Hey everyone, welcome back to Pinned On Places, and back to our last leg of our South Wales Walking tour series, today we are visiting a formidable castle, surrounded by two huge lakes and located in the centre of the town of Caerphilly which is roughly a 25 minute car journey from Cardiff to visit the famous and striking, Caerphilly Castle. Please join us as we wander through and give you the history behind how this amazing castle was formed.
Caerphilly Castle is one of the great medieval castles of Western Europe. Several factors give it this title, firstly its immense size of over 30 acres, making it the largest in Britain after Windsor, secondly its large-scale use of water for defence and not forgetting the fact that it is the first truly concentric castle in Britain. The meaning and example behind Concentric is a style of building which rendered castles virtually impenetrable. Of the time of its building in the late 13th century, it was a revolutionary masterpiece of military planning, and stands comparison and influence with even the mightiest of the castles built by Edward I after 1276.
One of Henry III’s most powerful and ambitious barons, Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan, built this castle beginning in 1268. His purpose was to secure the area and prevent lowland south Wales from falling into the hands of the Welsh leader Llywelyn the Last, who controlled most of mid and north Wales. De Clare built other castles on the northern fringes of his territory for the same purpose.
Llywelyn realised the threat and tried but failed to prevent the castle from being built; it was begun on April 1268, then was attacked in 1270, and then again in 1271. This time it was completed without hindrance, Its message was not lost on Llywelyn, who retreated northwards. With the threat from Llywelyn removed, Caerphilly Castle was used less as a fortress and more as a centre for control of the de Clare estates.
De Clare died in 1295 and the estates passed to his son, also called Gilbert, who was killed at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, ending the de Clare male line.
The castle was passed onto Gilbert’s sister Eleanor, who was married to Hugh Despenser the younger. In 1316 the castle was attacked by Llewelyn Bren, but Despenser promptly had the Welsh leader put to death. Hugh was responsible for rebuilding the great hall at Caerphilly, with the help of the king’s own master mason and carpenter.
We were blown away when walking through the great hall, its so lavish and beautiful. If you look above the table, you can see the wooden gallery, where back in the day you would have some musicians or entertainers who would play above there as the acoustics inside were really quite impressive. The interior of Hugh Dispenser’s great hall is embellished with colourful decorations and heated by a large, centrally located fireplace, placed between two pairs of large grand windows; you can definitely see why this room would have hosted some elegant dining and parties back then.
On the south side as you wander through the inner ward of the great hall are the state apartments. The large ground-floor hall, which was evidently a sumptuous building, was remodelled by Despenser in 1322 and then was restored in the late 19th century. Originally the timber roof was lower, carried on the four carved corbels still in place in the south wall. He brought in the best craftsmen, who raised the roof and gave the four windows decorated, rich glass mouldings. The door was treated in the same way, and the whole building was faced with finely dressed stone. The two doors at the east end led to a buttery and cellar, possibly with a small chapel over them. To the west were the state apartments which were well-appointed rooms with fireplaces.
In the southern part of the second floor there was a small, two-bay, cross vaulted room, accessible from a spiral staircase. It could have been a small chapel, or a storage room for valuables, from which a small window within the large main chamber could be seen below. A small treasury would be indicated by: bars in the window, two arrow slits on the south side and two doors in front of the staircase. To be walking around in the hall it’s so amazing how large the rooms were, you can imagine it back in the day with tapestries and wall hangings that would make the place so much cosier and magnificent for guests.
One of the great moments here are being able to walk through the tunnels when crossing from the south west tower to the north west, you can see how well covered the castle was and the strength was normally indicated by the presence of the numerous heavy closing gates surrounding the ruins, it is a very pure example of late 13th-century military architecture.
The south and north lakes around the castle formed an almost impossible barrier to attackers. The dams themselves are a major achievement of medieval engineering. Which brings us to our next stop on the way around the castle, the infamously named ‘Welsh Tower of Pisa’, that is the medieval tower which leans at 10 degrees to the vertical – most likely because of subsidence and landslide which have resulted the tower in gaping cracks, which also gnaw through many of the other castle towers. But Most impressively you are unsure when looking at it up close just how it hangs there, though it is honestly so cool – worth a look in person as the cameras don’t do it justice.
We were then led back to the spiral staircase that lead up to roof level, for panoramic views of the beautiful Welsh hills which encircle this patch of flat land – and it also gives you a neat overview of the anglers fishing in the two huge moats below and a bird’s eye view of four more gatehouses, three mighty towers, two rings of curtain wall, and one impressive Great Hall – it’s of of those moments that you should experience.
The castle is particularly interesting as it was built at breakneck speed – the vast majority was built in just three years, between 1268 and 1271, I think the fact that builders managed this more than 700 years ago makes Caerphilly quite remarkable.
There are bags of information dotted around in most of the rooms and they include some audio visual exhibits, you can follow and listen on your phone to there digital tours. Some of the audio exhbits include a projection of a fire in the great hall,which helps to bring the castle alive and you can watch a short film based in one of the towers that Cadu have kindly made for your visit – it’s worth noting that the site is aimed at catering for children too with fun activities for them to discover.
A trip to Caerphilly castle is a must do on our list of places to visit if you are travelling to or around Wales. We really enjoyed having you join us on our walk around today, and would love it if you could tell us your thoughts too, as usual, if you arnt subscribed to the channel, why not consider hitting that button and even popping the notification bell on so you can be sure to be notified when our next video is up. We love what we do and we also enjoy sharing it with you. Up on our next video we are heading closer to home at Netley Abbey, be sure to check back for updates and videos soon, till next time.