Chirk Castle, Wrexham

View of castle from below National Trust
The castle was completed in 1310 by Edward I to help subdue the Welsh, and is still inhabited. Though much altered and restored, the outline of the mediaeval castle remains, with a luxurious mansion constructed inside it. The towers must originally have been higher, as in the other Edwardian Welsh castles. The accommodation is constructed around a central courtyard, originally the inner bailey.
The North range, dating from the early 17th century, contains fine rooms mostly in a neo-classical style, but with a hall styled by Pugin.
The South range, dating from 1529, was built by officials working for Henry VIII. It contains a chapel and servants’ hall.
The East range was much damaged in a Civil War siege, then rebuilt. Its current form dates from 1846, when an open colonnade was enclosed.
The West range of c.1300 survives largely unaltered and has some rooms in the thickness of the wall.
Outside are some fine formal gardens, and the laundry rooms.
On the approach you pass the fine gates by Davies. The car park is quite a long way further on.
Chirk is well worth a visit.

Chirk dining room
Dining room, North range
Chirk, Cromwell Hall by Pugin
Hall by Pugin, North range
Statue in gardens

Segontium Roman Fort, Gwynedd

I didn’t quite manage to see this, but it’s in the outskirts of Caernarfon, on the A4085 Beddgelert road. When I got there, the main part was locked up. There’s also a museum building, (not NT). The seasonal opening hours were Tue-Sun 12.30 to 16.30. Another part of the site is across the road, and IIRC can be accessed anytime.
Looks like it would be worth a look if you are in Caernarfon. You can park in the road.

Caernarfon Castle, Gwynedd

Castle with car park in front
Caernarfon castle was built for Edward I by his gifted castle designer, Master James of St George, starting in 1283. The walls of the castle and the connected new English town were substantially complete by 1285. It was built to include a royal residence. The Welsh over-ran town and castle in 1294, the lack of wall between town and castle proving a fatal omission. The English re-took it, and by 1330 work to complete the castle had ceased. It last saw action in the Civil War, and repairs were carried out in the 19th century.

The castle is huge, and towers to an impressive height over the town and harbour, still looking fairly complete. Like Beaumaris, it has walls honeycombed with passages which can be explored. At the site of the kitchens, the remains of ovens and piped water supplies can be seen. Some towers have been re-roofed and contain exhibitions. I climbed to top of one of the several watch-towers for a vertiginous view of the surroundings. Inside one of the thick walls, a chapel can be seen.
This is one of the finest of the Welsh castles. Well worth a visit if you are interested in castles.

What next? There are sections of the Caernarfon town wall nearby, also the Welsh Highland railway terminus, and the Roman fort of Seguntum is on the outskirts.

Town Wall
Town Wall
Beams inside castle tower
Floor beam detail
Castle bailey

Welsh Highland Railway, Gwynedd

Trains in station
Caernarfon terminus

The Welsh Highland Railway is a narrow-gauge railway that runs from Caernarfon to Porthmadog, a distance of 25 miles. Part of the journey is over a former standard gauge trackbed, the rest over the original narrow-gauge trackbed. The steam engines are from a South African narrow-gauge line. At Porthmadog, tourists can transfer to the sister Ffestiniog railway.

I booked a ticket for the first trip of the day for: Caernarfon – Pont Croesor- Caernarfon. I could have gone to Porthmadog, but that trip, at an extra 2 ½ hours, including a lengthy stopover in the coastal town, did not fit in with my plans for the day.
I had a walk around the outside of Caernarfon castle before catching the train, which was pulled by a 2ft gauge articulated South African steam loco. The trip out took just over 2 hours. The first bit of the journey is dull, but once up in the hills the views are spectacular. The track curves a lot, so that one can look out on the bends and see the far end of the train almost side on. That train actually terminated at Pont Croesor for some operational or timetabling reason, with a diesel shuttle covering the last leg of the journey to Porthmadog. I waited at the station around 20 mins, and caught the same train back. There was a technical failure of brakes on one coach at around Beddgelert on the return. After a lengthy delay the last two coaches were disconnected and the train proceeded.

At my hotel I met a party of train buffs who were visiting all the narrow-gauge railways of Wales. You don’t have to be that dedicated to enjoy a trip on this line. Even if you are not interested in steam trains, the Welsh mountain scenery and the sharp curves and gradients of the line are a sufficient reason to travel.

Steam locomotive
South African loco
Mountain scenery
Llyn Cwellyn

Conwy Castle, Conwy

Conwy was designed by Edward I’s master builder James of St George, and is one of the most impressive of all the Welsh castles. The eight towers and curtain wall surround an inner and outer ward, and there is a barbican at each end. Conwy was beseiged in 1295 and 1403, and last saw action in the Civil War.

Conwy castle is huge and hard to miss – the attached town wall and gateway makes it seem even bigger from a distance as one approaches from the direction of Chester. The castle itself is remarkably complete, with 8 full-height towers, spiral stairs, and walkways around the walls. There are many rooms and passages to explore. It’s hard not to be excited by it all. Even its towers have smaller watch towers which you can climb, if you are not petrified by heights. There are great views over the town and estuary, and the two historic bridges (turnpike and rail).

Close up, the castle can be annoyingly difficult to reach by car, owing to vague signage. In fact, there is a small parking area inside the town walls, near the castle ticket office, and a large parking area outside the walls and below the castle. The brown signs lead to the latter, or rather the trail peters out just before the anonymous car park appears on your right. The huge castle, meanwhile, looms above, completely hidden by the car roof.

What next? On no account miss exploring the town walls, which still encircle the old town. Much of the town wall still stands and there is a walkway along the top of several sections. Telford’s old suspension bridge is in the care of the National Trust.

View of town from walls
View from castle
View of boat moorings from walls
View from castle

Gwrych Castle, Conwy

Castle among trees
Gwrych Castle was built between 1812 and 1822 for Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh. Various architects and designers were involved. The Craches had a hand in furnishing the interiors. Between 1909 and 1914, Arts and Crafts architect, Detmar Blow, in conjunction with Charles Ernest Elcock, added the famous yet theatrical Italian marble staircase and renovated the state apartments.
During WWII, Gwrych was requisitioned by the Government and housed two hundred Jewish refugees. Leslie Salts then bought the building in 1948 and successfully opened Gwrych to the public for twenty years. The Castle was nicknamed ‘The Showplace of Wales’ and attracted nearly ten million visitors.

Between 1968 and 1989 the Castle had many owners and many different uses. Gwrych finally closed to the public during the winter of 1985, never to reopen. Up until 2005, the weather, heartless vandals and New-age travelers had looted and ravaged the building to the point of near dereliction. Recent photos make it clear that large parts are no more than roofless shells. Since then, there have been efforts to consolidate the building and the current owners hope to convert it into a luxury hotel.

While travelling to Conwy to see the castle there, I saw from my car a huge unknown castle on a hillside – which I eventually identified as Gwrych, near Abergele. My schedule did not permit me to investigate further on the return leg of my trip, but you can find out more here: The Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust would welcome your support. This is a sad example of what can happen to a historic listed building when its owners run out of cash. For obvious reasons you cannot visit the castle, but the Gwrych preservation trust claim there are public rights of way through the estate (disputed in comment). Anyway, Google Streetview indicates that the A547 runs within yards of the castle outer wall and gates. (pic Wikimedia, CC-SA, Dot Potter)

Plas Newydd, Anglesey

National Trust.
Plas Newydd originated in the 14th century, but was greatly remodelled in the 18th century by James Wyatt, the noted architect, who refaced it, blended the towers into the building front, and substantially made it into the building that stands today. The building has various Gothic features introduced by Wyatt. The interior was updated in the 1930’s and has Rex Whistler associations, including his largest painting and an exhibition.

On making a lengthy hike from the entrance, car park etc, one sees an impressive Gothick building, which one would assume is the house. In fact it’s the stable block. (Note the megalithic stone in front of the left side of the stables in the photo below.) The house only comes into view in the last few hundred yards, as one descends towards the south end & entrance. Also, the water beside the house isn’t a lake, it’s the Menai Straits. The Britannia Bridge is visible. The interior of Plas Newydd is fairly interesting, and notable for a large mural by Rex Whistler. He was also a friend of the Pagets (particularly the daughters). James Wyatt reworked the house in 1793-99. There are also substantial gardens in which the visitor can stroll, with a marine walk along the Menai Strait.
This is an interesting place to visit, and there are spectacular views from the park.

Gothic building

Beaumaris castle, Anglesey

Castle walls
Beaumaris is one of the great castles of North Wales built by the English monarch Edward I, to stamp his authority on the Welsh. In the 13th century, its concentric walls within walls design was the state of the art in military technology. It is said to be the most technically perfect of all Welsh castles. It was the last of the great castles to be undertaken by the King’s designer Master St George, and remains in a relatively good state of preservation.

Beaumaris Castle is situated near the coast, and at sea level. It looks unexpectedly squat, partly because of its low siting, but mainly because the towers were never completed to the originally planned height (the King ran out of money). It is surrounded by a moat, an outer defensive wall, and an outer bailey, before one reaches the main walls and towers. Inside, the inner bailey looks big enough for a football pitch. The inner walls are honeycombed with defensive passages, and the inner and outer walls have walkways on top, some still accessible. You can spend a couple of hours exploring it all.
Well worth a visit if you like castles. Pay car parking is available nearby.

Also in Beaumaris town, the old gaol is worth a visit, as is the old courthouse. Together they vividly recall the harshness of Victorian justice. In the jail, inmates were properly fed and given medical attention as required, (which was much better than most of them got outside) but to prevent them liking jail too much, the regime was very harsh. Sentencing was also very harsh, especially for property crimes.
Castle walls

Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd

National Trust.
While there has been a building, fortified or otherwise, on the site for many centuries, the place was modified beyond recognition in 1820-1840 by Thomas Hopper, to create a mock Norman castle. The client was Hopper’s client was George Hay Dawkins-Pennant, who had inherited the Penrhyn estate on the death of his second cousin, Richard Pennant, who had made his fortune from Jamaican sugar and local slate quarries. Cost wasn’t a problem, and it is estimated that the house cost the equivalent of £49,000,000 in today’s money. The house is one of the most admired of the Victorian ‘mock castles’ and contains some jaw-dropping Norman-style interiors. In addition, hanging on its walls is one of the finest art collections in North Wales, with works by artists such as Rembrandt, Canalletto, Richard Wilson and Palma Vecchio.
Outside, there are extensive grounds, and in the courtyard area are several exhibitions, including full-size (not model) narrow gauge and standard gauge mineral railway shunting engines and rolling stock. There is also an interesting exhibition of dolls.

The house does have a notable resemblance to a Norman castle. Inside it’s a riot of carved decoration, all carved to a high standard. (One guide said that after going round one might want to lie down and look at something plain 🙂 ) It still has the original furnishings, often positioned by the NT in their 19-century positions. The Great Hall is the major show-piece, followed by the Library, and the Grand Staircase and other state rooms. The downstairs salons contain a quantity of paintings so valuable that even a lottery winner couldn’t afford to buy them. There’s also an accomodation tower, where the family mostly lived, and a warren of service rooms.

The kitchen and other rooms on the lower ground floor are part of the Grounds admission. The collection of full-size railway engines is unexpected but worth a look if you are a train buff. Presumably the nucleus of the collection came from the family slate mines. I didn’t explore the grounds on foot, as driving from the entrance to the car park and then walking up to the house was enough for me.
This is one of those locations where the sat-nav can lead you astray. Driving from nearby Bangor, the post-code took me to some unmarked gates, possibly the back entrance to the estate, while the visitor entrance was a mile or two further east.

Dolls in display case
Dolls on display