Welcome to the Welsh Castle Project! Indigo and I are trying to visit every castle in Wales, a massive undertaking but we’re up for the challenge! For the first 100+ castles we visited we were pretty disorganised and chaotic. In this blog we’ll explore the various methods we used and learn how to find a castle in Wales yourself!
We got excited and zipped all over the country, back and forth; North, South, East and West. We trampled all over this beautiful land of ours. It was not very economical, nor well planned.
I’ve touched on the ambiguity surrounding the number of castles we have in Wales, and I’ll explore that issue in more detail in future posts.
Setting aside how many castles there are, lets focus on how you find them.
Hopefully this article will help you to organise your own adventures through the fascinating world of Welsh history.
How to find a castle in Wales
The simple answer is; just go for a walk and find them!
There are literally thousands of monuments, ruins, castles, forts, stately homes, burial chambers, standing stones and more littered throughout Wales.
We can’t move for all the bloody history laying about the place!
To be more helpful we hope the following will assist you in finding what you’re looking for.
We use a variety of methods, some easier than others, some so complicated we’re sick of the site before we’ve even got there.
Here are some of the methods we use, can you think of any others?
We started our project simply Googling ‘Castles’ and dropping pins in the Google Maps (Other online map providers are available) and then driving to the site.
Nine times out of ten finding the castle no problem.
However; some issues with this method include:
- Not all ‘castles’ that are identified by Google as ‘Castles’ are in fact castles.
- Some sites where castles once stood are now shopping centres or car parks etc.
- Some of the sites are not castles and are just peoples houses, Yes ‘every Englishman’s home is his castle’, but apparently a lot of Welshies also call their homes ‘Castell’ or ‘Castle such-and-such’, these are not real castles and have wasted some of our time and fuel!
- The postcode / identified pinpoint is not always found to be the most accurate. We’ve ended up spending a long time walking up and down hills, crossing fields and rivers, getting lost in woods looking for remnants of a castle.
Another issue we found with plotting our adventures on Google Maps, is we could not easily tell which castles we’ve visited and which we are yet to explore. (See confusing unhelpful map above.)
We combatted this issue by making a second map, pinning all the castles we’ve visited and keeping the original map of all castles we’ve identified.
This still isn’t the most user friendly but at least helps us to differentiate between them.
I write lists all the time, shopping lists, to do lists, wish lists… notepads full of pages of lists to help me try to organise my scrambled brain.
Pen and paper or notes on my phone, lists have been invaluable in keeping track of castles we’ve visited and castles we’ve yet to explore.
Whichever way you organise, whether you are just planning on visiting one castle today, or if you’re on a quest to see lots, lists are a great way to prioritise, route plan and keep track of your adventures.
Cadw site and membership:
I’ll be writing a more in depth post about Cadw, the work they do, how you can help and the benefits and value of membership soon, but for now to summarise;
“Cadw is a Welsh word meaning ‘to keep’ or ‘to protect’. And that’s exactly what we do. We are working for an accessible and well-protected historic environment for Wales.”Cadw website
“We are working for an accessible and well-protected historic environment for Wales.
We do this by:CADW
– helping to care for our historic environment for the benefit of people today and in the future
– promoting the development of the skills that are needed to look after our historic environment properly
– helping people to cherish and enjoy our historic environment
– making our historic environment work for our economic well-being
– working with partners to achieve our common goals together.
– conserving and managing the 130 monuments in our care.
– identifying places of special historic significance and giving them legal protection through the designation system
– offering decision makers, owners and occupiers advice and guidance about managing change to historic assets and promoting good conservation practice
– providing grants for the conservation and repair of historic buildings and scheduled monuments, and for community heritage projects
– promoting distinctive regeneration and sustainable development through heritage
– reviewing and improving legislation, policy and guidance to safeguard our historic environment. “
Cadw managed 130 sites, mostly castles. And they have a great user friendly website.
There are useful maps and information in the welcome pack when you become a member.
Their staff are always enthusiastic and helpful. I highly recommend anyone interested in castles and anyone living in, or visiting, Wales to support Cadw by getting membership.
Other Heritage organisations:
Cadw manage around 130 sites, but there are lots more, thousands!
Some of these are owned by National Trust, some English Heritage, many are privately owned and many many more are seemingly forgotten and unmaintained with free open access and apparently nobody caring for them.
Here are just some of the heritage conservation organisations where you can find more castles:
Annual Membership £ *
|U18s, over 65s
|Students, over 65s
|U24s, over 65s
|England, Wales, N Ireland
|U26s, over 60s (subject to 5 years membership).
|NATIONAL TRUST for SCOTLAND
|U24s, over 60s
* Prices as of May 2021
You can see that, looking at membership purely based on cost, Cadw is the cheapest and The National Trust the most expensive.
However, on a measurement of value taking into account the number of properties, the National Trust for Scotland is the most expensive (because they have fewer properties) and The National Trust is the cheapest.
What you should do is look at which properties you would like to visit, where they are – and how many you are most likely to see during your membership.
Here are the websites for some based in Wales:
Note: English Heritage, as the name suggests covers historic sites in England, but it’s worth knowing that with your Cadw membership you get half-price access to English Heritage sites in the first year of Cadw membership and for the second year of Cadw membership English Heritage sites are included for free! DOUBLE MEMBERSHIP!
For most castle visitors the above tourism and conservation based organisations should be more than enough to help you plan your day out.
If you have exhausted the usual options, you’ve visited all the bigger castles and are still looking to find the hidden gems and lost ruins you’ll have to dig a little deeper.
When we struggled to find more castles using the above resources I contacted Cadw directly asking for advice on how many castles there are and how to find them.
I spoke to two very helpful doctors:
1 – Dr Kathryn Roberts who works for Cadw and;
2- Archaeologist Dr Erin Lloyd Jones is an expert in hillforts.
Dr Roberts recommended the following academic databases and this was echoed by Dr Jones in her thesis on hillforts.
Note the following sites are supposed to be easy access for all, but they can be a bit heavy and complicated. Archwilio for example seems to list every single stone, scrap of metal and arrowhead that has been found in Wales in the past 5000years.
There are a number of filters you can apply to get specific searches by era and area.
- Archwilio provides public access to the historic environment records (HERs) for each local authority area in Wales. It includes (or provides access to) information on tens of thousands of historic sites or investigative work across Wales. The HERs are maintained on behalf of the Welsh Ministers by the four regional Welsh Archaeological Trusts and in fulfilment of the requirements of the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016.
- HER – Historic environment records provide detailed information about the historic environment of a given area. The historic environment records in Wales have been created as a result of decades of research and investigation. Sections 35 and 36 of the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 require the Welsh Ministers to compile and keep up to date a publicly accessible historic environment record for each local authority area in Wales.
- Cadw in depth records ‘Castles of Wales’; Welcome to Cof Cymru – National Historic Assets of Wales, an online service that has been developed by Cadw, Welsh Government’s Historic Environment department. Cof Cymru displays depictions and associated record descriptions of Designated Historic Assets in Wales. The following terms and conditions describe the information that is displayed and links other areas of the Historic Environment Service website (and other external websites), where you will be able to find further information.
- Coflein is the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW) – the national collection of information about the historic environment of Wales. The name is derived from the Welsh cof (memory) and lein (line). Coflein contains details of many thousands of archaeological sites, monuments, buildings and maritime sites in Wales, together with an index to the drawings, manuscripts and photographs held in the NMRW archive collections.
These databases should give you more than enough to be getting on with, if you still need more information for your adventures on a specific monument you can’t find it may be worth contacting the relevant regional Archaeological Trust:
- Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust
- Dyfed Archaeological Trust
- Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust
- Gwynedd Archaeological Trust
Again, this section is not the starting place for your adventure, this is for a more in-depth discovery of Wales’ hidden and all but forgotten history, not for the faint hearted!
Ask your friends and family what their favourite castle is
The next invaluable resource we recommend is peer review, what adventures have your friends and family been on? Where did they have a good time? What was that picture you liked on their Instagram or Facebook memories.
You like your friends and family (Yes you do!), you have shared interests and experiences. If they had a good time somewhere and remember the fun they had, then its reasonable to assume that you’d like it too.
It’s good to talk, tell them you’re thinking of visiting a castle and ask them what their favourite is? It may be one of the big well known popular ones you’ve heard of or been to before. It may well be a secret ruin at the end of a long wild walk that few people know about.
By discussing your interests with your friends and family you may well find some hidden gems that are special to your tribe, it may trigger happy childhood memories from forgotten family outings of your youth. Your discussion and passion may inspire and enthuse them to tag along or start their own adventures.
Finally we go full circle;
Go for a walk and see what you find?
Said in jest at the beginning of this article, it doesn’t mean it’s not true. We are plagued by history here in Wales. We are lucky to have so many remnants of the interesting and turbulent history of this wild and beautiful land right on our doorstep.
No matter where you are in Wales if you go for a walk of over a mile or two you are bound to find some relic or ruin, some stone foundation or stately home, some Neolithic obelisk or burial mound, some abbey, priory or church, some forgotten earthworks or abandoned hillfort.
The best thing for you may just be to go out and explore beautiful Wales and amaze yourself by what you might find.
We will be producing a definitive list of everything we have found, categorised by era with maps and information throughout this blog over the next few years of the project. In the meantime we hope you enjoy our adventures and hope you have lots of your own.
If you have anything to add or edit to this post please don’t hesitate to contact us here.
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