Travel Notebook

Favorite Castles of Wales

July 4th, 2017

In my early years, our family lived in North Wales and we, starting when I was just three years old, enjoyed a tradition of visiting Bodysgallen for Sunday lunch. My lasting appreciation for the beauty of the land and the imposing and historic castles started to take root. The splendor of these architecturally marvelous fortresses still manages to stir my soul and awaken a deep and abiding awe and respect for the history that has led us to today.

Conwy Castle. www.conwy.com

These days, when I return to Bodysgallen Hall – at the end of a winding drive through verdant parkland – I’m sure to climb the Grade I-listed house’s 13th-century tower, where I can gaze out over Conwy Castle, Llandudno, the Great Orme and Little Orme. This charming town has much to offer beyond its traditional – and so tasty – fish and chips. Proximity to Wales’ most popular seaside resort, a quaint harbor and convenience to Snowdonia’s majestic peaks make it a favorite getaway. Of course, there’s the imposing castle itself, still one of my personal favorites. There’s an undeniable medieval ambience here, hearkening back to the time when English monarch Edward I decided he liked the location so much that he might as well build a castle on the land. Today, this World Heritage Site invites visitors to marvel at its eight huge round towers, 125-foot Great Hall and circuit of town walls, which run more than three-quarters of a mile and are guarded by 22 towers. When I’m done strolling down memory lane, I’m sure to indulge in Conwy’s savory fare – there’s legendary seafood, locally renowned sausages, pork pies and Welsh Lamb – all sourced from local food purveyors. A convivial atmosphere awaits in every establishment, from the fine dining restaurants to the cozy Welsh pubs and tucked-away cafes.

Caernarfon Castle. www.castlewales.com

Moving from Conwy to Caernarfon, this intimidating fortress speaks to this Edwardian town’s role as the administrative center of North Wales in the 13th century. King Edward I of England replaced the original motte-and-bailey castle in town with the current stone structure, yet sadly, as the Tudor dynasty rose to the English throne in the 15th century, and tensions rose between the Welsh and English, castles were considered less important and this, among others, was allowed to fall into disrepair. Fortunately, in the 19th century, the state funded castle repairs, and in 1969, the site was used for the investiture of the 20-year-old Prince of Wales, as he received the insignia as the 21st Prince of Wales from the Queen, with 4,000 guests in attendance inside the castle walls.

Little ones will undoubtedly fall for Caernarfon’s massive appearance and recreate medieval jousts and royal pomp and circumstance. It’s one of the most impressive of Wales’s castles and worthy of its World Heritage distinction. Notice the polygonal towers – a departure from the typically round towers of the day – and the color-coded stones carefully arranged in bands. Walk the lofty walls and don’t miss the imaginative exhibitions in the towers and the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, Wales’s oldest regiment.

Castle Chirk. www.castlewales.com

Chirck Castle in Wrexham holds a dear spot in my heart, as I recall visiting with my mum during my GCSE exams – now more than two decades past. A delightful estate, the castle has wavered between glory and disgrace for centuries, with treasonous owners giving way to ambitious and elegant families. It was originally built in disputed lands to symbolize English intent over the area where the rivers Dee and Ceiriog meet, and is today – with 700 years of history – the last remaining castle from that period in which people still live.

One of my favorite aspects of Chirk is the collection of décor that speaks of its long history – from the 17th-century Long Gallery and 18th-century saloon with its rich tapestries, to the restored East Range with a library and 1920s-style Bow Room, a nod to high society.

In 1595, the fortress was turned over to the Myddeltons as their lavishly furnished family home – the family then ruled a huge estate from this location for four decades. In 1653, Sir Thomas Myddelton laid out the first formal garden and today’s guests may indulge their senses with a wander amongst the rare shrubs and flowers of a lovingly tended 5.5-acre garden. There are wild ponies and sheep on the grounds and a beautifully preserved section of Offa’s Dyke. Step on to the terrace that overlooks the 18th-century ha-ha at the bottom of the garden – the views encompass the Chesire and Salop plains.

What are your favorite Wales castles? These are my tried-and-true must-sees, but you are certain to have discovered your own. Consider an itinerary for your clients that includes these and others, to fully embrace the storied history of the region.