The Lord Rhys (Rhys ap Gruffydd, 1132-1197) built the first stone castle at Cardigan and, to celebrate its completion in 1176, held a gathering of musicians and poets. This was the first National Eisteddfod, a tradition that continues to this day. The castle and the Georgian house within its grounds fell into disrepair until a £12m restoration project secured its future as a heritage attraction, restaurant, accommodation and events venue.
Dinefwr was the power-base of the Kingdom of Deheubarth, which ruled over southwest Wales for almost 300 years in the 10th to 12th centuries. It was the main seat of Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) who first codified native Welsh law. The castle’s ruins sit in a wooded nature reserve on a bluff overlooking the River Tywi. Nearby, the ‘new’ castle, built in the 1600s, is run by the National Trust. Both are easily reached on a circular walk from Llandeilo.
Castell y Bere
Built by Llywelyn the Great in the 1220s, Castell y Bere was a remote outpost on Llywelyn’s southern frontier. It guarded his cattle range, protected the homeland of Gwynedd, and dominated the neighbouring lordship of Meirionydd. The castle was captured by the Normans in 1283 and abandoned; its ruins sit in a quietly beautiful valley in southern Snowdonia.
Carew Castle sits on an inlet alongside an old tidal mill in Pembrokeshire. These were the ancestral lands of Princess Nest, a famous 11th-century beauty from the Deheubarth dynasty who controlled south west Wales from 920 to 1197. Nest bore at least nine children to five different noblemen. Even today, several illustrious families can trace their lineage back to her: she was an ancestor of George Washington, JFK and Princess Diana.
The original Powis Castle was built by Welsh prince Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn in the 1280s, but the present magnificent fortress-with-gardens owes its splendour to the Clive family. In 1784 Lord Powis’ daughter married Edward Clive, who later inherited both the family title and the considerable wealth of his own father: Major-General Robert Clive, also known as Clive of India. The castle’s Clive Museum has the UK's largest private collection of Indian and Far Eastern antiquities.
Built to guard the Tâf estuary, Laugharne Castle is one of the most fought-over in Wales. The original Norman castle was captured and destroyed by Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth in 1189; a rebuilt castle was seized by Llywelyn the Great in 1215. It changed hands twice during the Civil War before being captured and partially destroyed by Royalist forces. The artist JMW Turner painted the ruins, and the poet Dylan Thomas spent time writing in its Victorian garden.
In the middle of our capital city, Cardiff Castle has Roman walls, an 11th century Norman keep, military museum, and a sumptuous Victorian mansion that was decorated by the 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900), then the richest man in the world. Bute also transformed Castell Coch, a few miles north, into a lavish fairytale castle.
Caerphilly Castle is the second-biggest castle in Britain, with the most elaborate water defences. It was built by Anglo-Norman lord Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century to help wrest control of Glamorgan from the native Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. Modern attractions include working siege engines, the Gilbert’s Maze adventure, and animatronic Dragons’ Lair.
Chepstow is the oldest post-Roman stone fortress in Britain, and its 800-year-old castle doors are also the oldest in Europe. Work began on the castle in 1067 – just a year after the Norman invasion – and the castle gradually extended along its narrow clifftop ridge, guarding a major crossing of the River Wye.
Conwy Castle is unusually well-preserved for a 13th-century castle, with its original town walls largely intact. It was built by Master James of St George, the finest military architect of his age. Together with the castles at Harlech, Caernarfon and Beaumaris, these Edward I fortresses form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Overlooking the Menai Strait, Caernarfon has always been a key strategic site. The Romans knew it as Segontium, and built a fort here around AD77. The present castle was built by Edward I in the 1280s, and has unusual polygonal towers and colour-banded stonework. The first Prince of Wales (later Edward II) was born at Caernarfon Castle in 1284; Prince Charles was invested with the same title here in 1969.
Dominating the shores of Cardigan Bay, Harlech Castle played a key role in the national uprising led by Owain Glyndŵr. It fell to his forces in 1404 and became Glyndŵr's residence and headquarters. It also withstood a seven-year siege, the longest in British history, during the 15th-century Wars of the Roses. The defenders’ heroics are remembered in of one of Wales’ most famous songs, Men of Harlech.