A trail of majestic castles
The county of Gwynedd, in North Wales, provides a trail of majestic castles to explore, a group of which have been described as the finest examples of military architecture of their kind in Europe.
The finest Welsh castles
Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech castles, along with the fortifications surrounding the towns of Conwy and Caernarfon have been collectively declared a World Heritage Site.
The Welsh have never been particularly quiet neighbours to the English and King Edward I commissioned visionary military architect James of St George to build the castles to keep a lid on rebellious activities. In fact, 10 fortresses were built and more fully restored in just 20 years of activity.
At the time, their designs were ground breaking and their structural magnificence remains as imposing as ever.
Their modern-day conservation and events programmes have helped to make them irresistible attractions to a less fearsome visitor eight centuries later.
Harlech Castle was built by Edward precisely for the purpose of surveying those hills. Raised by a rock above a sea cliff, its views are as unbeatable as the castle was shaped to be.
For the true Royal touch, head to Conwy Castle, where two fortified gateways, eight enormous towers, a great hall, private chambers, a kitchen fit for a King and more are protected by the rock fortifications.
Beaumaris Castle was never finished by the King, its classic walls-within-walls plan left uncompleted as the Scots moved in. You’d never know it, though – the grounds seem as pristinely planned as a flawless invasion, tall towers locked within symmetrical walls.
Where Beaumaris is flanked by fields, the impenetrable Caernarfon Castle’s position, overlooking the River Seiont, was once the home of a Norman Motte. Its colour co-ordinated stones and polygonal towers might just make it one of the finest castles on earth, and it was also the place where the first English Prince of Wales was born in 1284. No wonder the current Prince of Wales’ investiture was held there almost 700 years later.
Both Caernarfon and Conwy were fortified walled towns with imposing gatehouses and towers for protection and to ensure a garrison of English soldiers could be called upon if or when some quelling of rebellious activity was required.
Fortunately, those days are long gone and with the passing of time, these demonstrations of English might and military power are now great symbols of Welsh pride and perfect for a day out.