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Visiting Caerphilly, Wales: its remarkably well-preserved castle

Updated on May 24, 2011
Flag of Wales
Flag of Wales | Source
Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle | Source
Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle | Source
Map location of Caerphilly
Map location of Caerphilly | Source

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.

Some features

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.

Some history

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.


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    • MJFenn profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank-you for the comments. Wales is certainly the place for castles. History is deeply partly of Wales's architectural landscape.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      8 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      I have seen Caerphilly castle many times, on my journeys to visit relatives in South Wales, but have never actually visited it. I had the chance, when my cousin held her wedding reception there, but, as I was about to give birth, I wasn't able to attend.

      I don't know why I haven't been there, really. I have visited Manorbier, Carew, Castell Coch and Cardiff Castle, and the smaller Ogmore, as well as a number of the Mid and North Welsh castles, but never Caerphilly.

      I shall have to put it on my list of 'must dos'!

    • Gerry Bern profile image

      Gerry Bern 

      8 years ago from Brighton, England

      It's a lovely spot to visit. so many English people just jump on planes too much for holidays, especially Londoners.

      Get yourselves to Wales, Highlands, Ireland, The Lakes, The Peaks... the place has a lot more to offer right on our doorstep, and Caerphilly is a fascinating place.


    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 

      8 years ago from South Wales

      An excellent history of Caerphilly Castle, MJFenn. I learned a lot about the rich history of the castle. I'm ashamed to say I knew nothing about it after living in South Wales all my life. Thanks for teaching me a lesson. Cheers.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Agreed. Well written and good use of images

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      8 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      O,oh--This was really enticing. It makes me want to write a novel around the entire castle!!! I have no story for you, but I do have some complements for you! You have a nice natural flow to your writing that anyone can relate to. Anything you write will have a nice quality to it. In short, you have a gift! I enjoyed this very much. You have this laid out beautifully and it is easy to understand. Keep up the great HUBS. Up one and awesomeful. Hey! I'm now your fan! RJ


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