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Manorbier, Pernhrokeshire. Some 6 miles from Tenby, as the road goes, where the limestone crags change abruptly to Old Red Sandstone, stands the shell of Manorbier Castle, still overlooking the village that from old time gathered under it for shelter. When Henry I of England was encouraging a forward policy into Wales that was doomed to lack of success, the Lord de Barn, of the place now called Barry, found a small and convenient bay upon which to set his strong-point. The present structure is the work of one of his descendants, John de Barn, who initiated it in 1275: fifty years later the work was finally done. The speed with which such great constructions as Caernarfon Castle could be carried through throws light on the disturbed conditions that held back the completion of Manorbier. But these were political rather than military: the Castle never had to withstand siege, and, in its outer face, it remains as at first. The inner ward, an imposing example of the firmly balanced architecture of the time, is surrounded by the curtain wall with the twin towers of its gatehouse contemplating the fall of land without any afterthought from the 13th or 14th century. The chapel and the great hall and its solar wings have been domestically rearranged since then.

But this grave and, as it turned out, largely beneficent structure, is notable because of a man who never saw it as it appears now. He was born in the earlier Castle about 1146, and sprang from the family that possessed it. He was Gerald de Barn, who treated his half-Norman descent as nothing in comparison with the soil of his birth. He called himself Giraldus Cambrensis; for he used, as educated men throughout Europe did in his day, the international language of Latin, representing the broad base of European culture of which British, French, or English “race” meant nothing other than a local variation. Gerald the Welshman was one of the most brilliant minds of the Middle Ages, as he wrote in Latin and read extensively in it, he could draw upon the experience and sophistication, as well as legal logic, possessed by the great classical scholars, and his work reads with a modern tone rare among his contemporaries. An active Churchman, he was Archdeacon of Brecon Priory; an intelligent clerk, he was used to advise on the state of affairs in Ireland; an excellent speaker, he went with Archbishop Baldwin on the recruiting campaign for the Third Crusade that resulted in his most famous work, the Itinerary of Wales.

Apart from his international work, he was passionately devoted to the cause of an independent Church in Wales, its head at St David's and its outlook toned to the Christianity David the saint had represented (that “Celtic Christianity” which, as so many of its foundations show, built upon the honour of the works of nature sun, star, bird, and beast) that pagan peoples in their simplicity accepted. His ambition to become the Archbishop of that independent Welsh Church was never fulfilled. His attempt, through his writings, to maintain the distinctive culture of Wales in verse and song, and the national pride he both praised for its virtue and blamed for its excesses, as part of a common fabric between Welsh and English and Norman, was not immediately successful. But a man who could think of his “little place” at Landeu as he did, who could see with so eager an appreciation the work of the beavers in the streams, the stately stride of deer upon the hills, and the waving beauty of corn and woodland, is assured of his position among great writers. It is of Manorbier that he writes in a way that shapes the whole man for us: “It is excellently well defended by turrets and bulwarks and is situated on the summit of a hill extending on the western side towards the sea-port, having on the northern and southern sides a fine fish-pond under its walls, as conspicuous for its grand appearance as for the depth of its waters; and a beautiful orchard on the same side inclosed on the one part by a vineyard and on the other by a wood remarkable for the jutting-forth of its rocks and the height of its hazels. On the right of the promontory between the Castle and the Church near a very large lake and mill, a rivulet of never-failing water flows through a valley, sanded over by the strength of the winds. This country is well supplied with corn, fish from the sea and wines brought in from abroad. What is preferable above all is its nearness to Ireland. It is mild with healthy air Demetia (as the Romans called Pembrokeshire or Dyfed) with its seven cantered-divisions, is the most beautiful as well as the most powerful part of Wales; Pen Broch the finest part of the province of Demetia; and the place I have described the most delightful part of Penbroch. It is evident, therefore,” he adds with a slight touch of amusement at himself, “that Manor Pirr [Manorbier] is the pleasantest spot in Wales.” He rounds off the passage with an apology for speaking so warmly of the place where he was born.

The church he writes of, on the other side of the valley, seems to be still in some part the church he knew as already ancient. But the nave and tower were refashioned in his time, the transepts a century later. Additions and elaborations have been made since then. Remoter origins for Manorbier are found at the edge of the bay ½ mile from the Castle, in a dolmen with a capstone 15 ft long and 9 ft broad, called locally the King's Quoit. The mound that once covered it has vanished.

Nearby towns: Narberth, Pembroke, Tenby

Nearby villages: Amroth, Begelly, Bosherston, Burton, Carew, Cosheston, East Williamston, Freshwater East, Gumfreston, Hodgeston, Jeffreyston, Kilgetty, Lamphey, Langwm, Lawrenny, Llangwm, Llanstadwell, Lydstep, New Hedges, Neyland, Paterchurch, Pembroke Dock, Penally, Redberth, Reynalton, Rosemarket, Saint Florence, Saint Twynnells, Saundersfoot, Stackpole, Stepaside, Wisemans Bridge, Yerbeston

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