Cestyll Cymru – Castles of Wales
Wales is blessed, or as the medieval Welsh would probably have said ‘cursed’, with a multitude of castles. In almost all cases these castles were built by foreign invaders seeking to subdue the rebellious Welsh inhabitants. The website Castles of Wales lists a total of 259! A map of Wales shows most castles located along the borderlands between England and Wales and around the coastal edges, effectively providing a ring of military control.
Although a small number of castles had already been built by the incumbent Welsh before the Norman invasion, the major programme of the building began after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Within a short period, the Normans moved to control the Marches, a buffer zone between England and Wales. Chepstow Castle was one of the first structures to be built and it controlled the main crossing of the River Wye. It is the oldest stone fortification of its type in Britain and construction began in 1067 under the supervision of the Norman lord William fitzOsbern. It was an early example of recycling, using stone from the nearby Roman town of Caerwent. Today it is a key element in the town’s tourism business and the starting point for many of the Chepstow Walkers are Welcome Festival walks.
A little further north, but still in the county of Monmouthshire, are the three Norman castles: Skenfrith, Grosmont and White Castle known as the ‘Trilateral Castles’ that formed a defensive line across the border to control transport routes between Herefordshire and Wales. Today, they form part of the Three Castles Walk, a circular hike of approximately nineteen miles that feature as a ‘challenge’ walk in many of the local walking festivals. English castles continued to be built in Wales for over three centuries as one king after another strove to thwart Welsh aspirations for independence.
In North Wales the recently created North Wales Castles Trail links many of the castles built by Edward I include Harlech, Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Conwy which have been collectively designated a World Heritage Site. At the time, the design of these castles was considered to be ground-breaking and they have proved to be inspirational to painters, poets and historians. Many are now under the management of Cadw and the National Trust. The long-distance path, beginning in Chirk and ending in Caernarfon, covers 217 miles. The details of which can be found on the website of the Long Distance Walking Association. https://www.ldwa.org.uk/
The Welsh towns, united under the Walkers are Welcome banner, hold regular walking festivals that often include visits to many castles. We believe that without exception, every town has a castle, mott and bailey or mound representing their past defensive structures. Currently, five towns have announced plans for autumn festivals. These include: Chepstow, Llanwrtyd Wells, Corwen, Wellington (just over the border, but visiting Chirk) see what’s on. Image is of Chepstow Castle courtesy of britishcastle.co.uk