Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Green Lady stalks the ramparts..............

Caerphilly Castle
Throughout my early years Caerphilly Castle was a constant presence.  It dominated the eponymous town and doubled as an adventure playground for we local children.  This was before the days of paid entry and safety constraints so we enjoyed unfettered access to the towers, ramparts, curtain walls, dungeons etc.  It was built in the 13th century by Gilbert de Clare and is almost totally surrounded by a large moat, in which we used to fish (illegally, of course, as the cost of a licence was beyond our meagre pocket money).   The castle, which is the largest in Wales and second only to Windsor Castle in Europe, is home to a restless spirit - the Green Lady.  Read on if you dare.....................

Gilbert de Clare married the beautiful Princess Alice of Angouleme, who was, by contemporary accounts, a lady of refined tastes and with a passionate nature.  Alice, poor soul, became disenchanted with her husband, who seemed to spend most of his time away from home fighting. the rebellious Welsh (hooray!).  One day, Gruffudd the Fair, Prince of Brithdir, paid a visit to the castle and, surprise, surprise, soon Alice and he were lovers. Rather foolishly, Gruffudd confessed their secret to a monk who promptly informed the cuckolded husband. A less-than-happy Gilbert sent his wife back to France and ordered his men to find Gruffudd. Meanwhile, learning of the monk’s betrayal, Gruffudd caught him and hanged him from a tree at a site known ever since as “Monk’s Vale” (Ystrad Mynach in Welsh, about 3 miles outside of Caerphilly.  The hanging was probably the last time anything exciting happened in Ystrad - it really is a dump). No sooner had he done so than Gilbert’s men caught up with Gruffudd and he, too, was soon dangling at the end of a noose. 

Green Lady mural in Caerphilly
Gilbert just had to let his wife know of his revenge and he promptly sent a messenger to France to tell Alice of her lover’s execution. Such was the shock of the news that, in the best romantic tradition, she dropped dead on the spot of a broken heart.  Ever since then her ghost has haunted the ramparts of Caerphilly Castle. Resplendent in a richly woven dress, coloured green for Gilbert’s envy, she waits in silent solitude, desperate to be reunited with her princely lover, whose flattering attentions fate has long denied her. 

Of course, knowing that there might be a ghost lurking in the dark recesses of the castle added a frisson of excitement to our play.  It also added another dimension to the scout camps we had in the centre of the castle.  Cubs and scouts would camp together and it was a rite of passage that the tale of the Green Lady would be told, with much gory embellishment, around the campfire at night.  It was also a rite of passage that, at some stage in the proceedings, someone would gasp and point at the ramparts where a ghostly figure could be seen.  It's amazing what a green blanket and a torch, combined with the right atmosphere, can do.  Oh, how we older scouts laughed when the novice cubs screamed - but it was nothing that had not been done to us when we were at that stage.  I wonder if the tradition continues?

And did I ever see the Green Lady?  I think the honest answer to this is "I don't know".  One night, after all the cubs had calmed down and gone to sleep, four of us were sitting out and talking about nothing in particular.  I distinctly remember that, as one, we turned towards the rampart that extended into the moat and saw something.  It was translucent green and hovered above the stones for a few minutes before it gradually faded away to nothing.  I've no idea what it was (no lights of any kind on a dark starless night, no beer, no wacky baccy) and neither did my friends.  All I know is that I saw something that I can't explain.  Oooo, spooky!

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