Wiston Castle Picnic: Warpool Court Hotel’s Peter Trier Suggests Landmark
In ancient times, land often came to people by virtue of rebellion, conquest and battle. The castles of Pembrokeshire have seen many interesting times.
Wiston Castle (Castell Cas-wis in Welsh) located little more than a stone’s throw from Haverfordwest, has a fascinating history. Though the village of Wiston is quiet now, just after the Norman Conquest, it held great importance.
Set in a village of the same name, opposite St. Mary Magdalene Church, Wiston Castle makes a nice stop on a day out from Warpool Court Hotel.
“Bring a picnic for lunch,” suggests Warpool Court Hotel owner Peter Trier. “It’s quiet, which makes a welcome break from bustling tourist areas. And if you plan your activity for a Friday, you can stop at Haverfordwest Farmers Market on your way to buy what you need for your picnic.”
When you arrive, to get to the castle, you’ll pass through the kissing gate and up 75 steps. Wiston castle was constructed on the summit of a spot of raised earth within a protective ditch called a motte. On top of the mound was a large enclosed oval courtyard and the main fortification for all buildings, known as a bailey. An arched south entrance shows the draw-bar holes used to secure the main gate. The remains of a flight of stone steps mean the keep was probably originally at least two storeys high.
Wiston Castle is one of the best examples of a motte and bailey fortification in Wales. It reflects the Norman colonization of Wales and the castle’s position on the Landsker line - the shifting border between Norman and Welsh lands.
Until the late 11th century, part of southwest Wales was within the Welsh state of Deheubarth, with Rhys ap Tewdwr as the ruling king. In the year after a rebellion against Rhys’ rule, he died (1093). The area became unsettled and the result of upheaval found the lands dispersed among several men. At the same time, Normans executed incursions in much of south Wales. In 1102, kingship passed to Henry I (1100-1135), who aimed to keep control of Wales by eliciting immigration by Flemings. In 1108, it’s believed that after Flanders was hit by catastrophic flooding, significant Flemish resettlement of refugees occurred in what was Roose or Rhos, now known as Haverford and Dungleddy.
Dungleddy’s leader was a Fleming, reputed to be an entrepreneur, settler and, some say, pirate named Wizo or Gwys (in welsh). Wizo built the castle and brought Flemish people to live on the Welsh land. Flemings created a strong community by maintaining their language and racial identity.
After Wizo’s death, in 1130, the castle was captured and recaptured by the Welsh several times, changing hands several times until 1220. After being taken by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd, King Henry III (1216-72) ordered the Earl of Pembroke William Marshal to rebuild the castle, although it’s not clear this was completed.
While it’s known that Sir John Wogan came into possession of the castle in the early 1300s, it’s not clear how or what his ancestry was. When he relocated to Picton Castle at the end of the 12th century, Wiston Castle’s reconstruction was abandoned; the only fix appeared to be replacement of the original wooden tower with a typical Norman-style stone shell-keep. Archaeologists believe it’s possible that the site may have been an existing Iron Age settlement and that Wiston Castle was occupied through the 14th century.
In 1643, Royalists loyal to the monarchy used Wiston Castle as a small outpost and then abandoned it. It was acquired by the Cawdors in 1794.
Visiting Wiston Castle
Entry to Wiston Castle is free, although you’ll want to check out the times before you visit. Note there are no facilities or tourist amenities at the castle. (You’ll also walk through private farming land, so keep an eye out for cow pats!)
Who knew there are so many lovely little places to spend your day in Pembrokeshire? After a day of sightseeing, you can pop back to Warpool Court Hotel where you can enjoy afternoon tea in the lush Italianate gardens.