Castles in North Wales
In a nutshell. A quartet of historic sites that speak volumes of the past.
The big historic story in North Wales inevitably focuses on the mighty castles built by King Edward I in the late 13th century to contain the Welsh. But they’re just part of a bigger picture.
Dolwyddelan Castle, for example, represents the flipside of the power struggle between the Anglo-Normans and the native Princes of Gwynedd. This lonely mountain stronghold, high on a ridge commanding a key route through Snowdonia, was built by Llywelyn the Great (1173–1240), a forceful and ambitious character who imposed a certain unity on Wales and kept the English in check. A solitary square tower stands proud on a rise above the valley. To appreciate it to the full, climb up onto the restored battlements and experience the indomitable spirit of these rugged heartlands, a natural mountain fortress in their own right that the Anglo-Normans never fully conquered.
Deganwy, another castle of the Welsh Princes, is an evocative ruin perched on a headland above the Conwy Estuary. There may not be much left of the original medieval castle, but it’s evident to see why this strategic site, with commanding views of sea and Snowdonia, was also favoured by the Romans 1,000 years earlier.
Gwydir Castle at Llanrwst is a rarity. For a start, it doesn’t look like a castle in the conventional sense. Dating from around 1500 it’s not quite old enough to be the real thing, for by those more settled times home comfort was becoming more important than defence and attack. Look upon Gwydir more as a statement home, an expression of the influence and wealth of the illustrious Wynn family. A fine example of a Tudor courtyard house – rare in Wales – its domestic credentials are further enhanced by an outstanding 10-acre Grade I listed garden.
No story would be complete without mentioning Conwy Castle, part of Edward I’s ‘iron ring’ of fortifications around Snowdonia. This World Heritage Site never fails to impress, from its soaring, well-preserved towers to its location on an outcrop above the Conwy Estuary.