Image from Derrick Golland, YouTube video: It's a nice day to go exploring Ewyas Harold. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VDzqnQJJEI.
I decided to drive along the road where I thought the castle might be. If I found nothing, I would continue on through the Golden Valley, around the Black Mountains where my protagonist had roamed.
I took a curving single-lane road that rose above the village. My car brushed against the grasses as I edged around a hill on my left while keeping an eye out for the sheer drop on my right. The road—steep, narrow and twisted—had one blind curve after another. I drove slowly, fearful of meeting a car coming in the opposite direction.
As I approached one switchback curve, a large truck filled with sheep crept down the steep road a few curves in front of me. I stopped. The truck, as wide as the road, left no room to pass and there was nowhere to turn off. I imagined trying to back down all the way to the village, but then remembered seeing a dirt driveway. I let my car roll backward down the road, then backed it into the incline of an unpaved driveway cut into the hillside.
In a space about two car lengths deep, just wide enough for a car, I waited for the truck to pass. Surrounded on three sides by rock walls, this niche reminded me of a very small box canyon. I had no view of the road, except for the little swath in front of the driveway. I could hear the truck coming down the hill, roaring in low gear.
While waiting, I glanced into my rearview mirror. I saw a sign tacked to a stake. I blinked, unsure I had read the backwards sign correctly in my mirror, then turned and read the words printed in pencil on cardboard, the size of a packing box flap.
When History Takes You By The Hand
At the village Post Office, the man behind the counter smiled and we chatted about the area. I told him I was looking for the old castle. He shook his head and said nothing of it exists these days. The stones had been used to build the church behind him; and, besides, unless you are an archeologist you probably would not know what to look for, or what you are looking at.
I disagreed, but did not argue with this local man who may have had a reason for keeping the castle location hidden from random tourists or nosey novelists. We’ve seen how easily historical sites are destroyed over the years, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thanked him, and after making a brief stop at the church, I left Ewyas.
Just then the truck lurched loudly down the incline and passed me by. I pulled the car back on the paved road and turned it around. Then nosing forward, I reentered the driveway and followed the arrow on that little sign. Driving slowly up a deeply rutted road, I crested the hill.
All that remained was the motte, the large earthwork mound that had been built almost a thousand years ago. More importantly, this was the spot where a Norman garrison had built a castle years before William of Normandy had come to claim England’s throne.
I walked about the mound, felt a cool breeze, looked out where the defense ditches would be, where Dulas Creek was, found the footpath and stairs through the bushes, and realized what a dominating view this place had of the land around it. Sitting on the grass, I listened to the birds, looked at the budding trees and tried to absorb something of this place. It felt desolate, lonely, sad.
I thought about the simple sign. Handprinted in pencil, it was unrecognizable from the road, certainly not visible by anyone driving by and unnecessary for the locals inhabitants who knew where this site rested.
Despite the logical and possible rational explanations for this sign’s existence, I decided then and there, that this sign had been made for me—a guide to take me to the place I wanted to find, the essential starting place of my story—the birthplace of my male protagonist.
A. L. Kucherenko
Writer of Historical Fiction and Other Works