Since time immemorial, the jut of land that sticks out westward from the English counties has been separated by a curious cultural difference and defiant national pride. Long before Edward I first swept through here on his conquest of the Isles, factions, tribes and foreign powers have waged wars amidst its hills, building fortifications that would last millennia and grow to dwarf great castles elsewhere in Europe.
From the dominating rising towers of Conwy, to the regal mansions of Cardiff Castle and Picton, there’s plenty to see here for the budding castle-hunter, with drama and sheer beauty all but guaranteed along the way! Cymru am byth!
Surrounded by the pubs, clubs, shops and streets of modern Cardiff, the city’s great castle dominates the centre of town. Its massive walls spread out eastwards from the River Taff, encircling the great Norman keep of the 11th century; the site of the first stone fortification in Cardiff as a whole. Today, subsequent extensions are noticeable in the bulwarks all around, from the regal Victorian manor house, to the sprawling residential complexes on the West Gate. Tours depart daily around the castle, while events like the Cardiff Cheese Festival regularly draw a lively local crowd.
Majestic Carew Castle is one of the gems of southern Pembrokeshire. It’s perched out on the dramatic cliffs of the Carew inlet, where it’s thought military fortifications have existed in at least some form since the first century. Inside, visitors can explore the original Old Tower of the Norman period, along with a number of subsequent Medieval and Tudor additions. Don’t leave without visiting the on-site tidal mill; it’s the only intact one remaining in the country, and a fantastic introduction to the tidal forces that are so dominant on Wales’ south coast.
For nearly seven centuries the fortified stone walls of Ioan ap Gruffudd’s manor house have overlooked the hilly backcountry of Llandegai, North Wales. Today known as Penrhyn Castle, the current complex comprises of a number of residential blocks, crowned by the formidable keep and buried in a web of cultivated gardens. Interested visitors should be sure to check out the on-site art gallery, where one of Wales’ richest collections of works is on permanent display.
By anyone’s standards Conwy Castle remains one of Wales’ best-preserved medieval defence systems. But not only is it startlingly pristine for its 1000-year-age, hailed by UNESCO as one of the 14th century’s best-preserved relics, it’s also dauntingly huge. Eight great towers lurch their way overhead as visitors pass below its outer walls, while inside, the thick bulwarks of the heavily-fortified inner ward highlight just how hard this nut would have been to crack. Conwy is also one of the most historically loaded of Welsh castles, and has passed through the hands of English kings and Welsh rebels alike over the years.
Today, visitors to the elegant Picton Castle of Haverfordwest could be forgiven for not being able to imagine the great military dramas that once took place here, particularly as they wander through the regal walled gardens of its sprawling grounds. But don’t let the place’s modern appearance fool you, this compact little manor fortress was a kingpin of power since its completion in the 13th century, playing host to invading French troops in support of Wales’ heroic rebel leader, Owain Glyndwr, and parliamentary partisans during the war of the 1640s.