Wales is truly the “Land of Castles”. With more castles per square mile than anywhere else in Europe, when visiting Wales, you are never far away from history and legend. To get you started on your journey into the past here is a list of the Oldest Castles in Wales.
10) Castell Carn Fadryn
From archaeological evidence, our first castle, Castell Carn Fadryn, shows building and updating of defensive structures over more than a thousand years in three different periods. Stood on top of a mountain on the Llyn peninsula, the first construction was an Iron Age hillfort which was built around 300 BCE (Before the Common Era). This fort then underwent reinforcement and was extended 200 years later in 100 BCE. The third phase saw the construction of one of the earliest medieval Welsh stone castles, built by one of the sons of Owain Gwynedd in 1188. Adding to the history of this ancient site, the stone buildings and wall were set within the remains of the Iron Age hillfort. Unusually, the castle was built as an expression of power during the struggle for authority between the Son’s of Gwynedd and not in opposition to the invading English. On a clear day, standing in Castell Carn Fadryn, you can get an amazing view of Anglesey, Cardigan Bay, Snowdonia and even the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland.
9) Pembroke Castle
Clearly a site of great importance, the cave below Pembroke Castle shows evidence of occupation for 12,000 years. Set on a rocky peninsula, the first Norman castle in Pembroke was a motte and bailey fortification which was made of earth and timber. Roger of Montgomery constructed the castle during the Norman invasion of Wales in 1093 and has the distinction of never falling in battle to the Welsh. In 1189, Pembroke was acquired by William Marshal and was rebuilt into the grand medieval stone fortress that we see today. Its huge cylindrical tower with a stone dome and magnificent walls are depicted here on our Welsh Castle Coasters.
8) Castell Aberlleiniog
Built atop a very steep hill in 1090 by the 1st Earl of Chester, Hugh d’Avranche, there are few historical documents that detail the events of Castell Aberlleiniog. One event that did make it into the historical record is the siege by the Welsh forces of Gruffydd ap Cynan in 1094. Though initially the castle successfully survived the siege, Gruffydd did manage to drive out Hugh d’Avranche and Anglesey remained under Welsh control for two hundred years until the arrival of King Edward I. Amazingly, Castell Aberlleiniog was the only motte and bailey fortification on Anglesey. The stone castle that is visible now is not the original Norman building but instead part of the English Civil War defences which date to the mid-17th century.
7) Abergavenny Castle
Originally a motte and bailey structure, Abergavenny Castle dates from around 1087. Reminiscent of the “Red Wedding” in Game of Thrones, Abergavenny Castle was the site of the Massacre of Abergavenny. On Christmas Day in 1175 one of the most barbaric acts in Medieval Europe occurred. After years at war, Sytsylt ap Dyferwald and his fellow Welsh Lords were presented a peace offering by William de Braose, the Norman Lord. The unarmed men were massacred where they stood in the great hall. Now the site of Abergavenny Museum, the present square keep was constructed in 1819.
6) Caldicot Castle
Standing stoically observing the comings and goings over the Severn estuary, the strategic site of Caldicot castle has been recognised by the Normans since 1086. Originally a timber motte and bailey structure, the medieval fortress and luxurious royal residence that is still standing today is one of Wales best kept secrets. Even though the original timber structure is no longer standing, the prominent green motte is still standing proudly for all to see. Now crowned by a round stone keep constructed around 1221, the tower is one of the best places to view the River Nedern and the breath-taking views of the 55 acre parkland.
5) Caerleon Castle
Wales is truly a land of myth and legend, nowhere more so than Caerleon, one of the suggested seat of King Arthur’s palace. But more famous for the Roman fortress and baths, Caerleon is also home to one of Wales’ oldest castles. Built by the Normans in 1085, the original castle was a motte and bailey construction. Captured by the Welsh in 1217, it was later recaptured by William Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke, and rebuilt in stone later that year. However, during the Welsh Revolt by Owain Glyndŵr in 1402, Caerleon Castle was captured and left in ruins. Today the ruins of Caerleon castle’s tower are next to the Hanbury Arms. So next time you are in Caerleon you can sit and enjoy a pint and imagine what life would have been like all those years ago.
4) Cardiff Castle
Originally the site of a Roman fort, the oldest castle built in the Welsh capital was a Norman motte and bailey. Built inside of the walls of the Roman fort, shortly after the Norman Conquest of England, Cardiff Castle was constructed around 1081. From then on it has been rebuilt several times, including by reportedly the richest man in the world at the time, the 3rd Marquis of Bute. See the latest rendition of the castle here on our Welsh Castle Coasters. Cardiff Castle also withstood repeated attacks by Owain Glyndŵr during his 1404 rebellion, but its military significance declined after the Wars of the Roses. However, Cardiff Castle once again became a fortress against the Nazi’s Luftwaffe air raids during World War II. Tunnels were built within the walls to transform the castle into an air raid shelter for thousands of people.
3) Camrose Castle
One of our earliest recorded castles, Camrose Castle was a Norman motte and bailey fortification built to stand opposingly over a ford crossing of the small river, Camrose Brook. Built around 1080, during the first wave of Norman settlement in South Wales, like many castles, it was later rebuilt with a stone wall around the perimeter. Although overgrown, the intrepid visitor will be treated to a fine example of the classic motte and bailey castle as the castle itself was never entirely rebuilt in stone. However, Camrose Castle’s biggest claim to fame is playing royal host to William the Conqueror, who stayed overnight at the castle whilst on a holy pilgrimage to St David’s.
2) Twthill Castle
Twthill Castle in Rhuddlan was the headquarters from which the consolidation of North Wales by the Normans began. Commanded by William the Conqueror, Robert of Rhuddlan built Twthill Castle, sometimes called Old Rhuddlan Castle, in 1073 overlooking the River Clwyd. For 200 years, Twthill Castle was the centre of activity in the North, with many merchants and craftsmen applying their trade, and even a church and a mint built by 1086. The location of Twthill Castle may have historical roots that go back even further than 1073. It is though that the site was originally the seat of the royal palace of the Welsh Prince, Gruffud ap Llewelyn, potentially making the motte even older. Sadly, Twthill Castle fell into disuse as a short distance away the larger, stone built Rhuddlan Castle was built, replacing this historic site.
1) Chepstow Castle
Our final castle is also the most amazing castle. Unlike the majority of Norman castles that were built following the Conquest of England, which were simple earth and timber motte and bailey structures, Chepstow Castle was built in stone from the very beginning. Perched on top of the limestone cliffs of the River Wye Chepstow Castle is not only the oldest surviving stone castle in Wales, but the whole of Britain. Built in 1067, using recycled materials from nearby Caerwent Roman town, the objective of Chepstow Castle was to secure the troubled border region between Wales and England. The castle that we see today was a result of strengthening and extension in 1189. During this strengthening, a set of magnificent gates, sheathed in iron with an elaborate lattice framework were built and can be still seen today. Using the science of dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating, the castle gates were confirmed to be the originals, making them the oldest surviving gates in the whole of Europe.
Naturally and logically, there must have been fortifications built earlier than the ones we have listed here, all the way back to Roman times and indeed no doubt beyond. This list was compiled to give you a flavour of some of the Oldest Welsh Castles we have on record. We hope you have enjoyed! For more facts about Welsh Castles see our 20 Amazing Welsh Castle Facts article.