Southgate, Swansea, SA3 2EP
Pennard Castle, a Grade 2 listed building, is a ruined Norman castle standing high on the cliffs overlooking Three Cliffs Bay and Pennard Burrows. The views from the castle are regarded as being some of, if not the best, on Gower.
The castle was first built in 1107 by Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick after he had been granted Lordship of Gower by Henry 1 and is believed to be one of at least 7 built by him on Gower. The initial castle was a timber ringwork – common following the Norman invasion and consisting of a defensive ditch, ramparts and a timber hall.
To the west of the castle the church of St Mary’s was built and around this developed an extensive settlement and rabbit burrows.
In 1203 the Lordship of Gower was granted to the de Braose family by King John and the castle was rebuilt by William de Braose in the late 13th early 14th century. However this rebuild was not built as substantially as it might have been. It consisted of a stone curtain of local limestone and red sandstone around the original timber building, a gatehouse and two towers, one being square and the other circular.
It is understood that this rebuild might have been to replace the timber Penmaen Castle.
However Edward II at the prompting of Hugh Despenser confiscated the castle in 1320 from William de Broase for granting the castle to his son-in-law John de Mowbray without royal permission. Hugh Despenser was appointed Royal warden but the castle was subsequently returned to the de Broase family.
In 1321 the castle was be-sanded and part of the castle collapsed in an extreme sand storm. There is an interesting folklore tale that this was caused by the Verry Volk.
Verry Volk are described in a book by American Evans Wenty – The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. They are fairies who dress in scarlet and green and dance in the moonlight and make music. They can be mischievous but are not malevolent and are believed to be of no threat to children. However it is considered that you can protect yourself by turning your coat inside out to make yourself invisible.
The story goes that a successful warrior was celebrating his marriage in the castle. One of the guards believed that he could hear music coming from the courtyard so he took a porter with him to investigate. Sure enough in the courtyard were some fairies with tiny harps. He reported to his inebriated master what he had discovered and as the warrior was unwilling to tolerate fairies in his castle tore into the courtyard wielding his sword despite being warned against this action by his guests.
The following was reportedly heard from the fairies:
“Since thou hast without reason broken in upon our innocent sport thou shalt be without castle or feast”
Immediately a sand storm erupted and tore down the walls of the castle. It is believed that a mountain of sand was blown from Ireland on that night.
Ownership then subsequently passed to the Despensers and then the Beauchamps.
By 1650 the castle was described as “desolate and ruinous and surrounded by sand”
St Mary’s chapel had already been abandoned by 1532 due to the encroachment of sand.
In 1741 the south wall almost collapsed and there are many sketchings, engravings and paintings of the castle, during this century.
In 1879 large cracks were discovered in the southern tower of the gatehouse which led to partial collapse.
In 1922 the overall condition of the castle gave rise to concern by the current owners Pennard Golf Club but because the cost to repair was so expensive, a compromise patching of the walls was undertaken in 1923/24 and this was funded by Pennard Golf Club, the Royal Institution and Cambrian Archaeological Association.
Most of the southern wall collapsed in 1960 and urgent repairs were carried out in 1963, paid for by Ministry of Public Buildings, the Gower Society, Pennard Golf Club and public appeals.
The ruins currently consist of:
In 1803 there was the first recording of the rare County flower of Glamorgan (a yellow alpine whitlow grass) being found extensively in Pennard Castle. Other specimens can be found on the upper cliffs between Pwll Du Head and Rhossili.
The walk from Parkmill is the most attractive with many examples of Backthorn (believed to be protected by Lunantisidhe – Irish fairies, which are not always found to be benevolent).
Wild Thyme can be found within the ruins themselves and these are believed to be a favourite of Verry Volk.
If you are lucky you might just see one!
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