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1. Beaumaris Castle
The stunning Beaumaris Castle is a striking medieval fortification located on the Isle of Anglesey. Built by Edward I, this was the last of the king’s ring of castles which he constructed to affirm his conquest of Wales. Over the centuries the castle played an important military role, being besieged and captured by Prince of Wales Owain Glyn Dwron in 1403 before being retaken by the English in 1405. Charles I also used it as a base for moving supplies and troops during the English Civil War. Today, these picturesque ruins remain a popular draw with tourists and Beaumaris is among the top Welsh castles to visit.
Shane Williams’ GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ Attempt Takes in 50 Welsh Castles
Wales’s record try scorer and former IRB Player of the Year Shane Williams MBE has cycled a staggering 736.71 miles, climbing 47,491 ft – more than one and a half times the height of Everest – and visited 50 castles around Wales in an attempt to achieve a Guinness World Records™ title for the Most castles visited in one week by bicycle.
Shane started out on his epic journey under leaden skies at Carreg Cennen in Carmarthenshire on February 22, and finished one week later by reaching Dinefwr Castle under blue skies on St. David’s Day, March 1, having called at castles across the length and breadth of Wales, still closed to the public of course due to the pandemic, from Beaumaris in the north to Cardiff in the south, and from Haverforwest to Chepstow in the east.
As for setting a new Guinness World Records™ title – you’ll have to wait for a special S4C programme broadcast on March 31, produced by Cardiff-based Orchard, which features a number of record-breaking attempts, from pulling an aircraft to chopping wood and even a virtual singalong.
Talking about his exploits, Shane said: “What a fantastic but arduous week I had, an adventure through the history of Wales to try to set a new world record. The support from Guinness World Records, the Orchard team, Cadw and other castle owners was immense. I set out on a pre-production Agilis road bike, so new that I hadn’t ridden it before I clocked up a personal best 125 miles on one day I celebrated my 44 th birthday with a cake outside Harlech Castle I had to repeat 40% gradients when I forgot to start my Garmin I must surely have broken the world record for eating Mint Aeros across the week I met the Mayor in Narberth and in Gwbert we got to watch the second half of Wales bagging the Triple Crown. Most of all, I was reminded of how stunningly beautiful this country is. I just don’t get why we had to put our castles on top of steep hills !”
St David’s Day was once again celebrated with a partnership between S4C and the Orchard Media and Events Group setting up a number of uniquely Welsh record-breaking attempts recognised by GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS Adjudicators as ‘Officially Amazing’. It’s taken Wales and the Welsh language to an audience of millions around the world through TikTok, Instagram and a variety of social platforms. A programme featuring all the record attempts will air on March 31, and a special programme on Shane’s endeavours, Shane: Torri Record Byd Guinness airs on Thursday, 15 April, 9.00pm, S4C . Record breakers book a place in the Guinness World Records 2022 edition on sale in September.
Rob Light, Executive Producer at Orchard said: “Shane put everything into this world record bid, so we hope he made it – you can find out on S4C on March 31. It’s been great to work again with S4C and Guinness World Records to get brand Wales around the world. We’re especially indebted to the team at Cadw for helping us with Shane’s epic journey, despite the fact the castles remain closed.”
Gwydion Griffiths, Cadw Head of Marketing & Tourism said: “We would like to congratulate Shane and the Orchard team on this fantastic attempt at the world record. Cadw is responsible for 130 amazing historical sites across Wales and it’s an incredible effort to try to travel to 50 castles in Wales, on a bike, within a space of a week. Hopefully it will inspire others to visit the sites when we reopen to the public.”
GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS began with a single book published from a room above a gym in 1955, and has grown to become a global multi-media brand, with offices in London, New York, Miami, Beijing, Tokyo and Dubai. Content is now delivered through Books, via TV shows, Social Media and Live Events.
Elen Rhys, S4C Commissioner said: “Congratulations to Shane Williams for an absolutely stunning effort. S4C is very pleased and proud to have worked with Shane, Cadw, Guinness World Records and Orchard on this truly special record breaking attempt. It brings Wales and everything our beautiful country has to offer – including our amazing castles - to audiences around the world.”
S4C is available in Wales on Freeview 4, Sky 104, Virgin TV 166 and Freesat 104. In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, S4C is available on Sky 134, Freesat 120 and Virgin TV 166.
Wales history map
Ever wanted to explore Wales based on your favourite periods in history? The Wales History Map allows you to do just that by categorising over 50 of the country’s best historic sites into 12 key historic themes.
Wales is filled to the brim with history — where will your Welsh adventure take you?
For centuries, artists of all kinds have shared their visions of Wales through paintings, poems, stories and songs. These artworks have played a vital role in creating a sense of Welsh identity, and in portraying the land and its people to the world.
Recognisable themes have emerged in literature and the visual arts over the years, ranging from Wales as a beautiful but otherworldly land and the impressive rise and fall of industry.
A tour of inspiring Welsh locations immortalised in art could last a lifetime, so, to get you started, this theme contains just a small selection of sites that have played muse to Wales’s (and Britain's) best-known artists…
What? The childhood home of Welsh literary great, Kate Roberts
This Grade II listed quarryman’s cottage may not be the grandest site in Wales, but its status as the childhood home of Welsh-language author Kate Roberts draws visitors from near and far.
Readers of Roberts’s works will recognise the house as part of the world that she conjures so vividly in novels such as Traed mewn cyffion (Feet in Chains) and the short-story collection Te yn y grug (Tea in the heather).
Did you know. In 1965, Kate Roberts bought Cae’r Gors and presented it to the Welsh nation, but it wasn’t until 2005 that sufficient funds were accumulated to restore the tyddyn (smallholding) to the way it would have been during her childhood.
What? 12th century Cistercian abbey
The young J M W Turner travelled extensively in Wales from 1792 to 1799, and the legacy of these sketching and painting tours is a series of breath-taking landscapes, many of which feature Welsh castles and abbeys.
Turner’s sketches and paintings of Tintern Abbey from the 1790s capture both the detail and the drama of structure, whilst reflecting its ruinous state and the extent to which, at that time, nature had started to reclaim the site.
Did you know. Founded in 1131, Tintern Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery to be established in Wales.
What? Museum and art gallery
Where? Merthyr Tydfil
Housed in the magnificent home of the Crawshay iron-making dynasty, this unique site holds a collection of artefacts that spans 2,000 years of local history.
The castle is also noteworthy for its gallery, containing some wonderful paintings from the industrial revolution as well as a striking selection of modern art.
Did you know. The museum houses the first steam whistle, the first voting ballot box and dresses by Merthyr-born designers, Laura Ashley and Julien McDonald.
What? 13th century site built by the de Brian family
Laugharne’s association with Dylan Thomas is well known, but you’ll still feel a thrill sitting in the castle’s summerhouse – the very place where the poet and author pieced together Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.
Laugharne’s literary link doesn’t begin and end with Dylan Thomas however, as the English author Richard Hughes also wrote his novel In Hazard at the castle. Visitors to the site can see evidence of the friendship between the two authors, including a copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, signed by Thomas and dedicated to Hughes.
Did you know…? The castle features in a wonderfully atmospheric painting by JMW Turner, now reproduced on one of the site’s panels. Look out for it when you visit.
You can also visit the Boathouse where Dylan lived for the last four years of his life. Close by is his writing shed, where he wrote many of his later works.
Some of the most magnificent castles of Wales are reminders of a turbulent time, when English kings and Welsh princes vied for power. The four spectacular castles along the north-west coast, which together make up the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd World Heritage Site, are no exceptions.
The tale of King Edward I divides opinion. Some see it as the story of a medieval English king who used mighty castles to subdue the princes and peoples of a neighbouring land.
Others see his formidable fortresses as testaments to Welsh resilience: physical evidence of the sheer amount of effort that Edward I needed to exert in order to gain control over the region during the late-13th and early-14th century.
Whatever your view, each castle is a compelling story in stone. Strong and solid, built to the highest standards of the day and able to withstand attacks from hostile elements and centuries of war.
Visitors to Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech and Beaumaris should have no difficulty recognising why these captivating castles now form part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What? A 13th century medieval castle
Begun in 1277, Flint is one of the first castles to be built in Wales by King Edward I.
With impressive views over the Dee Estuary, this solitary castle is often overlooked by its more Western counterparts. Once a defensive masterpiece, the Castle’s most impressive feature is a solitary round tower, isolated from the rest of the inner ward.
Did you know. Flint Castle famously features in Shakespeare’s Richard II. Flint Castle serves as an important setting for a crucial part of the play – the moment that Richard II is captured by Henry Bolingbroke, ultimately leading to Richard’s abdication and the ascension of King Henry IV.
What? A medieval coastal fortification and walled town
It is incredible to think that this fine castle and the surrounding town walls were constructed in just over four years. The king made sure the project was overseen by James of St George, a master mason and experienced castle builder.
Conwy cost an estimated £15,000 to build, making it one of the most expensive of Edward I’s Welsh castles. It’s easy to see where the money went – the site includes two fortified gateways, eight massive towers and a great bow-shaped hall.
While you’re here, don’t forget to explore the town and its exceptional medieval town walls – the most complete example of their kind in Wales. Visitors can walk along the walls and look down on the medieval street patterns which are still intact today.
Did you know. Conwy was built on the site of Aberconwy abbey – the monks were moved to a new site south of the town at Maenan.
Rose Hill St,
What? A 13th century fortress
Known as Edward I’s ‘unfinished masterpiece’, Beaumaris Castle is undoubtedly an impressive fortress and a fine example of concentric ‘walls within walls’ castle design. Indeed, Beaumaris has been described as ‘the most technically perfect castle in Britain’.
The king’s master mason, James of St George, personally oversaw the construction of this superb stronghold. It took a staggering 450 masons, 400 quarrymen and over 2,000 skilled labourers to dig the moat and build the sturdy walls.
Did you know. Beaumaris Castle was named after the Norman-French “Beau Mareys”, meaning castle on the “fair marsh”.
Isle of Anglesey
What? A medieval fortress palace and town walls
Edward I chose the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle for Caernarfon Castle – his largest, and maybe his most impressive, Welsh fortress.
Caernarfon’s castle and town walls were raised as a single entity. It was designed to act as the nerve centre of Edward I’s newly conquered territories.
With breathtaking views over Caernarfon and the Menai Strait, a visit to the Castle’s exceptional Eagle Tower is not be missed!
Did you know. Caernarfon Castle was the birthplace of the future King Edward II.
What? A 13th century medieval stronghold
Perched on a rocky crag overlooking Cardigan Bay, Harlech Castle is an example of a stronghold that has been tailor-made for its environment.
Built quickly and relatively cheaply (in comparison to fortresses like Caernarfon and Conwy), the structure uses the intimidating cliff face to its advantage and is impregnable from virtually every angle.
While here, don’t miss the ‘way from the sea – a 200-foot-long set of steps that connect the castle to the cliff base below. This clever feature enabled castle inhabitants to endure long sieges.
Did you know. In 1468, Harlech Castle fell to the Yorkists, giving rise to the traditional song ‘Men of Harlech’
From the grandeur of Cistercian abbeys to the quiet modesty of village chapels, Wales is a country that boasts hundreds of religious sites including impressive examples of non-conformist, Anglican and monastic monuments, among others.
Once the centre of Welsh society, these revered places were essential parts of community life. Many still function as places of worship, and all stand as fascinating examples of Wales’s connection to religion through the ages.
A visit to any of these esteemed Welsh sites will show how ancient beliefs, inspiring historical figures and traditions have helped shape Welsh cultural heritage, language and way of life over the centuries.
This itinerary offers an insight into the depths of Wales’s religious landscape, providing an overview of a variety of religious sites and a starting point for exploring them…
What? Surprisingly decorative religious churches standing on the river Dee
Rug Chapel was founded as a private chapel by Arch Royalist Colonel William Salesbury in the 17th century. Contrary to its modest exterior, the interior is decorated decadently with fine wood carvings and rose motifs.
Nearby Llangar Old Parish Church is a few centuries older than Rug Chapel but similarly, its whitewashed exterior hides the aesthetic wonders within. Inside, the original 15th century wall paintings still survive, thanks in part to the church making way for a new place of worship in Cynwyd in the 1850s.
Many visitors combine a visit to these sites with a walk along the river, which boasts beautiful views and many places to stop and take in the stunning landscapes.
Did you know. Despite being called a chapel, traditionally associated with non-conformity, Rug is in fact an Anglican church!
Rug Chapel and Llangar Old Parish Church
What? A grand Cistercian abbey
Translating directly from Latin simply as ‘the Vale of Flowers’ or ‘Ystrad Fflur’ in Welsh, Strata Florida is located in a remote corner Ceredigion, and was once home to Cistercian monks.
The plan of the original abbey can still be clearly traced, and you only need admire the majesty of the huge carved west doorway to appreciate how impressive this building must once have been.
Some of the original richly decorated tiles from the abbey are still intact and many tools, coins and other personal objects have been found here in recent years following excavations at the site. These can all be seen on display in the visitor centre.
Did you know. A pilgrimage for lovers of Welsh poetry, the site is said to be the final resting place of famed medieval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym who allegedly lies beneath the Yew tree in the church-yard.
Strata Florida Abbey
What? An extra-ordinary, non-conformist
Chapels were built in their hundreds to accommodate the religious revival in 19th century industrial Wales. As well as developing into places of worship, these chapels of non-conformity also became the social and educational hearts of their communities. Many chapels held services in Welsh, significantly contributing to the use and preservation of the language.
Recognised for its wonderful Victorian architecture, Tabernacle is an extra-ordinary example of a Welsh chapel still open for worship. Built in 1872 at a cost of £18,000, its congregation peaked at over a thousand members in 1910. This grand building however is not your typical non-conformist chapel, traditionally much plainer and simpler.
Tabernacle has had a number of notable Ministers, including Trebor Lloyd Evans who led worship here from 1945-1964. He was a great champion of the Welsh language and campaigned for a Welsh medium school in the area.
Over the years. concerts by the Morriston Tabernacle Choir have attracted world-famous singers, and celebrated organists have given recitals on the 3-manual organ, recently restored by Harrison & Harrison.
Did you know. Tabernacle Chapel is thought by many to be the largest, grandest and most expensive chapel ever built in Wales.
Open for worship and choir rehearsals as well as by appointment. See website:
For an example of a different, simpler non-conformist chapel in a rural location, visit Capel Newydd in Llanengan. A Welsh independent chapel, it is possibly the earliest surviving non-conformist chapel in north Wales.
What? A 12th century cathedral
Where? St Davids, Pembrokeshire
Still a vibrant and popular place of worship, St Davids Cathedral has been a site of Christian pilgrimage for more than 800 years.
While the present monument was built during the 12th century, it sits upon the site of an earlier, 6th century monastery built by St David, the patron saint of Wales.
The presence of the cathedral has given St Davids city status, making this remote location in the far end of Pembrokeshire Britain’s smallest city – in terms of size and population.
Just a stone’s throw away from the cathedral lies St Davids Bishop’s Palace. Originally built by Bishop Henry de Gower, this beautiful ruin was once a masterpiece, with lavish decorations, corbels carved as human heads and striking chequerboard stonework – all a testament to the wealth and status of medieval men of religion.
Did you know. St Davids Cathedral survived a severe earthquake in the 13th Century, causing structural damage which is still noticeable today. Indeed, the floor slopes noticeably, the arcades are warped in places, and the east and west ends of the building differ in height by roughly four metres!
St Davids Cathedral
Looking for other fascinating religious sites? Wales has hundreds more, including St Winifride's Chapel and Holy Well — a grand 16th-century chapel that surrounds a 12th-century holy spring.
From wars with France to the Cold War, Pembrokeshire has played a key role in helping to defend our country over the centuries.
The strength of the area’s military and maritime history is evident from the sheer scale of the battlefields, castles and remnants of defensive systems scattered across Pembrokeshire.
Following the Defence of the Realm route will allow you to discover how Pembrokeshire helped keep Britain safe from invasion.
What? A 30m long tapestry
Where? Fishguard Town Hall, Pembrokeshire
This remarkable work of art depicts what happened when the British mainland was last invaded, back in February 1797.
A closer look at the design will reveal how the women of Pembrokeshire forced the invading force to surrender. The tapestry is complemented by artefacts and interpretation boards, as well as an audio visual presentation showing its making.
Did you know. The tapestry features local heroine Jemima Nicholas, who, alone and armed with only a pitchfork, arrested 12 French soldiers.
What? Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II listed military coast artillery fort
Where? Angle, Pembrokeshire
Chapel Bay Fort is one of the earliest known of its type in the world. Completed in 1891, it could hold 96 men in its barracks, but was often garrisoned by much smaller numbers.
During World War I, ships suspected of carrying contraband would be moored and examined here, while the guns of the Fort were trained on them!
Did you know. During the Second World War, Chapel Bay Fort actually controlled some of the anti-aircraft guns that defended the coastline.
Chapel Bay Fort and Museum
What? Small coastal town on the River Cleddau
Over the centuries Pembroke Dock has been a key player on Britain’s frontline. The Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre, Royal Dockyard Chapel and Flying Boat Workshop are all open for visitors wishing to explore the maritime heritage of one of Britain’s most westerly towns.
Nearby, the Garrison Chapel, Defensible Barracks and the Dockyard Walls and Gun Towers all provide further clues to the history of this special town and its links to Her Majesty’s Navy.
Did you know. Pembroke Dock has built and launched no fewer than five Royal Yachts.
What? Local cemetery dating back to 19th century
Where? Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire
Llanion Cemetery is situated on the north side of the A477 trunk road at the entrance to the town. Owned by the county council, the cemetery opened in 1869.
It is home to a number of war graves – 24 from World War I, situated in the western part of the cemetery, and 54 from World War II, including 19 sailors from the bombed HMS Puckridge. The remaining graves are of airmen connected with the RAF Flying-Boat base at Pembroke Dock.
Did you know. A number of post-war graves can also be found inside, one being of a Polish pilot, Z Bartosuk, who was killed in August 1952 while making a forced landing at the nearby disused airfield at Carew Cheriton.
What? Former RAF airfield
Where? Carew, Pembrokeshire
During the Second World War numerous squadrons were based at Carew, all tasked with guarding Britain’s western approaches. The airfield was also used during World War I by airships patrolling the Atlantic shipping lanes. The control tower, also known as the watch office, has been restored by the Carew Cheriton Control Tower Group and is open to the public.
A unique World War II RAF watch office forms the core of this site, but guests can also discover a restored air raid shelter and an original Avro Anson aircraft as part of their visit.
Did you know. The origins of this site’s design are rather mysterious – the control tower was not built to an approved Air Ministry design and no one knows why!
Carew Cheriton Control Tower
The story of the lords of the southern March is littered with tales of ambition, rivalry, power, invasion and battles. But who were they?
After the Norman seizure of England, the first Norman kings allowed trusted supporters to take lands on the Welsh borders — amongst them were the early lords of the southern March. They had virtual independence over their new territories, building great castles and founding fine abbeys, many of which still survive.
Today these sites help to tell the story of the lords, the landscape in which they lived and their vital role in the history of Wales.
What? Medieval castle
Where? Pembroke, west Wales
Founded by Roger de Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury, Pembroke Castle was at the heart of the Norman-controlled lands of south-west Wales. Situated on the estuary of the Cleddau River, it became home to William Marshal, who had risen to become earl of Pembroke through his faithful service to the Plantagenet kings. He was responsible for beginning the wholesale reconstruction of the castle in stone in the early 13th century.
Visitors today can explore the labyrinth of passageways and towers, take in the views from the 75ft-high Great Keep or descend into the Wogan, a cavern beneath the inner ward.
Did you know. Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty, was born at Pembroke Castle in 1457.
Other Marcher castles in west Wales include:
What? Coastal stronghold built in the 12th century
Where? Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire
This picturesque castle was one of a number of Marcher strongholds built along the coast of south Wales. Established by Bishop Roger of Salisbury, one of the most influential figures in Henry I’s court, the castle endured many attacks over the centuries regularly changing hands as the Welsh princes continued to fight against the Marcher lords.
The story of the struggle between the Welsh and the Marcher lords is interpreted on site. This includes the story of Princess Gwenllian who led a fighting force against Maurice de Londres, lord of the castle, in 1136. Their armies met in bloody battle about 2 km north-west of the castle. The Welsh were defeated, and the warrior princess was captured and beheaded.
Just outside the castle is a memorial to Princess Gwenllian. Make sure to look out for it during your visit.
Did you know. – Princess Gwenllian’s young son would grow up to become the Lord Rhys, a powerful ruler of the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. He held Kidwelly Castle during one of its periods as a Welsh stronghold.
Kidwelly SA17 5BQ
Other Marcher castles nearby include:
What? 13th-century fortification
Originally built by the Marcher lord, Gilbert de Clare, Caerphilly Castle remains the largest medieval fortress in Wales. Begun in 1268, it was one of the first completely consistent concentric castles (two sets of walls, one inside the other) in Britain.
With its formidable defences, Caerphilly Castle was a masterpiece of military planning and a forerunner for the Edwardian castles in north Wales. Many of its original features survive, including the impressive Great Hall. One of its most famous features is the ruinous south-east tower, which even out leans Pisa’s famous tower!
The castle was restored by the 3rd and 4th Marquesses of Bute, who made their money from the industrialisation of south Wales in the 19th and 20th centuries. The stories of de Clare, the Butes and other notable characters from the castle’s past can be explored on site.
Other Marcher castles nearby include Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch.
Did you know. Earl Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan and creator of Caerphilly Castle, was nicknamed ‘Red Gilbert’ after the fiery colour of his hair.
Caerphilly CF83 1JD
What? A Norman castle perched high above the banks of the river Wye
Where? Chepstow, Monmouthshire
The lands surrounding this fortress once belonged to Earl William fitz Osbern, one of William the Conqueror’s closest confidants. His time at Chepstow Castle in the late eleventh century marked the beginning of the conquest of south Wales by the Marcher lords.
The importance of the castle and the associated town increased as it became a trading centre between England and Wales. Perched on a cliff-top ridge above the river Wye, the castle secured an important crossing point between England and Wales.
The oldest building within the castle is the Norman Great Tower. Over time, the castle was added to and adapted to keep pace with changing fashions in architecture and developing methods of warfare.
Did you know. At 800 years old, Chepstow Castle boasts the oldest castle doors in Europe. Until 1962 these impressive wooden doors hung in the main gateway, but they are now in safe keeping and exhibited in the castle.
Monmouthshire NP16 5EY
Other Marcher castles nearby include:
Long before it became known as Wales, our land was home to a succession of ancient peoples. And, from the time of Neanderthal man some 225,000 years ago through to the end of the Iron Age in AD 75, each has left its mark on the landscape of Wales.
Monuments such as Neolithic burial chambers, Bronze Age cairns and Iron Age hillforts act as tangible reminders of this distant past, and offer an insight into the lives of our mysterious ancient ancestors.
What? Neolithic burial chamber dating back to the late 3rd Millennium BC
A well known monument in Wales, this accessible and atmospheric burial chamber has a long and complex history.
Translating directly to ‘The Mound in the Dark Grove’, Bryn Celli Ddu is situated on the Isle of Anglesey and dates back to the late 3rd Millennium BC. The burial chamber sits within a landscape of prehistoric places on Anglesey, including ancient rock art and standing stones.
A beautifully decorated pattern stone was discovered at the back of the chamber during restoration which is now in the care of the National Museum of Wales. Visitors to the site can view an exact replica of the stone in its place.
Did you know. Bryn Celli Ddu is the only tomb on Anglesey which is accurately aligned to coincide with the rising sun on the longest day of the year. At dawn on midsummer solstice (21 June), shafts of light from the rising sun penetrate down the passageway to light the inner burial chamber. Perhaps this sunlight was meant to bring warmth and life to the long buried ancestors?
Isle of Anglesey
Other prehistoric sites on Anglesey include:
What? Bronze Age copper mines uncovered in 1987
Around 4,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, this site echoed with the noise of mining on an industrial scale. The prize was copper – an essential ingredient in making bronze, the alloy that gave its name to this period of prehistory.
Since the site was found in the 1980s, archaeologists, engineers and cavers have continued to discover the vast range of tunnels and passages that make up this ancient mine.
Tours allow visitors to experience these prehistoric mine workings, including the amazing Bronze Age Cavern, dug out over 3,500 years ago by miners using only tools of stone and bone.
Did you know. The Great Orme Copper Mines are the largest prehistoric mines in the world.
Other Prehistoric sites in north Wales include:
What? A Neolithic burial chamber
Where? Vale of Glamorgan
During excavation in 1914, the bodies of over 50 individuals from the Neolithic period were found in Tinkinswood Burial Chamber along with sherds of broken pottery and worked flint.
Constructed almost 6,000 years ago, the site stands upon a vast sloping valley in the Vale of Glamorgan – just over seven miles from the heart of Cardiff.
This area would have been very desirable during the Neolithic period. There is a stream nearby, good soil for growing crops and plenty of stone suitable for making tools.
Modern visitors can marvel at the tomb’s capstone which, at around 40 tonnes, weighs the same as an articulated lorry. It is one of the largest examples in Britain.
Did you know. An ancient folk legend states that anyone who spends a night at this site before May Day, St John's Day (23 June) or Midwinter Day will either die, go mad, or become a poet.
Other prehistoric sites in south east Wales include:
What? Reconstructed Iron Age hillfort
Where? Meline, Pembrokeshire
Castell Henllys is the only Iron Age hillfort in Britain where you can truly experience what life was like for the Celtic people more than 2,000 years ago.
A visit here offers a unique insight into the lives of our ancestors, where you can huddle around a roundhouse fire to hear tales of old and grind flour to make bread on the very spot the Celts stood centuries ago.
Castell Henllys, in the heart of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, was redeveloped in 2014 with a cafe, exhibition, visitor centre and children’s play area.
Did you know. The evocative roundhouses and granaries at Castell Henllys are reconstructed on the excavated remains of a real hilltop fort.
Other prehistoric sites in south west Wales include:
Pentre Ifan and Carreg Coetan Arthur burial chambers
Owain Glyndŵr is one of Wales’s most renowned figures, best known for leading a Welsh war of independence against English rule in the 15th century.
It was his determination to stand up against English oppression that sparked a nationwide rebellion against the social, economic and religious hardships at the time. To this day his legacy survives in a number of places – from the spot where he proclaimed himself ‘Prince of Wales’, to the castles he fought so hard to capture.
The Owain Glyndŵr and his Uprising trail covers a number of these sites, while places like Glyndŵr’s court at Sycharth, and the St Chad’s church in Hanmer where he was married, can be added to the route to allow even further insight into the life of this iconic character.
Enrich your adventure further by visiting Pilleth (Bryn Glas) – the site of his most memorable victory in battle. You can visit the church and the hill that was the focus of the battle.
What? Spot where Glyndŵr famously proclaimed himself ‘Prince of Wales’
It was Glyndŵr’s self-proclamation as ‘Prince of Wales’ that began his 14-year rebellion against English rule.
The site is quite complex and not always easy to pick out on the ground, but the most obvious feature is the mound. Known locally as ‘Owain Glyndŵr’s Mount’, it is actually the remains of a 12th century castle motte built to command the route through the Dee Valley.
Visitors to the site are welcomed by an interpretative panel which explains the significance of the site. The site lies between the main A5 road and the Llangollen Railway, and is in private hands, though with public access.
Did you know. Glyndŵr’s ‘fine’ manor is likely to have been in the area across the field, and would have been defended by a surrounding moat.
What? Mighty Medieval fortress that also forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where? Harlech, Gwynedd
Built in 1283, Harlech was one of a number of castles created to secure land King Edward I had won in north Wales.
When Glyndŵr’s forces set out to capture Harlech in 1404 they were pleased to find the English perilously under-equipped, with only three shields, eight basinets, six lances and four guns at their disposal.
Harlech was consequently won, and Glyndŵr installed his court and family in the castle shortly after, holding his second parliament at Harlech in 1405. The site was finally recaptured by the King’s son, Harry of Monmouth (future King Henry V), in 1409.
Did you know. In 1468, Harlech Castle fell to the Yorkists, giving rise to the traditional song ‘Men of Harlech’
What? Visitor Centre & Exhibition on life of Owain Glyndŵr
Where? Machynlleth, Powys
The Owain Glyndŵr Centre houses a range of interactive exhibitions designed to tell the story of his life as leader of the rebellion.
A specially commissioned video depicts him being crowned, while displays include a replica of the Pennal letter – the letter sent by Glyndŵr attempting to enlist the support of the King of France. A mural by Scottish artist Murray Urquhart (1880-1972) also portrays Glyndŵr's pivotal victory over the King's forces at the Battle of Hyddgen in 1402.
Did you know. The Centre is thought to be built on the site of Glyndŵr’s famous parliament of 1404.
What? Ruined Edwardian castle built in late 13th century
Where? Aberystwyth, Ceredigion
Aberystwyth Castle suffered a somewhat turbulent past. The site was seized by the Welsh uprising in 1404, before being besieged by English forces (under the command of the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick) just three years later.
The fortress was near surrender when Glyndŵr himself decided to lead the castle’s defence. Alas, his efforts proved unsuccessful, and a year later, it finally fell. The loss of Aberystwyth meant that Glyndŵr, “hero of the common people”, was no more than a guerrilla leader from that point on.
Did you know. Thanks to the later events of the Civil War in the 1600s, the castle is now a romantic ruin its remaining walls and tower form an attractive silhouette against the sea.
The story of the princes of Deheubarth – once rulers of much of south west Wales – is a fascinating mix of ambition, rivalry, castle-building and cultural awakening. Formidable characters such as law maker Hywel Dda, and the powerful Lord Rhys ensured the dynasty’s supremacy in the region for over 300 years.
The legacy of Deheubarth lives on today our national Eisteddfod (Wales’s flagship cultural festival) can trace its roots back to the reign of Lord Rhys in 1176.
The Princes of Deheubarth trail will reveal the princes’ contribution to the story of Wales via a series of stunning sites across the south west, including castles at Cardigan and Dinefwr, and abbeys at Strata Florida and Talley.
What? 12th century castle overlooking the River Teifi
Where? Cardigan, Ceredigion
There has been a castle in Cardigan since the Norman invasion in the 12th century. The original Motte and Bailey castle lay a mile down-stream, but the Marcher lord Gilbert Fitz Richard de Clare built a fortress on its current site in 1110. 55 years later The Lord Rhys captured the castle, destroyed it, and rebuilt it in stone.
Cardigan Castle is the birthplace of the Eisteddfod – Wales’s flagship cultural festival, which is still celebrated annually to this day. It was back in 1176 that Lord Rhys invited poets and musicians from across the land to perform at a grand gathering within the castle grounds. An exhibition on the history of the Welsh Eisteddfod is open to visitors wishing to learn more about the beginnings of this landmark festival.
Did you know. Cardigan is the first documented stone castle built by a native prince of Wales.
What? Museum on the life of Hywel Dda
Where? Whitland, Carmarthenshire
The Hywel Dda Centre celebrates the life and works of the 10th century Welsh king, famed for developing a system of law that was ahead of its time. The centre consists of an indoor exhibition space prepared by historians Malcolm and Cyril Jones, as well as descriptive art work in glass, brick, ceramics and steel.
A series of gardens are also open for public viewing. Each is themed to reflect a separate division of the Law – Society, Kindred and Status Crime and Tort Women Contract Property King and Court. Each garden has its own distinct character, and features enamel slate plaques that depict the laws in action.
Did you know. One particular plaque in the Willow Garden (which depicts the law of Women) details the three reasons a woman could leave her husband in the time of Hywel Dda:
1. If he was a leper
2. For not being able to fulfil his duties as a husband
3. For having bad breath.
Hywel Dda Centre
St.Mary's Street, Whitland, Carmarthenshire
What? Medieval castle standing above the Tywi Valley
Where? Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire
Built on a natural ridge with majestic views over the surrounding valley, Dinefwr is a castle fit for a king. Records show that there has been a castle here from at least the time of The Lord Rhys (12th century). Following a period of Norman domination, he rebuilt the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth, and Dinefwr became its ‘capital’. The monument was developed by The Lord Rhys’ descendants during the thirteenth century.
Despite the structure having been in an ivy-clad, ruinous state for centuries, there's still much to admire — not least the stunning landscape that surrounds it.
Did you know. Thanks to a conical roof constructed atop the keep, built to create a picturesque ‘summerhouse’, Dinefwr was an eighteenth-century picnicker’s paradise!
What? 12th century remains of a Premonstratensian Abbey
Where? Talley, Carmarthenshire
The Lord Rhys played an important role as a patron of religious orders, not least at Talley, an abbey that he founded for Premonstratensian canons between 1184 and 1189. These ‘White Canons’ (named after their white habits) had a back-to basics approach to religion.
The canons had great ambitions for Talley, but the final building was more modest than they had hoped. Although the abbey is in a ruinous state, what remains (in particular, the crossing tower and the presbytery) is still impressive.
Did you know. White Canons were also permitted to serve in monastic houses and in parish churches – this appealed to The Lord Rhys who was keen on religious reform.
Other sites that help tell the story of the Princes of Deheubarth include:
During the early middle ages, the borderlands between England and Wales were known as the Marches. For hundreds of years the area was the scene of conflict between different factions of the Welsh princes to the west, and the Saxon kings and later Norman lordships and the English Crown to the east.
Hotly contested, the border shifted regularly, depending on who had the upper hand at the time. As a result the Marches became a wild frontier, scattered with hundreds of castles and fortified residences.
It was Henry VIII’s Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543, which created the beginnings of the present administrative infrastructure, that contributed towards bringing peace to the Marches.
What? Classic English fortress, built by Henry de Lacy on behalf of Edward I, on top of the original Welsh stronghold
Where? Denbigh, Denbighshire
After the fall of Dafydd ap Gruffudd in 1282, Edward I entrusted his close ally Henry de Lacy to build the castle and town walls you see today. Although captured during the Welsh revolt of 1294, it was back in the hands of Henry de Lacy the following year and building work restarted.
De Lacy built on a monumental scale, with spectacular polygonal towers and palatial accommodation finished with eye catching striped and chequered masonry. Denbigh quickly became a major commercial centre with a borough that expanded outside the town walls.
Did you know. Architecturally, it is Denbigh’s triple-towered great gatehouse that really impresses – it has even been described as “one of the seven wonders of Wales”.
Other Princes and Lords of the Border Marches sites nearby include:
What? Medieval castle begun by Henry III in 1223
Where? Montgomery, Powys
Norman Lord Hubert de Burgh’s castle was a statement of power that dominated the local landscape. Imposing and impressive even today, Montgomery Castle was a crucial front line fortress and an important administrative centre.
It was here where the Treaty of Montgomery was signed in 1267, which formally recognised Llywelyn ap Gruffudd as Prince of Wales. Ironically, it was also from here that soldiers, under the command of Roger de Mortimer, marched against the Welsh, eventually leading to Llywelyn’s death in 1282.
With its striking remains and tremendous views, this castle holds stark reminders of Montgomery’s medieval past, including its defensive walls, the church and market place.
Did you know. The majority of the Montgomery Castle was demolished on the order of Parliament after the Civil War in the 1600s.
Other Princes and Lords of the Border Marches sites nearby include:
What? 900-year old castle, currently undergoing a major restoration project
Where? Hay-on-Wye, on the Powys/Herefordshire border.
As with the other border castles, Hay’s history is long and turbulent. The first Castle in Hay was a Motte and Bailey built in 1100 on a different site. In the latter half of the 12th Century Marcher lord – William de Braose – built the current castle from stone. The castle was captured and damaged by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last prince of Wales, in 1233, only to be rebuilt by Henry III. The town became more peaceful after Edward I’s successful campaigns in Wales.
The castle was adapted over time, and by 1660 had become part of a Jacobean manor house. The eastern part of the manor was gutted by a fire in 1939 and is still derelict. The western section also suffered a fire in 1979 whilst under ownership of Richard Booth and was partially restored shortly after.
Did you know. Since 2011 the site has been under the care of the Hay Castle Trust who are working to save the Castle. Their vision is to open it up to everyone as an arts, culture and education centre upon completion of a major restoration project.
Other Princes and Lords of the Border Marches sites nearby include:
What? Medieval castle – the best preserved of Hubert de Burgh’s ‘Three Castles’.
This is an example of an early Norman castle in Wales, possibly founded by William FitzOsbern. It was Hubert de Burgh however who was responsible for the fortifications we see today. In 1201 he took control of White Castle along with the nearby castles of Skenfrith and Grosmont (which together form his ‘Three Castles’).
While Skenfrith and Grosmont were made fit for nobility, White Castle was more suited as a military stronghold with its powerful round towers standing guard over the surrounding territory. Even the domestic buildings were more befitting a garrison commander than a great Lord.
Did you know. After Hubert de Burgh’s death, the Three Castles fell to royal hands, and in 1254 Henry III granted them to his eldest son, the future King Edward I.
Other Princes and Lords of the Border Marches sites nearby include:
The princes of Gwynedd reigned for more than 800 years — centuries that saw bloody internal battles and clashes with the English crown, but also cultural growth, religious and social change and the construction of many awe-inspiring buildings.
Their dynasty left a permanent mark on the landscape of Wales and helped to forge the proud national identity which still stands strong today.
The compelling tale of Gwynedd’s princely rulers includes some of the most significant figures in Welsh history — from Rhodri Mawr, who defeated Viking invaders in 856, to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, who was recognised by Henry III of England as Prince of Wales in 1267 (only to be killed by Edward I’s forces in 1282).
Today, you can experience the legacy of the princes’ reign in the stunning landscape of north Wales.
What? Ruins of a castle first mentioned in records dating back to the 8th century
Where? Deganwy, Conwy
Deganwy Castle altered form and changed hands on many occasions over the centuries, with a number of documented Welsh and Norman owners. Most of what you see at the site today was built by Henry III. The castle was eventually captured and systematically dismantled by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd — a significant moment in Llywelyn’s campaign against Henry.
Due to the castle’s turbulent past, not a great deal has survived to the present day. However traces do remain, and the site itself, atop a steep hill, offers commanding views of the mouth of the river Conwy and Edward I’s spectacular Conwy Castle.
Why not start your tour of the princes' domain by surveying Maelgwn's lands as he would have done nearly fifteen centuries ago?
Did you know. The castle lies at an elevation of 110m above sea level, sprawled over
two volcanic plugs.
What? The remains of a medieval Welsh court
Where? Newborough, Anglesey
Lying undiscovered until 1992, the excavation of the site has revealed the only medieval Welsh court you can actually visit.
Welsh royalty divided their territories in to administrative areas, each of which had its own ‘Llys’ or court. The princes would travel to these courts on official business, including tax collection and overseeing legal matters.
Here at Llys Rhosyr, the excavations revealed many artefacts from the 13th century as well as the stone remains of three structures, including a hall and an area with ovens.
Did you know. Three quarters of the site remains unexplored by archaeologists, but what you can see provides a fascinating insight into medieval Welsh society.
To add to your enjoyment of the site a downloadable audio tour is available from www.snowdoniaheritage.info/en/theme/29/princes-of-gwynedd
What? Ruined 13th century castle
Built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn ap Grufudd’s powerful grandfather), Dolbadarn Castle was a potent symbol of his status and wealth.
The castle was intended to guard the entrance of the Llanberis Pass, and later became a royal prison.
Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had fought tirelessly against his brothers to become the overall overarching Prince of Gwynedd. But even in defeat, the brothers posed a serious threat.
Llywelyn’s solution? To imprison them, keeping his elder brother, Owain Goch, within the castle’s prison for twenty-two years – a 50ft round tower which still dominates the site to this day.
Did you know. Historians believe Owain Goch was held here because the 13th century poet Hywel Foel ap Griffi described Owain as ‘a man in a tower, long a guest’.
Llanberis LL55 4TA
What? A 13th century castle built upon rocky headland
Where? Criccieth, Gwynedd
Built sometime during the 13th century, Criccieth Castle is perched upon a steep headland overlooking Tremadog Bay. Don’t be fooled by the site’s beautiful views across the water - Criccieth’s twin-towered gatehouse is an intimidating structure.
Originally built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, this Welsh prince included a very English style gatehouse. Edward I’s forces took the castle some 50 years later, and made a number of changes to its fabric.
Did you know. During the 13th century, Criccieth Castle housed many political prisoners including Gruffudd ap Llywelyn and Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg.
The castle’s visitor centre helps tell the story of the Princes of Gwynedd.
The Roman conquest, occupation and settlement of Wales took place over the course of 360 years from AD 47 – AD410.
Evidence of this dramatic time can still be found in our country, providing a fascinating glimpse into the great cultural and technological changes the Romans brought to Wales.
What did the Romans do for us? They encouraged the widespread use of coins as currency and introduced mass production, sanitation, literacy and road networks. The Roman Conquest and Settlement of Wales trail will help you discover more about the profound effect these settlers had on our society.
What? Remains of a Roman fort built to defend the Empire against rebellious tribes.
Where? Caernarfon, Gwynedd
Situated in the heart of Gwynedd, Segontium Roman Fort stands a little over a mile from the magnificent site of Caernarfon Castle.
Established in AD 77, Segontium was the centre of Roman control in north Wales, with a force of 1,000 auxiliary soldiers stationed here at its peak. Visitors to the site can marvel at the remains of the fort while imagining what life would have been like for those who were stationed here.
Long after the final departure of the legions, Segontium passed into Welsh legend as Caer Aber Seint (the fort at the mouth of the river) and is mentioned in the dream of Macsen Wledig in the early tales of the Mabinogion.
Want more? A display at Caernarfon Castle includes the story of Macsen Wledig, referencing the town’s early beginnings in a new interpretive film.
Did you know. Cadw recently reconstructed what Segontium would have looked like in its heyday using CGI technology. You can watch the video here.
Segontium Roman Fort
Other Roman sites in the area include:
What? Remains of gold mine opened over 2,000 years ago
Where? Cothi Valley, Carmarthenshire
The Romans came to Britain to search out its mineral and agricultural wealth, and they quite literally ‘struck gold’ here at Dolaucothi, beginning an industry that lasted on this site through to 1938.
These goldmines are unique in Wales and the visible remains of the mining operations, water systems and aqueduct are truly impressive. You can see for yourself where the Roman’s would have hacked away at the tunnel walls, bit by bit as part of a highly planned and organised operation.
Looked after by National Trust, tours down into the site are available, while further Roman sites Y Pigwyn Roman Marching Camp, Brecon Gaer Fort and Carmarthen Amphitheatre are all within visiting distance.
Did you know. Dolaucothi also benefits from breath-taking views out onto the wooded hillsides of the Cothi Valley
What? Extraordinarily well-preserved Roman fortress, amphitheatre and baths.
Where? Caerleon, Newport
Caerleon is at the heart of the nation’s Roman story. Once home to the Second Augustan Legion, the mighty fortress comes complete with an original Roman amphitheatre. Ringside seats at this amphitheatre, thought to have been able to seat at least 6,000 spectators, could have been a rather messy affair – just imagine man and beast fighting tooth and claw for their lives!
Visitors can also imagine life as a Roman soldier in the barrack blocks or, with the help of some digital wizardry, see bathers enjoying the fortress baths in what was once the settlers’ state-of-the-art leisure complex.
The National Roman Legion Museum is also situated in Caerleon. It tells the story of life in this far flung outpost of the Roman Empire, and displays artefacts found during excavations of Roman Caerleon.
Did you know. Occupied from AD 75, the original timber site was steadily rebuilt in stone – much of what you see today dates from the second century AD.
Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths
What? Remains of a complete Roman town
Where? Caerwent, Monmouthshire
Caerwent’s local tribe, the Silures, resisted the Romans for over 30 years before surrendering in AD 75. In time the Romans gave them ‘civitas’ status – local self-governance. The town, known as Venta Silurum or “Market of the Silures was”, was then established as part of the arrangement.
The fourth century structures include excavated houses, a forum-basilica and a Romano-British temple, all enclosed within huge town walls that still stand up to 17 feet (5.2m) high in places.
Visit the West Gate barns area for fascinating interpretation panels.
Did you know. Known as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Roman archaeology in Wales, the remains at Caerwent Roman Town are said to rival the quality of Hadrian’s Wall.
Caerwent Roman Town
Wales has lots to offer in terms of its industrial heritage, with many treasures which are well worth a visit — including a site of such industrial importance it has been granted World Heritage status.
The World Heritage landscape of Blaenavon, in the heart of the south Wales valleys, offers numerous attractions including the opportunity to experience life as a miner at Big Pit National Coal Museum, and as a worker at the Blaenavon Ironworks, a site which had a significant impact on the world as we know it today. Further west is home to the National Wool Museum, located in the historic former Cambrian Mills, and in the heart of the Snowdonia mountains in north Wales is the National Slate Museum.
All four corners of Wales have an industrial story to tell…
What? Museum housed in original quarry workshops
Where? Llanberis, Snowdonia
The National Slate Museum tells the story of life in Wales’s slate communities when the Welsh slate industry ‘roofed the world’.
As well as opportunities to see the foundry, forges, sheds and the largest working waterwheel in the UK, skilled craftsmen also give live demonstrations of the art of splitting and dressing slate by hand.
Did you know. The National Slate Museum is twinned with the Slate Valley Museum in Granville, NY, USA, reinforcing the links between Welsh communities on both sides of the Atlantic.
What? Museum located within the historic former Cambrian Mills
Located in the heart of west Wales’s countryside, the National Wool Museum tells the story of the once thriving woollen industry in Teifi Valley.
This gem of a museum is housed in an original mill building, where industrial machinery and live weaving displays can be seen which bring to life the process of 'fleece to fabric'.
This once mighty industry produced clothing, shawls and blankets for the workers of Wales and the rest of the world.
Did you know. The wool industry dominated the Teifi area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
What? Industrial heritage museum
At the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage landscape of Blaenavon, lies Big Pit - a former working coal mine. This award-winning museum offers an experience unparalleled in the country, and one of only two sites in the UK where visitors can go underground in an original coal mine.
Guided by ex-miners, visitors descend to the very depths of the mine and get a taste of what life was like for those who made their living at the coal face.
There are further facilities to educate and entertain all ages above ground, including a multi-media virtual tour in the Mining Galleries and exhibitions in the Pithead Baths and historic colliery buildings.
Did you know. The currently accessible mines at Big Pit lie over 90 metres below the surface of the ground.
What? Former 18th century industrial site
Just under an hour’s drive from the capital city of Cardiff, in the famous south Wales Valleys stand Blaenavon Ironworks. The ironworks were a milestone in the history of the Industrial Revolution, and at the time were at the cutting-edge of new technology.
The power of steam was harnessed and a way of making steel using iron-ore was developed, which led to a worldwide boom in the steel industry, taking Wales’s industrial might to a new height. Visitors to the site can see the refurbished Stack Square cottages, to experience how the workers lived through the ages, and the recreated company truck shop. New, cutting-edge audio-post technology helps bring the story of the Ironworks to life like never before.
The landscape of Blaenavon has gained World Heritage status as a result of its revolutionary form and function. From mines to train lines, you can still trace the routes in and routes out, from raw material to finished product.
Did you know. Originally built in 1790, people lived in Blaenavon Ironworks’s Engine Row cottages until the 1960s.
What? 19th century aqueduct
Where? Near Llangollen
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee in Wrexham County Borough.
Built by Thomas Telford and completed in 1805, it's no exaggeration to say that the techniques and ideas developed at Pontcysyllte helped shape the world through their impact on engineering. Taking over 10 years to build and costing £38,499 — the equivalent of £38 million today — the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was truly one of the engineering marvels of the Industrial age.
UNESCO made this masterpiece of civil engineering a World Heritage Site in 2009 – along with 11 miles of canal including Chirk Aqueduct and the Horseshoe Falls at Llantysilio, near Llangollen.
Did you know. When Thomas Telford finished the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in 1805, it was the tallest canal boat crossing in the world.
Has the Wales History Map inspired you to explore Wales?
Whether you’re driving across the country or just setting off to a site on your doorstep, every road trip needs a playlist to set the scene for adventure. We’ve teamed up with Trac Cymru to create the ‘ultimate Welsh road trip soundtrack’ – a YouTube based playlist of songs by Welsh artists.
With a song to represent each historic theme on the Wales History Map, the soundtrack can be played at home or on the move.
The original castle was built in 1093, but its present state is the work of William Marshal, a very influential figure in Britain in the 12th century. It was in ruin until the 1880s when it was restored in a 3 year period.
Pembroke Castle ©Andrew Last/Flickr
Pembroke Castle is the largest castle in Wales that is private property and it awaits all the visitors of the town of Pembroke.
Castles of the Lords and Princes of Wales
Download the booklet for a general introduction to the castles closely associated with the Welsh lords and princes.
Other Sites Associated with the Lords and Princes of Wales:
This Cistercian abbey, a daughter house of Whitland Abbey, dates to the mid-twelfth century. It underwent an extensive building programme during the thirteenth century with the support of Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, but was never completed. It is reputed to be the final resting place of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd following his death at Cilmeri in 1282.
Before Edward I’s ‘planted’ town was built in 1283, Conwy’s parish church of St Mary was originally the church of Aberconwy Abbey. It was founded by Cistercian monks from Strata Florida Abbey, and received its charter from Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. It was here that Prince Llywelyn and his sons were buried. Following Edward I’s invasion of Wales and establishment of Conwy Castle and walled town, Aberconwy Abbey was forced to relocate 12km down the Conwy Valley to Maenan.
A llys (a native royal court) is known to have existed at Abergwyngregyn, Gwynedd. It was recorded to be one of the main residences of the princes of Gwynedd in the thirteenth century. However, its exact location has been subject to debate.
During excavations near the eleventh-century motte and bailey castle in 1993, pottery and the remains of a rectangular hall were found, dating to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The excavations revealed that the hall had been altered later in its existence. As contemporary documents record building work on the hall state that building work took place at Abergwyngregyn llys’s hall and chamber, this suggests the original may have been found.
The large granite monolith at Cilmeri marks the spot where it is believed Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native prince of Wales, was killed in a skirmish with the English in 1282.
Although Prince Llywelyn’s head was taken away to be displayed in London, it is said that his body was taken to Cwmhir Abbey by his followers, where it was laid to rest. His death marked the end of independent, native rule in Wales.
St Mary’s Church at Llanllugan sits nearby to the original location of a twelfth-century Cistercian nunnery, one of only two in medieval Wales. The abbey of Llanllugan was a daughter house of Strata Marcella near Welshpool and was founded by Maredudd ap Robert, Lord of Cedewain.
The ruins of Llys Euryn mansion lie tucked within the hillside of Bryn Euryn, Rhos on Sea. It was built on the site of the court (llys) of Ednyfed Fychan, the seneschal (chief minister) of Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. Although most of the remains date to the Tudor period, it may have incorporated earlier buildings a doorway has been stylistically dated to the fourteenth-century. The house was originally called Llys Maelgwn Gwynedd which has led to claims that Llys Euryn stands on a much earlier site of a sixth-century palace of Maelgwn Gwynedd.
Llys Rhosyr, Anglesey, was one of the royal courts of Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in the thirteenth-century. Excavations here have revealed the enclosure wall and internal buildings including a hall and what is thought to be Prince Llywelyn’s royal chamber. The llys was the centre of the royal estate of the commote (administrative region) and was where the prince would have stayed when in residence. It was recorded in Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes) that Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth was at Llys Rhosyr in 1237 when he witnessed a charter for a grant of land for the monastery on Puffin Island.
Llys Rhosyr was taken by the English following the death of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282. Nearby Newborough was established soon after, housing the relocated inhabitants of Llanfaes, evicted to make room for Edward I’s Beaumaris Castle. A sandstorm covered the remains of the llys in 1300, but it was rediscovered by a local archaeologist in 1992. Reconstructions of the hall and royal chamber are nearing completion at St Fagans National Museum of History, near Cardiff.
It was here that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd spent his last night alive in December 1282.
Tradition states that Prince Llywelyn was called to Aberedw, but realised it was a trap. To ensure he wasn’t followed in the snow he asked his blacksmith to reverse the shoes on his horse. Prince Llywelyn hid overnight in the cave but was killed the next day in a skirmish at Cilmeri.
Penmon is the site of a sixth-century clas (an early medieval Welsh monastery) established by St Seriol. The holy well at Penmon may date from that period. The church surviving today dates from the mid- twelfth century when the clas was converted into an Augustinian priory. The south range of the priory’s domestic buildings, which would have housed the dining hall and dormitories, still stand today.
Just to the north lies the privately owned Puffin Island (Ynys Seriol), known as Priestholm, also home to an early medieval monastery. A surviving church tower dates from the twelfth century alongside other buildings within a walled enclosure.
The twelfth-century decoration and Romanesque architecture at these sites are testament to Anglesey’s prosperity at this time. This was in thanks to the successful reigns of Gruffudd ap Cynan, king of Gwynedd, and his son Owain Gwynedd, which marked the beginning of the age of the princes.
Parliament House stands on the site where the first Welsh parliament met.
In 1400, a new self-proclaimed prince of Wales started to fight back against the English rule. Owain Glyndŵr led a war of independence, capturing castles such as Harlech and Aberystwyth. He aspired for an independent state, a separate church and two universities in Wales. In 1404 he welcomed representatives from across the whole of Wales to form a Senedd (parliament) at Machynlleth. To ensure it was recognised by other countries, delegates from Scotland, France and Spain were also invited. It was here that Owain Glyndŵr was crowned Prince of Wales.
The parish church of St Mary's is all that remains of a medieval priory. Believed to originally have been founded in the sixth-century as a clas (an early medieval Welsh monastery), it may be one of the oldest in the country.
It was mentioned by the historian and traveller Gerald of Wales in the early thirteenth century. Soon after it became attached to the Augustinian order, under the patronage of Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth.
St Davids was the largest and most important medieval diocese in Wales. It is believed to be the site where St David, patron saint of Wales, founded his monastery in the sixth century. Bishop Sulien, a distinguished scholar, provided refuge here for Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of south Wales. The two met with Gruffudd ap Cynan, king of Gwynedd, on his return to Wales following refuge in Ireland. It was over the relics of St David that the two kings to vowed to join forces, in order to defeat their mutual enemies in the battle of Mynydd Carn, 1081.
Although initially founded by an Anglo-Norman lord, it was Strata Florida’s Welsh patron — Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd — prince of Deheubarth, who ensured it flourished. Many of the princes of Deheubarth are buried there. It was at Strata Florida that the original Latin manuscript for Brut y Tywysogion, (Chronicle of the Princes) was complied in the late thirteenth century and where it was later translated into Welsh. Strata Florida’s support of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, prince of Gwynedd, brought conflict with King John who threatened to destroy the abbey in 1212. In 1238, Prince Llywelyn summoned all the princes of Wales to the abbey where they swore allegiance to Llywelyn’s heir, Dafydd a symbol of unity for Wales.
However, Strata Florida was later damaged during the Welsh uprising, led by Owain Glyndŵr, when it was used as barracks by the troops of King Henry IV in the early fifteenth century.
Founded by the Lord Rhys, prince of Deheubarth, canons from St John, Amiens in north-east France were brought to the abbey in the late 1180s. Talley was the only abbey of the Premonstratensian order to be established in medieval Wales.
Despite financial support from the Lord Rhys, poverty within the area and a costly dispute with Whitland Abbey meant the original plans for Talley had to be downgraded. The princes of Deheubarth continued to support the abbey, but in 1278 it was taken by the English following Edward I’s invasion of Wales.
This Cistercian abbey was founded in 1201 by Prince Madog ap Gruffudd Maelor, ruler of northern Powys. Prince Madog and other members of the royal family of northern Powys were buried here. The Brut y Tywysigion (Chronicle of the Princes), which recorded the death of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282, was compiled at the abbey between 1282 and 1332. Its Latin name Valle Crucis means ‘valley of the cross’, referring to the Pillar of Eliseg still stands just north of the abbey. The column was erected in the ninth century by Concenn, the last early medieval king of Powys to commemorate — and record through inscribing — his ancestors.
Long before the abbey was founded, this was the site where a grand national council was called in 940 to compile and record a code of Welsh laws. These progressive, native laws are still known today as the Laws of Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good). Many remained in use until the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 and the Act of Union in the sixteenth century. Whitland Abbey was founded in the mid-twelfth century and later came under the patronage of the Lord Rhys, prince of Deheubarth. It was the mother house of several other abbeys in Wales, including Cwmhir, Strata Florida, Aberconwy, Strata Marcella and Valle Crucis.
7. Raglan Castle
Raglan Castle in the county of Gwent was one of the last medieval castles in Wales, and the structure demonstrates how Britain’s fortresses eventually gave way to palaces. Although it was designed for defense when construction began in 1435, attention was also paid to human comfort with an array of luxurious apartments built around a scenic courtyard. A climb to the top of the Great Tower offers views of the moat below and the surrounding countryside. Visitors can explore the cellars, which were built to hold hundreds of casks of wine, and can view medieval wood carvings still visible on the castle’s long gallery.
16. Kylemore Abbey
Originally known as Kylemore Castle, this fantastic fortification in the west of Ireland was turned into a Benedictine monastery by Belgian nuns fleeing the fighting of World War I. Built in 1868 to be the private home of a wealthy doctor, the Victorian-style buildings and Gothic church of the estate are beautifully reflected in the waters of Pollacapall Lough.
With delightful mountains, reflective lakes, and gushing rivers all around it, Kylemore Abbey has long been one of County Galway’s most popular attractions, and many people come to stroll around its landscaped gardens.
9 of Britain’s best castles
From medieval fortresses to dramatic clifftop ruins, Britain boasts countless awe-inspiring castles. Here we round up nine of the best and explore their fascinating histories.
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Published: July 10, 2019 at 7:55 am
Named by 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth as the place where King Arthur was conceived, Tintagel Castle in Cornwall is one of the most famous castles in Britain.
The site of Tintagel Castle has been inhabited at least since the late Roman period, and in the fifth to seventh centuries was “economically one of the most important sites in the whole of Britain, closely involved in trade with the eastern Mediterranean”, says English Heritage.
Interestingly, after the mid-seventh century there is little evidence of activity on Tintagel for more than 500 years. It wasn’t until around 1138 that Tintagel was made famous, when it was named in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain as the place where King Arthur was magically conceived.
According to Monmouth’s book, an ancient king of Britain, Uther Pendragon, lusts after Ygerna, the wife of one of his barons, Gorlois of Cornwall. The ‘prophet’ Merlin administers a magic potion to transform Pendragon into the exact likeness of Ygerna’s absent husband and that night at Tintagel the pair conceive King Arthur.
This legendary fame is thought to have inspired Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III, to build his castle at Tintagel some 100 years later, in 1233. “A cultured and literary man who would have known these legends extremely well, the overwhelming likelihood is that [Richard] built the castle at Tintagel to recreate the scene from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story and, in so doing, write himself into the mythology of King Arthur,” says English Heritage.
Today the ruins of the 13th-century castle offer dramatic views and you can visit the nearby Merlin’s Cave. A bronze sculpture of King Arthur was recently unveiled at the site and the head of Merlin was carved into the rock face beneath the castle.
Please note that Tintagel Castle is closed for the construction of a new footbridge. The castle will reopen in summer 2019.
The scene of the 1314 battle of Bannockburn and the crowning of the nine-month-old Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1543, Stirling is one of Scotland’s most historically important castles. Sitting atop the volcanic crag of Castle Hill, surrounded by steep cliffs, Stirling Castle has been attacked or besieged at least 16 times and several murders have taken place within its walls, including that of William, 8th Earl of Douglas, who in February 1452 was stabbed to death at the command of James II of Scotland.
The first record of Stirling Castle dates from around 1110, when King Alexander I dedicated a chapel there. The castle was seen to be of great strategic importance thanks to its position near the border of Highland and Lowland Scotland, says BBC iWonder.
Consequently, in the spring of 1314 Edward Bruce, brother of Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland, laid siege to Stirling Castle, which was then held by English forces. In retaliation Edward II, son of Edward I, marched north with an army to relieve the siege – the ensuing battle of Bannockburn, fought on 23 and 24 June, took place within sight of Stirling Castle.
The infant Mary was crowned Queen of Scots in Stirling’s Chapel Royal in 1543. The only child of James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary of Guise, Mary was betrothed to Henry VIII’s son, Edward, amid tensions between English and Scottish powers. However, Mary’s Catholics guardians opposed this betrothal and took the young Mary to Stirling Castle, breaking the agreement. Henry responded by attacking Scotland, ordering a series of violent raids that later became known as ‘The Rough Wooing’.
In recent years the castle grounds have been used for open-air concerts performed by the likes of Bob Dylan and R.E.M, and every year the castle hosts Stirling’s Hogmanay celebrations [on New Year’s Eve], which are broadcast live on television.
Commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1081, Cardiff Castle was built on the site of a Roman fort, originally in wood.
The castle was involved in a number of conflicts between Anglo-Normans and the Welsh and in 1404 was stormed by Welshman Owain Glyndŵr, who over the course of six years tried – ultimately unsuccessfully – to rebel against the English rule of Wales.
Cardiff Castle changed hands multiple times following the Wars of the Roses and eventually became property of the Crown. In 1495 Henry VII revoked the castle’s Marcher lordship status [which allowed specific rights for Marcher lords – nobles appointed by the king of England to guard the border, known as the Welsh Marches, between England and Wales – exercised to some extent independently of the king] bringing the castle and its surrounding territories under English law as the County of Glamorgan.
Cardiff Castle was badly damaged during the English Civil War, being passed back and forth between the rival armies. The castle became Bute property in 1776 through the marriage of Charlotte Jane Windsor to Lord Mountstuart, who later became the 1st Marquess of Bute. The Bute family “brought power and prosperity to Cardiff, which they turned from a sleepy backwater into one of the greatest coal exporting ports in the world,” says Cardiff Castle. “They transformed the Castle into the gothic fantasy we see today, as well as revealing the castle’s Roman past.”
In the 1770s ‘Capability’ Brown and his son-in-law, Henry Holland, were employed to landscape the castle grounds and modernise the lodgings. In the years that followed the castle itself was renovated and expanded, with the clock tower, guest tower, library and banqueting hall being added in the late 19th century.
In 1947 the castle was given to the people of Cardiff by the 5th Marquess of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart. Today visitors can explore the richly decorated castle apartments, a 12-sided Norman keep and tunnels within the castle walls that were used as air-raid shelters during the Second World War.
Possibly the most famous castle in Northern Ireland, Carrickfergus has been the setting of many defining moments in Irish history.
Moated by the sea on three sides, the castle is situated in the town of Carrickfergus in County Antrim, on the northern shore of Belfast Lough. Built on the orders of the Anglo-Norman knight John De Courcy soon after his 1177 invasion of Ulster, Carrickfergus was the only English stronghold north of ‘The Pale’ in the Middle Ages (that is, the part of Ireland that was directly under the control of the English government). For many years the castle commanded Carrickfergus Bay (later known as Belfast Lough) and has changed hands multiple times, from the Normans to the Scots and then the English, after King John laid siege to it in 1210.
The castle was besieged for more than a year in May 1315 by Edward Bruce, brother of the Scottish king Robert, and during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 became a refuge for fleeing Protestants. Having changed hands throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Carrickfergus again found itself at the heart of politics in 1689 when it was captured in the weeklong Siege of Carrickfergus. As the northern rebellion against James II’s rule grew, the Jacobite garrison of Carrickfergus had become a refuge for Catholic inhabitants of the region.
In 1711, Carrickfergus Castle saw the last witchcraft trial in Ireland. There, eight local women were put on trial after a girl named Mary Dunbar accused them of bewitching her. The women were convicted and sentenced to a year in prison and four sessions in the pillory.
Carrickfergus was also involved – albeit in a minor capacity – in the American War of Independence: in 1778 American privateer John Paul Jones, one of the founding fathers of the American Navy, lured HMS Drake from its moorings into the North Channel and won an hour-long battle off Carrickfergus Castle. The castle became a prison in 1797 and was heavily defended during the Napoleonic Wars.
Carrickfergus Castle served as a British military stronghold and prison from the 18th century until the Second World War and was in constant military use until 1928. That year the state gained ownership of the castle and declared it a national monument open to the public. It remains one of the best-preserved medieval structures in Ireland.
From Monday 25 March 2019 the Inner Ward and Great Tower at Carrickfergus Castle will be closed to the visiting public to enable the start of on-site works in preparation for the replacement of the roof on the Great Tower.
The setting of ITV’s Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle in Hampshire is one of Britain’s most breathtaking castles.
Established on the site of a medieval palace built during the 12th/13th century, which was later succeeded by a red-brick Tudor house, the Highclere we recognise today was the work of the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon, who in 1838 hired famed architect Sir Charles Barry (best known for rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster) to transform his home into a resplendent mansion.
Faced in Bath stone and in the Jacobethan style (inspired by the English Renaissance, with elements of Elizabethan and Jacobean), the new Highclere Castle “dominated its surroundings in a most dramatic way”, says its website. A mahogany desk and chair that once belonged to Napoleon, purchased by the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon in 1821, were positioned in the music room, and Highclere’s saloon, the heart of the house, was designed in a gothic style with rich decoration including 17th-century Spanish gold-embossed leather wallpaper brought back by Carnarvon. The 3rd Earl did not live to see the completion of Highclere in 1878, however (he died in 1849). It is said Benjamin Disraeli’s first words upon seeing the new Highclere were “How scenical! How scenical!”
During the Second World War Highclere Castle briefly became a home for evacuee children from north London. Today it boasts more than 200 rooms (even the mistress of the house doesn’t know exactly how many) and opens to the public for between 60 and 70 days a year.
14. Dolbadarn Castle
The lonely fortress that is Dolbadarn Castle was built in the 13th century to guard Llanberis Pass, a winding road running through Snowdonia. It was a symbol to show Prince Llewelyn’s power and now stands as an incredible example of a Welsh round tower. There may not be an awful lot to see now but Dolbadarn Castle is located in one of the most beautiful areas of Wales and is a worthy stopping point for visitors enjoying the beauty of Llanberis Pass.
Plan your spiritual trip in Wales
To start planning your spiritual trip, visit the ExploreChurches website, where you can view all the available experiences and search for the perfect tour.
The website showcases the fascinating history and stunning art and architecture of over 500 churches across the country with suggested itineraries linking them together.
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DISCLAIMER – This post was written in collaboration with the National Churches Trust.
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