Posted on 12/07/2017 by David
The castles and forts of North Wales are some of the finest in the world. No two are alike. Conwy Castle is defensive, where Caernarfon is grand and more ceremonial. Beaumaris Castle is regarded as the most architecturally sophisticated in medieval history, yet it never saw any action.
The most well-known of North Wales’ castles and forts were either built or remodelled by Edward I as part of his "Ring of Iron" to keep control of the Welsh. You’ll find them dotted along the coast, from Flint and Rhuddlan in the East to Conwy, Caernarfon, Criccieth and Harlech further West.
There are plenty of Welsh-built castles and forts to discover too, including Ewloe and Dinas Bran, and Dolbadarn and Dolwyddelan in Snowdonia. Many of North Wales' castles and forts are in the care of Cadw, an organisation which, as the name suggests (the Welsh word cadw translates as ‘to keep’), looks after the conservation of these important historic monuments.
More recently, the castles have been brought to life with some fantastic events - Conwy, for example, recently hosted ‘The Tournament’, which was a brilliant weekend full of live reenactment, costumes, festival fun and was hugely successful. It was amazing to see the town’s history brought to life.
So, let’s get started!
Prepare to spend hours exploring the turrets, halls and dungeons of these awe-inspiring stone giants. You’ll find the land surrounding each castle equally fascinating too, so whichever you chose to visit - allow some time to wander the area nearby, whether it be a country park, a coastal walk or a stroll through the streets of a walled town. If you want go back in time even further, we have incredible examples of Iron Age hill forts across the region, which we’ll be featuring in this series too.
To kick-off, we’ve taken inspiration from our social media fans and will be exploring Criccieth Castle, which was recently voted to feature as our cover image.
Just as it’s depicted on our Facebook and Twitter pages, Criccieth is the prettiest little beach cove with a quiet village and a castle on the hill. Sitting just beyond Snowdonia National Park on the Llŷn Peninsula, Criccieth is a low-key place with some interesting shops and excellent eateries.
We think there's something very special about Criccieth. Perhaps it’s the view from the beach - across Tremadog bay toward Harlech and the mountains of South Snowdonia beyond - or maybe it’s the way the sun sets behind the castle in the summer months. Lazy beach days that fade into the evening are made extra memorable with those sunsets!
The castle itself existed before Edward I arrived, which you can tell, as it’s no-where near as grand as the others in his collection. He took over and strengthened the existing fortress, before Owain Glyndŵr revolted against the English and captured it.
The earliest mention of a stronghold on the site was in 1239, when Gruffydd ap Llywelyn was imprisoned here by his half-brother, Dafydd - standard family feuding in the 13th century! Most likely, it was their father, Llywelyn the Great, who began construction of the original stone fortress.
The castle still has people arguing to this day! It's most dominating feature, a twin-towered gatehouse, is disputed as being of Welsh origin. Other historians argue that the gatehouse was actually part of Edward I's renovations, but its custodian, Cadw, has no doubt the gatehouse is of Welsh origins.
Regardless of who built the gatehouse, it’s not surprising this incredible site was chosen to build a castle one. The 360 degree view from Criccieth's peak is spectacular to this day and clearly demonstrates the strategic importance of its position.
Once you’ve explored the castle and come to your own conclusion about it’s origins, head down to the beach. Perfect for young families, both beaches are clean and quiet with a mixture of sand and pebbles and some fantastic rock pools at low tide.
As your day comes to an end, you’ll probably find you’ve worked up an appetite, so pay a visit to Dylan’s, a seafront seafood and pizza restaurant. Here you can enjoy a delicious meal (and perhaps a cocktail or two) and watch the sun set behind the castle.
Don’t forget, there will be more castles featuring in the series. Keep an eye on our social channels to find out which one is up next!
Images courtesy of: © Crown copyright (2016) Visit Wales, all rights reserved. Criccieth ruins view and gathehouse by Nilfanion via Wikimedia Commons.