Few sites evoke such a sense of awe and history as a crumbling stone castle. We've picked out five great castles in Wales for you to visit, all taken from the pages of Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain.
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. A walk along the walls 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 the valley via a steep stairway tunnel cut into the cliff face.
The ruinous state of Dinas Brân – or 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. As a golden glow settles over the bucolic Dee Valley you can ponder the English–Welsh power struggles that gave rise to this borderlands relic.
More like a French 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 compelling neo-Norman fancy, complete with five-storey keep. Everything here on a massive scale, from the 3ft-thick oak doors to the halls of fine art housing works by Canaletto, Gainsborough and Rembrandt. There's even an enormous slate bed, designed for Queen Victoria’s visit.
Caernarfon Castle is both the most recognisable of Welsh castles and also the least typical. It eschews the ancient square form and 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, offering fabulous views of the ancient town of Caernarfon and Snowdonia beyond.
For more information and inspiration for travelling in Wales, check out the Rough Guides to Wales, as well as the best travel experiences in Wales, the best beaches in Wales, full guide to Snowdonia National Park, these beautiful pictures of North Wales and the best walks and hikes.
Top image: Conwy Castle © Richard Hayman/Shutterstock