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Castles

The Welsh like to tell you that they have 427 castles scattered around their part if the UK. They probably do, but at least 200 of the castles in Wales are little more than crumbled ruins or earthworks that, to the untrained eye, look like natural features on the landscape.
Still, that does leave 200 castles in Wales worth visiting. Where do you begin?

One approach is to understand a little bit about the different periods of castle building and then to choose some good examples of the kinds of castles in Wales that interest you the most. So here's a quick rundown on the Welsh castle builders, along with recommendations of the best examples.

Norman Castles
After William the Conqueror became ruler in 1066, one of the first things he did was secure the country by giving land to his loyal nobles. Those early castles in Wales went up quickly. Most were a combination of earthworks and enclosed wooden courtyards called motte and bailey castles. Later, weathly Norman lords build elaborate stoneworks and stone keeps. The period of Norman castle building in Wales lasted into the early 13th century. Norman Castles worth visiting include:
Caerphilly Castle
Tretower Castle
Kidwelly Castle
Laugharne Castle

 

Castles of the Welsh Princes
History, as you probably know, is written by the victors - who also do a pretty good job of moving in on anything good the losers have left behind. The princes of Wales built stone castles in Wales to defend themselves against invading Normans and, later, the English. Most ended up being incorporated and built over by successive waves of victors -- though the Welsh national hero Owen Glendower did win back some. One of those he captured back was the spectacular clifftop ruined Castle in Wales Carreg Cennan.

The Castles of Edward I
Edward I of England led two military campaigns against the Welsh in the late 13th century. Eventually, he surrounded the North Wales province of Gwynedd with castles. Those that remain today are some of the most famous and well preserved castles in all of the UK:
Beaumaris Castle
Caernarvon
Conwy Castle
Harlech Castle
Rhuddlan Castle


 

 

Later Castles
After the 15th century, the Welsh and English stopped fighting with each other and the need for fortified castles in Wales disappeared. Some important castles were redeveloped into great houses for nobles and royals. A few are still occupied to this day. Among the best of these later castles are:

Raglan Castle: Chirk Castle: Powis Castle

 

Some Castle links:

Caernarfon Castle, North Wales - Photograph and quotation from D.M. Robinson and Roger S. Thomas, "Wales, Castles and Historic Places", supplied by Data Wales.
Caerphilly Castle - Photograph and brief history from Data Wales.
Caldicot Castle, South Wales - Photograph, very brief history and information on medieval banquets and weddings there from Data Wales.
Carew Castle and Tidal Mill - A magnificent Norman castle in Pembrokeshire which later became an Elizabethan residence. Includes an illustrated history, visitor information and activities and events programme.
Castles of Wales - Location maps, photographs and information on over 400 castles and some abbeys and holy wells. Essays by experts on all aspects of the subject, glossary, bibliography.
Conwy Castle, North Wales - Archival photograph and brief history from Data Wales.
Great Castles of Wales - Site by Paolo Ramponi. Interactive map brings up photographs of the major Welsh castles, with plans and history taken mainly from the CADW guidebooks. English and Italian language versions.
Gwrych Castle - Near Abergele, North Wales. Fairytale white castle, now nothing more than a romantic ruin. Includes the history, galleries, poetry, art, books, and ghosts.
Pencoed Castle, Gwent - Data Wales supplies history, plans and photographs. Invites your views on the proposal to create "Europe's largest all-weather leisure and recreational facility" in the castle grounds.
Penhow Castle, South Wales - Photographs (external and internal) and visitor information supplied by Data Wales.
Raglan Castle, South Wales - Two old postcard views and brief history from Data Wales.
Usk Castle - The Friends of Usk provide a plan and illustrated history and propose urgent works and improvements to this Norman castle in Wales.

 

CASTLES ARE EXPENSIVE

The cost of the Welsh Castle Building programme was colossal. Concentric Castles were very expensive. Caernarfon Castle cost King Edward I £27,000 - to build this massive Concentric castle today would cost around £40,000,000

The following extract is taken from a letter regarding the expenses of building Caernarfon Castle, dated February 1296, from Master James of St George and his Clerk of Works, Walter of Winchester, to the King's Exchequer:

"In case you should wonder where so much money could go in a week, we would have you know that we have needed - 400 masons, both cutters and layers, together with 2000 less skilled workmen, 100 carts, 60 wagons and 30 boats bringing stone and sea coal; 200 quarrymen; 30 smiths; and carpenters for putting in the joists and floor boards and other necessary jobs. All this takes no account of the garrison mentioned above, nor of the purchase of material, of which there will have to be a great quantity... The men's pay has been and still is very much in arrears, and we are having the greatest difficulty in keeping them because they simply have nothing to live on."

THE LUXURY OF WELSH CASTLES
The Welsh Castle Building programme required skilled craftsman who were knowledgeable about the building of both military and domestic structures. Welsh Castle Building required higher levels of comfortable castle living! And the appropriate skills were developed to fulfil these needs. Gone were the cold, dark and damp castles of the Norman era - the Plantagenet rules were looking for Middle Age refinement and luxury!

The Medieval Welsh Building programme saw the use of improved tools such as the chisel, as opposed to axes, which led to more decorative designs and tracery skills

Plumbing improved and lead was often used for the gutters - At Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon castles there is evidence of piped water

Wainscoting was introduced - wooden panels were used to line the walls of a room

Welsh Artists were employed - wall paintings covered the walls above the wainscoting

Welsh Castle interiors were highly colourful - gold paint was a luxurious item which was used in vast quantities!

Fireplaces were a necessary feature of Welsh Castle Building

Chimneys were introduced

Some thatching was still used for roofs but Medieval stone slates, tiling and plastered straw was introduced reducing the risk of fire

Additional staircases were introduced - many for the private use of the English Lords of the Welsh castles

Windows were much bigger, due to the introduction of the pointed arch which could support greater weight, allowing the Welsh Castle walls to be thinner with wider window openings. Panes of glass were added to the windows, often painted with armorial designs, which replaced the horn or wooden shutters

The interiors of the modern Welsh castles became lighter and airier

Kitchens were integrated into the Welsh stone castles - they included cooking ovens for baking and huge fireplaces for smoking and roasting food. They also had a water supply complete with a sink and drainage

Cleanliness improved and lavers ( stone basins used for washing ) were provided at the entrances of the dining halls

Bathing was usually conducted in wooden barrels but simply designed bathrooms were added in Welsh Castles for the English Lords and royalty

There were many lavatories, called garderobes or privies, included in the building of Welsh Castles. The Privies were positioned as far away from the living chambers as practical and often had double doors added to reduce the smell! Shoots were provided for the discharge which often led to the castle moat. Privy seats were made of wood or stone

A limited number of Carpets and mats were introduced in the Royal apartments of the new Welsh castles but floors strewed with straw or rushes were still favoured.

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