Wales

Castles of Northern Wales – Part II

Caernarfon Castle. Probably the finest castle in Wales and one of my favorite in the UK. Unlike many castles, it does not occupy a high ridge or mountain top, but rather is set strategically at the mouth of the River Seiont and the Menai Straight on the western coast of Wales.

A view of Caernarfon Castle from across the River Seiont.

A view of Caernarfon Castle from across the River Seiont.

The town of Caernarfon, like Conwy, is enclosed by walls with the castle in a corner of the fortifications.

The Exchequer Gate, the main entrance into the the medieval village of Caernarfon.

The Exchequer Gate, the main entrance into the the medieval village of Caernarfon.

For a map of castles visited in Wales click here.

Construction began in 1283 and was not yet complete when building efforts stopped in 1330. Caernarfon is famous for a number of reasons, not the least of which is due to it being the site of the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales in 1969 by Queen Elizabeth. The future king of England is of course the father of Prince William and Prince Henry, known in the British military as ‘William Wales’ and ‘Henry Wales’. The first Prince of Wales, who became Kind Edward II in 1307, was born here (if you’ve seen the movie ‘Braveheart’ he is depicted as the weak heir to King Edward I) and in 1911 the investiture of Prince Edward took place here (he was an uncle of Queen Elizabeth, who became Edward VIII, but abdicated the crown and never became king) .

The  Granary Tower (center left) overlooks the Upper Ward and the investiture site of Prince Charles.

The Granary Tower (center left) overlooks the Upper Ward and the investiture site of Prince Charles.

The Eagle Tower (center right) and Lower Ward. Greatest of all the castle's towers, it contains several apartments.

The Eagle Tower (center right), and Lower Ward. Greatest of all the castle’s towers, it contains several apartments.

Caernarfon is a massive castle and has many interesting features, including octagonal (rather than round) towers and red brick bands in the walls that are reminiscent of the famous Walls of Constantinople (Istanbul), which was on purpose. The town of Caernarfon was a Roman settlement anciently, and some ruins of the Roman days are still present, not far from the castle. Just about all the towers are open for visiting, with various exhibits and great views from the viewing platforms. There are many corridors to explore too. I really loved this castle.

The Well Tower on the left and Chamberlain Tower on the right. The great hall was in front of and below the Chamberlain Tower.

The Well Tower on the left and Chamberlain Tower on the right. The great hall was in front of and below the Chamberlain Tower.

The town of Caernarfon is about 22 miles west of Conwy (see my post on Conwy Castle here).

Harlech Castle. About 30 miles south of Caernarfon is Harlech Castle. This was another of King Edward I’s fortresses in northern Wales. Construction began in 1283, the same year as Caernarfon and Conwy castles. Harlech castle sits on a rock outcropping high above the surrounding landscape, with the sea visible in the distance.

A view of Harlech Castle - with its commanding position, it would have been very difficult to attack.

A view of Harlech Castle – with its commanding position, it would have been very difficult to attack.

The view from Harlech Castle's walls. The Irish Sea is in the distance.

The view from Harlech Castle’s walls. The Irish Sea is in the distance.

In the 13th century the coastline was just below the castle, allowing access to supplies from ships during times of siege, which were not uncommon in this castle’s history.

The interior ward of Harlech Castle. The main entrance is to the right.

The interior ward of Harlech Castle. The main entrance is to the right.

The original gateway into Harlech Castle.

The original gateway into Harlech Castle.

The longest siege was 7 years during the ‘War of the Roses’ (the long battle for the English crown in the 15th century). The castle has a great setting and history, but does not contain as many rooms and interior features as Caernarfon or Conwy castles.

Castles of Northern Wales – Part I

If you want to see some of the best medieval castles in the United Kingdom, visit Wales, a very small country in the western part of the United Kingdom. There is a concentration of castles in northern and southern Wales. In addition, there are Roman ruins and lovely medieval abbeys and churches.

A map of locations I visited in Wales.

A map of locations I visited in Wales.

Wales receives far fewer tourists than England and Scotland, and yet has some of the most beautiful natural scenery and greatest historical treasures in the UK.

Northern Wales has a dense collection of castles, since it was the frontier of the English kingdom in medieval times. King Edward I established a number of castles here in the 1200’s to defend the newly conquered Welsh territory at the conclusion of the second war of Welsh independence.

Rhuddlan Castle, not far from Conwy and a headquarters for King Edward I during his conquest of Wales.

Rhuddlan Castle, not far from Conwy and a headquarters for King Edward I during his conquest of Wales.

Even today, Wales feels more remote and “wild” than England. I recall driving at night through the middle of the country on my way to Hereford and not seeing lights from cars or villages for many miles.

The rugged Snowdonia area of northern Wales.

The rugged Snowdonia area of northern Wales.

The best way to get around this small country is by car. Be forwarned that the roads are narrower than England and many are pretty much just one-lane winding country roads.

Conwy Castle. With a great setting at the mouth of the Conwy River, Conwy is one of the UK’s most classic castles and it is quite intact, with a number of towers and rooms to explore. Conwy castle and the town walls were begun in 1283 and completed in 1287.

A view of Conwy Castle from the town walls.

A view of Conwy Castle from the town walls.

The outer ward of the castle with the great hall at the right.

The outer ward of the castle with the great hall at the right.

The great hall is unique in that it is bent to conform to the natural land formation. The walls around the town are intact and add to the charm of this small town. “The smallest house in Britain” is also located in Conwy. Unfortunately I didn’t know about it until after I had left!

A view of Conwy Castle and town.

A view of Conwy Castle and town.

Another view of Conwy Castle.

Another view of Conwy Castle.

The walls surrounding the town of Conwy.

The walls surrounding the town of Conwy.

Beaumaris Castle. Just 23 miles from Conwy is Beaumaris Castle located on the Isle of Anglesey. The castle is unique for a couple reasons – it was never finished and it is considered one of the most outstanding examples of medieval castle architecture. The moat at the entrance is picture perfect.

The exterior and moat of Beaumaris Castle.

The exterior and moat of Beaumaris Castle.

A view of the interior courtyard of Beaumaris Castle.

A view of the interior courtyard of Beaumaris Castle.

Another interior view of Beaumaris Castle.

Another interior view of Beaumaris Castle.

The construction of the castle began in 1295. There are many dark narrow corridors to explore, and a chapel.

One of the many dark corridors in the walls of Beaumaris Castle.

One of the many dark corridors in the walls of Beaumaris Castle.

The chapel at Beaumaris Castle.

The chapel at Beaumaris Castle.

For students of medieval castle architecture this castle is a gem, since the fortifications (particularly the entrance) showcase the defensive strategy of medieval warfare.