On a recent field trip with my Medieval Britain second-year (level 5) students, I revisited a pairing of proximal yet very different 13th-century castles: Ewloe and Flint. We discussed their contrasting scales, architectures, designs, and locations, considering their landscape settings, builds, and internal organisation. Presenting these again, even though considered in previous posts, helps to highlight their different stories from the past, and the contrasting narratives deployed to explain them in the present.
It also flags up yet another student trip where we get them out of the class room to explore medieval heritage.
First, we visited one of the castles of the Welsh princes: Ewloe. I’ve only posted about Ewloe Castle once before. On this visit, I reflected with students on how this castle has an official Cadw branding but also some patriotic local adornments: heraldic shields on gate posts. This is thus a rare example of a Welsh prince’s castle, supposedly articulating a ‘Welshness’ in its modest size and muted history and its ‘typical’ Welsh features – a D-shaped donjon and round tower, as well as massive rock-cut ditch.
In heritage terms, approaching the castle from the north is far easier than on my previous visits: the footpath is now separated from the field and with considerably improved access from the lay-by on the B5125.
We also critiqued the content and positioning of the single heritage board: how its single image helps to articulate its possible former appearance, it yields few details of the architecture or even the prominent well. The heritage board also is positioned at the ‘approach’ to the castle from Wepre Park downhill, but in a situation where one cannot see most of the things it depicts.
Regarding the castle itself, the students and I explored its distinctive landscape setting at the confluence of two streams which might have once enjoying vistas over hunting grounds but also out over the Dee estuary.
We also addressed is principal features as a fortified residence – including the round tower, D-shaped donjon, and their enclosure within a substantial rock-cut ditch – and a glacis to protect the inside edge of the ditch and create a smooth surface to prevent easy scaling.
I reiterated the temptation of regarding Welsh castles as simpler and more ‘backward’ versions of English castles: I suggested it is simply an unfair direct comparison. The suggestion that the castle was ‘typical’ of the Welsh fortifications of the period is partly true, but misleading, given how they possess contrasting characteristics of plan and detail.
Next we drove c. 6 miles to the coast, to see a very different 13th-century castle. Previously I’ve posted about other key features – permanent and temporary – in the heritage interpretation of Flint Castle:
Visiting Flint Castle with the students, we explored the Dee estuary and town borough context of the castle, and its architecture. We addressed the maritime nature of the castle, with an estuary-fed moat allowing resupply by sea and a sturdy defence. Furthermore, we discussed conservation issues as well as the past significance of the castle as a symbol and tool of conquest. The narrative here is one of English military conquest and colonisation and a long-lasting stronghold that features prominently in the story of the abdication of Richard II.
At a free-to-enter site without a custodian, we recognised the robusticity and distinctive contribution of the audio-stations inside two of the towers and integrated into one the benches.
Most notably, we realised how different the castle experience is, and how different the landscape is appreciated both inland and out over the estuary, thanks to the ability to scale the heights of one tower.