The view from the Castlebank Hotel in Conwy Wales, looking towards the castle.
We headed to Wales in September for our fall antiques buying trip. Wales is part of the United Kingdom and is located on the western side of England. We were in Wales forty years ago and we remembered basically nothing about it. This time, we combined the hunt for antiques with some sightseeing along the north coast, along the border between the two countries and then in the south of Wales.
We chose Wales because #1 we hadn’t shopped there before and #2 Wales has the most castles per area that any place on the planet. In general, castles have dominated England and Wales for 1000 years. We are fascinated by castles. On this trip, we visited eight in nine days. It was overkill, but worth it. Thankfully, our knees held up. The castles we visited were mostly built as conquest castles. Some were built on previous earth and wood castles on mounds, but what we wanted to see were the ones which began as a central great tower (keep) and expanded with stone walls, gates and towers.
Rhuddlan Castle outside one set of walls. The gatehouse is on the right.
We were barely off the plane when we visited Rhuddlan, in northern Wales. Rhuddlan Castle is an empty shell, only some walls and parts of towers remain; however, it gave us a romanticized vision that travellers have searched for in the past. Perched above a river and overlooking a valley, we saw the advantage that King Edward I needed to gain control over the Welsh when he ordered the castle built in 1277. It was designed with rings of walls within walls. Stone robbers had left the ruins with major gaping holes, but you could use your imagination based on the footprint of what remained. It was picturesque and a starting point for our castle mission.
Remains of a staircase in Rhuddlan Castle.
Conwy is where we stayed on the north coast. Conveniently, it too had a castle. The castle in Conwy is located at the entrance to the town and perched high on a stone bluff above an estuary of the Conwy River. It was the first of the defensive castles built by King Edward 1 to control the uncontrollable Welsh princes and their peeps. Conwy was a garrison town and has some of the highest and best medieval town walls in Britain. The castle took four years to build and was protection for the English who lived surrounded by the Welsh. King Edward I of England added Wales to his English kingdom during his reign and built conquest castles to demonstrate the might of the English. Slightly ruined inside, but the 18 towers are still impressive. A beautiful castle with walls still remaining where the royal apartments were located. It’s easy to stand on the battlements and look out to sea in one direction and the great Snowdonia Mountains the other. Our favorite. Go here!
Conwy Castle from the town.
From the top of the battlements of Conwy Castle.
Another view of Conwy Castle.
Caernarfon was our third castle in three days and we were starting to dread another dark tight spiral staircase. Or at least our knees were! But we were impressed. Caernarfon was another of the military castles built by King Edward 1 and it is still massive, although a ruin, it still has its double interior walls and arrow loop windows for crossbows. It was here that Prince Charles was invested as the Prince of Wales in July 1969. Construction of the castle began in 1283, and it is still owned by Her Majesty the Queen. It was modeled after building decoration of Constantinople and it’s colossal.
Interior of Caernarfon Castle. It was huge.
The concrete disk is where Prince Charles was invested as the Prince of Wales.
Up next was Powis Castle, located a third of the way down on our trip south. It is the seat of the Earl of Powis and is known for its landscaped terraces and gardens. Unlike the previous three castles, this one was built by a Welsh prince in the 1200s to demonstrate the wealth and power of the Welsh. Parts of the original castle exists at the entrance and is incorporated into the grand country mansion. This was a family home that started as a medieval castle and grew outward and even Queen Victoria came here for a tour in 1832 when she was a child.
The oldest portion of Powis Castle.
A wonderful bedroom in Powis Castle.
The view from Powis Castle, overlooking the landscaping.
We passed several castles as we traveled south, but passed them by so we could do some antique shopping. After we dropped our bags at our hotel in Ross-on-Wye, we visited Chepstow Castle on the southern coast of Wales. Chepstow is the oldest of the castles we visited. Built in 1067, right after the 1066 Norman Conquest of England, it protected the River Wye and extended the Norman power westward. The original portion of the current ruins is a rectangular two story keep high on a ridge above the river. Curtain walls were added, as were towers and gatehouses.
Chepstow Castle in the south of Wales.
The main keep of Chepstow Castle.
Goodrich Castle was quite close to our southern base and we’ll cover it in a separate post.
On our last day, we fit in two castles. Ludlow and Stokesay. After shopping and more shopping, we were running out of time as we headed back towards Manchester. Luckily, Ludlow Castle and Stokesay Castle are about 20 minutes apart by car.
The gatehouse of Ludlow Castle.
Ludlow Castle, from the outside.
Ludlow Castle is located high above, you guessed didn’t you?, a river! It is also a ruin. It was started around 1075, as part of the Norman castles building spree. It is set on 5 acres at the edge of one of the most beautiful towns in England. The castle has a lot of history associated with the War of the Roses, the Tudors and the children of Henry VIII. It served as a Royal Palace when the two sons of Edward IV lived there. Later, they would be sent to the Tower of London by their uncle, Richard III and disappeared.
Stokesay Castle, from outside the walls.
Stokesay Castle was our last castle of the trip. Despite its name, Stokesay is a fortified Manor House began in the 1270s. It was owned by a wealthy wool merchant who made his money selling wool throughout Europe. He built the castle to look much older than it was. In order to build the fortification, he needed approval from the crown. It had a moat, but thin walls and large open windows, which were covered by shutters in bad weather. It would not have withstood an attack. The wood rafters and the Elizabethan gatehouse made the visit worthwhile.
The old beams in the main hall of Stokesay Castle.
Out of the over 190 open-to-tour castles in Britain, we’ve seen only 23 of them. Altogether, there’s probably 800 or so castles in England and Wales. Sigh. Luckily, we have more trips planned!
The Stokesay Castle gatehouse.
First of seven posts on our September 2019 trip. Thanks for reading!