HE is one of the most famous chroniclers of medieval Wales whose famous journey through the country more than 800 years ago is still remembered and his story told by Max Boyce.

Gerald of Wales, or Gerallt Gymro, is celebrated as key figure of the Middle Ages in Wales but the 12th century secular clerk, traveller, author and historian Cambro-Norman had an ambivalent attitude towards the country.

Born circa 1146 at Manorbier Castle, near Tenby in Pembrokeshire, Gerald, also known as Giraldus Cambrensis, amongst other names, is most famous for his journeys around Wales recording the places, people, and events that he saw along the way.

The son of a Norman knight, William de Barri, Gerald could also trace his lineage back to the Welsh nobility through his maternal grandmother, Nest, the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, who was the last king of Deheubarth in what is now Carmarthenshire. 

Charles Kightly, in his Mirror of Medieval Wales, Gerald of Wales and his Journey of 1188, described his many names as reflecting his long and multi-faceted career.

Laura Bailey from the University of Cambridge, writing for The National Trust, said Gerald was an “ambitious man with a prickly character.”

She wrote: "Gerald’s lineage, career, and travels imbued his writings with a unique perspective. His writings serve not only as historical records for the places, people, and events that he describes, but also as an insight into his personal motivations and ambitions.”

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Gerald has 17 surviving books, the most famous of which is Itinerarium Cambriae (The Journey Through Wales), which records that 1188 journey he made with Baldwin, the Archbishop of Canterbury to recruit some 3,000 men for the third crusade. 

His first-hand observations of the people and places he encountered provides an unparalleled insight into mediaeval Wales in the 12th century. 

An animated history of the journey, which began in New Radnor and saw Gerald and the Archbishop, embark on a clockwise journey around Wales, was produced to mark its 800th anniversary in 1988 and voiced by Max Boyce.

The tensions between the indigenous Welsh and the Anglo-Norman kings and lords resulted in massacres, kidnap and other events recorded by Gerald.

County Times: Gerald as depicted in a 1988 cartoon which was voiced by Max Boyce (Picture: Huw Evans Agency).Gerald as depicted in a 1988 cartoon which was voiced by Max Boyce (Picture: Huw Evans Agency).

Gerald himself called this book, "a clear mirror, reflecting the wild and trackless places we passed through.” 

In August last year the book was cited by former Nato commander Rear Admiral Chris Parry as the perfect guide on "how to deal with pre-modern, tribal societies" in a discussion on Britain and America's failed military mission in Afghanistan.

Although Gerald is often hailed as something of a Welsh hero, “his feeling of ambivalence towards the native Welsh can be seen throughout his career and writings,” says Bailey.

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“Gerald often criticised native Welsh customs and pushed for moral reform in his position as archdeacon of Brecon. 

“Yet Gerald’s attitude towards Wales was not completely hostile. He admired the freedom and boldness of the native Welsh and promoted the independence of the Welsh church from the authority of Canterbury.” 

Gerald failed in several attempts to become Bishop of St David’s which had ambitions to be independent from Canterbury. 

King Henry II of England, rejected Gerald, possibly because his Welsh blood made him seem like a troublesome prospect. 

County Times: 'Y Gerallt Gymro' north to south train. Photograph: Robert Mann MA Photography'Y Gerallt Gymro' north to south train. Photograph: Robert Mann MA Photography

Despite some of his more questionable attitudes towards Welsh customs, Gerald of Wales has a well established place in Welsh culture. 

Transport for Wales’ direct North-South service linking Cardiff Central and Holyhead is known as “Y Gerallt Gymro” or “The Gerald of Wales” service, a nod to Gerald’s reputation as a seasoned traveller.  

How to follow Gerald of Wales’ journey on your smartphone 

As part of a new HistoryPoints project supported by the Church in Wales, 37 QR codes have been placed in locations all over Wales which featured in Gerald’s itinerary. 

Anyone who scans the QR codes with a smartphone can discover what Gerald saw there in 1188, along with the place’s wider history. 

Each location has a page on the HistoryPoints.org website. Each has a link to the page for the next and previous places in the itinerary, making it easy to follow the route physically or virtually on home computers. 

Key locations on the tour include New Radnor, Abergavenny Castle, Llandaf Cathedral, Margam Abbey, Whitland Abbey site, St Davids Cathedral, Strata Florida, Nefyn, Porthaethwy, Rhuddlan, Basingwerk and the Ceiriog Valley. 

The tour is available not only in English and Welsh but also French, thanks to the work of volunteer translators. 


Dr Sarah Rowland Jones, Dean of St Davids Cathedral, said: “Gerallt Gymro, Geraldus Cambrensis, was buried in our cathedral and we are always pleased to welcome visitors who are interested to see his effigy next to that of his cousin, Yr Arglwydd Rhys (the Lord Rhys), in the cathedral south aisle. This QR-code trail will help visitors find him.” 

Rhodri Clark, editor of HistoryPoints.org, said: “Gerald’s itinerary reflects the places in Wales which were important in the late 12th century, long before the Tudor dynasty or the Industrial Revolution. No recruitment drive for the crusade could afford to miss out Caerleon, Usk, Llanbadarn Fawr or Nefyn, for example. 

“We hope that making this information available on the spot will bring Gerald’s fascinating observations to a new audience.” 

County Times: Using a QR code at St Davids Cathedral. Picture: Church in WalesUsing a QR code at St Davids Cathedral. Picture: Church in Wales

HistoryPoints began in January 2012, as an experiment in allowing residents and visitors to read the history of local places on smartphones or tablets.  

Since then it has created web pages and corresponding QR codes for over 2,000 locations around Wales. Subjects include buildings, bridges, memorials and sites connected with interesting people or events. 

Among the places on the tour are churches, cathedrals and castles which existed before King Edward I’s creation of castles and walled towns a century after Gerald’s tour. The abbeys Gerald visited were closed centuries later but their ruins survive, as does the abbey church at Margam. 

Bishop Wyn Evans, the Church in Wales’ archivist and former Bishop of St Davids, encouraged people to follow the tour. He said: “Such an enterprise reacting to one of the greatest of Welsh churchmen is greatly to be welcomed.” 

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