As regular readers of my blog will know the word “castle” has only be mentioned within earshot and I’m there. Conwy Castle is just off the A55, the main road leading to the ferry terminal at Holyhead, thus it was an ideal place to stop on my way home to Ireland having sojourned in the north of England.
Built within four years in the thirteenth century by King Edward I, it was not the first castle to dominate the area, but he viewed the estuary of Conwy as an ideal place to build a fortification against encroaching Welsh armies and it cost him a pretty penny, millions in today’s money, leaving him almost broke!
The cost was exacerbated by his decision to build a city with walls then filling it with HIS countrymen, ousting the locals, even monks from a nearby abbey! (The abbey church can be seen in the photograph below behind the red brick building.)
“Times change, people don’t” echoed in my mind as I walked up a slope and across the bridge to the entrance, but during Edward’s time to gain access meant climbing a very steep ramp, crossing a drawbridge, passing under a portcullis and stepping through two sets of doors, complete with murder holes and arrow loops. This ensured friends were admitted, enemies were not!
Furthermore the castle could withstand a siege having its own spring fed well and its own dock, allowing provisions to be successfully brought into the castle.
Food was cooked in the kitchens and served in the hall, where most people ate, but those of a lower rank did not enjoy lavish fare. The further down the pecking order, the plainer the food.
The castle is made up of many towers that are accessible via spiral staircases. Once on the first floor I found I could walk from tower to tower along battlements, but the drop was somewhat unnerving. The inner walls overlooking the central courtyard below are not very high and as I’ve become older my head for heights has deserted me. I kept to the higher outer walls overlooking forests, the river and the town.
In over seven hundred years only three monarchs have stayed in the royal apartments: Edwards I & II and Richard II but I’m sure they must have been very comfortable, the walls being extremely thick, the ceilings high; although it seems Edward I didn’t have a great time there due to persistent raids by the Welsh armies.
In one tower is the beautifully named Garrison of Flowers, home to three stained glass windows made up of fragments inspired by Welsh history. The centre window depicts Edward I’s wife, Eleanor of Castile, with hollyhocks, as wherever Edward built a castle, she created a garden. (Now what does that say about the difference between men and women?)
For many years access to the town and castle was via ferry across the river, but in 1836 the incredible engineer Thomas Telford constructed a chain suspension bridge which was in use for over a hundred and thirty years. By 1958 the bridge could not cope with the increase in traffic, thus a steel road bridge was built, which is still in use today.
I enjoyed my visit to Conwy Castle. Taking a step back in time to when life in Wales was much tougher, more violent than it is now, which makes me appreciate all I have and I hope people can work towards peace and it last for many years. The alternative is perilously frightening.
I have a great admiration for the engineer Thomas Telford, whose amazing work is evident in many towns and cities in the north of the United Kingdom. Please click on the link to see one of his smaller bridges.
As mentioned at the beginning of my blog, if there is a castle in the area, then I will be there. Here are a few links to other castles in Europe which I enjoyed visiting.
Castles in Great Britain
Castles in Ireland
Castles in Romania