Gatehouse Exterior, Harlech Castle

Gatehouse Exterior, Harlech Castle

Harlech Castle

Harlech Castle perches on a two hundred feet rock above the town of Harlech.The castle is a World Heritage inscribed site, founded by King Edward I in 1283, during his second campaign in North Wales, as one of an iron ring of fortresses to subdue the Welsh.

Designed by Edward's master architect, Master James of St. George, Harlech Castle cost £8,100 to build. Construction began in the spring of 1283 and was largely complete by 1289, at its height it occupied some 950 workmen. Situated high on a rocky outcrop, defended by sheer cliffs on one side, with a deep moat on the other sides, the castle is built in a concentric plan, with one line of defences enclosing another. All the exterior surfaces were originally rendered and whitened.

Lying between two concentric walls of defence, the outer ward by the massive inner ramparts, rendering it virtually imposible for an attacker to gain the inner stronghold from it. A stairway from the outer ward descends to the base of the rock on which the castle is situated, originally it provided access for shipping and sea-borne supplies.

The rectangular inner bailey at Harlech has a round tower at each corner and a gatehouse situated on the east wall. The gatehouse was the main point of entry to the castle, the present wooden stairs replace a stone bridge between two towers in the moat with a drawbridge at either end. The foundations of these towers may still be seen today. The great inner gatehouse was defended by arrow loops, two large barred gates and three portcullises. Above the gate passage were two self contained suites of accommodation. each with its own chapel. The governor of the castle occupied the first floor apartments.

The inner ward of the castle was the central stronghold, containing the great hall, the most important public building at Harlech Castle, where guests would be received, meals taken and public business conducted. Service buildings and a chapel stood against the other sides of the ward, while the corner towers provided further accommodation. The average garrison at Harlech consisted of only around 30 men.

The castle has been attacked many times and was taken by the Welsh leader Owain Glyndwr in 1404, who held a parliament there. For a time it served as his capital before being retaken by the English in 1408. During the Civil War (1642-48), Harlech gained the distinction of becoming the last of the Royalist strongholds, the surrender of the castle to the besieging Parliamentry forces in March, 1647 marked the end of the War.


Harlech Castle is located in the seaside town of Harlech in Gwynedd on the north west coast of Wales. The castle’s exterior is still mainly intact, however the interior buildings are no longer intact. Over the years the castle was involved during the 15th century War of the Roses and the 17th century English Civil War after which the castle was no longer necessary to the security of north Wales, it was ordered to be demolished but this was never fully carried out. During the 20th century there has been an effort to restore and preserve the castle, recognising the great historical significance of the castle and more recently in order to preserve and maintain the World Heritage Site status. In the 18th and 19th centuries the castle attracted artists enticed by the scenic ruins.

Outside the castle the Exterior with its elevated position makes it an intimidating prospect for any would be attacker, the located means the castle offers wonderful views across land and sea. The battlements and gatehouse ensure attacks from the sea and on land would face formidable opposition. There is a 200 foot stairway going from the castle all the way to the cliff base ensuring supplies could be delivered during battles and the castle would not be isolated due to its located next to the sea.

Inside the castle the Interior includes the towers and the inner walls that still stand to close to their full height. The tall battlements offer some breathtaking views over the sea, local area and further out to Snowdonia. In the inner ward there would have been a chapel, kitchen, granary, bakehouse and the Great Hall likely to have been the more ornately furnished and decorated room in the castle.

Since back in 1986, the castle has been part of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd, UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle is regarded as an outstanding reference point for medieval architecture and history and seen as a masterpiece of design with beautiful proportions. The imposing castle with its scenic located conveys a wonderful sense of history and heritage, one that visitors can explore to learn more about the charm and character of the castle.

2 Answers 2

Any gate is, by definition, an opening in the stone curtain wall that is the main defense of the castle. A pulled up wooden drawbridge is much less secure than the stone wall:

it's flammable, even if oak and

it's vastly weaker from the standpoint of both material (wood vs rubble/fill-backed stone) and thickness: a few inches vs several feet.

Hence even in the presence of a drawbridge, not having a portcullis or equivalent is a gross defensive weakness. It's hard to imagine any designer/constructor getting away with such an egregious oversight.

That being said, the practice of pulling up the planks on a permanent bridge was a common defensive maneuver and the work of only an hour or two (even on a lengthy river bridge, never mind a moat bridge of only a dozen or so feet) for a team of properly equipped men. The armies of both Napoleon and Charles both engaged in this repeatedly in the 1809 Bavarian Campaign, most notably at Landshut, Kelheim, and Neustadt (where the planks were hidden in the forest so the local population could not immediately restore them) 1 .

Hence while a drawbridge on a castle gate is optional, the portcullis (or equivalent) never is. Security of the castle requires a substantial fireproof closure on each gate house entrance. The design of actual gate houses, with double or triple portcullis separating multiple foyers topped by murder holes (meurtrières) makes clear that considerable investment was made to make a gatehouse the most, not least, secure point on the castle's exterior.

Further, the counter-weight, chains, pulleys, ropes, and winch of a drawbridge are expensive both to construct and maintain (viz chains rust, ropes rot, etc.), as well as requiring considerable space within a very specific location: the castle gate house. Whether the cost in capital, expense, and space was worthwhile would depend critically on the specific tactical purpose of the castle when under siege:

Allowing quick and furtive entry/exit of a small party, likely under cover of darkness, might better be served by a postern gate (aka sally port).

If the castle purpose under siege is primarily to exist, then the existence of an expensive drawbridge to facilitate sudden mass sorties by the garrison would seem unnecessary.

Only when the castle purpose was the basing of a substantial force that would sortie while under siege would a drawbridge seem worthwhile.

In conclusion, let's study the specific tactical feature of a drawbridge: facilitating a sudden (drawbridge can be lowered quickly) mass sortie (main gate accommodates much more traffic than a narrow postern gate) to be prepared unseen (portcullis covered by raised drawbridge is hidden) by the besiegers - in a strategic circumstance (a large garrison surplus to the purely defensive needs of the fortress) where such a sortie is wise and a tactical circumstance (the surplus garrison sortieing is small enough to do so across the drawbridge yet large enough to be an effective sortie) where it's practicable.

Recall that a castle is secure against starvation, thirst, and time, the most effective weapons of a besieging force, only to the extent that food and water can support the garrison, Thus most castles were designed to hold out with a minimal garrison, often just a few dozen defenders, against a much larger force numbering in hundreds or thousands, for months. Sortieing wasn't part of the defensive plan.

Given the above, drawbridges would seem most suitable to circumstances where:

The moat/waterway is the main defense rather than any wall

The drawbridge is a routine, minimal, defense (drawn up nightly for example) intended against attack mainly to provide time to lower the inner portcullis.

The fortification is the headquarters of the defender's territory, such as a capital city and/or

It's seen as a status symbol:
"Look! a drawbridge! Aren't I just the coolest Baron, with the coolest castle, ever?"
Yes, that's said with tongue firmly in cheek: but don't completely discount the importance of appearing both strong and rich.

Only the second of these circumstances comprises a tactical use of drawbridges. As for portcullis, they are always an essential element of defense both tactically and strategically, regardless of a drawbridge being present or not.


13th–14th centuries Edit

Background Edit

The Edwardian castles and town walls in Gwynedd were built as a consequence of the wars fought for the control of Wales in the late 13th century. The kings of England and the Welsh princes had vied for control of the region since the 1070s, with Norman and English nobles and settlers slowly expanding their territories over several centuries. [4] In the 1260s, however, the Welsh leader Llywelyn ap Gruffudd exploited a civil war between Henry III and rebel barons in England to become the dominant power, and was formally recognised as the prince of Wales under the Treaty of Montgomery. [5]

Edward I became the king of England in 1272. Edward had extensive experience of warfare and sieges, having fought in Wales in 1257, led the six-month siege of Kenilworth Castle in 1266 and joined the crusade to North Africa in 1270. [6] He had seen numerous European fortifications, including the planned walled town and castle design at Aigues-Mortes. [7] On assuming the throne, one of Edward's first actions was to renovate and extend the royal fortress of the Tower of London. [7] Edward was also responsible for building a sequence of planned, usually walled, towns called bastides across Gascony as part of his attempt to strengthen his authority in the region. [8] Edward also authorised new planned towns to be built across England. [8]

Meanwhile, relations between Edward and Llywelyn rapidly collapsed, leading to Edward invading North Wales in 1276 in an attempt to break Llywelyn's hold on power. [5] During the war Edward built several major castles in order to better control the region and act as bases for campaigning. [7] Edward was successful, and the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277 reaffirmed English dominance, dividing up most of Llwelyn's lands amongst his brothers and Edward. [9]

War of 1282–83 Edit

Edward and his allies amongst the Welsh princes soon began to quarrel, and in early 1282 rebellion broke out, led by Llywelyn's brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd. [10] Edward responded to the revolt by mobilising a royal army of 8,000 foot soldiers and 750 cavalry, which he marched north to Rhuddlan, while in South and mid-Wales Marcher Lord forces advanced from Carmarthen and Montgomery. [11] Edward then mounted a naval invasion of the Isle of Anglesey and formed a temporary bridge to cross over onto the mainland, taking the war into the Welsh heartlands of Snowdonia. [10] Llywelyn was killed that December, and in early 1283 Dafydd was captured and executed. [10]

Rather than repeating the devolved arrangements of previous treaties, Edward chose to permanently colonise North Wales instead. The remaining royal family of Llywelyn and Dafydd was crushed and their lands divided amongst major English nobles. [10] The governance of Wales was reformed, and the arrangements set out in the Statute of Rhuddlan, enacted on 3 March 1284. Wales was divided into counties and shires, emulating how England was governed, with three new shires created in the north-west: Caernarfon, Merioneth and Anglesey. [12]

As part of this scheme, in 1283 Edward ordered the construction of new castles and walled towns across the occupied territories, in part to encourage substantial migration to the region from England. [13] Amongst these were the future World Heritage sites of Caernarfon Castle and its walled town, overlooking the River Seiont Conwy Castle and its walled town, controlling a crossing point over the River Conwy and Harlech Castle, protecting a sea port and newly established English town. Plans were probably made to establish a castle and walled settlement near the strategically important town of Llanfaes on Anglesey – the future Beaumaris – but were postponed due to the costs of the other projects. [12]

The new towns were important administrative centres for the new English governmental structures: Caernarfon and Harlech were the centres of new shires, and Conwy responsible for a new county. The castles were key military centres, but were also designed to function as royal palaces, capable of supporting the king and queen's households in secure comfort. Several of the projects also carried special symbolic importance. [14] Conwy was deliberately sited on the top of Aberconwy Abbey, the traditional burial place of the Welsh princes the abbey was relocated eight miles inland. [15] The native Welsh rulers had prized the former Roman site at Caernarfon for its imperial symbolism, and parts of the fortifications of the Welsh princes were seized and symbolically reused to build Edward's new castle there. [16] The site of Harlech Castle was associated with the legend of Branwen, a Welsh princess. [17]

Edward employed trusted architects and engineers to run the projects, most prominently the Savoyard Master James of St George, but also Edward's close friend Otto de Grandson, the soldier Sir John de Bonvillars and the master mason John Francis. [18] The English had built castles in the wake of the 1272 conflict, usually larger and more expensive than those of the local Welsh rulers, but the new fortifications were on a still grander scale. Carpenters, ditch diggers and stonemasons were gathered by local sheriffs from across England and mustered at Chester and Bristol, before being sent on to North Wales in the spring, returning home each winter. [19] The number of workers involved was so great that it placed a significant strain on England's national labour force. [20] The costs were huge: Caernarfon's castle and walls cost £15,500, Conwy's castle and walls came to around £15,000 and Harlech Castle cost £8,190 to construct. [21] [nb 2]

The walled towns were planned out in a regular fashion, drawing both on the experience of equivalent bastides in France and on various English planned settlements. Their new residents were English migrants, with the local Welsh banned from living inside the walls. The towns had varying levels of success. Measured in terms of burgages, town properties rented from the Crown by citizens, Conwy had 99 around 1295, and Caernarfon had 57 in 1298. Harlech lagged badly behind in terms of growth, and the town had only 24 and a half burgages in 1305. [23] The castles were entrusted by Edward to constables, charged to defend them and, in some cases, also empowered to defend the town walls as well. Permanent garrisons of soldiers were established, 40 at Caernarfon, 30 at Conwy and 36 at Harlech, equipped with crossbows and armour. [24] The castles and towns were all ports and could be supplied by sea if necessary, an important strategic advantage as Edward's navy had near total dominance around the Welsh coastline. The castles were each equipped with a rear or postern gate that would allow them to resupplied directly by sea even if the town had fallen.

Rebellion of 1294–95 Edit

Edwards's fortifications were tested in 1294 when Madog ap Llywelyn rebelled against English rule, the first major insurrection since the conquest. [10] The Welsh appear to have risen up over the introduction of taxation, and Madog had considerable popular support. [10] By the end of the year, Edward had returned to Wales with a large army and marched west from Chester, reaching his castle at Conwy by Christmas. [10] Here he was trapped and besieged until January 1295, supplied only by sea, before forces arrived to relieve him in February. [25] Harlech was also besieged but was saved from defeat by the arrival of supplies by sea from Ireland. [26] Caernarfon, however, was still only partially completed and was stormed by Welsh forces and the castle and town set alight. [27] In Anglesey, Welsh forces killed the royal sheriff. [28] In the spring Edward pressed home his counterattack with a force of 35,000 soldiers, putting down the uprising and killing Madog. [10]

In the aftermath of the rebellion, Edward ordered work to recommence on repairing and completing Caernarfon. Once Anglesey was reoccupied he also began to progress the delayed plans to fortify the area. [28] The chosen site was called Beaumaris and was about 1 mile (1.6 km) from the Welsh town of Llanfaes. The decision was therefore taken to move the Welsh population some 12 miles (19 km) south-west, where a settlement by the name of Newborough was created for them. [28] The deportation of the local Welsh opened the way for the construction of an English town, protected by a substantial castle. [29] A furious programme of building work commenced on the site under the direction of James of St George, the workforce sheltering in temporary huts in the centre of the half-built fortification. The project was very expensive, frequently falling into arrears, and by 1300 had cost around £11,000. [30] Despite the absence of town walls, the surrounding settlement grew quickly and by 1305 it had 132 and a quarter burgages paying rent to the Crown. [23]

By 1300 only Harlech and Conwy had been properly completed: Caernarfon's town walls were finished, but much of the castle was still incomplete and at Beaumaris Castle the inner walls was only half their intended height, with gaps in the outer walls. [31] By 1304 the total building programme in Wales had come to at least £80,000, almost six times Edward's annual income. [32] Edward had meanwhile become embroiled in a long-running sequence of wars in Scotland which began to consume his attention and financial resources, and as a result further work on the Welsh castles slowed to a crawl. [33] In 1306 Edward became concerned about a possible Scottish invasion of North Wales, spurring fresh construction work, but money remained much more limited than before. [34] By 1330 all new work had finally ceased, and Caernarfon and Beaumaris were never fully completed. [35]

Decline Edit

Maintaining the castles proved challenging, and they rapidly fell into disrepair. The money given to the castle constables to enable them to maintain and garrison the castles had not been generous to start with, but the sums provided declined considerably during the 14th century. [36] The constable of Conwy Castle had been provided with £190 a year in 1284, but this fell away to £40 a year by the 1390s Harlech's funding fell similarly from £100 a year to only £20 by 1391. [36] By 1321 a survey reported that Conwy was poorly equipped, with limited stores and suffering from leaking roofs and rotten timbers, and in the 1330s, Edward III was advised that none of the castles were in fit state to host the royal court should he visit the region. [37] A 1343 survey showed that Beaumaris needed extensive work, with several of the towers in a ruinous conditions. [38]

Repairs and renovations were sometimes carried out. When Edward II was threatened in South Gwynedd by the Mortimer Marcher Lord family, he ordered his sheriff, Sir Gruffudd Llywd, to extend the defences leading up to the gatehouse with additional towers. [39] Edward, the Black Prince carried out extensive work at Caernarfon after he took over control of the fortification in 1343. [37]

At the end of the 14th century, Conwy Castle was involved in the downfall of Richard II. Richard returned from Ireland in August 1399 and took shelter in the castle from the forces of his rival, Henry Bolingbroke. [40] Henry Percy, Bolingbroke's emissary, went into the castle to conduct negotiations with the king. [41] Henry Percy took an oath in the castle chapel to protect the king if he agreed to leave the castle, but when Richard left he was promptly taken prisoner, and was taken away to die later in captivity at Pontefract Castle. [41]

15th–17th centuries Edit

Glyndŵr Rising and Wars of the Roses Edit

Tensions between the Welsh and the English persisted and spilled over in 1400 with the outbreak of the Glyndŵr Rising. [42] At the start of the conflict, Harlech's garrison was badly equipped, and Conwy had fallen into disrepair. [43] Conwy Castle was taken at the start of the conflict by two Welsh brothers, who took control of the fortress in a sneak attack, enabling Welsh rebels to attack and capture the rest of the walled town. [44] Caernarfon was besieged in 1401, and that November the Battle of Tuthill took place nearby between Caernarfon's defenders and the besieging force. [45] In 1403 and 1404, Caernarfon was besieged again by Welsh troops with support from French forces, but withstood the attacks. [46] Beaumaris fared less well. It was placed under siege and captured by the rebels in 1403, only being retaken by royal forces in 1405. [47] Harlech was attacked and taken at the end of 1404, becoming Glyndŵr's military headquarters until English forces under the command of the future Henry V retook the castle in a siege over the winter of 1408–09. [48] By 1415 the uprising had been completely crushed, but the performance of the great castles and town walls is assessed by historian Michael Prestwich to have been "no more than partially successful". [36]

Later in the century, a series of civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses broke out between the rival factions of the House of Lancaster and York. After the Battle of Northampton in 1460, Harlech formed a refuge for Queen Margaret of Anjou, and between 1461–68 it was held by her Lancastrian supporters, under the command of Dafydd ap Ieuan, against the Yorkist Edward IV. [49] Thanks to its natural defences and the supply route by sea, Harlech held out and eventually became the last major stronghold still under Lancasterian control. [50] It finally fell after a month's siege, the events credited with inspiring the song Men of Harlech. [51]

The ascension of the Tudor dynasty to the English throne in 1485 marked the end of the Wars of the Roses and heralded a change in the way Wales was administered. The Tudors were Welsh in origin, and their rule eased hostilities between the Welsh and English. As a result, the Edwardian castles became less important. They were neglected, and in 1538 it was reported that many castles in Wales were "moche ruynous and ferre in decaye for lakke of tymely reparations". [52] Harlech appears not to have been repaired following the 1468 siege, and became completely dilapidated. [53] Conwy was restored by Henry VIII in the 1520s and 1530s, but soon fell into disrepair once again, and was sold off by the Crown in 1627. [54] Complaints about the poor state of Beaumaris mounted, and by 1609 the castle was classed as "utterlie decayed". [55] Caernarfon Castle's walls were intact, but buildings inside were rotten and falling down. [46] In 1610 the cartographer John Speed produced a famous sequence of pictorial maps of the towns of North Wales, including their castles and town defences, which have become iconic images of the sites at the turn of the 17th century. [56]

English Civil War and aftermath Edit

The English Civil War broke out in 1642 between the Royalist supporters of Charles I and the supporters of Parliament. The fortifications in North Wales were held by supporters of the king and in some cases became strategically important as part of the communications route between royal forces operating in England and supplies and reinforcements in Ireland. [57] The castles and towns' defences were repaired at considerable expense and brought back into service, garrisoned by local Royalists. [58] Parliament gained the upper hand in England, however, and by 1646 its armies were able to intervene in North Wales. Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Conwy were taken that year. [59] Harlech – the last fortress to hold out for the king – surrendered in March 1647, marking the end of the first phase of the civil war. [60]

In the aftermath of the war, Parliament ordered the slighting of castles across the country, deliberately destroying or damaging the structures to prevent them being used in any subsequent Royalist uprisings. [61] North Wales proved to be a special case, as there were concerns that Charles II might lead a Presbyterian uprising in Scotland and mount a sea-borne attack on the region. [61] Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris were initially garrisoned by Parliament to defend against such an attack. [62] Conwy was later partially slighted in 1655, but Caernarfon and Beaumaris escaped entirely. [63] Harlech, less of a potential Scottish target, was rendered unusable by Parliament, but was not totally demolished. [64]

In 1660 Charles II was restored to the throne and ownership of the castles changed once again. Beaumaris was restored to the control of the Bulkeley family, traditionally the constables of the castle, who promptly stripped the castle of any remaining materials, including the roofs, and Conwy was returned to the Conway family, who stripped down the castle for lead and timber, reducing it to a ruin as well. [65] Charles' new government regarded Caernarfon's castle and town walls as a security risk and ordered them to be destroyed, but this order was never carried out, possibly because of the costs involved in doing so. [66]

18th–21st centuries Edit

Picturesque attractions Edit

The sites began to pass into varied private ownership. Lord Thomas Bulkeley bought Beaumaris from the Crown in 1807, incorporating it into the park that surrounded his local residence. [67] Conwy Castle was leased by the descendants of the Conways to the Holland family. [68] In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the ruined castles started to be considered picturesque and sublime, attracting visitors and artists from across a wide area. The fashion was encouraged by the events of the Napoleonic Wars at the turn of the 19th century, which made it difficult for British artists to visit the continent, leading many to travel to North Wales instead. [69] These artists included John Cotman, Henry Gastineau, Thomas Girtin, Moses Griffith, Julius Ibbetson, Paul Sandby, J. M. W. Turner and John Varley. [70] The sites became heavily overgrown with ivy and other vegetation. In the 1830s the stonework of Caenarfon Castle began to collapse, and the Crown employed Anthony Salvin to conduct emergency repairs. [71]

Transport infrastructure to the region began to improve throughout the 19th century, adding to the flow of visitors to the sites, including the future Queen Victoria in 1832. [72] Academic research into the sites, particularly Caernarfon and Conwy, began to occur in the middle of the 19th century. [73] Local and central government interest began to increase. In 1865 Conwy Castle passed to the civic leadership of Conwy town who began restoration work on the ruins, including the reconstruction of the slighted Bakehouse tower. [68] From the 1870s onwards, the government funded repairs to Caernarfon Castle. The deputy-constable, Llewellyn Turner, oversaw the work, controversially restoring and rebuilding the castle, rather than simply conserving the existing stonework. [74] Despite the protests of local residents, the moat to the north of the castle was cleared of post-medieval buildings that were considered to spoil the view. [75]

State restoration Edit

In the early 20th century the central British state began to reacquire control of the sites. Caernarfon had never left the direct control of the Crown, but Harlech was transferred to the control of the Office of Works in 1914, Beaumaris followed in 1925 and Conwy was finally leased to the Ministry of Works in 1953. [76] The state invested heavily in conservation of the sites. The 1920s saw large-scale conservation programmes at both Beaumaris and Harlech, stripping back the vegetation, digging out the moat and repairing the stonework, but otherwise leaving the sites intact and avoiding outright restoration. [77] Major work was undertaken at Conwy in the 1950s and 1960s, including the clearing away of newer buildings encroaching on the 13th-century walls. [78]

Academic research increased at the turn of the 20th century, and as the Ministry of Works took control of the sites, government spending on these investigations began. [79] Historians such as Sidney Toy and Charles Peers published work on the sites, and research continued under Arnold Taylor, who joined the Office of Works as an assistant inspector in 1935. [73] Major academic reports were published in the 1950s, adding to the sites' reputation. [80] Taylor was also instrumental in the successful opposition to road projects proposed in the 1970s which would have had a substantial impact on the appearance of the Conwy site. [81] In the late 20th century, detailed reconstructions of the castles were painted by historical artists including Terry Ball, John Banbury and Ivan Lapper. [82]

In 1984 Cadw was formed as the historic environment service of the Welsh Government and took over the management of the four sites, operating them as tourist attractions. [83] In 2007, over 530,000 visits were made to the sites. [84] In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the castles and town walls played a more prominent part in debates surrounding Welsh identity. [85] The use of Caernarfon in the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1911 and 1969, for example, was challenged by Welsh nationalists such as Alun Ffred Jones. [85] Cadw expanded the interpretation provided at the sites to give more emphasis to the impact of the creation of the castles on the native Welsh, and the role of the Welsh princes in the events leading up to the 1282 invasion itself. [86]

Creation of the World Heritage site Edit

In 1986 sites were collectively declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, titled the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd. UNESCO considered the castles and town walls to be the "finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe". [1] UNESCO also cited the importance of their links to Edward I and James of St George, their scale and advanced military architecture, and their unusually good condition and historical documentation. [87] The sites require ongoing maintenance, and as an example of this it cost £239,500 between 2002–03 to maintain the historical parts of the properties. [88] "Buffer zones" have been established around the sites, aimed to protect the views and setting from inappropriate development or harm. [89] The sites are protected by a mixture of UK Scheduled Monument, Listed Building and conservation area legislation. [90]

Interpretation Edit

Military architecture Edit

The Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd incorporated a range of military features developed during the late 13th century. [91] As a consequence, for much of the 20th century, historians regarded these sites as the evolutionary pinnacle of scientific military architecture. D. J. Cathcart King described them as the "zenith of English castle-building", and Sidney Toy considered them to be "some of the most powerful castles of any age or country". [2] The sites included concentric defences, in which inner castle walls were completely enclosed within outer defences, with the height and angles calculated to allow both rings of walls to fire on external attackers, as seen at Harlech and Beaumaris. [92] Narrow sites such as Conwy were instead built on tall rock formations, making any attack difficult. [93] Arrowslits and barbicans were incorporated into the defences, with multiple firing platforms built into the walls to allow the massed use of archers. [94] These were further defended in some cases by gatehouses with characteristic twin towers, which replaced the older keeps as a stronghold for defence. [95]

Despite these strengths, the castles and town walls are now recognised to have also had military flaws. The castles were much larger than they needed to be in order to protect against Welsh attack, but the sheer scale of them meant that the Crown could not afford to maintain or garrison them properly. [36] The fortifications were in some regards simply too big, and as historian Michael Prestwich notes, smaller projects might actually have been more effective. [36] Rather than the sites being scientifically designed, historian Richard Morris suggested that "the impression is firmly given of an elite group of men-of-war, long-standing comrades in arms of the king, indulging in an orgy of military architectural expression on an almost unlimited budget". [96]

Palatial architecture and symbolism Edit

Architectural research in the late 20th and early 21st centuries focused less on the military aspects of the fortifications, however, and more on their roles as luxurious palaces and symbols of royal power. Each of the castles was designed to be suitable to support the royal court, should it visit. In the late 13th century, this meant having several sets of private chambers, discreet service facilities and security arrangements, producing, in effect, a royal palace in miniature. [97] Some of these survive largely intact Conwy, for example, has what historian Jeremy Ashbee considers to be the "best preserved suite of medieval private royal chambers in England and Wales", including a private garden for the use of the queen. [98] When built, the castles would have been more colourful than today, in keeping with the fashions of the 13th century. [99] At Conwy, for example, the walls were white-washed with a lime render, and the putlog holes in the walls may have been used to display painted shields called targes from the walls. [100]

The castles made a clear, imperial statement about Edward's intentions to rule North Wales on a permanent basis. [101] As already noted, they were typically located on sites that had been associated with the former Welsh princes. [102] Caernarfon, in particular, stands out for its use of banded, coloured stone in the walls, statues of eagles and its polygonal, rather than round, towers. There has been extensive academic debate over the interpretation of these features. [103] Historian Arnold Taylor argued that the design of the castle was a representation of the Walls of Constantinople. The conscious use of imagery from the Byzantine Roman Empire was therefore an assertion of authority by Edward I. Recent work by historian Abigail Wheatley suggests that the design of Caernarfon was indeed an assertion of Edward's authority, but that it drew on imagery from Roman sites in Britain with the intent of creating an allusion of Arthurian legitimacy for the king. [104] [nb 3]

Wales history map

Ever wanted to explore Wales based on your favourite periods in history? The Wales History Map allows you to do just that by categorising over 50 of the country’s best historic sites into 12 key historic themes.

Wales is filled to the brim with history — where will your Welsh adventure take you?

For centuries, artists of all kinds have shared their visions of Wales through paintings, poems, stories and songs. These artworks have played a vital role in creating a sense of Welsh identity, and in portraying the land and its people to the world.

Recognisable themes have emerged in literature and the visual arts over the years, ranging from Wales as a beautiful but otherworldly land and the impressive rise and fall of industry.

A tour of inspiring Welsh locations immortalised in art could last a lifetime, so, to get you started, this theme contains just a small selection of sites that have played muse to Wales’s (and Britain's) best-known artists…

What? The childhood home of Welsh literary great, Kate Roberts
Where? Snowdonia

This Grade II listed quarryman’s cottage may not be the grandest site in Wales, but its status as the childhood home of Welsh-language author Kate Roberts draws visitors from near and far.

Readers of Roberts’s works will recognise the house as part of the world that she conjures so vividly in novels such as Traed mewn cyffion (Feet in Chains) and the short-story collection Te yn y grug (Tea in the heather).

Did you know. In 1965, Kate Roberts bought Cae’r Gors and presented it to the Welsh nation, but it wasn’t until 2005 that sufficient funds were accumulated to restore the tyddyn (smallholding) to the way it would have been during her childhood.

Cae Gors,
LL54 7ET

What? 12th century Cistercian abbey
Where? Monmouthshire

The young J M W Turner travelled extensively in Wales from 1792 to 1799, and the legacy of these sketching and painting tours is a series of breath-taking landscapes, many of which feature Welsh castles and abbeys.

Turner’s sketches and paintings of Tintern Abbey from the 1790s capture both the detail and the drama of structure, whilst reflecting its ruinous state and the extent to which, at that time, nature had started to reclaim the site.

Did you know. Founded in 1131, Tintern Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery to be established in Wales.

Tintern Abbey
NP16 6SE

What? Museum and art gallery
Where? Merthyr Tydfil

Housed in the magnificent home of the Crawshay iron-making dynasty, this unique site holds a collection of artefacts that spans 2,000 years of local history.

The castle is also noteworthy for its gallery, containing some wonderful paintings from the industrial revolution as well as a striking selection of modern art.

Did you know. The museum houses the first steam whistle, the first voting ballot box and dresses by Merthyr-born designers, Laura Ashley and Julien McDonald.

Cyfarthfa Park,
Brecon Rd,
Merthyr Tydfil,
Mid Glamorgan
CF47 8RE

What? 13th century site built by the de Brian family
Where? Carmarthenshire

Laugharne’s association with Dylan Thomas is well known, but you’ll still feel a thrill sitting in the castle’s summerhouse – the very place where the poet and author pieced together Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.

Laugharne’s literary link doesn’t begin and end with Dylan Thomas however, as the English author Richard Hughes also wrote his novel In Hazard at the castle. Visitors to the site can see evidence of the friendship between the two authors, including a copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, signed by Thomas and dedicated to Hughes.

Did you know…? The castle features in a wonderfully atmospheric painting by JMW Turner, now reproduced on one of the site’s panels. Look out for it when you visit.

King Street,
SA33 4FA

You can also visit the Boathouse where Dylan lived for the last four years of his life. Close by is his writing shed, where he wrote many of his later works.

Some of the most magnificent castles of Wales are reminders of a turbulent time, when English kings and Welsh princes vied for power. The four spectacular castles along the north-west coast, which together make up the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd World Heritage Site, are no exceptions.

The tale of King Edward I divides opinion. Some see it as the story of a medieval English king who used mighty castles to subdue the princes and peoples of a neighbouring land.

Others see his formidable fortresses as testaments to Welsh resilience: physical evidence of the sheer amount of effort that Edward I needed to exert in order to gain control over the region during the late-13th and early-14th century.

Whatever your view, each castle is a compelling story in stone. Strong and solid, built to the highest standards of the day and able to withstand attacks from hostile elements and centuries of war.

Visitors to Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech and Beaumaris should have no difficulty recognising why these captivating castles now form part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What? A 13th century medieval castle
Where? Flint

Begun in 1277, Flint is one of the first castles to be built in Wales by King Edward I.

With impressive views over the Dee Estuary, this solitary castle is often overlooked by its more Western counterparts. Once a defensive masterpiece, the Castle’s most impressive feature is a solitary round tower, isolated from the rest of the inner ward.

Did you know. Flint Castle famously features in Shakespeare’s Richard II. Flint Castle serves as an important setting for a crucial part of the play – the moment that Richard II is captured by Henry Bolingbroke, ultimately leading to Richard’s abdication and the ascension of King Henry IV.

Flint Castle

What? A medieval coastal fortification and walled town
Where? Conwy

It is incredible to think that this fine castle and the surrounding town walls were constructed in just over four years. The king made sure the project was overseen by James of St George, a master mason and experienced castle builder.

Conwy cost an estimated £15,000 to build, making it one of the most expensive of Edward I’s Welsh castles. It’s easy to see where the money went – the site includes two fortified gateways, eight massive towers and a great bow-shaped hall.

While you’re here, don’t forget to explore the town and its exceptional medieval town walls – the most complete example of their kind in Wales. Visitors can walk along the walls and look down on the medieval street patterns which are still intact today.

Did you know. Conwy was built on the site of Aberconwy abbey – the monks were moved to a new site south of the town at Maenan.

Conwy Castle
Rose Hill St,
LL32 8AY

What? A 13th century fortress
Where? Anglesey

Known as Edward I’s ‘unfinished masterpiece’, Beaumaris Castle is undoubtedly an impressive fortress and a fine example of concentric ‘walls within walls’ castle design. Indeed, Beaumaris has been described as ‘the most technically perfect castle in Britain’.

The king’s master mason, James of St George, personally oversaw the construction of this superb stronghold. It took a staggering 450 masons, 400 quarrymen and over 2,000 skilled labourers to dig the moat and build the sturdy walls.

Did you know. Beaumaris Castle was named after the Norman-French “Beau Mareys”, meaning castle on the “fair marsh”.

Beaumaris Castle
Castle St,
Isle of Anglesey
LL58 8AP

What? A medieval fortress palace and town walls
Where? Caernarfon

Edward I chose the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle for Caernarfon Castle – his largest, and maybe his most impressive, Welsh fortress.

Caernarfon’s castle and town walls were raised as a single entity. It was designed to act as the nerve centre of Edward I’s newly conquered territories.

With breathtaking views over Caernarfon and the Menai Strait, a visit to the Castle’s exceptional Eagle Tower is not be missed!

Did you know. Caernarfon Castle was the birthplace of the future King Edward II.

Caernarfon Castle
Castle Ditch,
LL55 2AY

What? A 13th century medieval stronghold
Where? Harlech

Perched on a rocky crag overlooking Cardigan Bay, Harlech Castle is an example of a stronghold that has been tailor-made for its environment.

Built quickly and relatively cheaply (in comparison to fortresses like Caernarfon and Conwy), the structure uses the intimidating cliff face to its advantage and is impregnable from virtually every angle.

While here, don’t miss the ‘way from the sea – a 200-foot-long set of steps that connect the castle to the cliff base below. This clever feature enabled castle inhabitants to endure long sieges.

Did you know. In 1468, Harlech Castle fell to the Yorkists, giving rise to the traditional song ‘Men of Harlech’

Harlech Castle
LL46 2YH

From the grandeur of Cistercian abbeys to the quiet modesty of village chapels, Wales is a country that boasts hundreds of religious sites including impressive examples of non-conformist, Anglican and monastic monuments, among others.

Once the centre of Welsh society, these revered places were essential parts of community life. Many still function as places of worship, and all stand as fascinating examples of Wales’s connection to religion through the ages.

A visit to any of these esteemed Welsh sites will show how ancient beliefs, inspiring historical figures and traditions have helped shape Welsh cultural heritage, language and way of life over the centuries.

This itinerary offers an insight into the depths of Wales’s religious landscape, providing an overview of a variety of religious sites and a starting point for exploring them…

What? Surprisingly decorative religious churches standing on the river Dee
Where? Denbighshire

Rug Chapel was founded as a private chapel by Arch Royalist Colonel William Salesbury in the 17th century. Contrary to its modest exterior, the interior is decorated decadently with fine wood carvings and rose motifs.

Nearby Llangar Old Parish Church is a few centuries older than Rug Chapel but similarly, its whitewashed exterior hides the aesthetic wonders within. Inside, the original 15th century wall paintings still survive, thanks in part to the church making way for a new place of worship in Cynwyd in the 1850s.

Many visitors combine a visit to these sites with a walk along the river, which boasts beautiful views and many places to stop and take in the stunning landscapes.

Did you know. Despite being called a chapel, traditionally associated with non-conformity, Rug is in fact an Anglican church!

Rug Chapel and Llangar Old Parish Church
LL21 9BT
01490 412025
0300 0256000

What? A grand Cistercian abbey
Where? Ceredigion

Translating directly from Latin simply as ‘the Vale of Flowers’ or ‘Ystrad Fflur’ in Welsh, Strata Florida is located in a remote corner Ceredigion, and was once home to Cistercian monks.

The plan of the original abbey can still be clearly traced, and you only need admire the majesty of the huge carved west doorway to appreciate how impressive this building must once have been.

Some of the original richly decorated tiles from the abbey are still intact and many tools, coins and other personal objects have been found here in recent years following excavations at the site. These can all be seen on display in the visitor centre.

Did you know. A pilgrimage for lovers of Welsh poetry, the site is said to be the final resting place of famed medieval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym who allegedly lies beneath the Yew tree in the church-yard.

Strata Florida Abbey
SY25 6ES
01974 831261

What? An extra-ordinary, non-conformist

Victorian chapel
Where? Swansea

Chapels were built in their hundreds to accommodate the religious revival in 19th century industrial Wales. As well as developing into places of worship, these chapels of non-conformity also became the social and educational hearts of their communities. Many chapels held services in Welsh, significantly contributing to the use and preservation of the language.

Recognised for its wonderful Victorian architecture, Tabernacle is an extra-ordinary example of a Welsh chapel still open for worship. Built in 1872 at a cost of £18,000, its congregation peaked at over a thousand members in 1910. This grand building however is not your typical non-conformist chapel, traditionally much plainer and simpler.

Tabernacle has had a number of notable Ministers, including Trebor Lloyd Evans who led worship here from 1945-1964. He was a great champion of the Welsh language and campaigned for a Welsh medium school in the area.

Over the years. concerts by the Morriston Tabernacle Choir have attracted world-famous singers, and celebrated organists have given recitals on the 3-manual organ, recently restored by Harrison & Harrison.

Did you know. Tabernacle Chapel is thought by many to be the largest, grandest and most expensive chapel ever built in Wales.

Morriston Tabernacle
Woodfield Street

Admission free
Open for worship and choir rehearsals as well as by appointment. See website:

For an example of a different, simpler non-conformist chapel in a rural location, visit Capel Newydd in Llanengan. A Welsh independent chapel, it is possibly the earliest surviving non-conformist chapel in north Wales.

What? A 12th century cathedral
Where? St Davids, Pembrokeshire

Still a vibrant and popular place of worship, St Davids Cathedral has been a site of Christian pilgrimage for more than 800 years.

While the present monument was built during the 12th century, it sits upon the site of an earlier, 6th century monastery built by St David, the patron saint of Wales.

The presence of the cathedral has given St Davids city status, making this remote location in the far end of Pembrokeshire Britain’s smallest city – in terms of size and population.

Just a stone’s throw away from the cathedral lies St Davids Bishop’s Palace. Originally built by Bishop Henry de Gower, this beautiful ruin was once a masterpiece, with lavish decorations, corbels carved as human heads and striking chequerboard stonework – all a testament to the wealth and status of medieval men of religion.

Did you know. St Davids Cathedral survived a severe earthquake in the 13th Century, causing structural damage which is still noticeable today. Indeed, the floor slopes noticeably, the arcades are warped in places, and the east and west ends of the building differ in height by roughly four metres!

St Davids Cathedral
The Pebbles,
St Davids,
SA62 6RD

Looking for other fascinating religious sites? Wales has hundreds more, including St Winifride's Chapel and Holy Well — a grand 16th-century chapel that surrounds a 12th-century holy spring.

From wars with France to the Cold War, Pembrokeshire has played a key role in helping to defend our country over the centuries.

The strength of the area’s military and maritime history is evident from the sheer scale of the battlefields, castles and remnants of defensive systems scattered across Pembrokeshire.

Following the Defence of the Realm route will allow you to discover how Pembrokeshire helped keep Britain safe from invasion.

What? A 30m long tapestry
Where? Fishguard Town Hall, Pembrokeshire

This remarkable work of art depicts what happened when the British mainland was last invaded, back in February 1797.

A closer look at the design will reveal how the women of Pembrokeshire forced the invading force to surrender. The tapestry is complemented by artefacts and interpretation boards, as well as an audio visual presentation showing its making.

Did you know. The tapestry features local heroine Jemima Nicholas, who, alone and armed with only a pitchfork, arrested 12 French soldiers.

Town Hall
The Square
SA65 9HA

What? Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II listed military coast artillery fort
Where? Angle, Pembrokeshire

Chapel Bay Fort is one of the earliest known of its type in the world. Completed in 1891, it could hold 96 men in its barracks, but was often garrisoned by much smaller numbers.

During World War I, ships suspected of carrying contraband would be moored and examined here, while the guns of the Fort were trained on them!

Did you know. During the Second World War, Chapel Bay Fort actually controlled some of the anti-aircraft guns that defended the coastline.

Chapel Bay Fort and Museum
Angle, Pembrokeshire
SA71 5BE

What? Small coastal town on the River Cleddau
Where? Pembrokeshire

Over the centuries Pembroke Dock has been a key player on Britain’s frontline. The Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre, Royal Dockyard Chapel and Flying Boat Workshop are all open for visitors wishing to explore the maritime heritage of one of Britain’s most westerly towns.

Nearby, the Garrison Chapel, Defensible Barracks and the Dockyard Walls and Gun Towers all provide further clues to the history of this special town and its links to Her Majesty’s Navy.

Did you know. Pembroke Dock has built and launched no fewer than five Royal Yachts.

Pembroke Dock
SA72 6WS

What? Local cemetery dating back to 19th century
Where? Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire

Llanion Cemetery is situated on the north side of the A477 trunk road at the entrance to the town. Owned by the county council, the cemetery opened in 1869.

It is home to a number of war graves – 24 from World War I, situated in the western part of the cemetery, and 54 from World War II, including 19 sailors from the bombed HMS Puckridge. The remaining graves are of airmen connected with the RAF Flying-Boat base at Pembroke Dock.

Did you know. A number of post-war graves can also be found inside, one being of a Polish pilot, Z Bartosuk, who was killed in August 1952 while making a forced landing at the nearby disused airfield at Carew Cheriton.

Llanion Cemetery,
London Road,
Pembroke Dock
SA72 4RS

What? Former RAF airfield
Where? Carew, Pembrokeshire

During the Second World War numerous squadrons were based at Carew, all tasked with guarding Britain’s western approaches. The airfield was also used during World War I by airships patrolling the Atlantic shipping lanes. The control tower, also known as the watch office, has been restored by the Carew Cheriton Control Tower Group and is open to the public.

A unique World War II RAF watch office forms the core of this site, but guests can also discover a restored air raid shelter and an original Avro Anson aircraft as part of their visit.

Did you know. The origins of this site’s design are rather mysterious – the control tower was not built to an approved Air Ministry design and no one knows why!

Carew Cheriton Control Tower
Carew, Pembrokeshire
SA70 8SX

The story of the lords of the southern March is littered with tales of ambition, rivalry, power, invasion and battles. But who were they?

After the Norman seizure of England, the first Norman kings allowed trusted supporters to take lands on the Welsh borders — amongst them were the early lords of the southern March. They had virtual independence over their new territories, building great castles and founding fine abbeys, many of which still survive.

Today these sites help to tell the story of the lords, the landscape in which they lived and their vital role in the history of Wales.

What? Medieval castle
Where? Pembroke, west Wales

Founded by Roger de Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury, Pembroke Castle was at the heart of the Norman-controlled lands of south-west Wales. Situated on the estuary of the Cleddau River, it became home to William Marshal, who had risen to become earl of Pembroke through his faithful service to the Plantagenet kings. He was responsible for beginning the wholesale reconstruction of the castle in stone in the early 13th century.

Visitors today can explore the labyrinth of passageways and towers, take in the views from the 75ft-high Great Keep or descend into the Wogan, a cavern beneath the inner ward.

Did you know. Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty, was born at Pembroke Castle in 1457.

Pembroke Castle
SA71 4LA

Other Marcher castles in west Wales include:

What? Coastal stronghold built in the 12th century
Where? Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire

This picturesque castle was one of a number of Marcher strongholds built along the coast of south Wales. Established by Bishop Roger of Salisbury, one of the most influential figures in Henry I’s court, the castle endured many attacks over the centuries regularly changing hands as the Welsh princes continued to fight against the Marcher lords.

The story of the struggle between the Welsh and the Marcher lords is interpreted on site. This includes the story of Princess Gwenllian who led a fighting force against Maurice de Londres, lord of the castle, in 1136. Their armies met in bloody battle about 2 km north-west of the castle. The Welsh were defeated, and the warrior princess was captured and beheaded.

Just outside the castle is a memorial to Princess Gwenllian. Make sure to look out for it during your visit.

Did you know. – Princess Gwenllian’s young son would grow up to become the Lord Rhys, a powerful ruler of the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. He held Kidwelly Castle during one of its periods as a Welsh stronghold.

Kidwelly Castle
Castle Rd,
Kidwelly SA17 5BQ

Other Marcher castles nearby include:

What? 13th-century fortification
Where? Caerphilly

Originally built by the Marcher lord, Gilbert de Clare, Caerphilly Castle remains the largest medieval fortress in Wales. Begun in 1268, it was one of the first completely consistent concentric castles (two sets of walls, one inside the other) in Britain.

With its formidable defences, Caerphilly Castle was a masterpiece of military planning and a forerunner for the Edwardian castles in north Wales. Many of its original features survive, including the impressive Great Hall. One of its most famous features is the ruinous south-east tower, which even out leans Pisa’s famous tower!

The castle was restored by the 3rd and 4th Marquesses of Bute, who made their money from the industrialisation of south Wales in the 19th and 20th centuries. The stories of de Clare, the Butes and other notable characters from the castle’s past can be explored on site.

Other Marcher castles nearby include Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch.

Did you know. Earl Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan and creator of Caerphilly Castle, was nicknamed ‘Red Gilbert’ after the fiery colour of his hair.

Caerphilly Castle
Castle St,
Caerphilly CF83 1JD

What? A Norman castle perched high above the banks of the river Wye
Where? Chepstow, Monmouthshire

The lands surrounding this fortress once belonged to Earl William fitz Osbern, one of William the Conqueror’s closest confidants. His time at Chepstow Castle in the late eleventh century marked the beginning of the conquest of south Wales by the Marcher lords.

The importance of the castle and the associated town increased as it became a trading centre between England and Wales. Perched on a cliff-top ridge above the river Wye, the castle secured an important crossing point between England and Wales.

The oldest building within the castle is the Norman Great Tower. Over time, the castle was added to and adapted to keep pace with changing fashions in architecture and developing methods of warfare.

Did you know. At 800 years old, Chepstow Castle boasts the oldest castle doors in Europe. Until 1962 these impressive wooden doors hung in the main gateway, but they are now in safe keeping and exhibited in the castle.

Chepstow Castle
Bridge St,
Monmouthshire NP16 5EY

Other Marcher castles nearby include:

Long before it became known as Wales, our land was home to a succession of ancient peoples. And, from the time of Neanderthal man some 225,000 years ago through to the end of the Iron Age in AD 75, each has left its mark on the landscape of Wales.

Monuments such as Neolithic burial chambers, Bronze Age cairns and Iron Age hillforts act as tangible reminders of this distant past, and offer an insight into the lives of our mysterious ancient ancestors.

What? Neolithic burial chamber dating back to the late 3rd Millennium BC
Where? Anglesey

A well known monument in Wales, this accessible and atmospheric burial chamber has a long and complex history.

Translating directly to ‘The Mound in the Dark Grove’, Bryn Celli Ddu is situated on the Isle of Anglesey and dates back to the late 3rd Millennium BC. The burial chamber sits within a landscape of prehistoric places on Anglesey, including ancient rock art and standing stones.

A beautifully decorated pattern stone was discovered at the back of the chamber during restoration which is now in the care of the National Museum of Wales. Visitors to the site can view an exact replica of the stone in its place.

Did you know. Bryn Celli Ddu is the only tomb on Anglesey which is accurately aligned to coincide with the rising sun on the longest day of the year. At dawn on midsummer solstice (21 June), shafts of light from the rising sun penetrate down the passageway to light the inner burial chamber. Perhaps this sunlight was meant to bring warmth and life to the long buried ancestors?

Isle of Anglesey
LL61 6EQ

Other prehistoric sites on Anglesey include:

What? Bronze Age copper mines uncovered in 1987
Where? Llandudno

Around 4,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, this site echoed with the noise of mining on an industrial scale. The prize was copper – an essential ingredient in making bronze, the alloy that gave its name to this period of prehistory.

Since the site was found in the 1980s, archaeologists, engineers and cavers have continued to discover the vast range of tunnels and passages that make up this ancient mine.

Tours allow visitors to experience these prehistoric mine workings, including the amazing Bronze Age Cavern, dug out over 3,500 years ago by miners using only tools of stone and bone.

Did you know. The Great Orme Copper Mines are the largest prehistoric mines in the world.

Great Orme,
Pyllau Rd,
LL30 2XG

Other Prehistoric sites in north Wales include:

What? A Neolithic burial chamber
Where? Vale of Glamorgan

During excavation in 1914, the bodies of over 50 individuals from the Neolithic period were found in Tinkinswood Burial Chamber along with sherds of broken pottery and worked flint.
Constructed almost 6,000 years ago, the site stands upon a vast sloping valley in the Vale of Glamorgan – just over seven miles from the heart of Cardiff.

This area would have been very desirable during the Neolithic period. There is a stream nearby, good soil for growing crops and plenty of stone suitable for making tools.

Modern visitors can marvel at the tomb’s capstone which, at around 40 tonnes, weighs the same as an articulated lorry. It is one of the largest examples in Britain.

Did you know. An ancient folk legend states that anyone who spends a night at this site before May Day, St John's Day (23 June) or Midwinter Day will either die, go mad, or become a poet.

Other prehistoric sites in south east Wales include:

What? Reconstructed Iron Age hillfort
Where? Meline, Pembrokeshire

Castell Henllys is the only Iron Age hillfort in Britain where you can truly experience what life was like for the Celtic people more than 2,000 years ago.

A visit here offers a unique insight into the lives of our ancestors, where you can huddle around a roundhouse fire to hear tales of old and grind flour to make bread on the very spot the Celts stood centuries ago.

Castell Henllys, in the heart of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, was redeveloped in 2014 with a cafe, exhibition, visitor centre and children’s play area.

Did you know. The evocative roundhouses and granaries at Castell Henllys are reconstructed on the excavated remains of a real hilltop fort.

SA41 3UR

Other prehistoric sites in south west Wales include:
Pentre Ifan and Carreg Coetan Arthur burial chambers

Owain Glyndŵr is one of Wales’s most renowned figures, best known for leading a Welsh war of independence against English rule in the 15th century.

It was his determination to stand up against English oppression that sparked a nationwide rebellion against the social, economic and religious hardships at the time. To this day his legacy survives in a number of places – from the spot where he proclaimed himself ‘Prince of Wales’, to the castles he fought so hard to capture.

The Owain Glyndŵr and his Uprising trail covers a number of these sites, while places like Glyndŵr’s court at Sycharth, and the St Chad’s church in Hanmer where he was married, can be added to the route to allow even further insight into the life of this iconic character.

Enrich your adventure further by visiting Pilleth (Bryn Glas) – the site of his most memorable victory in battle. You can visit the church and the hill that was the focus of the battle.

What? Spot where Glyndŵr famously proclaimed himself ‘Prince of Wales’
Where? Denbighshire

It was Glyndŵr’s self-proclamation as ‘Prince of Wales’ that began his 14-year rebellion against English rule.

The site is quite complex and not always easy to pick out on the ground, but the most obvious feature is the mound. Known locally as ‘Owain Glyndŵr’s Mount’, it is actually the remains of a 12th century castle motte built to command the route through the Dee Valley.

Visitors to the site are welcomed by an interpretative panel which explains the significance of the site. The site lies between the main A5 road and the Llangollen Railway, and is in private hands, though with public access.

Did you know. Glyndŵr’s ‘fine’ manor is likely to have been in the area across the field, and would have been defended by a surrounding moat.


What? Mighty Medieval fortress that also forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where? Harlech, Gwynedd

Built in 1283, Harlech was one of a number of castles created to secure land King Edward I had won in north Wales.

When Glyndŵr’s forces set out to capture Harlech in 1404 they were pleased to find the English perilously under-equipped, with only three shields, eight basinets, six lances and four guns at their disposal.

Harlech was consequently won, and Glyndŵr installed his court and family in the castle shortly after, holding his second parliament at Harlech in 1405. The site was finally recaptured by the King’s son, Harry of Monmouth (future King Henry V), in 1409.

Did you know. In 1468, Harlech Castle fell to the Yorkists, giving rise to the traditional song ‘Men of Harlech’

Harlech Castle
LL46 2YH

What? Visitor Centre & Exhibition on life of Owain Glyndŵr
Where? Machynlleth, Powys

The Owain Glyndŵr Centre houses a range of interactive exhibitions designed to tell the story of his life as leader of the rebellion.

A specially commissioned video depicts him being crowned, while displays include a replica of the Pennal letter – the letter sent by Glyndŵr attempting to enlist the support of the King of France. A mural by Scottish artist Murray Urquhart (1880-1972) also portrays Glyndŵr's pivotal victory over the King's forces at the Battle of Hyddgen in 1402.

Did you know. The Centre is thought to be built on the site of Glyndŵr’s famous parliament of 1404.

Heol Maengwyn,
SY20 8EE

What? Ruined Edwardian castle built in late 13th century
Where? Aberystwyth, Ceredigion

Aberystwyth Castle suffered a somewhat turbulent past. The site was seized by the Welsh uprising in 1404, before being besieged by English forces (under the command of the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick) just three years later.

The fortress was near surrender when Glyndŵr himself decided to lead the castle’s defence. Alas, his efforts proved unsuccessful, and a year later, it finally fell. The loss of Aberystwyth meant that Glyndŵr, “hero of the common people”, was no more than a guerrilla leader from that point on.

Did you know. Thanks to the later events of the Civil War in the 1600s, the castle is now a romantic ruin its remaining walls and tower form an attractive silhouette against the sea.

New Promenade
SY23 2AU

The story of the princes of Deheubarth – once rulers of much of south west Wales – is a fascinating mix of ambition, rivalry, castle-building and cultural awakening. Formidable characters such as law maker Hywel Dda, and the powerful Lord Rhys ensured the dynasty’s supremacy in the region for over 300 years.

The legacy of Deheubarth lives on today our national Eisteddfod (Wales’s flagship cultural festival) can trace its roots back to the reign of Lord Rhys in 1176.

The Princes of Deheubarth trail will reveal the princes’ contribution to the story of Wales via a series of stunning sites across the south west, including castles at Cardigan and Dinefwr, and abbeys at Strata Florida and Talley.

What? 12th century castle overlooking the River Teifi
Where? Cardigan, Ceredigion

There has been a castle in Cardigan since the Norman invasion in the 12th century. The original Motte and Bailey castle lay a mile down-stream, but the Marcher lord Gilbert Fitz Richard de Clare built a fortress on its current site in 1110. 55 years later The Lord Rhys captured the castle, destroyed it, and rebuilt it in stone.

Cardigan Castle is the birthplace of the Eisteddfod – Wales’s flagship cultural festival, which is still celebrated annually to this day. It was back in 1176 that Lord Rhys invited poets and musicians from across the land to perform at a grand gathering within the castle grounds. An exhibition on the history of the Welsh Eisteddfod is open to visitors wishing to learn more about the beginnings of this landmark festival.

Did you know. Cardigan is the first documented stone castle built by a native prince of Wales.

Cardigan Castle
Green Street,
SA43 1JA

What? Museum on the life of Hywel Dda
Where? Whitland, Carmarthenshire

The Hywel Dda Centre celebrates the life and works of the 10th century Welsh king, famed for developing a system of law that was ahead of its time. The centre consists of an indoor exhibition space prepared by historians Malcolm and Cyril Jones, as well as descriptive art work in glass, brick, ceramics and steel.

A series of gardens are also open for public viewing. Each is themed to reflect a separate division of the Law – Society, Kindred and Status Crime and Tort Women Contract Property King and Court. Each garden has its own distinct character, and features enamel slate plaques that depict the laws in action.

Did you know. One particular plaque in the Willow Garden (which depicts the law of Women) details the three reasons a woman could leave her husband in the time of Hywel Dda:
1. If he was a leper
2. For not being able to fulfil his duties as a husband
3. For having bad breath.

Hywel Dda Centre
St.Mary's Street, Whitland, Carmarthenshire
SA34 0PY

What? Medieval castle standing above the Tywi Valley
Where? Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire

Built on a natural ridge with majestic views over the surrounding valley, Dinefwr is a castle fit for a king. Records show that there has been a castle here from at least the time of The Lord Rhys (12th century). Following a period of Norman domination, he rebuilt the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth, and Dinefwr became its ‘capital’. The monument was developed by The Lord Rhys’ descendants during the thirteenth century.

Despite the structure having been in an ivy-clad, ruinous state for centuries, there's still much to admire — not least the stunning landscape that surrounds it.

Did you know. Thanks to a conical roof constructed atop the keep, built to create a picturesque ‘summerhouse’, Dinefwr was an eighteenth-century picnicker’s paradise!

Dinefwr Castle
SA19 6PF

What? 12th century remains of a Premonstratensian Abbey
Where? Talley, Carmarthenshire

The Lord Rhys played an important role as a patron of religious orders, not least at Talley, an abbey that he founded for Premonstratensian canons between 1184 and 1189. These ‘White Canons’ (named after their white habits) had a back-to basics approach to religion.

The canons had great ambitions for Talley, but the final building was more modest than they had hoped. Although the abbey is in a ruinous state, what remains (in particular, the crossing tower and the presbytery) is still impressive.

Did you know. White Canons were also permitted to serve in monastic houses and in parish churches – this appealed to The Lord Rhys who was keen on religious reform.

Talley Abbey

Other sites that help tell the story of the Princes of Deheubarth include:

During the early middle ages, the borderlands between England and Wales were known as the Marches. For hundreds of years the area was the scene of conflict between different factions of the Welsh princes to the west, and the Saxon kings and later Norman lordships and the English Crown to the east.

Hotly contested, the border shifted regularly, depending on who had the upper hand at the time. As a result the Marches became a wild frontier, scattered with hundreds of castles and fortified residences.

It was Henry VIII’s Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543, which created the beginnings of the present administrative infrastructure, that contributed towards bringing peace to the Marches.

What? Classic English fortress, built by Henry de Lacy on behalf of Edward I, on top of the original Welsh stronghold
Where? Denbigh, Denbighshire

After the fall of Dafydd ap Gruffudd in 1282, Edward I entrusted his close ally Henry de Lacy to build the castle and town walls you see today. Although captured during the Welsh revolt of 1294, it was back in the hands of Henry de Lacy the following year and building work restarted.

De Lacy built on a monumental scale, with spectacular polygonal towers and palatial accommodation finished with eye catching striped and chequered masonry. Denbigh quickly became a major commercial centre with a borough that expanded outside the town walls.

Did you know. Architecturally, it is Denbigh’s triple-towered great gatehouse that really impresses – it has even been described as “one of the seven wonders of Wales”.

Denbigh Castle
LL16 3NB

Other Princes and Lords of the Border Marches sites nearby include:

What? Medieval castle begun by Henry III in 1223
Where? Montgomery, Powys

Norman Lord Hubert de Burgh’s castle was a statement of power that dominated the local landscape. Imposing and impressive even today, Montgomery Castle was a crucial front line fortress and an important administrative centre.

It was here where the Treaty of Montgomery was signed in 1267, which formally recognised Llywelyn ap Gruffudd as Prince of Wales. Ironically, it was also from here that soldiers, under the command of Roger de Mortimer, marched against the Welsh, eventually leading to Llywelyn’s death in 1282.

With its striking remains and tremendous views, this castle holds stark reminders of Montgomery’s medieval past, including its defensive walls, the church and market place.

Did you know. The majority of the Montgomery Castle was demolished on the order of Parliament after the Civil War in the 1600s.

Montgomery Castle
SY15 6HN

Other Princes and Lords of the Border Marches sites nearby include:

What? 900-year old castle, currently undergoing a major restoration project
Where? Hay-on-Wye, on the Powys/Herefordshire border.

As with the other border castles, Hay’s history is long and turbulent. The first Castle in Hay was a Motte and Bailey built in 1100 on a different site. In the latter half of the 12th Century Marcher lord – William de Braose – built the current castle from stone. The castle was captured and damaged by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last prince of Wales, in 1233, only to be rebuilt by Henry III. The town became more peaceful after Edward I’s successful campaigns in Wales.

The castle was adapted over time, and by 1660 had become part of a Jacobean manor house. The eastern part of the manor was gutted by a fire in 1939 and is still derelict. The western section also suffered a fire in 1979 whilst under ownership of Richard Booth and was partially restored shortly after.

Did you know. Since 2011 the site has been under the care of the Hay Castle Trust who are working to save the Castle. Their vision is to open it up to everyone as an arts, culture and education centre upon completion of a major restoration project.

Hay Castle

Other Princes and Lords of the Border Marches sites nearby include:

What? Medieval castle – the best preserved of Hubert de Burgh’s ‘Three Castles’.
Where? Monmouthshire

This is an example of an early Norman castle in Wales, possibly founded by William FitzOsbern. It was Hubert de Burgh however who was responsible for the fortifications we see today. In 1201 he took control of White Castle along with the nearby castles of Skenfrith and Grosmont (which together form his ‘Three Castles’).

While Skenfrith and Grosmont were made fit for nobility, White Castle was more suited as a military stronghold with its powerful round towers standing guard over the surrounding territory. Even the domestic buildings were more befitting a garrison commander than a great Lord.

Did you know. After Hubert de Burgh’s death, the Three Castles fell to royal hands, and in 1254 Henry III granted them to his eldest son, the future King Edward I.

White Castle

Other Princes and Lords of the Border Marches sites nearby include:

The princes of Gwynedd reigned for more than 800 years — centuries that saw bloody internal battles and clashes with the English crown, but also cultural growth, religious and social change and the construction of many awe-inspiring buildings.

Their dynasty left a permanent mark on the landscape of Wales and helped to forge the proud national identity which still stands strong today.

The compelling tale of Gwynedd’s princely rulers includes some of the most significant figures in Welsh history — from Rhodri Mawr, who defeated Viking invaders in 856, to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, who was recognised by Henry III of England as Prince of Wales in 1267 (only to be killed by Edward I’s forces in 1282).

Today, you can experience the legacy of the princes’ reign in the stunning landscape of north Wales.

What? Ruins of a castle first mentioned in records dating back to the 8th century
Where? Deganwy, Conwy

Deganwy Castle altered form and changed hands on many occasions over the centuries, with a number of documented Welsh and Norman owners. Most of what you see at the site today was built by Henry III. The castle was eventually captured and systematically dismantled by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd — a significant moment in Llywelyn’s campaign against Henry.

Due to the castle’s turbulent past, not a great deal has survived to the present day. However traces do remain, and the site itself, atop a steep hill, offers commanding views of the mouth of the river Conwy and Edward I’s spectacular Conwy Castle.

Why not start your tour of the princes' domain by surveying Maelgwn's lands as he would have done nearly fifteen centuries ago?

Did you know. The castle lies at an elevation of 110m above sea level, sprawled over
two volcanic plugs.

Deganwy Castle
LL31 9PJ

What? The remains of a medieval Welsh court
Where? Newborough, Anglesey

Lying undiscovered until 1992, the excavation of the site has revealed the only medieval Welsh court you can actually visit.

Welsh royalty divided their territories in to administrative areas, each of which had its own ‘Llys’ or court. The princes would travel to these courts on official business, including tax collection and overseeing legal matters.

Here at Llys Rhosyr, the excavations revealed many artefacts from the 13th century as well as the stone remains of three structures, including a hall and an area with ovens.

Did you know. Three quarters of the site remains unexplored by archaeologists, but what you can see provides a fascinating insight into medieval Welsh society.

To add to your enjoyment of the site a downloadable audio tour is available from

What? Ruined 13th century castle
Where? Llanberis

Built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn ap Grufudd’s powerful grandfather), Dolbadarn Castle was a potent symbol of his status and wealth.

The castle was intended to guard the entrance of the Llanberis Pass, and later became a royal prison.

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had fought tirelessly against his brothers to become the overall overarching Prince of Gwynedd. But even in defeat, the brothers posed a serious threat.

Llywelyn’s solution? To imprison them, keeping his elder brother, Owain Goch, within the castle’s prison for twenty-two years – a 50ft round tower which still dominates the site to this day.

Did you know. Historians believe Owain Goch was held here because the 13th century poet Hywel Foel ap Griffi described Owain as ‘a man in a tower, long a guest’.

Dolbadarn Castle
Llanberis LL55 4TA

What? A 13th century castle built upon rocky headland
Where? Criccieth, Gwynedd

Built sometime during the 13th century, Criccieth Castle is perched upon a steep headland overlooking Tremadog Bay. Don’t be fooled by the site’s beautiful views across the water - Criccieth’s twin-towered gatehouse is an intimidating structure.

Originally built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, this Welsh prince included a very English style gatehouse. Edward I’s forces took the castle some 50 years later, and made a number of changes to its fabric.

Did you know. During the 13th century, Criccieth Castle housed many political prisoners including Gruffudd ap Llywelyn and Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg.

The castle’s visitor centre helps tell the story of the Princes of Gwynedd.
Criccieth Castle
Castle Street,
LL55 0DP

The Roman conquest, occupation and settlement of Wales took place over the course of 360 years from AD 47 – AD410.

Evidence of this dramatic time can still be found in our country, providing a fascinating glimpse into the great cultural and technological changes the Romans brought to Wales.

What did the Romans do for us? They encouraged the widespread use of coins as currency and introduced mass production, sanitation, literacy and road networks. The Roman Conquest and Settlement of Wales trail will help you discover more about the profound effect these settlers had on our society.

What? Remains of a Roman fort built to defend the Empire against rebellious tribes.
Where? Caernarfon, Gwynedd

Situated in the heart of Gwynedd, Segontium Roman Fort stands a little over a mile from the magnificent site of Caernarfon Castle.

Established in AD 77, Segontium was the centre of Roman control in north Wales, with a force of 1,000 auxiliary soldiers stationed here at its peak. Visitors to the site can marvel at the remains of the fort while imagining what life would have been like for those who were stationed here.

Long after the final departure of the legions, Segontium passed into Welsh legend as Caer Aber Seint (the fort at the mouth of the river) and is mentioned in the dream of Macsen Wledig in the early tales of the Mabinogion.

Want more? A display at Caernarfon Castle includes the story of Macsen Wledig, referencing the town’s early beginnings in a new interpretive film.

Did you know. Cadw recently reconstructed what Segontium would have looked like in its heyday using CGI technology. You can watch the video here.

Segontium Roman Fort
Llanbeblig Rd
LL55 2LN

Other Roman sites in the area include:

What? Remains of gold mine opened over 2,000 years ago
Where? Cothi Valley, Carmarthenshire

The Romans came to Britain to search out its mineral and agricultural wealth, and they quite literally ‘struck gold’ here at Dolaucothi, beginning an industry that lasted on this site through to 1938.

These goldmines are unique in Wales and the visible remains of the mining operations, water systems and aqueduct are truly impressive. You can see for yourself where the Roman’s would have hacked away at the tunnel walls, bit by bit as part of a highly planned and organised operation.

Looked after by National Trust, tours down into the site are available, while further Roman sites Y Pigwyn Roman Marching Camp, Brecon Gaer Fort and Carmarthen Amphitheatre are all within visiting distance.

Did you know. Dolaucothi also benefits from breath-taking views out onto the wooded hillsides of the Cothi Valley

What? Extraordinarily well-preserved Roman fortress, amphitheatre and baths.
Where? Caerleon, Newport

Caerleon is at the heart of the nation’s Roman story. Once home to the Second Augustan Legion, the mighty fortress comes complete with an original Roman amphitheatre. Ringside seats at this amphitheatre, thought to have been able to seat at least 6,000 spectators, could have been a rather messy affair – just imagine man and beast fighting tooth and claw for their lives!

Visitors can also imagine life as a Roman soldier in the barrack blocks or, with the help of some digital wizardry, see bathers enjoying the fortress baths in what was once the settlers’ state-of-the-art leisure complex.

The National Roman Legion Museum is also situated in Caerleon. It tells the story of life in this far flung outpost of the Roman Empire, and displays artefacts found during excavations of Roman Caerleon.

Did you know. Occupied from AD 75, the original timber site was steadily rebuilt in stone – much of what you see today dates from the second century AD.

Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths
NP18 1AE

What? Remains of a complete Roman town
Where? Caerwent, Monmouthshire

Caerwent’s local tribe, the Silures, resisted the Romans for over 30 years before surrendering in AD 75. In time the Romans gave them ‘civitas’ status – local self-governance. The town, known as Venta Silurum or “Market of the Silures was”, was then established as part of the arrangement.

The fourth century structures include excavated houses, a forum-basilica and a Romano-British temple, all enclosed within huge town walls that still stand up to 17 feet (5.2m) high in places.

Visit the West Gate barns area for fascinating interpretation panels.

Did you know. Known as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Roman archaeology in Wales, the remains at Caerwent Roman Town are said to rival the quality of Hadrian’s Wall.

Caerwent Roman Town
NP26 5AU

Wales has lots to offer in terms of its industrial heritage, with many treasures which are well worth a visit — including a site of such industrial importance it has been granted World Heritage status.

The World Heritage landscape of Blaenavon, in the heart of the south Wales valleys, offers numerous attractions including the opportunity to experience life as a miner at Big Pit National Coal Museum, and as a worker at the Blaenavon Ironworks, a site which had a significant impact on the world as we know it today. Further west is home to the National Wool Museum, located in the historic former Cambrian Mills, and in the heart of the Snowdonia mountains in north Wales is the National Slate Museum.

All four corners of Wales have an industrial story to tell…

What? Museum housed in original quarry workshops
Where? Llanberis, Snowdonia

The National Slate Museum tells the story of life in Wales’s slate communities when the Welsh slate industry ‘roofed the world’.

As well as opportunities to see the foundry, forges, sheds and the largest working waterwheel in the UK, skilled craftsmen also give live demonstrations of the art of splitting and dressing slate by hand.

Did you know. The National Slate Museum is twinned with the Slate Valley Museum in Granville, NY, USA, reinforcing the links between Welsh communities on both sides of the Atlantic.

LL55 4TY

What? Museum located within the historic former Cambrian Mills
Where? Carmarthenshire

Located in the heart of west Wales’s countryside, the National Wool Museum tells the story of the once thriving woollen industry in Teifi Valley.

This gem of a museum is housed in an original mill building, where industrial machinery and live weaving displays can be seen which bring to life the process of 'fleece to fabric'.

This once mighty industry produced clothing, shawls and blankets for the workers of Wales and the rest of the world.

Did you know. The wool industry dominated the Teifi area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

SA44 5UP

What? Industrial heritage museum
Where? Blaenavon

At the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage landscape of Blaenavon, lies Big Pit - a former working coal mine. This award-winning museum offers an experience unparalleled in the country, and one of only two sites in the UK where visitors can go underground in an original coal mine.

Guided by ex-miners, visitors descend to the very depths of the mine and get a taste of what life was like for those who made their living at the coal face.

There are further facilities to educate and entertain all ages above ground, including a multi-media virtual tour in the Mining Galleries and exhibitions in the Pithead Baths and historic colliery buildings.

Did you know. The currently accessible mines at Big Pit lie over 90 metres below the surface of the ground.


What? Former 18th century industrial site
Where? Blaenavon

Just under an hour’s drive from the capital city of Cardiff, in the famous south Wales Valleys stand Blaenavon Ironworks. The ironworks were a milestone in the history of the Industrial Revolution, and at the time were at the cutting-edge of new technology.

The power of steam was harnessed and a way of making steel using iron-ore was developed, which led to a worldwide boom in the steel industry, taking Wales’s industrial might to a new height. Visitors to the site can see the refurbished Stack Square cottages, to experience how the workers lived through the ages, and the recreated company truck shop. New, cutting-edge audio-post technology helps bring the story of the Ironworks to life like never before.

The landscape of Blaenavon has gained World Heritage status as a result of its revolutionary form and function. From mines to train lines, you can still trace the routes in and routes out, from raw material to finished product.

Did you know. Originally built in 1790, people lived in Blaenavon Ironworks’s Engine Row cottages until the 1960s.

Blaenavon Ironworks

What? 19th century aqueduct
Where? Near Llangollen

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee in Wrexham County Borough.

Built by Thomas Telford and completed in 1805, it's no exaggeration to say that the techniques and ideas developed at Pontcysyllte helped shape the world through their impact on engineering. Taking over 10 years to build and costing £38,499 — the equivalent of £38 million today — the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was truly one of the engineering marvels of the Industrial age.

UNESCO made this masterpiece of civil engineering a World Heritage Site in 2009 – along with 11 miles of canal including Chirk Aqueduct and the Horseshoe Falls at Llantysilio, near Llangollen.

Did you know. When Thomas Telford finished the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in 1805, it was the tallest canal boat crossing in the world.

Station Rd,
Trevor Basin,
LL20 7TG

Has the Wales History Map inspired you to explore Wales?

Whether you’re driving across the country or just setting off to a site on your doorstep, every road trip needs a playlist to set the scene for adventure. We’ve teamed up with Trac Cymru to create the ‘ultimate Welsh road trip soundtrack’ – a YouTube based playlist of songs by Welsh artists.

With a song to represent each historic theme on the Wales History Map, the soundtrack can be played at home or on the move.

5. Pembroke Castle

Source: travellight / shutterstock Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle is famously known as the birthplace of Henry VII and recently the castle came into attention again as archeologists found even more precise information about the first Tudor king’s birthplace.

The original castle was built at the very end of the 11th century and was rebuilt in stone a century later thus making it one of the most impressive examples of Norman stone castles in the country.

Pembroke Castle is built above Wogan’s Cavern or Wogan Cave. The cave is known to have been used by humans as far back as the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods. In the 13th century the cave became a part of Pembroke Castle’s defences.

Oliver Cromwell’s forces attacked the castle in 1648 during the English Civil War and Cromwell was personally present during the taking of the castle after a 7-week siege.

Kildrummy Castle

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

Digital Images

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View towards North-West side of castle from the bakehouse. Digital image of D 59253 CN

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View of Elphinstone Tower and Great Hall from SW corner of courtyard.

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View of E curtain between chapel and warden's tower.

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View of bakehouse complex and SE tower.

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View of bakehouse complex and SE tower.

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View of gatehouse ruins and foundations.

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General view of Dr Simpson's excavations.

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General view of Dr Simpson's excavations.

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Interior. View of chapel looking E showing repointing/consolidation.

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View of Snow Tower and Elphinetone Tower from SE, including new house in distance.

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Photographic copy of drawing showing general view.

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View towards NW side of castle from gatehouse.

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Oblique aerial photograph, taken from the E, centred on Kildrummy Castle.

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Oblique aerial photograph, taken from the NNE, centred on Kildrummy Castle.

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Oblique aerial photograph, taken from the S, centred on Kildrummy Castle.

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Oblique aerial view of Kildrummy castle centred on the remains of the castle with hotel adjacent, taken from the SW.

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Oblique aerial view of Kildrummy castle centred on the remains of the castle with hotel adjacent, taken from the SE.

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Oblique aerial view of Kildrummy castle centred on the remains of the castle, taken from the N.

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Oblique aerial view of Kildrummy castle centred on the remains of the castle, taken from the SW.

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Oblique aerial view of Kildrummy castle centred on the remains of the castle, with hotel adjacent taken from the E.

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Kildrummy Castle General Views

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Kildrummy Castle General Views

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aerial View & Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Exteriors & Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Gen Views

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Interiors + Exterior Details

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Interiors + Exterior Details

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Interiors + Exterior Details

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Interiors + Exterior Details

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Interiors + Exterior Details

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Interiors + Exterior Details

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Interiors + Exterior Details

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Details

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Details

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Details

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Kildrummy Castle Excavations, Plaque etc.

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Kildrummy Castle Excavations, Plaque etc.

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Kildrummy Castle Excavations, Plaque etc.

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Kildrummy Castle Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Excavations . April 1960

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Kildrummy Castle Excavations . April 1960

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Kildrummy Castle General Views for P/C's

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View of North-West side of Castle from the bakehouse. Digital image of D 59260 CN

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View of section of W curtain between SW Tower and Snow Tower from courtyard.

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Photographic copy woodcut showing general view.

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General view of Dr Simpson's excavations.

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General view of Dr Simpson's excavations.

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General view of Dr Simpson's excavations.

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Historic Buildings and Monuments/Scottish Development Department photographs

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Copy of historic photograph showing general view.

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Copy of historic photograph showing view from S.

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General Collection Lantern Slides

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General view of Elphinstone Tower from SE.

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View of the Warden's Tower

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Oblique aerial photograph, taken from the SSE, centred on Kildrummy Castle.

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Oblique aerial photograph, taken from the SE, centred on Kildrummy Castle.

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Oblique aerial photograph, taken from the N, centred on Kildrummy Castle.

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Oblique aerial view of Kildrummy Castle centred on the remains of a castle, taken from the ENE.

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Oblique aerial view of Kildrummy Castle centred on the remains of a castle, taken from the SE.

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General oblique aerial view looking over the remains of the castle towards upper Strath Don, taken from the SSW.

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Oblique aerial view centred on the remains of the castle with hotel, farmhouse and farmsteading adjacent, taken from the NNW.

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Ian B M Ralston Aberdeen Archaeological Surveys

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Kildrummy Castle General Views

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Kildrummy Castle General Views

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Kildrummy Castle Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Kildrummy Castle Aberdeenshire Excavations

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeenshire
  • Parish Kildrummy
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Gordon
  • Former County Aberdeenshire

Archaeology Notes

(NJ 455 164) Kildrummy Castle (NR) (In Ruins)

Kildrummy Castle - Fully described, illustrated and planned by Simpson.

Kildrummy Castle as described and illustrated in the MoW pamphlet.

Visited by OS (NKB) 20 September 1968.

One of the few great castles of enclosure to have survived in Scotland from the high point of medieval Europrean castle building, Kildrummy's broken grey walls lie like giant shattered eggshells. Defended to the N by the steep natural den from which the stone for the castle was quarried, and with a broad ditch quarried on the other sides, in plan, Kildrummy is shield-shaped (with the flat top to the N).

It appears that the castle as first constructed in the early 13th century for Alexander II was a plain polygonal enclosure this phase is represented by the coursed rubble of the E, W and S curtains. In the middle of the century the chapel was constructed, and, to achieve a true E-W axis, was allowed to breach the curtain (in a manner 'that defies rational and learned explanation'). Subsequently, possibly as a result of the visit if Edward I of England in 1296, the towers, the ashlar plinth of the N curtain and the gatehouse were added to produce a castle with remarkable similarities to the Edwardian castles of Harlech and Caernarvon, and, closer to Grampian, Bothwell, in Strathclyde.

Important early features of the interior include the archers' slits and prison in the Warden's tower (in the NE), the adjacent postern gate and portcullis, the great hall against the N curtain, and the great donjon or Snow Tower (in the NW) which follows early French models. Later refashioning of the tower-house included the Elphinstone tower, a 16th century tower-house at the W end of the hall and the bakehouse complex in the SE.

The castle saw many sieges, notably in 1306 when Sir Nigel Bruce (King Robert's brother) held it against the young Prince Edward of Caernarvon until betrayed by Osbarn the Smith (who was rewarded, it is said, by having the gold he had been promised poured molten down his throat). The castle was restored (most evident in the W curtain), besieged in 1335 by Balliol forces, burnt in 1530, captured by Cromwell in 1654, and became the headquarters of the Earl of Mar's Jacobite rising of 1715, after which it was demolished.

(Air photographic cover listed: miscellaneous newspaper and additional references cited).

Kildrummy Castle is a fine example of a late 13th-century castle. It is situated on the S edge of the gorge cut by the Culsh Burn, known as the Black Den, and occupies a tactically strong position on rising ground. Strategically it dominates upper Strath Don, which lay within the earldom of Mar in the medieval period. The castle was occupied by the earls for much of the period from the 13th century to the early 18th century and has played an important part in the history of north-east Scotland. The castle probably ceased to be a private residence after 1715, following the attainder of the earl of Mar, who led the Jacobite rising of that year. The castle quickly became a ruin and is shown as such in a late 18th century engraving (C Cordiner 1780, 16). The castle was acquired in 1898 by a local landowner and antiquarian, Colonel James Ogston, who encouraged restoration and excavation work on the site, particularly that by Simpson (W D Simpson 1920 and 1928) since 1951 the castle has been in the care of the State (M R Apted 1965) and is now managed by Historic Scotland.

At least four major structural phases can be identified. The primary phase comprised a enclosure defined by shallow ditch or moat and a curtain wall along its inner lip these were revealed by Apted's excavations in the 1950s (M R Apted 1965), and by the stubs of walls emerging from under the Snow and Warden towers, which may be same outer wall shown on Cordiner's engraving (C Cordiner 1780, 16). In the second phase the characteristic polygonal castle of enclosure with a circular donjon at its NW corner was constructed within the primary stone curtain, and a large dry ditch excavated outside it. The structures associated with this phase are united in having fine squared ashlar stonework in their construction and include the main domestic accommodation along the N wall (the great hall, solar and kitchen) the Snow tower or donjon on the NW the Warden's tower on the NE the postern gate the intermediate Maule and Brux towers the garderobes in the curtain adjacent to the towers and therefore the curtain walls themselves, though the roughly dressed masonry suggests considerable rebuilding and a gatehouse and drawbridge, of which only the pit apparently survives from this phase (contra W D Simpson 1928, 75). The covered passage down to the Culsh Burn probably originates in this phase too for the same reason (W D Simpson 1944, 155-9). The first-floor chapel with its lancet windows is also clearly 13th century, but is probably a modification of this design rather than a separate phase in its own right the chapel breaks the original line of the curtain on the E, and was protected from attack by the addition of a blank semi-circular tower. In the third phase the gatehouse and the superstructure of the barbican were rebuilt, probably by order of Edward I, on the model that had been developed in the Edwardian conquest of Wales, as seen for example at Harlech castle, which compares closely with it (W D Simpson 1928). A fourth phase is represented by the conversion of the solar block on the W of the great hall to a crow-stepped tower-house in the early 16th century for Lord Elphinstone. A narrower entrance inserted into the gatehouse probably dates from this time on the basis of the quarter-roll on the jamb the gatehouse was also strengthened against artillery by vaulting its basements (W D Simpson 1928), and the courtyard, trance and drawbridge pit were cobbled over. The blocking of the barbican side-gate may also belong to this phase. The freestanding kitchen block cannot be fitted easily to this sequence and is incomplete in its present form, but presumably post-dates that on the N curtain. Other undated structures include the now levelled, lean-to timber structures built against the curtain walls on the W of the inner court, between the cobbled yard and the wall, and the addition of a range of three rooms along the S wall of the great hall, probably after it was abandoned, since a chimney was inserted into the westernmost window opening. This is likely to be an 18th century phase of use (W D Simpson 1928, 60).

The castle has a complex history. Starting as a seat of the earls of Mar, it fell under the control of Edward I in 1296, but was held by Robert Bruce against him in the first of eight documented sieges:

1. in 1305-6 when it was besieged by Edward, prince of Wales (J Bain 1884, II, No. 1829)

2. in 1335 by the earl of Athol (A Wyntoun c. 1350-1420, vi, 58-71 J Stuart and G Burnett 1878, I, cliii & 437-8)

3. in 1361 by David II (J Stuart and G Burnett, 1878, II, xviii-ix, 166)

4. in 1404 it was seized by Sir Alexander Stewart, later earl of Mar by marriage (Reg Magni Sig Reg Scot, I App. 2, No. 1908: J Robertson and G Grubb, Aberdeen & Banff, IV, 167-70)

5. in 1442 by Sir Robert Erskine (J Robertson and G Grubb, Aberdeen & Banff, IV, 196-200)

6. in 1531 John Strachan of Lenturk stormed and burnt it (J Robertson and G Grubb, Aberdeen & Banff, IV, 758-9 Pitcairn, I, pt 1, 246.)

7. in 1654 it was taken by Colonel Morgan for Parliament (W D Simpson 1923, 239-240)

8. and in 1689-90 it was burnt by the retreating Jacobites (Fraser 1890, II, 168).

Destruction during these events provided ample opportunity for changes to take place. Other alterations were due to changing demands or wear and tear, particularly at changes of ownership. The rebuilding of the gatehouse, for example, probably relates to the English occupation under Edward I, from 1296-1305 subsequent repairs to the chapel and gatehouse were carried out on the acquisition of the earldom of Mar by the Crown in 1435 (M R Apted 1965), and the conversion of the solar to a tower-house by lord Elphinstone in 1507. Further works were probably carried out on the acquisition of the castle by the earl of Mar in 1626, following long legal wrangles with lord Elphinstone. The castle ceased to be occupied as a residence after the attainder of the earl of Mar in 1715 and by 1724 was already ruinous (W Macfarlane 1906-8, I, 28).

Visited by RCAHMS (PJD), 17 September 2001.

Reg Magni Sig Reg Scot A Wyntoun c. 1350-1420 C Cordiner 1780 R Pitcairn 1833 J Robertson and G Grubb 1847-62 J Stuart and G Burnett 1878 J Bain 1884 Sir W Fraser 1890 W Macfarlane 1906-8 W D Simpson 1920 W D Simpson 1928 W D Simpson 1944 M R Apted 1965.

NJ 454 163 An evaluation of the condition of the stone floor within the basement of the E gatehouse of Kildrummy Castle was undertaken in October 2001. The protective covering had recently been removed, and it was noted that this protection had been insufficient to prevent water and frost damage. The floor is eroded to various degrees across its area. There is little or no erosion around the extreme edges where tool marks are still visible.


11th–14th centuries Edit

The first castle on the Castell Coch site was probably built after 1081, during the Norman invasion of Wales. [3] [4] It formed one of a string of eight fortifications intended to defend the newly conquered town of Cardiff and control the route along the Taff Gorge. [4] It took the form of a raised, earth-work motte, about 35 metres (115 ft) across at the base and 25 metres (82 ft) on the top, protected by the surrounding steep slopes. [5] The 16th-century historian Rice Merrick claimed that the castle was built by the Welsh lord Ifor ap Meurig, but there are no records of this phase of the castle's history and modern historians doubt this account. [6] [7] The first castle was probably abandoned after 1093 when the Norman lordship of Glamorgan was created, changing the line of the frontier. [4]

In 1267, Gilbert de Clare, who held the Lordship of Glamorgan, seized the lands around the town of Senghenydd in the north of Glamorgan from their native Welsh ruler. [4] [3] [8] Caerphilly Castle was built to control the new territory and Castell Coch—strategically located between Cardiff and Caerphilly—was reoccupied. [4] [8] A new castle was built in stone around the motte, comprising a shell-wall, a projecting circular tower, a gatehouse and a square hall above an undercroft. [3] [9] The north-west section of the walls was protected by a talus and the sides of the motte were scarped to increase their angle, all producing a small but powerful fortification. [4] Further work followed between 1268 and 1277, which added two large towers, a turning-bridge for the gatehouse and further protection to the north-west walls. [10] [a]

On Gilbert's death, the castle passed to his widow Joan and around this time it was referred to as Castrum Rubeum, Latin for "the Red Castle", probably after the colour of the Red sandstone defences. [11] [12] Gilbert's son, also named Gilbert, inherited the property in 1307. [13] He died at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, triggering an uprising of the native Welsh in the region. [13] Castell Coch was probably destroyed by the rebels in July 1314, and possibly slighted to put it beyond any further use it was not rebuilt and the site was abandoned. [13] [14]

15th–19th centuries Edit

Bute ownership Edit

Castell Coch remained derelict the antiquarian John Leland, visiting around 1536, described it as "all in ruin, no big thing but high". [13] The artist and illustrator Julius Caesar Ibbetson painted the castle in 1792, depicting substantial remains and a prominent tower, with a lime kiln in operation alongside the fortification. [15] [16] Stone from the castle may have been robbed and used to feed the kilns during this period. [17] A similar view was sketched by an unknown artist in the early 19th century, showing more trees around the ruins a few years later, Robert Drane recommended the site as a place for picnics and noted its abundance in wild garlic. [16] [18] [19]

The ruins were acquired by the Earls of Bute in 1760, when John Stuart, the 3rd Earl and, from 1794, the 1st Marquess, married Lady Charlotte Windsor, adding her estates in South Wales to his inheritance. [20] John's grandson, John Crichton-Stuart, developed the Cardiff Docks in the first half of the 19th century although the docks were not especially profitable, they opened opportunities for the expansion of the coal industry in the South Wales valleys, making the Bute family extremely wealthy. [20] [21] The 2nd Marquess carried out exploration for iron ore at Castell Coch in 1827 and considered establishing an ironworks there. [22]

The 3rd Marquess of Bute, another John Crichton-Stuart, inherited the castle and the family estates as a child in 1848. [23] [24] On his coming of age, Bute's landed estates and industrial inheritance made him one of the wealthiest men in the world. [25] He had a wide range of interests including archaeology, theology, linguistics and history. [25] Interest in medieval architecture increased in Britain during the 19th century, and in 1850 the antiquarian George Clark surveyed Castell Coch and published his findings, the first major scholarly work about the castle. [16] The ruins were covered in rubble, ivy, brushwood and weeds the keep had been largely destroyed and the gatehouse was so covered with debris that Clark failed to discover it. [16] [26] Nonetheless, Clark considered the external walls "tolerably perfect" and advised that the castle be conserved, complete with the ivy-covered stonework. [27]

In 1871, Bute asked his chief Cardiff engineer, John McConnochie, to excavate and clear the castle ruins. [28] [b] The report on the investigations was produced by William Burges, an architect with an interest in medieval architecture [28] who had met Bute in 1865. The Marquess subsequently employed him to redevelop Cardiff Castle in the late 1860s, and the two men became close collaborators. [29] [30] Burges's lavishly illustrated report, which drew extensively on Clark's earlier work, laid out two options: either conserve the ruins or rebuild the castle to create a house for occasional occupation in the summer. [31] [32] [33] [34] On receipt of the report, Bute commissioned Burges to rebuild Castle Coch in a Gothic Revival style. [31] [32]

Reconstruction Edit

The reconstruction of Castell Coch was delayed until 1875, because of the demands of work at Cardiff Castle and an unfounded concern by the Marquess's trustees that he was facing bankruptcy. [35] On commencement, the Kitchen Tower, Hall Block and shell wall were rebuilt first, followed by the Well Tower and the Gatehouse, and the Keep Tower last. [36] [32] Burges's drawings for the proposed rebuilding survive at the Bute seat of Mount Stuart. [33] The drawings were supplemented by a large number of wooden and plaster models, from smaller pieces to full-size models of furniture. [37] [c]

The bulk of the external work was complete by the end of 1879. The result closely followed Burges's original plans, with the exception of an additional watch tower intended to resemble a minaret, and some defensive timber hoardings, both of which were not undertaken. [32] [36] [38] Clark continued to advise Burges on historical aspects of the reconstruction and the architect tested the details of proposed features, such as the drawbridge and portcullis, against surviving designs at other British castles. [39] [40]

—Extract from the report of William Burges on Castell Coch. [41]

Burges's team of craftsmen at Castell Coch included many who had worked with him at Cardiff Castle and elsewhere. [42] John Chapple, his office manager, designed most of the furnishings and furniture, [42] and William Frame acted as clerk of works. [42] Horatio Lonsdale was Burges's chief artist, painting extensive murals at the castle. [42] His main sculptor was Thomas Nicholls, together with another long-time collaborator, the Italian sculptor Ceccardo Fucigna. [42]

Stimulated by antiquarian writings about British viticulture, Bute decided to reintroduce commercial grape vines into Britain in 1873. [43] He sent his gardener Andrew Pettigrew to France for training and planted a 1.2-hectare (3-acre) vineyard just beneath the castle in 1875. [43] [44] The first harvests were poor and the initial harvest in 1877 produced only 240 bottles. [45] [46] Punch magazine claimed that any wine produced would be so unpleasant that "it would take four men to drink it—two to hold the victim and one to pour the wine down his throat". [44] [46] [47] By 1887, the output was 3,000 bottles of sweet white wine of reasonable quality. [47] [48] [49] Bute persevered, commercial success followed and 40 hogsheads of wine, including a red varietal using Gamay grapes, were produced annually by 1894 to positive reviews. [47] [48] [49] [50]

Burges died in 1881 after catching a severe chill during a site visit to the castle. [51] [d] His brother-in-law, the architect Richard Pullan, took over the commission and delegated most of the work to Frame, who directed the work on the interior until its completion in 1891. [1] [51] Bute and his wife Gwendolen were consulted over the details of the interior decoration replica family portraits based on those at Cardiff were commissioned to hang on the walls. [53] [54] Clark approved of the result, commenting in 1884 that the restoration was in "excellent taste". [55] An oratory originally built on the roof of the Well Tower was removed before 1891 but in other respects the completed castle was left unaltered. [56]

The castle was not greatly used the Marquess rarely visited after its completion. [1] The property had probably only been intended for limited, informal use, for example as a retreat following picnics. Although it had reception rooms suitable for large gatherings, it had only three bedrooms and was too far from Cardiff for casual visits. [57] [35] [e] The restored castle initially received little interest from the architectural community, possibly because the total rebuilding of the castle ran counter to the increasingly popular late-Victorian philosophy of conserving older buildings and monuments. [59]

20th–21st centuries Edit

Bute died in 1900 and his widow, the Marchioness, was given a life interest in Castell Coch during her mourning, she and her daughter, Lady Margaret Crichton-Stuart, occupied the castle and made occasional visits thereafter. [1] [60] Production in the castle vineyards ceased during the First World War due to the shortages of the sugar needed for the fermentation process, and in 1920 the vineyards were uprooted. [47] John, the 4th Marquess, acquired the castle in 1932 but made little use of it. [57] He also began to reduce the family's investments in South Wales. [61] The coal trade had declined after 1918 and industry had suffered during the depression of the 1920s [62] [63] by 1938, the great majority of the family interests, including the coal mines and docks, had been sold off or nationalised. [61]

The 5th Marquess of Bute, another John, succeeded in 1947 and, in 1950, he placed the castle in the care of the Ministry of Works. The Marquess also disposed of Cardiff Castle, which he gave to the city, removing the family portraits from the castle before doing so. In turn, the paintings in Castell Coch were removed by the ministry and sent to Cardiff, [54] the National Museum of Wales providing alternatives from their collection for Castell Coch. [54] Academic interest in the property grew, with publications in the 1950s and 1960s exploring its artistic and architectural value. [64]

Since 1984, the property has been administered by Cadw, an agency of the Welsh Government, and is open to the public it received 69,466 visitors in 2011. [65] The Drawing Room is available for wedding ceremonies. [66] The castle has also been used as a location for filming. [67]

The castle's exposed position causes it to suffer from penetrating damp and periodic restoration work has been necessary. [53] [68] The stone tiles on the roof were replaced by slate in 1972, a major programme was carried out on the Keep in 2007 and interior conservation work was undertaken in 2011 to address problems in Lady Bute's Bedroom, where damp had begun to damage the finishings. [53] [68] [69] [70]

The original furnishings, many of which the Marquess removed in 1950, have mostly been recovered and returned to their original locations in the castle. [1] Two stained-glass panels from the demolished chapel, lost since 1901, were rediscovered at an auction in 2010 and were bought by Cadw for £125,000 in 2011. [71]

Overview Edit

Castell Coch occupies a stretch of woodland on the slopes above the village of Tongwynlais and the River Taff, about 10.6 kilometres (6.6 mi) north-west of the centre of Cardiff. [72] [73] The architecture is High Victorian Gothic Revival in style, influenced by contemporary 19th-century French restorations. [74] Its design combines the surviving elements of the medieval castle with 19th-century additions to produce a building which the historian Charles Kightly considered "the crowning glory of the Gothic Revival" in Britain. It is protected under UK law as a Grade I listed building due to its exceptional architectural and historical interest. [29] [70] [74] [75]

Exterior Edit

The castle comprises three circular towers—the Keep, the Kitchen Tower and the Well Tower—along with the Hall Block, the Gatehouse and a shell wall the buildings almost entirely encase the original motte in stone. [76] The older parts of the castle are constructed from crudely laid red sandstone rubble and grey limestone, the 19th-century additions in more precisely cut red Pennant sandstone. [32] [77] A ditch is cut out of the rock in front of the Gatehouse and leads to an eastern approach road. [78] The castle is surrounded by woodland and the 19th-century vineyards below it have been converted into a golf course. [45] In 1850, George Clark recorded an "outer court" of which nothing remains this may, in fact, have been the traces of the earlier lime kiln operations around the site. [79]

The Gatehouse is reached across a wooden bridge, incorporating a drawbridge. [80] Burges intended the bridge to copy those of medieval castles, which he believed were designed to be easily set on fire in the event of attack. [80] The Gatehouse was fitted with a wooden defensive bretèche [f] and, above the entrance, Burges sited a portcullis and a glazed statue of the Madonna and Child sculpted by Ceccardo Fucigna. [42] [80]

The Keep is 12 metres (39 ft) in diameter with a square, spurred base in the 13th century there would have been an adjacent turret, on the south-west side, containing latrines, but few traces remain. [81] There is no evidence that the tower that Burges termed a keep would have fulfilled this function in the medieval period and he appears to have chosen the name because of his initial decision to locate the bedrooms of Lord and Lady Bute in the rebuilt tower. [81] The Kitchen Tower is also 12 metres (39 ft) across and rests on a square, spurred base. [82] It was originally two storeys high and contained the medieval kitchen Burgess raised its height and gave it a conical roof and chimneys. [82] The walls of these two towers are around 3.0 metres (10 ft) thick at the base, thinning to 0.61 metres (2 ft) at the top. [80] The Well Tower at 11.5 metres (38 ft) in diameter is slightly narrower than the Keep or Kitchen Tower, with a well in its lowest chamber sunk into the ground. [83] The Well Tower lacks the spurs of the other two towers and has a flat rather than curved back, facing onto the courtyard, similar to some of the towers built at Caerphilly by the de Clares. [84]

The towers contribute to what the architectural writer Charles Handley-Read considered the castle's "sculptural and dramatic exterior". [85] Almost equal in diameter, but of differing conical roof designs and heights, and topped with copper-gilt weather vanes, they combine to produce a romantic appearance, [3] [78] [86] which Matthew Williams described as bringing "a Wagnerian flavor to the Taff Valley". [87]

—Burges defending his decision to feature conical roofs in the light of doubtful historical evidence. [88]

The design of the towers was influenced by the work of the contemporary French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, including his restorations of Carcassone and the châteaus of Aigle and Chillon. [30] While the exterior of Castell Coch is relatively true to English 13th-century medieval design—albeit heavily influenced by the Gothic Revival movement—the inclusion of the conical roofs, which more closely resemble those of fortifications in France or Switzerland than Britain, is historically inaccurate. [30] [75] [88] [89] Although he mounted a historical defence (see box), Burges chose the roofs mainly for architectural effect, arguing that they appeared "more picturesque", and to provide additional room for accommodation in the castle. [88]

The three towers lead into a small oval courtyard that sits on the top of the motte, about 19.5 metres (64 ft) across lengthways. [82] Cantilevered galleries and wall-walks run around the inside of the courtyard with neat and orderly woodwork the historian Peter Floud critiqued it as "perhaps too much like the backcloth for an historical pageant". [86] [90] Burges reconstructed the shell wall that runs along the north-west side of the courtyard 0.99 metres (3 ft 3 in) thick, complete with arrow holes and a battlement. [57]

Interior Edit

The Keep, the Well Tower and the Kitchen Tower incorporate a series of apartments, of which the main sequence, the Castellan's Rooms, lies within the Keep. The Hall, the Drawing Room, Lord Bute's Bedroom and Lady Bute's Bedroom form a suite of rooms that exemplify the High Victorian Gothic style of 19th century Britain. Unlike the exterior of the castle, which deliberately imitated the architecture of the 13th century, the interior was purely High Victorian in style. [36] On Burges's decoration of Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch, Handley-Read wrote: "I have yet to see any High Victorian interiors from the hand, very largely, of one designer, to equal either in homogeneity or completeness, in quality of execution or originality of conception the best of the interiors of the Welsh castles. For sheer power of intoxication, Burges stand[s] unrivalled." [91]

The Banqueting Hall Edit

The Banqueting Hall is 6.1 by 9.1 metres (20 by 30 ft) across with an 11-metre (35 ft) ceiling, and occupies the whole of the first floor of the Hall Block. [92] Burges persuaded Bute and the antiquarian George Clark that the medieval hall would have stood on the first floor. [39] His original plan saw access via one of two equally circuitous routes through the Well Tower or around the entire internal gallery to enter the hall through a passage next to the Drawing Room. [39] Neither approach was acceptable to Bute and at a late stage, around 1878/9, the present entrance was created by expanding a window at the head of the internal gallery. [39]

The hall is austere the architectural historian John Newman critiqued its decoration as "dilute" and "unfocused", Crook as "anaemic". [93] [94] It features stencilled ceilings and murals which resemble medieval manuscripts. The murals were designed by Horatio Lonsdale and executed by Campbell, Smith & Company. [95] [94] The furniture is by John Chapple, made in Lord Bute's workshops at Cardiff. [94] The tapered chimney of the room, modelled on 15th-century French equivalents, contains a statue carved by Thomas Nicholls. [95] Although the architectural historian Mark Girouard suggested that the statue depicts the Hebrew King David, most historians believe that it shows Lucius of Britain, according to legend the founder of the diocese of Llandaff in nearby Cardiff. [86] [92] [95]

The Drawing Room Edit

The octagonal Drawing Room occupies the first and second floors of the Keep. [54] The ceiling is supported by vaulted stone ribs modelled on Viollet-Le-Duc's work at Château de Coucy and the lower and upper halves of the room are divided by a minstrels' gallery. [96] [97] The original plans for the space involved two chambers, one on each floor, and the new design was adopted only in 1879, Burges noting at the time that he intended to "indulge in a little more ornament" than elsewhere in the castle. [98] [99]

The decoration of the room focuses on what Newman described as the "intertwined themes [of] the fecundity of nature and the fragility of life". [54] [100] A fireplace by Thomas Nicholls features the Three Fates, the trio of Greek goddesses who are depicted spinning, measuring and cutting the thread of life. [86] [101] The ceiling's vaulting is carved with butterflies, reaching up to a golden sunburst at the apex of the room, while plumed birds fly up into a starry sky in the intervening sections. [96] [102] Around the room, 58 panels, each depicting one or more unique plants, are surmounted by a mural showing animals from twenty-four of Aesop's Fables. The plants are wild flowers from the Mediterranean, where Lord Bute spent his winter months each year. Carved birds, lizards and other wildlife decorate the doorways. [102]

The historian Terry Measham wrote that the Drawing Room and Lady Bute's Bedroom, "so powerful in their effect, are the two most important interiors in the castle." [103] The architectural writer Andrew Lilwall-Smith considered the Drawing Room to be "Burges's pièce de résistance", encapsulating his "romantic vision of the Middle Ages". [86] The decoration of the ceiling, which was carried out while Burges was alive, differs in tone from the treatment of the murals, and the decoration of Lady Bute's Bedroom, which were both completed, under the direction of William Frame and Horatio Lonsdale respectively, after Burges's death. [101] [104] Burges's work is distinctively High Gothic in style, while the later efforts are more influenced by the softer colours and character of the Aesthetic movement, which had grown in popularity by the 1880s. [51] [101]

Lord Bute's Bedroom Edit

In comparison to other rooms within the castle, Lord Bute's Bedroom, sited above the Winch Room, is relatively small and simple. [105] The original plan had Bute's personal accommodation in the Keep but the expansion of the Drawing Room to a double-height room in 1879 required a late change of plan. [97] The bedroom contains an ornately carved fireplace. [106] Doors lead off the room to an internal balcony overlooking the courtyard and to the bretache over the gate arch. [105] The furniture is mainly by Chapple and post-dates Burges, although the washstand and dressing table are pared-down versions of two pieces – the Narcissus Washstand and the Crocker Dressing Table – that Burges made for his own home in London, The Tower House. [107]

This bedroom is also less richly ornamented than many in the castle, making extensive use of plain, stencilled geometrical patterns on the walls. [108] Crook suggested this provided some "spartan" relief before the culmination of the castle in Lady Bute's Bedroom but Floud considered the result "thin" and drab in comparison with the more richly decorated chambers. [108] [109] The bedroom would have been impractical for regular use, lacking wardrobes and other storage. [110]

Lady Bute's Bedroom Edit

Lady Bute's Bedroom comprises the upper two floors of the Keep, with a coffered, double-dome ceiling that rises up into the tower's conical roof. [111] The room was completed after Burges's death and, although he had created an outline model for the room's structure, which survives, he did not undertake detailed plans for its decoration. [104] [109] [111] [c] His team attempted to fulfil his vision for the room—"would Mr Burges have done it?" William Frame asked Nicholls in a letter of 1887—but the interior decoration was the work of Lonsdale between 1887 and 1888, with considerable involvement from Bute and his wife. [104] [109]

The room is circular, with the window embrasures forming a sequence of arches around the outside. [109] It is richly decorated, with love as the theme, displaying carved monkeys, pomegranates and grapevines on the ceiling, and nesting birds topping the pillars. [109] [111] Lord Bute thought the monkeys inappropriately "lascivious". [109] Above the fireplace is a winged statue of Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul, carrying a heart-shaped shield which displays the arms of the Bute family. [86] The washbasin, designed by John Chapple, has a dragon tap, and cisterns for hot and cold water covered with crenellated towers. [109] The Marchioness's scarlet and gold bed is the most notable piece of furniture in the room, modelled on a medieval original drawn by Viollet-le-Duc. [112] [109] Crook described the bed as being "medieval to the point of acute discomfort". [109]

The bedroom is Moorish in style, a popular inspiration in mid-Victorian interior design, and echoes earlier work by Burges in the Arab Room at Cardiff Castle and in the chancel at St Mary's Church at Studley Royal in Yorkshire. [111] [112] Lilwall-Smith likened the chamber, with its "Moorish-looking dome, maroon-and-gold painted furniture and large, low bed decorated with glass crystal orbs", to a scene from the Arabian Nights. [86] Peter Floud criticised the eclectic nature of this Moorish theme and contrasted it unfavourably with the more consistent style Burges applied to the Arab Room, suggesting that it gave the bedroom an overly theatrical, even pantomime-like, character. [113] The historian Matthew Williams considered that Lonsdale's efforts lack the imagination and flair that Burges himself might have brought to the room. [51]

Other rooms Edit

The Windlass Room, or Winch Room, is in the Gatehouse, entered from the Drawing Room. [102] It contains a working mechanism for operating the drawbridge and the portcullis. [114] The equipment was originally intended for the second floor, which Burges considered the most historically authentic location. [115] When later design modifications led him to move Lord Bute's Bedroom into that space, the equipment was simplified and placed on the first floor. [115] The Windlass Room includes murder holes, which Burges thought would have enabled medieval inhabitants of the castle to pour boiling water and oil on attackers. [108] [114]

An oratory, originally fitted to the roof of the Well Tower but removed before 1891, was decorated with twenty stained glass windows. [56] [116] Ten of these windows are displayed at Cardiff Castle, while the other ten are displayed on site two missing windows having been returned to the castle in 2011. [71] Other rooms in the castle include Lady Margaret Bute's Bedroom, the servants' hall and the kitchen. [117]

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Castle Gatehouse: The Strongest Part of any Medieval

  • The castle gatehouse was one of the most defensive parts of any medieval fortress
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Gatehouse Durham World Heritage Site

  • Until the seventeenth century, a dry moat would have preceded the gatehouse, forming an additional line of defence for the Castle
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Medieval Castle Layout: The Different Rooms and Areas of a

  • The phenomenal gatehouse of Harlech Castle, Wales
  • Every castle suffered a huge conundrum – people and supplies needed access to the castle, but building a route into the castle formed an incredibly obvious route for attackers
  • It took castle designers a surprisingly long time to solve this problem
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  • The gatehouse of a medieval castle is a protected building with various doors and obstacles and traps to help keep the castle guarded
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GATEHOUSE meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary

  • A small house at the gate into a castle, park, or other large building or area of land, often…

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Pleshey Castle: a gatehouse fit for royalty

  • This gatehouse at Pleshey closed off the keep and the lord’s private quarters from the rest of the castle, but although it would have provided a degree of security it should not be confused with the heavily fortified gateways of castles with a more obviously military role
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  • On the southeastern side of the First Gatehouse is a path that winds its way west, east and ultimately south to the front gate of Hyrule Castle
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Gatehouse, Chepstow Castle (Illustration)

  • The gatehouse of Chepstow Castle, Wales
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  • Kirkcudbright lies approximately 9 miles from Gatehouse and offers additional shopping, transport and professional services, as does Castle Douglas, 14 miles away
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  • Gatehouse at Leeds Castle in Kent, England
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  • From “Our Own Country: Descriptive, Historical, Pictorial” published by Cassell & Co Ltd, 1885.

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Exeter Rougemont Castle (The Gatehouse Record)

The early Norman gatehouse which was the main entrance into the inner bailey of the castle was little studied until the 1970s and 1980s: two events have led to a greatly improved understanding of the building: R.A.Higham's doctoral thesis on The Castles of Medieval Devon (Higham 1979), and a fabric survey undertaken in the context of the repair

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  • Gatehouse of Fleet also held a former role as the tollbooth of the late 18th century stagecoach route from Dumfries to Stranraer, along what is now the A75
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Gatehouse Exterior, Harlech Castle (Illustration)

  • Send to Google Classroom: The exterior eastern side of the Gatehouse of Harlech Castle in Wales, first built by Edward I of England (r
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Dover Castle and the Great Siege of 1216 » De Re Militari

First, John spent a great deal more on the castle than Richard.41 Second, the drum shaped towers are reminiscent of architecture attributed to him elsewhere – for example at Scarborough.42 Finally, the twin drum-towered gatehouse at Dover, although it may be compared in some details to the gatehouse of Pevensey Castle (possibly of the 1190s

Watch the video: North Wales 2021 Vlog 26 Harlech Castle and the drive home