I had it the wrong way round. I had a memory of Chepstow Castle being gigantic and lots of walls to climb. Perhaps it was huge for a small child, but visiting it again, it seemed less than what I recalled. On the other hand, Tintern Abbey, which I remember as lacking much turned out to have much more to offer especially the vast church with its arches and hollow window panes.
Two distinct places. The castle in the heart of a town, perched on a cliff and requiring the visitor to climb the hill to reach its gates. Tintern Abbey, which situated by the same river bank, is nestled in the valley surrounded by trees. Overhead a red kite swooped and soared, rising up into the blue sky, its forked red tail clearly visible.
A castle is about shutting its inhabitants behind gates, drawbridges and inner keeps. I saw the famous 900 year old gate, the oldest of its kind in Europe, and it was suitably large and in very good shape. Tintern’s doors had long gone, it felt open and embracing in its tranquillity.
As a child I preferred the excitement of the castle, stumbling over the rudimentary walkways. I could picture knights parading up and down its stony paths – which are now covered with smooth pathways. I made the place bigger, splendid. The abbey, I shrank, because I couldn’t appreciate the life of a monk being anything but unappealing and lonely. Returning as an adult, it’s all switched about. I don’t want the hustle of a busy castle with narrow arrow slits for windows, I want the glorious space and peaceful cloisters.
Sadly, neither of these places will ever be what they once were to those who lived behind their walls.