Saturday 17th October 2015
This is the first post in a short series detailing the events a group of us experienced during a weekend in North Wales last month.
Where I could begin with ‘Day One’, that mostly consisted of a four-and-a-half-hour journey, plus time spent settling in. I’ll include my photos and reflections from that in a separate post, bundled together with other images taken from the area surrounding our cottage.
Here, we were off to Caernarfon Castle for a few hours.
As our first full-day across the River Severn and beyond, the plan was for all five of us to climb Mount Snowdon. After a hearty bowl of porridge each and other preparations, we were out the door, squeezed in to a single car and on our way south to Snowdonia…
But it must’ve been close to 11am by the time we finally left the cottage a – four-and-a-half-hour journey had taken its toll on everyone and not solely the tireless drivers. By the time we reached the Pen-Y-Pass car park, which only took about half-an-hour, we were met with signs informing us it was full. Looking on, we could’ve found a space to park and increased our walking distance slightly (having made a plan to go up the Pyg Track and back down to the Miner’s Path to the same car park) but I was stunned by the sheer number of volume milling around the area…
Up and down the mountain; on bikes; bimbling along the roads; some less appropriately dressed than others… So, we bumped our trip to Caernarfon Castle ahead one-day, knowing the mountain would still be there the next day (we would also be able to get up and arrive earlier).
Getting to Caernarfon wasn’t hard, even in a part of Wales where ‘English’ road signs become almost a collector’s item. Finding the castle was more of a challenge as there was no direction from within the town until we were almost driving past it! Fortunately, it stood out from the townscape where eagle-eyed back-seat drivers were able to offer fingerpoint directions from one of the hilltops.
With a designated driver having to take one of our crew ‘home’, we were left as a trio to explore the castle (and, later on, to decide upon a method of returning to the cottage in Waunfawr). I’m gutted the other two missed and I had my anxieties about spending time with two people I did not know as well as the others but we were there and I decided to try and make the most of it.
Where an adult ticket costs less than £7 (£6.70, if I remember correctly), Caernarfon Castle was an absolute bargain, compared to what some private estates [Chatsworth, ahem…] will charge by comparison.
We were each handed a visitor map upon entering and, from where this place looked big from the outside, the rest of the world (if only Wales) suddenly felt minuscule, as we stood between these towering walls, shielding us from spectacular views of the local mountains, with the sea also to the north.
Both end walls felt as if they were at least a mile apart… It was already close to lunchtime by the time we got in. Would there be a chance to see everything before closing?
It was hard to know where to start from the moment we set foot inside the expansive courtyard. But the visitor map implied we should follow a clockwise circuit, with a trail of numbered points of interest display and beginning just to our left.
Notice what some may think of as a climbing wall…
There were several of these features dotted around the castle. Sadly, there was no explanation as to their purpose. Surprisingly, there were no warnings, instructing people to ‘keep off‘ or ‘no climbing‘.
Almost straight away, we headed up narrow, winding stone stairs to the top of our first tower (this castle bears several). From there, we could pick out in the interesting and potentially historic architecture that adorned the gables of some nearby buildings amongst the town below.
Looking across the rooftops, we could see a large hill in order direction…
But this mound very soon became a molehill as, just over to the right again, we stood in awe silhouette of the Welsh mountain range near Snowdonia:
Just don’t ask me which one is Snowdon, if any at all!
As a man who likes wood, I often stood in awe of the hulking great lumps of oak that kept each tower propped up and in position.
Most parts of the castle appeared to be in excellent condition, even where sections of former walls were clearly missing today. There was only one relatively small section (a causeway between two walls, up on the first floor) where access was forbidden due to safety concerns.
I remember finding this stone seat inside one of the rooms:
Were these the names of prisoners who’d served time confined to this cell? It seems unthinkable that any local could easily scale the wall at night time and carve away their signature as silent and innocently as a door mouse.
As we made our way from one tower to the next, coming to the halfway point in our navigation of the castle walls, we could look across for a clearer sight of the ‘man’ sat on the rooftop of a building opposite.
We were here on a Saturday morning. It cost us only £6.70 each to get in. The weather was considerably good for a day in late October and, despite being so close to the sea, there was barely a breeze in the air…
You’d think the place would’ve been brimming and bustling with tourists for those reasons combined. But we had almost free, unrestricted reign of the complete interior. There wasn’t a selfie stick in sight.
Down inside the tower that stands opposite to the entrance [sorry, I’ve misplaced my paper map and have forgotten each tower’s name], we found our way in to the museum, filled with history upon the castle, its purpose, previous owners and more.
At the foot of one staircase though, we found a collection of images where kids had been encouraged to draw rats… I’m sure there’s a good reason for it, where you’d think children would be encouraged to draw nice and happy things, long before awakening in their teenage years to learn how life isn’t always bright yellow flowers and how rainbows only shine when there’s rain (the clue is in their name).
Someone with a keen interest in the history of battles and warns that have taken place could spend several hours reading every script of information here.
Eventually returning to the outside world (although, still within the castle’s confines), we noticed that the one-Great Hall was no longer standing.
Within our penultimate tower (I think this was the Queen’s Tower) was a series of exhibitions, including the life-sized chess set in the photo above, down on the ground floor. There were other installations on the floors above but we decided not to make an effort to see them.
We also found a collection of shields made by children, which reminded me of a simple task from my time in primary school.
In the same room, this wooden chair look completely out of place – clean lines, fast-grown pine and a hue that caused it to leap out as if someone had just flicked a light switch.
Stood inside our final tower before returning to the exit, we were able to gaze up at the narrow wooden walkway, spanning the distance between walls:
This tower was unique, where all of the others had been ‘filled in’ on either side of every other bridge we had encountered and crossed.
One friend highlighted the unique, almost dovetailed patterns in the formation of birckwork sitting over the head of an opening in one wall. Where, today, you would probably find a lintel.
We could also gaze upon the full depth of what appeared to be a well. Or was it some kind of chimney?
In one area of the castle, I made the mistake of attempting to close one of these large timber and iron doors, which was open and allowing access in to a cell:
My goodness! With a thickness of at least 4in – plus the ironwork on each side – I really had to put my shoulder behind to force it to budge even an inch! There would’ve been no escaping one of these, back in the day. I think I’d enjoy seeing someone destroy their Chelsea Tractor trying though… Perhaps we could make that a national sport?
In all, I would highly recommend a visit to Caernarfon Castle, should you ever find yourself within the area. Wales (and North Wales alone) does indeed contain very many castles. I can’t speak for any of the others or offer a way of comparison so, I can only advise you to take a look at Caernarfon. Even with the additional £4 for the car park, it’s cheaper than a lot of places you could otherwise go.
In my next post, I’ll detail the truths of how we completed our six-mile return to Waunfawr from Caernarfon, with or without a car… Although, I’m sure some of you have already figured it out. 😉
If you’d like to see all of my photos from within the castle, please click here.