I could leave it at that, but I won’t. Ludlow is a gem of a place, in Shropshire, close to the border with Wales, and described by our own Sir John Betjeman as “...probably the loveliest town in England”. Who am I to disagree with a Poet Laureate who was want to describe his own self as “...a poet and a hack”. Great man, great words.
But back to Ludlow. It's like stepping back in time, a place of hidden and not so hidden history. To be honest it’s everywhere. Crammed with Medieval and Tudor half-timbered architecture, but that’s only part of it. You see, in Ludlow they refuse to let chain stores move in and take over the centre, so here are the streets packed with small bespoke stores and eateries. A vibrant marketplace too, full of beautiful stalls – food, furniture, books and more - you really can go to town and shop.
Like we used to;
But for me it’s the castle.
I’m a sucker for castles and stories, and Ludlow Castle is a spectacular sight.
Its history begins in 1075, not long after the Norman Conquest. Then, Roger de Lacy begins the construction of the inner bailey. It was added to, chapels, walls, great towers and a gatehouse followed by a large outer bailey. Its size and grandeur, the history of the stone and dominant strength is still enough to take the breath away. It's huge. Naturally enough, such a strong position features in the history of the Welsh border wars, it being a major stronghold in the Welsh Marches, and is prominent later on in the history of the Wars of the Roses. Only in the 17th century does it begin to fall into decay, stone looted and pillaged for building. But still it remains an impressive sight, made all the better by accessibility to most parts of the castle's walls and towers.
You walk where once Kings and Queens did roam;
Knights did parry;
Feel the art of love and war.
It’s haunted too.
Oh yes, and by a lady whose story and character would fit right in with the Lannisters or Starks out of Game of Thrones. Marion de la Bruyere. A story of ghosts and folklore, the anarchy of Stephen, illicit love, betrayal, guilt. and the taking of castles.
Come 1139, Ludlow Castle had been held against Stephen by the Lady Sybil, widow of Pain fitzJohn who died in 1137. In an effort to secure Ludlow Castle to his cause, Stephen married Sybil to a man deemed loyal, one Josce de Dinan. However, perhaps convinced by his new bride, Josce de Dinan betrayed the trust of Stephen and fortified Ludlow against the King. Marion de la Bruyere was part of the retinue of Ludlow Castle. She is a lady in love with one Arnold de Lys, a knight who did side with supporters of the King. Despite her lover’s enmity with her Lord of the castle, Marion secreted her lover into the castle walls by hanging down a rope for him to climb. And so it was lovers continued to meet. All is well until Josce de Dinan is called away from the castle.
On that ill-fated night, Marion lowers her rope for a lover and unbeknownst to her, Arnold de Lys leaves it hanging down behind him. In darkness, Gilbert de Lacy and a hundred men breach the castle walls. So it was Ludlow Castle is taken.
Seeing her love betrayed, used for ill-gain, and racked by guilt at the loss of the castle, Marion takes up her lover’s sword and uses it upon him. She kills Arnold in her own bed as he sleeps. The ghastly deed of a lover's murder done, Marion climbs the high Pendover Tower and throws herself down onto sharp and ugly rocks below. She will not live with her deeds, but certainly dies with them.
Or does she?
They say in Ludlow, that Marion's ghostly figure might still be seen in the ruins at dusk. And on the anniversary of her suicide, you can still hear her scream as she plummets to her death. A great story. There are other ghosts in Ludlow, but Marion doesn’t half take some beating. So next time you’re there and near the castle, do look out for her.