Few sites evoke such a sense of awe and history as a crumbling castle. Here, from the pages of Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain, we pick five favourites. Let us know your top castles below.
For sheer grey-stone solidity, nothing beats Conwy Castle with its eight massive round towers arranged squarely on the banks of the Conwy Estuary. Completed in 1287, this “Iron Ring” edifice was finished in less than five years, complete with associated “bastide” town. The two worked in symbiosis: the castle was kept supplied by the merchants who were protected by the mile-long ring of town walls. The wall walk still gives the best views of both castle and town.
Carreg Cennen is the most romantically sited of all native Welsh castles, perched on its craggy, limestone hill, often with mist swirling around the lower slopes. There’s something wild and preternaturally Welsh about this isolated locale on the edge of the heather-purpled Black Mountains. On the south side a steep cliff plummets down to the bucolic valley of the River Cennen below; you can descend via a vertiginous stairway tunnel cut into the cliff face.
The ruinous state of Dinas Brân – Crow’s Fortress Castle – high above the town of Llangollen, almost puts it out of contention as a castle. It is really just a short stretch of crumbling thirteenth-century masonry and a few vaulted arches, but there are few better places in Wales to watch the sun set over the bucolic Dee Valley and ponder the English–Welsh power struggles that gave rise to this borderlands relic.
More like a Welsh chateau than a real castle, Penrhyn stands as a testament to nineteenth-century class divisions. While the workers hacked away at the nearby slate quarries, their masters created a vulgar but compelling neo-Norman fancy complete with five-storey keep. Everything is on a massive scale, from the 3ft-thick oak doors and halls of fine art – Canaletto, Gainsborough, Rembrandt – to a slate bed, designed for Queen Victoria’s visit.
Caernarfon Castle is both the most recognized Welsh castle and its least typical. It eschews the ancient square form and stronger rounded fortifications in favour of distinctive polygonal towers, the supreme development of “Iron Ring” architect James of St George. The largely intact walls are riddled with passageways that eventually deliver you to the ramparts, with fabulous views of the ancient town of Caernarfon to Snowdonia beyond.