Castles, cathedrals, churches … the wonder of them never ceases to amaze.
From the first ruins I climbed over, around, and through to the intact, elaborate apartments of Cardiff Castle, I’ve been intrigued. We don’t have 900 year old* buildings in the USA. For good information on the 600+ castles in Wales, click here.
Castles in South Wales
One afternoon, Jackie and I roamed Cardiff Castle’s (featured photo) elaborate grounds. We enjoyed a guided tour of the Marquess of Bute’s apartment as it was in the 1860s. The docent was fantastic, making us laugh and educating us at the same time. The tour is worth the nominal fee, charged in addition to the Castle fee.
Don’t miss seeing the tunnels within the castle walls used as air-raid shelters during World War II. More than 1,800 people would duck inside the halls when the sirens sounded. There are wartime displays and recordings (bombs!) playing as you walk the long, dark corridors.
The gift shop is nicely done with fairly priced items. Also, go down one flight to see, and sneak a touch of, the Roman Wall uncovered in 1888.
Jackie, lucky devil, got to go inside the sprawling Caerphilly Castle that covers more than thirty acres. (Click here to read why I stayed with the luggage.) The largest castle in Britain after Windsor, it was built toward the end of the 13th century. Caerphilly is related to Cardiff Castle due to the first Marquess of Bute assuming maintenance of the castle in the 18th century. A statue of the Fourth Marquess stands ready at the Keep to support the leaning tower. From a distance, he looks like he’s carved of stone, but he’s wood. By the way, the Keep out-leans the Tower of Pisa. The entire structure is surrounded by water, making it the first moat we saw in action.
When in Caerphilly, don’t forget to seek out the local cheese—you’ll find yourself longing for it when you return home.
St David’s Cathedral
St David’s declares itself the smallest city in the UK and a unique location at the most western edge of Britain. Construction on the structure started in 1180 with services and concerts still taking place. This is the first cathedral I saw with a wooden ceiling.
The cathedral is free but for a nominal charge if you want to take photographs inside. Please consider the donation—it goes toward upkeep. There is a separate fee for the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace next door.
Pembroke Castle is huge with stunning views from the top of the seventy-five foot Keep. You can ramble through the maze-like passage ways connecting towers and rooms, playing Where’s Waldo with your sister. Exhibits and educational materials are scattered throughout the grounds. The life-sized exhibitions are well-done and evocative. There is a fee—but check the website before going and turn your trip into an event—they often hold concerts.
St Mary Church, Newport, Pembrokeshire
One of two St Mary Churches we visited was in Newport, a walk (or a hike?) from Fishguard. It’s a small church with open doors and stained glass that glows in the bright sunshine. There was a tombstone for David Griffiths and we wondered was he one of the relatives we read about it our Family Tree or another of the multitude of Griffiths in Wales? Hmmm.
The other St Mary’s Church is in Tenby, featured in an upcoming post.
We hopped a bus to trek us to Manorbier Castle. Unlike the other castles we’d toured, Manorbier is privately owned by Lady Dunsany. There is a fee. Built in the twelfth century, this Norman castle contains many ruined areas. It’s setup for events such as weddings, which are held in the former Crypt. Not my cup of tea, but neither is getting married in a hot air balloon, so to each their own. A claim to fame is that Gerald of Wales was born here. We’d never heard of dear Gerald, but if you want to know about Medieval Wales, Gerald is the go-to guy.
We enjoyed walking the grounds and climbing both towers, but found the mannequins of the princess and the blokes in the dungeon a bit unsettling. We didn’t linger in either room.
One of the highpoints of visiting this castle is the view and walking to Manorbier beach. You can choose to do the “easy” ten-mile hike to Tenby on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path from here.
There’s a lot to do in Wales—eating well, hiking, visiting with locals…but whatever you do, don’t skip the castles. You’ll be astounded.
*There are some notable exceptions to my statement including: The Taos Pueblo in New Mexico (still in use) and the Anasazi Ruins in Mesa Verde, Colorado.