Top 10 Welsh castles in Wales to visit
Wales and castles go hand in hand
Wales and castles go together as much as Scotland and its highlands, although the Welsh mountains are equally impressive in many ways. The castles of Wales are a very big part of the country's history, its folklore and its appeal.
Visitors to Wales today want to see its historic castles and they are spoilt for choice because these magnificent buildings can be seen all over the country. One of my personal favourites is Castle Coch (Castell Coch) which means "Red Castle" in Welsh.
Although this magnificent building looks like and is called a castle in reality it is an example of a folly but that doesn't spoil the attraction it holds. Castle Coch has everything the traditional fairytale castle should have.
The Castles of South Wales
Castle Coch is situated in woodland just above the village of Tongwynlais on the outskirts of Cardiff and looks down over the river valley below. Its location adds to its medieval fairytale image but in reality it is a a 19th-century Gothic Revival castle built on the remains of a genuine 13th-century fortification by William Burges for John Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute.
Knowing that it is technically a folly doesn't spoil its appeal though because seeing it and being in it lets your imagination come into its own. Not surprisingly Castle Coch has attracted the attention of film and TV drama directors and the castle has been included in films such as The Black Knight starring Alan Ladd in 1954. More recently it has been the setting for television episodes of The Worst Witch , Robin Hood and Dr Who .
Cardiff Castle is another example of a historic building that was part of the Victorian Gothic Revival. Based around a Norman keep that was already there in the early 19th century the castle was made much bigger and refashioned for John Crichton-Stuart, the 2nd Marquess of Bute by Henry Holland. Then in 1868, John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute commissioned William Burges, who also worked on Castle Coch as already explained, to turn the castle into a medieval palace.
So like Castle Coch, Cardiff Castle is mostly the work of Burges and a work of fantasy commissioned by a very wealthy landowner. That doesn't spoil its charm though and Cardiff Castle, surrounded as it is by Bute Park on the bank of the River Taf, is definitely a focal point and a big tourist attraction in the heart of the capital of Wales.
Another very popular castle in South Wales is Caerphilly Castle, which was built between 1268 and 1271. This real medieval castle, which is the largest castle in Wales, has a moat and drawbridge and looks very picturesque.
Caerphilly is just a few miles north of Cardiff and is a Welsh Valleys town. The castle is right in the centre of Caerphilly and cannot be missed.
Popular with tourists it has also attracted the attention of television and film producers and directors. Caerphilly Castle was used as the setting for some scenes in the films Rebecca's Daughters and Restoration .
Castle Coch the Red Castle
Castles of West Wales
West Wales has a great selection of castles amongst its places to visit. Pembroke Castle, or Castell Penfro to give it its Welsh name, is another real medieval castle and is situated in Pembroke near Pembroke River.
It was first built in 1093 during the Norman invasion of Wales but was later improved on by William Marshal who had got possession of it in 1189.
Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps became the owner in 1928 and his family jointly manages the castle today in partnership with Pembroke Town Council. Although it is the largest privately owned castle in Wales it is open to the public.
Like many other Welsh castles, Pembroke Castle has been used as a setting for TV and film, and in1989, the BBC used it as the set of King Miraz's castle in its adaptation of Prince Caspian , one of C.S. Lewis's . Chronicles of Narnia
Manorbier is another Norman castle and is situated in the village of Manorbier some five miles from the seaside resort of Tenby. It is open to the public and has a dovecote, gardens and a mill.
The film I Capture the Castle was shot entirely on location at Manorbier Castle and the BBC also have used it as the location of Cair Paravel in their television production of The Chronicles of Narnia .
Cilgerran Castle is another castle in West Wales that has proved popular because of its picturesque quality. It is a 13th-century ruined castle and stands guard overlooking the Teifi Gorge, near Cardigan in Pembrokeshire. Castell Cilgerran, as it is known in Welsh, has inspired many artists, including Turner.
Dinefwr Castle has its own park and is situated in Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire in West Wales where it overlooks the Tywi Valley. A herd of White Park Cattle graze in the park as do over 100 Fallow Deer. Dinefwr Park and Castle are managed by the National Trust.
Castles of Mid-Wales
Powis Castle is a medieval castle and fortress that is situated near Welshpool in the county of Powys in Mid Wales. Powis Castle, or Castell Powis as it is called in Welsh, has been where the Earl of Powis resides.
Castle Powis, like Castell Coch is another "Red Castle" and is also known by this name in Welsh. Castle Powis has extensive formal gardens with terraces, parkland, a deerpark and its own landscaped estate. Castle Powis is managed by the National Trust, who operate it under the name "Powis Castle and Garden".
Robin Williamson, who came to fame as an Incredible String Band founder member now turned Celtic Bard, has a song entitled Verses At Powis on which he accompanies himself on the harp. I wonder if he was inspired by a visit to Powis Castle?
Verses at Powis by Robin Williamson
Castles of North Wales
Penrhyn Castle is actually another folly because it is a country house in the form of a Norman castle. Situated in Llandegai, Bangor, Gwynedd, in North Wales, Penrhyn Castle began its history as a medieval fortified manor that had been founded by Ednyfed Fychan. In 1438, Ioan ap Gruffudd obtained a licence to crenellate and he created the stone castle as well as adding a tower house. Samuel Wyatt went on to reconstruct the building in the 1780s.
Managed by the National Trust today, Wikipedia informs us: "Penrhyn's attractions include a formal walled garden, extensive informal gardens, a dolls museum, an industrial railway museum, a model railway museum and an adventure playground. It has views over the Snowdonia mountains. In 2008/09 it was the National Trust's thirteenth most visited paid-entry property, with 156,575 visitors."
Last, but certainly not least, in this look at a selection of the best Welsh castles, is Caernarfon Castle, which has been described as "possibly the most famous of Wales's many castles". Situated in Gwynedd in North Wales, Caernarfon Castle, or Castell Caernarfon as it is known in Welsh, has a long history from its early beginnings as a motte-and-bailey castle in the town of Caernarfon from the late 11th century. Then in 1283 King Edward I of England began replacing what had been its structure with the current stonework and castle walls.
In 1969, Caernarfon Castle made the news as the setting for the investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales. In 1986, UNESCO added Caernarfon Castle to its World Heritage Sites.