the union of elegance with massiveness – walls which seem to bid defiance to time, pierced with light trefoil-headed windows.
Then, the towers. There are four round towers, each the size of a donjon, besides the enormous towers which flank the chief entrance. A half moon cast an exquisite light over the stately ruin, as we stood at the northern end, where a modern gate, 25 feet high, has been placed to shut out intrud-ers. This obstacle excited our ar-dour. We scaled it, and entered the court yard, the extent of which was not visible through the gloom. Bats whizzed about, and two white owls, disturbed by our presence, flapped across us, sailing up and down in the moonshine over the ramparts, and whooping mournfully. We went stealthily onward through this court into another, from which it is divided by a tower and walls of great strength. The hour – the death-like stillness – the solitude – the darksomeness and depth – the fear of falling into some yawning dungeon (we narrowly escaped one) were indescribably thrilling.
We started. Two large white objects moved from us, in the dim and spectral light… bah! They are only horses. What a moment for a superstitious man! Another court; divided, too, by towers and walls more ponderous than those we had left behind. So the garrison had three strings to their bow – a succession of defences of immense strength. And, now regardless of danger, as if under the impulse of a spell, we found our way up broken staircases and winding passages – explored the interior of the great gateway towers, lighted with loop-holes, through which the moon cast rays that far surpassed the best effects of Cattermole. As hour passed we knew not how.
The increased elevation of the moon gave distinctness to the outlines, which looked under that light gigantic beyond anything we had ever recollected in military architecture. – We once more scaled the gates, sauntered long on the pleasaunce on the northern side – once the resort of courtly dames and highborn cavaliers – and departed with the conviction that justice has not yet been done by pen or pencil to Kidwelly.