A Travellerspoint blog

Castles of Wales

A driving holiday in South and North Wales


View Wales on countycollector's travel map.

It is almost difficult to keep track of all the castles I visited on my trip to Wales. Rather than try to give a comprehensive narrative of the trip, here are a few photos and some thoughts of the castles and other stops along the way.


The trip began with an overnight flight from ORD to LHR on a BA 744. Being in business class or "Club World" as BA calls it, I slept most of the flight so I don't have too much to say about it. The "lie flat" seats were good, though I prefer those on AA and DL (wow, that makes me sound a bit snobbish). Regardless, being reasonably well-rested when arriving to pick up my car at Heathrow really made a difference. From there it was off to the Bristol Royal Marriott, a grand old hotel in the center of town. No lounge, but excellent breakfast and a couple drink vouchers were sufficient replacements.

The first castle stop in Wales was Chepstow castle, right on the border with England. Is sits along the River Wye and is only a few miles from my second Marriott stay, St. Pierre's hotel and county club. Again no CL, but I was upgraded to a nice suite.
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From Chepstow, it was on to Caerphilly castle, one of the largest castles in all of Britain. Talk about impressive. I always thought of castle towers as being cramped, but the space inside these fortifications were huge. The room above the main gatehouse looked big enough to fit my entire house inside.
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From Caerphilly, it's just a short drive to Cardiff. Oh, insider tip. Try Caerphilly cheese when in town.

A little farther north, but still in the southern half of Wales is Cilgerran castle. It's notable for its two massive drum towers defending the front of the structure. It backs up to cliff face overlooking the River Teifi. One of the great thing about most of these castles is that visitors can climb the spiral stairs up 3, or 4 or even 5 flights to walk along the battlement. Looking down into the inner ward or over the cliff face and down to the river is not for those who fear heights.
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But it wasn't all castles. In Caerleon, there was a visit to the ruins of a Roman bathhouse. I also visited at least half a dozen Neolithic sites, the stones still standing after thousands of years. Here's Pentre Ifan, one of the most famous.
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Then it was St. David's Cathedral. If you ever get to the far southwestern part of Wales, make sure to stop in Britain's smallest city. It's worth a visit and it's an easy day trip from Swansea. Drop by one of the local pubs for lunch and a pint.

Not all Welsh castles are so well preserved or maintained. Coity Castle is little more than a few walls. The foundations outline where buildings used to be. No climbing here, though still interesting and just off the M4. Of course, unlike the more popular castles, admission there is free. There are so many castles in Wales. It almost feels like any town of modest size has the ruins of one castle or another. Many tourists focus on the so-called iron ring in northern Wales, castles built by Edward I. The castles in southern Wales are no less impressive. I could easily imagine making a return trip.

The second half of my visit to Wales began with a long drive from Swansea to Caernarfon. Not too far north of Swansea, the motorway ends. In spots there are double carriageways, what we call divided highways in the USA, but for the most part the journey is on two lane roads. It took most of the day to make the trip and I arrived in Caernarfon late afternoon, but early enough to visit the castle.
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From atop the castle walls, the view across the Menai Strait and the island of Anglesey is pretty amazing. Check out the walls that still enclose most of the town.
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The next morning, it was on to Anglesey to visit several more Stone Age monuments. Not all are just stones out in the middle of some field. At Bryn Celli Ddu, a 5,000 year old burial mound, you can actually walk inside (I did). Like Stonehenge, or Newgrange in Ireland, this location is aligned so that the rising sun on the summer solstice will shine down through the opening and in to the inner chamber.
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After exploring much of the island, it was time for lunch and another castle visit. Up next was Beaumaris Castle. The castle overlooks the northern end of the Menai Strait and is another of Edward I's castles built as part of his plan to conquer north Wales. Though never completed, most of it still stands 700 years after it was constructed. When most people think of castles, this is what they imagine. Stone walls, round towers, and most of course, a moat.
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After leaving Anglesey by crossing the Menai Suspension Bridge (built 1826), it was on to the seaside resort of Llandudno (pronunciation: Clan-did-no). Advice to travelers in Wales, don't bother trying to pronounce the town names. You'll just get tongue-tied. Llandudno is reminiscent of Brighton with its Victorian era houses (many now B&Bs) and seaside pier. Plenty of nice places to stay and great pubs for dinner and a pint.

The final day included one last castle stop. This time it was Conwy. Unlike Beaumaris or Caernarfon, this castle was completed and figures prominently into the military history of north Wales. The towers are impressive and the view from atop the walls no less so.
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After Conwy, the trip through Wales was done. Back to England for an overnight in Manchester and then the flights home.

A trip through Wales that includes the castles in both the north and south is rather ambitious. My advice to anyone interested is to do one part or the other. The drive between north and south will take most of a day, and unless you are like me, and enjoy a driving holiday (vacation), the time might be better spent exploring one end of the country at a time.

I can't even count the number of castles I didn't visit. Places like Harlech, Rhuddlan, Flint, and many more. They really are almost everywhere. I hope to get back before long. I’d revisit a few of these places and see some of the castles I missed.

No doubt, this was a trip worth remembering

Posted by countycollector 07:07 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged castles wales welsh_castles Comments (3)

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