Welcome to the Welsh Castle Projects first Castle study, there will be lots more of these to come and we’re starting with a big one, Caerphilly Castle in the County of Caerphilly.
In this article you will find out all about one of the most impressive castles in Wales including;
- features of the castle
- history of the castle, and more…
I chose Caerphilly Castle as our first featured castle on this blog for a number of reasons;
I was planning on doing a series of posts such as, ‘Biggest Castle in Wales’, ‘Oldest Castle in Wales’, ‘Prettiest Castle in Wales’ etc.
But then I realised that they may well all be about the same castle!
Caerphilly Castle, at the time of writing this article, is ranked as our favourite.
(I intend to talk about our arbitrary scoring system in a future post, but out of the 125 castles we’ve visited since starting this project in July 2021, Caerphilly is currently scored the highest, and it will take some beating.)
Caerphilly Castle was the 48th Castle that the Welsh Castle project visited and reviewed.
Location (Postcode): CF83 1JD
Location (What3words): Impose.Elaborate.Throw
Location (Coordinates): 51.5761° N, 3.2202° W
Location (Grid Reference): ST 15703 87111
Built: 1268-1290 by Marcher lord Gilbert de Clare
Destroyed/abandoned: Never conquered, fell into disrepair and ruinous until it’s 19th century revival and renovation.
Cost to Visit
Caerphilly Castle is owned by Cadw, so Cadw members can visit it for free, along with all the other 130 historic places included in the membership. You can also visit any English Heritage historic sites for 50% off the ticket price with your Cadw membership.
If you don’t have Cadw membership (we highly recommend you do) you can check the ticket prices here.
How to get to Caerphilly Castle
A468 (from Newport), M4 (J32), A470, A469 (from Cardiff).
1km/0.6mls Caerphilly, on the Cardiff-Bargoed Rhymney route.
Opposite, Caerphilly/Islwyn No 26, Cardiff-Caerphilly/Tredegar.
NCN Route No.4 (200m/219yards).
For further information, please contact Traveline Cymru on 0800 464 0000 or National Rail Enquiries on 03457 48 49 50.
If you need to contact the castle directly:
Telephone 03000 252239
Castle St, Caerphilly CF83 1JD
For contractors, educational visits and deliveries please ring 02920 883143
Is Caerphilly Castle the Biggest castle in Wales?
Yes! It’s known as the biggest castle in Wales, second only to Windsor Castle in the whole of Britain. Massive walls, towers and gatehouses were combined with sprawling water defences to cover a total of 30 acres.
Features of the Castle
It’s obvious to see why this impressive fortress has now become our favourite castle (so far), with double moats, huge towers, outer and inner walls, the inside has many palatial rooms to explore.
Ducks, swans, geese and coots bask along the banks of it’s confusing system of moats and lakes.
considered by historian Allen Brown to be “the most elaborate water defences in all Britain” – it occupies around 30 acres (12ha) and is the largest castle in Wales.
This complex series of water defences were almost certainly inspired by those at Kenilworth in England, where a similar set of artificial lakes and dams was created.
The Western Island, was probably reached by drawbridges. The island is called ‘Y Weringaer or Caer y Werin’ in Welsh, meaning “the people’s fort”, and may have been used by the town of Caerphilly for protection during conflicts.
Bridges with huge arches and portcullis’ ensured that Caerphilly Castle was never conquered (unlike almost every other castle that changed hands multiple times, Caerphilly was never defeated).
The central island held Caerphilly’s inner defences, a roughly square design with a walled inner and middle ward, the inner ward protected by four turrets on each of the corners.
The walls of the inner ward overlooked those of the middle ward, producing a concentric defence of two enclosed rings of walls; in the medieval period, the walls of the middle ward would have been much higher than today, forming a more substantial defence.
Built in 1260s it now houses dragons!
Many rooms have great views around the surrounding moats, countryside and town, impressive vaulted ceilings, ornate windows and fireplaces.
The inner walls have a brilliant modern reconstruction of a Hourde. A Hourde is a timber ‘shed’ that hangs out over the walls to help defenders drop stuff on attackers.
The castle also boasts trebuchets, stocks and gift shop.
The half collapsed ‘leaning tower’ is iconic and due to some subsidence rather than through attack. Currently being ‘held up’ by a statue!
Sometimes termed a keep-gatehouse, the fortification had both exterior and interior defences, enabling it to be defended even if the perimeter of the castle was breached. Two huge towers flanked the gatehouse on either side of an entrance that was protected by portcullises and murder-holes.
Round, square and hexagon towers. The Outer Main Gatehouse, which featured circular towers resting on spurred, pyramidic bases, is a design particular to South Wales castles.
Great interactive table/tablet shows the history of the castle. Open courtyards and a chapel.
Some carved medieval corbels in the shape of male and female heads survive in the hall today, possibly depicting the royal court in the 1320s, including Edward II, Isabella of France, Hugh Despenser and Eleanor de Clare. Can you find them?
Many spiral staircases (one of which was reconstructed incorrectly and is anticlockwise instead of the standard defensive clockwise winding stairs.)
On the north-west side of the Western Island was the site of the former Roman fort, enclosing around 3 acres (1.2 ha), and the remains of the 17th-century civil-war fortification built on the same location.
I remember camping inside this castle several years ago on a really wet and rainy weekend and it being miserable, today with my son and his brother was much better!
History of Caerphilly Castle
Built by Marcher lord Gilbert de Clare, started in 1268.
1270 – Site burned down by Gilbert’s Welsh rival Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, l
1271 – taken over by royal officials.
1294 – The castle was attacked during the Madog ap Llywelyn revolt.
1316 – Attacked again during the Llywelyn Bren uprising, On the death of Llywelyn this front-line fortress was transformed into a palatial home with a hunting park and northern lake.
1317 Edward II settled the inheritance of Glamorgan and Caerphilly Castle on Eleanor de Clare, who had married the royal favourite, Hugh le Despenser. Ruthless and greedy Hugh Despenser, revamped the great hall in ornate style.
1326–27 Attacked during the overthrowing of Edward II by his wife Isabella; William la Zouche besieged the castle with a force of 425 soldiers, cornering the constable, Sir John de Felton, Hugh’s son – also called Hugh – and the garrison of 130 men inside. They held out until March 1327, when the garrison surrendered on the condition that the younger Hugh was pardoned, his father having been already executed.
1449 – The castle passed to Richard Neville
In the late 15th century, however, it fell into decline.
1539- Antiquarian John Leland visited Caerphilly Castle, and described it as having “waulles of a wonderful thiknes“, but beyond a tower used to hold prisoners it was in ruins and surrounded by marshland.
By the 16th century the lakes had drained away and the walls were robbed of their stone. (in 1583 the castle was leased to Thomas Lewis, who stripped it of much of its stone to extend his house, causing extensive damage.)
By the 1900’s The castle was in disrepair and half as/twice as ruined as it currently is,
In 1950 the castle and grounds were given to the state and the water defences were re-flooded.
In the 21st century, the Welsh heritage agency Cadw manages the site as a tourist attraction.
Our Final Thoughts on Caerphilly Castle
So that was our article on Caerphilly Castle, just one of the hundreds of castles we’ve visited or are going to visit during the course of this epic quest to visit every castle in Wales.
It’s clear to see how all these interesting features and the layout and setting of the restored castle make Caerphilly Castle so highly rated.
Have you been yet?
Are you inspired to visit?
Is there anything you wanted to know about it that I’ve neglected to mention?
If you have any thoughts, theories, questions, comments or complaints please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Don’t forget to follow, like and share for more adventures exploring the rich history of Wales.