A walker encountering Manorbier Castle during a hike along the southern stretch of the Pembrokeshire National Park coastal footpath would probably stop in his tracks and wonder where he had seen the building before.
The answer might be on television, for this imposing picturesque fortress featured in the BBC adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia as Cair Paravel and The White Witch Castle. It was also used as the location for the 2003 film Capture the Castle.
Manorbier was built at the end of the 11th century on land granted to the Norman Knight Odo de Barri and, like many other castles at that time, started life as a wooden motte and bailey structure.
His son William began work on the stone fortification in the early part of the 12th century and the castle became the home of a famous Welsh scholar and ecclesiast, Gerald de Barri, or Gerald the Welshman also known as Geraldus Cambrensis, 4th son of William, who was born there in 1148.
Gerald, despite being the son of a military man, went in for the church and had a distinguished career both as a cleric and a chronicler of medieval events.
Related on his mother’s side to the legendary Welsh Princess Nest, Gerald’s ambition was to become Bishop of St Davids, but, although he reached the elevated position of Archdeacon of Brecon, King John steadfastly refused to award him the Bishopric of St Davids, and Gerald turned to writing. Among a series of topographical books, he wrote The Itinerary Through Wales - an account of his travels with Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury in 1188, the object of which was to recruit Welshmen for the Third Crusade. King John had given as his reason for not appointing Gerald to the See of St Davids that “it is neither necessary or expedient for king or archbishop that a man of great honesty or vigour should become Bishop of St Davids for fear that the Crown and Canterbury should suffer thereby. Such an appointment would only give strength to the Welsh and increase their pride.”
Gerald became royal clerk and chaplain to King Henry 11 so was not out of favour.
Manorbier castle is a rectangular enclosure castle with curtain walls and round and square towers. A great door and portcullis protected the tower gateway and it had only a dry moat under the entrance bridge because of its clifftop site. A postern gate provided access to the beach and boats. It was only ever attacked twice and those were minor skirmishes, so it has remained in good condition. It used to be said that a favourite excursion from Tenby was to the “three castles” - “Pembroke for strength, Carew for Beauty and Manorbier for comfort,” The castle with its gardens, dovecote and mill are open to the public and are well worth a visit.