Wales, UK has more castles per square mile than any other country in Europe. With castles, abbey ruins, and scenic coastal villages, I found Wales and its landscape to be wonderfully enchanting.
It was May 17th, my birthday, and our first stop after crossing the bridge into Wales was at the ruins of Tintern Abbey. It stands in roofless splendor among the rolling hills of the Wye River Valley. Once a masterpiece of British Gothic architecture, what remains after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century is still impressive today. It is here that I fell in love with Wales – where soaring stone arches rise from a bed of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen.
Chepstow Castle, only six miles from Tintern Abbey, has been perched on a limestone ridge for almost 1,000 years. Famed for being Britain’s first stone castle, it has the oldest gateway of its kind anywhere in Europe. We toured the grounds and took plenty of photos, but I had a feeling the best view of the castle might just be from the opposite bank of the river. As we were leaving, I asked where I might find such a view. Turns out, it was a short walk to the center of a bridge over the River Wye.
About 45 minutes up the road in the town of Caerphilly we could clearly confirm that our car’s navigation system was not to be trusted! It had no idea where the castle was, but we prevailed none the less. Although Caerphilly Castle was undergoing major renovations, we enjoyed touring this massive fortification built in the second half of the 13th century. It occupies around 30 acres and is the largest castle in Wales and the second-largest castle in the United Kingdom after Windsor Castle.
We made it to Cardiff, checked in at our hotel, then walked through a downpour to the nearest restaurant– a quiet little pub for a pint and an early dinner. We headed off to Cardiff Castle and took photos in the rain, and that’s all we saw of Cardiff as we left for the Pembrokeshire Coast the following morning. As birthdays go, it’s one I’ll never forget, filled with ruins and castles and narrow little roads, topped off with a good night’s sleep at the Lincoln House Hotel.
Over the next five days, we traveled the coastline of Wales all the way from south to north. Our only regret is that we didn’t take the train up to Mt. Snowdon, but the rain and heavy clouds would have hampered the view. Here are some of the amazing sights we saw along the way:
Mumbles Pier – in the windy north-western corner of Swansea Bay
Narberth Castle – a peaceful site, but not much of it remains
Manorbier Castle – well off the beaten track, this one was hard to find
Pembroke Castle – the birthplace of King Henry VII in 1457
St Davids – the resting place of the patron saint of Wales, and one of my favorite places
Carew Castle – this was a major fortification site long before the Normans came to Wales
Tenby – a colorful harbor town with city walls and a Norman Castle
St. Dogmaels Abbey – a 12th century ruined abbey near the coastal town of St Dogmaels
New Quay – a picturesque seaside town on the Cardigan Bay with a really great pub!
Aberystwyth – a Victorian resort town with thousands of years of history
Harlech Castle – along with Caernarfon, Conwy and Beaumaris, this is one of the “iron ring” of castles built by King Edward I. These castles and their fascinating history deserve a post of their own in the future – along with more photos, of course!
Portmeirion – an Italian-style village designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis
Caernarfon Castle – is recognized as one of the greatest buildings of the Middle Ages
Conwy Castle – a 13th century fortress with breathtaking views, this was my favorite castle
Beaumaris Castle – an unfinished masterpiece on the Isle of Anglesey
Penmon Point, Anglesey – with views of Puffin Island and the Trwyn Du Lighthouse
Llandudno Pier – a seaside pier from the late 1800’s, and the longest pier in Wales
Another shout-out to Adeo Travel and our agent, Luke. We told him as he was booking our accommodations that we would appreciate a room with a view whenever possible… and boy, did he deliver! Here are our favorite places in Wales and the view we had from each:
St. Brides Spa Hotel in Saundersfoot
Penmaenuchaf Hall Hotel in Dolgellau
St. George’s Hotel in Llandudno
We left Wales and headed back to England where we spent the remainder of our trip. My next post (part three) will be The Lake District and York including Chester, Hadrian’s Wall, the Yorkshire Dales, Thirsk and Whitby. As always, if you receive this post by email please proceed to my blog for proper formatting of photos.
You can see part one of this series here: Great Britain – Part One