Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Battlefield of Pilleth

One of the things I used to enjoy when I was with my ex-husband was going out to look at ancient sites and churches in the area. It's quite difficult to do that when you're constrained by the bus routes and times. So I was delighted to get the chance to go out with a friend to walk the battlefield at Pilleth.
I've wanted to go to Pilleth ever since I discovered that it was the other famous longbow battle - the really famous one is Agincourt, of course. At Pilleth in 1402 Owain Glyndwr drew up his men at the top of the hill, and his longbowmen shot down into the ranks of Edmund Mortimer. The arrows of Mortimer's men fell short, because they were shooting uphill - and then Glyndwr's reserve forces attacked Mortimer's flank from their hiding place in a side valley.
Mortimer, who was captured during the battle, ended up marrying Glyndwr's daughter, because Henry IV wouldn't pay his ransom.
The battle field is not far from Presteigne and Knighton, and is well signposted with brown signs. We parked by the church (which was set on fire during the battle), and walked through the churchyard to a gate that led us out onto the hill.
It was very easy to visualise the battle. The English forces are thought to have spent the night at a village just a mile or two along the valley, at Whitton, and they would have been in full view from the hillside as they advanced. The side valley where Glyndwr's reserves hid is still wooded, and it's easy to imagine how Edmund Mortimer failed to notice them until it was too late.
In the centre of the hillside there is a small fenced off area of tall trees. These were planted over the remains of men killed in the battle when they were discovered in the Victorian era. One of the legends surrounding the battle is that the Welsh women mutilated the corpses of the English dead - though this could just be propaganda to make the Welsh seem more savage.
While we were up on the hillside, I looked down towards the River Lugg and noticed a bank running across a field. Then I realised that there was a tree covered mound behind it, and another, lower bank, running around the edge of the hillock that the earthworks were on. It's an absolutely classic example of a motte and bailey castle, which would have had a tower on the mound. The first bank I had seen was the fortification of the inner bailey, and the lower bank ran round the edge of the outer bailey. A little bit of Googling when I got home revealed that the castle is called Castel Foel Alt, and that it was in use from the 11thC to the 14thC (so disused by the time of the battle).
The church is also worth a visit. It was restored about ten years ago, with a new roof, and around the West side there is a holy well - the presence of the well would have determined the site of the church.

We had lunch in the Border Bean in Kington - very nice coffee and home made soup and chocolate cake. I was pleased to see there is a traditional clog maker in the high street. We went up to Kington Church to visit the tomb of Ellen Gethin and her husband The Black Vaughan, too - Kington Church is much bigger than Pilleth, but also quite dimly lit.
And on the way back to the car, we were able to make use of the public toilets in Kington!

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