Visiting Caerphilly, Wales: its remarkably well-preserved castle
The mystery of its leaning tower
The north-east tower, a much photographed section of Caerphilly Castle (Welsh: Castell Caerffili ) is leaning. But, basically, this imposing castle is remarkably well preserved.
Its sheer size is also another striking feature of the castle. Caerphilly Castle is the largest in Wales (Welsh: Cymru ), and the second largest in Great Britain, after Windsor Castle. Given the technology of war available in the 12th century, the distance to the inner keep of the castle was so great that attacking armies would find it difficult to employ weapons sufficiently powerful to bridge the distance.
A large lake acts as a defence to the south of the moated castle, and another lake lies to the north, with the castle situated on an island between them. The north-west tower houses an exhibition about Welsh castles. The former great hall and state apartments are now in ruins, but many of the outer castle walls are still standing.
For the visitor, an advantage is that, like Castell Coch, in Tongwynlais, Caerphilly Castle is situated near Cardiff (Welsh: Caerdydd ), near the much used M-4 motorway, near the fast rail links into Wales's capital. This means that it is well accessible to the visitor to Wales who maybe does not have a lot of time to spare.
The castle's history goes back a long way. The castle was built by Gilbert de Clare (1243-1295), Lord of Glamorgan, between 1268 and 1271. To some extent, the purpose of the castle was to provide defences against Welsh Prince Llewellyn II, but de Clare's own relations with the English kings were somewhat complex. A powerful nobleman, de Clare is on record as having been a very unscrupulous individual, who would alternatively fight the Welsh, massacre Jews, and either obey or defy the English king as it may have suited him.
Owain Glyndŵr, Prince of Wales, took the castle briefly in 1403 and again in 1405 the castle was taken by Franco-Welsh forces, which later withdrew. But the kings of England remained supreme over the castle for the next two hundred years.
Until, that is, the English started fighting each other. During the Civil War, the respective forces of King Charles I and of Parliament fought each other between 1642 and 1648, and Caerphilly Castle came under the influence of Parliamentary Army. But it is fair to say that the castle itself did not play a significant role in the conflicts of the Civil War period.
There followed years of neglect, until in the 18th century the castle became the property of the Marquesses of Bute, who, in succeeding generations until 1950, sought to preserve the castle. In that year, the British government took over the upkeep of the castle. Currently Caerphilly Castle is managed by Cadw, the Welsh Assembly Government's historic environment service.
The leaning tower mystery
And now the a castle mystery: that of the leaning south-east tower, conspicuous as the angle of its walls incline significantly towards the moat. 20 metres high, its leans outwards by 3 metres, 10 degrees away from the base of the wall, which is a greater extent than that of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy.
So, why does it lean?
Some sources suggest that during the Civil War, Parliamentary forces damaged the tower, not enough to destroy it, but to cause the wall to weaken. This is one theory, at any rate.
But according to another view, the south-east tower is leaning for a rather different, and more prosaic, reason. Quite simply: subsidence. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa suffered from inadequate foundations. Well, this leaning tower at Caerphilly Castle is near the moat, and it is claimed that around the foundations of the wall some subsidence has occurred.
No one seems to know for sure why it leans.
But it certainly makes for a famous landmark in Wales. Why not go, and take a look for yourself?
Also worth seeing
Castell Coch (distance: 7.5 kilometres) is a hillside Victorian reconstruction of a Medieval castle.
Llandaff Cathedral (distance: 12 kilometres) is a picturesque building among ruins dating from the Middle Ages.
How to get there: Continental Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport , from where car rental is available. London Heathrow is approximately 230 kilometres from Caerphilly, mostly along the M-4 motorway. There are fast railroad links between London and nearby Cardiff. Certain facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
- Visiting Castell Coch at Tongwynlais, Wales: an imposing Victorian, Gothic-Revival castle
- Visiting St. David's, Wales: Cathedral village on the edge
- Visiting Brecon, Wales, with its ancient Cathedral and the nearby Brecon Beacon mountains: tranquill
- Visiting Hay-on-Wye, Wales: books galore and a ruined castle
- Visiting Cusop, Herefordshire: the last village in England on entering Wales