If you read our recent Castell Coch blog post, you’ll know that we now supply numerous Cadw gift shops and information centres with our Welsh slate products and handmade soy candles. As a result, we were lucky enough to be invited to see some of their wonderful castles. In this blog, we’ll give you a run-through of our time at the spectacular Caerphilly Castle…
On the drive up to Caerphilly from the A470, I followed the brown signs to find the castle. Having never visited Caerphilly Castle before (I’ve only ever admired it from the other side of the moat!) I was excited to find out what secrets the old stone walls kept. I parked up in a long-stay car park and walked towards the castle. Caerphilly was bathed in glorious sunshine and so I decided to take a stroll around the castle first, crossing over a little wooden footbridge where some people were feeding the ducks.
I was pleased to see that the grounds surrounding the castle were really busy – there were lots of people soaking up the sun, eating their lunch on the numerous benches dotted around – all with a focus on the giant castle which dominates the town of Caerphilly.
It’s only when you’re this close to the castle that you fully realise its scale. Described by Cadw as a ‘slumbering giant’, it is the second largest in Britain and in many ways, the photographs you see online and in books don’t do the castle justice – particularly on an early summers day, when the water of the extensive lake glistens in the sunlight.
Inside the castle
As I neared the gatehouse, the long drawbridge stretched out in front of me, leading me towards the belly of the fortress.
I went through the beautifully appointed visitor and information centre to be greeted by yet more green space. What surprised me was how vast an area the castle covers and I could easily imagine being able to spend a full family day out, enjoying the grounds and eating lunch al fresco. Maybe even indulging in an ice cream from the gift shop!
Inside the castle, there are lots of rooms, stairways and corridors to explore. Magnificent fireplaces, impressive stonework, imposing windows and wooden vaulted ceilings – it really is a treat for anyone with an interest in architecture, as well as of course, history.
Centuries of stories
As you walk around, the fact that the castle has stood in this very spot since Gilbert de Clare (who also built the original Castell Coch!) began work on it in 1268 really does start to sink in. I find myself playing scenarios in my mind, imagining life in and around the castle during the 13th century and from the top of the castle, as I look across to neighbouring Cardiff, I think to myself about the change this castle has seen. If only the walls could talk!
In 1294, the castle was attacked during the Madog ap Llewellyn revolt, the Llewelyn Bren uprising in 1316, as well as during the overthrow of Edward II in 1326-27. In the late 15th century however, it fell into decline and by the 16th century, the lakes had been drained and much of the stone robbed.
In 1776, the marquess of Bute acquired the property and under the 3rd and 4th marquesses, extensive restoration took place. Indeed, historical buildings in South Wales have a great deal to thank this particular family for – they were also responsible for the works done to Castell Coch.
Also worthy of our thanks are Cadw – without them, these castles could fall in to disrepair all over again and what an absolute shame that would be. In my opinion, both Castell Coch and Caerphilly Castle offer brilliant opportunities to get outdoors this summer. Not only are they beautiful and interesting in their own unique ways, they’re also educational – providing a tangible insight to our past. Reading about castles in books or online is one thing, but actually being able to touch the stonework and feel the atmosphere in and around these old monuments is something very different.
Whether they’re on your doorstep or a car drive away, both Caerphilly Castle and Castell Coch are well worth a visit and as they’re so close to one another, you could even make a day of it. Of course, while you’re there, don’t forget to try and spot the Valley Mill products in their gift shops too!