Wales and Castles
My first interesting fact about Wales for you – Wales has more castles per head than anywhere else in the world! Now I have a thing for castles and have done since I was a little girl. I just love the way you can feel the history all around you, tread in the footsteps of Queens, warriors and the lowliest of servants. Even when at first glance all you can see is a pile of stones, castle sites always have a feel of permanence and invariably great views over the landscapes they were built to defend.
One sunny day, many summers ago on a visit to my grandparents, I decided I wanted to see a castle. However, when you are 5 and have a very romanticised view of what a castle should be, albeit fascinating historical sites but without big gates and turrets are just not going to cut it! My wonderful Grandad drove the whole family along the North Wales Coast until we came upon the magnificent medieval fortress of Conwy castle.
You can really let your imagination run riot and I spent happy hours that day being a princess in a tower, a knight on the battlements and involving anyone who would indulge me in my games!
With so many different castles to choose from I am not sure that any Top 5 list would meet with everyone’s approval, and I have cheated a bit with some multiple entries, but here is mine…
1. Castles and Town Walls of King Edward I in Gwynedd – designated a world heritage site including Conwy, Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Harlech castles. This group of castles is indeed a supreme example of the military architecture of the turbulent medieval period but they are also simply great fun to visit!
2. Dolforwyn Castle and Montgomery Castle – these two Mid Wales castles, just a few miles from each other, are more ruins than rooms but I love the feel of history behind them. Llewelyn Ap Gryffudd, Prince of Gwynedd, began construction of Dolforwyn in 1273 in response to the increased military presence of the English forces of Edward 1 at Montgomery. Also, being open sites you can go, whenever you want!
3. Llansteffan Castle – another open site, this is a castle dear to me having spent many hours here savouring the stunning view of the Tywi estuary from the ruins and then wandering down to the fabulous sandy beach.
4. Chirk – with continuous occupation since 1310, this fortress has a fascinating history, wonderful grounds and a programme of activities and events throughout the year that make a trip here a great day out for the family.
5. Carreg Cennen Castle – overlooking the Black Mountain on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the ruins appear to grow out of the cliff and have truly awe-inspiring views.
So, what do you think? What is your best memory of a visit to a castle in Wales? I’d love to hear from you!
Beaches at Borth and Ynyslas
One of the things we enjoy doing most as a family is spending the day in Borth and Ynyslas, on the Mid Wales coast. My little one just loves running along the promenade and skimming stones (or at least trying to!) at Borth and then making the short drive to the dunes and huge sandy beach at Ynyslas.
Borth is a friendly seaside village with a small range of shops where you can pick up essentials for a picnic, bucket and spades, ice creams and fish and chips. There are also three pubs along the High Street where families are welcomed and even a mainline train station. The beach is a mixture of shingle and plenty of sand at low tide and a long promenade runs the length of the main stretch.
Our dog is not so keen on the sea itself, so the restrictions on allowing dogs on the beach in Borth during the summer months suit him fine. However at Ynyslas dogs are allowed all year round; although, as this is also a nature reserve, they do need to kept on leads in some areas.
Ynyslas is simply a most beautiful dune backed beach and I am always amazed that whenever we go there it is not packed with people. If you remember the BBC advert with the people flying the red kites, this was filmed here!
For small charge you can park right on the sands at Ynyslas and there is a small visitors centre, open Easter to September, which explains the importance of the reserve to the rare wildlife that make the dunes their home. There are also good toilet facilities which, let’s be honest, do often make a big contribution to the success of a day out with small children!
From the centre you can take the walkways up and over the dunes to another section of the sandy beach. There are quite a few steps so not great for pushchairs but my little girl loved the adventure of making her way through the dunes. She only has little legs, but even just past the age of 3, she managed the walk there and back. Spotting lizards and birds along the way helped as well!
At either beach, at low tide, you should be able to spot the remains of forests that have inspired many myths throughout history of the lost lands of Cardigan Bay. The earliest record of one such myth, the Cantre’r Gwaelod (Lowland Hundred), dates back to 1250 and tells the tale of a kingdom lost beneath the waves when the floodgates are left open one night by a negligent courtier!
For enjoying the simple pleasure of being by the sea, and for a traditional seaside holiday, this area of Cardigan Bay is great. Where did everyone else go when they were little and where do you enjoy visiting now?