The castle and church built between 1070
and 1090 must have been the site of a
considerable community, for the castle was
the home of the Constable of the Forest of
Dean, a region stretching northwards and
eastwards toward the city of Gloucester.
Cut off from the rest of England by the tidal
Severn River to the east and the
treacherous Wye to the west, the Forest
was in many ways more isolated than most
other parts of the country. As a result, this
area produced a culture, language and way
of living peculiarly its own. Whereas people
in the Forest were employed in mining for
coal and iron, quarrying and forestry, St.
Briavels was almost entirely pastoral.
St. Briavel's (pronounced "Brevels") stands
on the edge of a limestone plateau above
the valley of the River Wye and overlooks
an ancient ox-bow of the river. It lies on
the B4228 Chepstow-Coleford road. The
village is sheltered behind the crumbling
walls of its 12th century castle which is
now a flourishing Youth Hostel.
Like so many settlements in these islands,
little is known for certain about the origin of
St. Briavels, or about the period between
the withdrawal of the Roman legions and
the coming of the Normans in 1066. It is
thought that it takes its name from a
much-traveled missionary, St. Brieve, who
must have journeyed far and wide, for the
name appears in places as far apart as
Gloucestershire, Wales, Cornwall and
In these intervening years Offa, King of
Mercia, built his famous dyke from the
mouth of the Wye near Chepstow to
Chester, and the remains of that dyke
could still be seen in Lindors Woods at the
beginning of this century. What is certain is
that William the Conqueror thought it an
ideal site for one of the many castles built
from Chepstow to Chester to check the
intrusion of the warlike Welsh tribesmen
into the more peaceful areas east of the
Severn and Wye rivers.
At Windward, the highest point in the
parish, the land rises to eight hundred feet
above sea level; the castle itself is
somewhat lower at six hundred feet and
nestles into the hillsides, with a
commanding view of the Wye Valley
between Tintern and Redbrook.
|Rear view of St. Briavels depicting the
symbolic hunting horn atop the spire.
|North Entrance to St.
Photo taken May 1999