The Tour of Wales



Gallery: The Age of Castles
Wales is known as the land of castles, and rightly so. You cannot drive for more then twenty minutes before finding another castle sitting atop a barren hill or rocky summit - a sign of a turbulent past that often spilled over into violence.
    When the Normans invaded England in 1066 they did not at once subdue Wales, although King William did manage to subdue the south coast. Mid and North Wales became known as Pura Wallia (pure Wales) and the land was ruled by various Welsh princes who vied with one another for power.
    The Normans were happy to let this situation persist until some of the princes (Owain Gwynedd and later Llywelyn ap Gruffudd) became so powerful that they could no longer be ignored. Nevertheless it took a man as determined as Edward I to actually take on these princes, and the campaign was a long and costly one which sapped his forces and his coffers to such an extent that it severely affected his campaigns in Scotland.
    This page describes a tiny selection of the castles from this period in Wales. A full treatment of all Welsh castles can be found on the
Castles of Wales page. If you came straight to this page, don't forget to look at the rest of our Welsh Tour
 Aberystwyth Castle Tower

Aberystwyth Castle

Built in 1277 by Edward 1st, Aberystwyth Castle is probably the youngest castle in Dyfed. Records of the building work are still extant and the cost of the building was over 4000 pounds. Aberystwyth is a fine example of a concentric castle.
    First captured before it was even finished, it was then burned by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. It was recaptured and remained mostly in English hands until it was taken by Owain Glyndwr in the Welsh uprisings. The rebellion petered out and it returned to English hands. In the Civil War it was pressed into action once more for the royalists, and when Cromwell finally took it he had it blown up. A local legend speaks of a tunnel running from the castle to a cave on the Ystwyth river, used as an escape route in times of siege. If the tunnel exists it has been blocked up now, but that does not prevent local children spending hours looking for it, spurred on by the fact that one of the towers of the castle remains unexcavated!

Aberystwyth Castle North Wall and Gate

Carreg Cennen

Carreg Cennen was built as a Welsh stronghold by the ruler of Deheubarth in the turbulant era of the Welsh princes. It fell to Edward 1st in 1277 and remained in English hands apart from a brief recapture in 1282 by Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and in 1287 by Rhys ap Maredudd. It was taken once more by Owain Glyndwr in the 14th century and then fell into disrepair after the Welsh uprisings failed. Garrisons remained there well into the 15th century but the castle was eventually demolished to prevent its use by bandits.
    Carreg Cennen's most notable features are its romantic setting and the existence of a large limestone cave which runs under the castle and was made integral to the fortification.
    Thanks to Jeff Thomas at
"The Castles of Wales" page for permission to use some of his pictures. The one below is one of them.

Carreg Cennen Sunset

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey

Beaumaris is the last of the castles built by Edward I, and is also the largest. It is in a good state of repair and is more then worth a visit - take a detour to see this castle if you are anywhere nearby.
    The castle is concentric (it has an inner and outer ward built in a concentric pattern) a building method that greatly increased security. The offset gateway is also a model of good castle design, exposing as it did the flank of any attackers as they passed through the gate into the outer ward.
    The castle was built on a virgin site because of its access to the sea. Edward found that sea access was far more important then other previously favoured considerations such as height of the ground. By having sea access equipment, troops and supplies did not have to risk the dangerous roads in order to reach the castles, and perhaps it was this realisation above all others that made Edwards castles so succesful.

<Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

This curiously angular castle was again built by Edward I. The castle is a masterpiece of engineering and castle design and is still in excellent repair.
    Visitors should be prepared to spend a long time exploring this castle which houses various military and Cadw (Welsh heritage) exhibitions.
    Charles was invested as Prince of Wales here (a title that originally belonged to Llywelyn, prince of Gwynedd, who asserted his supremacy over the whole of Wales. He was acknowledged the Prince (and ruler) of Wales by the English monarchy, but upset Edward I and thus begun the Welsh campaigns. Edward I thus gave the title Prince of Wales to the heir to the English throne, and there it has remained ever since).
    This state of affairs is mitigated by the fact that Welsh house of Tudor seized the English throne some years later.

Cardiff Castle (Caer Dydd)

First built in 1081 at the instigation of William the Conqueror himself, this castle was built atop an earlier Roman Fortress. The site secured the lowest crossing of the river Taff and had both good land and sea communications.
    Robert Fitzhamon used the castle to good effect to subdue the lowlands, and his son in law, Robert, earl of Gloucester, (the illegitimate son of Henry I) added the shell keep during his lordship of Glamorgan (1113-1147). Robert, Duke of Normandy was held here from 1126 to 1134.
    Cardiff remained the headquarters of the lordship of Glamorgan throughout the Middle Ages, and building work continued on it throughout this time.

Cardiff Castle

Harlech Castle

Built by Edward I after the fall of the Welsh stronghold of Castell Y Bere. This castle commands a prominent site in beautiful Snowdonia. Harlech itself is famous in Welsh legend as the stronghold of the children of llyr (a story found in the Mabinogion). The town is also made famous by the traditional Welsh song, "Men of Harlech".

Harlech Castle

Ogmore Castle

Ogmore castle was probably built by Robert fitz Hamon or his followers in the late 11th century to guard the strategically important confluence of the Ogmore river with the Ewenny.
    The castle is now a picturesque ruin overlooking stepping stones that now mark the Ewenny ford.


  © Stephen Kingston