Tuesday, August 06, 2013

This is what we do when we go to Wales

Nine years ago our summer holiday was a week in South Wales. We rented a cottage in Kidwelly and over the next seven days we averaged a castle a day. We like castles. Although by the end of the week my leg muscles were arguing the matter. It is no easy thing to climb tower stairs -
They are steep, slippery when wet, and because of the triangular shape, hard to get one's whole foot onto.

This year we only did four castles in a week, and one of them was so ruined there were no stairs left. Oddly enough, through no plan of our own, we visited them in reverse order of ruinousness. (Is that a word? It should be.)

The first, and most ruinous was Denbigh, about three miles from the converted granary we stayed in for the week (sorry, somehow I never got pictures of it!). The land and original fortress were granted by Edward I (after his sweep into Wales to crush the "unruly Welsh" in 1282) to Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, who began work on the medieval fortification.
Denbigh Castle, Wales
The next castle (my favourite) and much less ruinous was Conwy Castle, built by Edward I overlooking the Conwy River estuary. Unusually, most of the original medieval town wall remains intact in Conwy, allowing a clearer picture of what it would have looked like in the Middle Ages.
Conwy Castle/the view of the estuary
The third was Caernarfon, the bully boy of King Edward's castles and was the most intact yet, boasting two gate houses and nine octagonal towers (with mini-turrets on top of those). Construction began on Caernarfon in 1283, after Edward defeated Llywelyn the Last (isn't that a great name to be known by?)
Caernarfon Castle/Menai Strait
My favourite story about Caernarfon involved the canny Edward promising the Welsh that the country would be administered by a Welsh prince - and then ensuring that his son, Edward II, was born at Caernarfon, thus creating the first Prince of Wales.

The town was charming, and we had lunch outside a cafe on one of the side streets.
The view from the castle
David spent his time at the castles reading the guidebooks and looking at the fortifications (well, he is the professional historian in the family). I seem to have spent all my time photographing fireplaces.
There's just something so poignant about these traces of domesticity, hovering far overhead, hinting at the everyday life of the people who once called these places home. In the larger picture above you can see the holes for the long-ago rotted-away floor joists just under the fireplace.

I also find arches, corbels with faces on them, windows with remnants of their stone tracery, and stairs that seem to climb from nowhere to nowhere completely irresistable.
Since the last castle we visited has been continuously lived in for 800 years and is now more a stately home than a fortification, I'll post the pictures of it with the ones from Plas Mawr, the gorgeous Elizabethan town house in Conwy.

And because I promised you a big, pink tent.

Unmissable, instantly recognizable - they were setting up for the Eisteddfod a couple of miles from where we were staying. If we'd been one week later we could have gone.


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