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’