Cardiff Capital of the Land of Castles
11 March, 2016
It is a little known fact that Wales has the largest number of castles of any country in Europe. Indeed, the landscape of this small country situated west of England has been peppered with countless fortresses throughout its history, from the Iron Age to Roman times and, subsequently, the majestic castles of the Welsh princes and English monarchs.
In all, over 600 castles are still standing in Wales, so you are very likely to come across some of them when you travel there. There are castles of all types to be seen, so we have curated a selection of those that impressed us most during our trip there.
Conwy Castle and the walls of the town of Conwy are among the best preserved examples of medieval architecture in the United Kingdom, which accounts for it being a World Heritage Site. However, it is hard to believe that it took only four years to build – from 1283 to 1287. It is quite an experience to climb up the towers and wander through the various quarters. Our guide challenged us to go up the main tower and, after viewing the splendid surroundings from there, hazard a guess as to how the Welsh could have seized the castle from the English in the 15th century. Would you be up to the challenge?
Built between 1282 and 1295, the best way to approach a tour of this castle is to start in the new visitor centre inside the site. The great gatehouse entrance to Denbigh Castle is really impressive as it is triple-towered, the standout feature of this castle, although it is not as well preserved as other Welsh strongholds. Even so, it is a unique defence work which managed to withstand the assault of the parliamentary troops, who set out to raze it to the ground during the English Civil War in 1660. One of the most exciting moments was when we slipped through the postern gate – a mysterious back entrance through which the castle’s dwellers could get in and out without being seen. The fortress was clearly designed with a marked aesthetic sense – the towers follow a pattern in which circular-based towers alternate with square-based ones.
Raglan Castle was one of the last medieval castles to be built in England and Wales. Even today it is a stunning sight – bear in mind that it was designed to be comfortable and luxurious, more in line with Renaissance tastes. It was exhilarating to climb up the Great Tower, set on an island surrounded by a moat. We also explored the newly restored underground crypt. We were told that some of Europe’s finest wines were stored there and brought out to impress guests at the head table. The castle still enjoys a well-earned reputation and is the ideal backdrop for staging events relating to theatre, poetry, song and dance.
Kidwelly is the prototype of the castles shown in medieval films. It is set on a steep slope and ringed by numerous towers, high walls and a huge entrance gatehouse which took no less than a century to complete. Kidwelly is the oldest example of a Norman defence work made of wood and earth. What remains of its ground plan is semi-circular. A rewarding experience is to walk on the remains of the wall. Granted, the gate is the most prominent feature of the castle, but the chapel on the opposite side is also well worth visiting and it affords spectacular views over the river. The interior houses an exhibition hall – the Sculpture Cymru is on display there until September.
This enormous construction is the largest castle in Wales. Preserved virtually intact, it would make the perfect backdrop for a film of knights and princesses. As expected, it is surrounded by a number of moats set in concentric circles, some with islets included. Be sure to go up to the terrace on top of the entrance tower. From there you can see the defensive rings of stone and water which rendered Caerphilly an impregnable fortress. This elaborate castle also has a secret passageway, known as the Broase Gallery. From here you can spy the south-east tower, reminiscent of the tower of Pisa for obvious reasons. Also on display are some powerful siege engines.
Come on then – get going and check out our flights here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
11 March, 2016