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First a Roman fort, then a late 11th century Norman castle, Cardiff Castle became a medieval fortress involved in the Anglo-Norman wars against the native Welsh. It was held by both Royalist and Parliamentary forces during the Civil War and managed to escape the destruction meted out on many of its contemporaries. Eventually, in 1766, it passed by marriage to the Bute family. The 2nd Marquess of Bute turned Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port and his son John, the 3rd Marquess, was reputed to be the richest man in the world. The 3rd Marquess employed the architect William Burges to create a Victorian Gothic revival mansion, transforming the castle with astonishingly opulent interiors, brimming with murals, stained glass, marble, gilding and elaborate wood carvings. After the death of the 4th Marquess of Bute, in 1947 the family gave the Castle and much of its parkland to the city of Cardiff and it is now one of Wales’ most popular visitor attractions.
Caerphilly Castle is simply enormous. Huge. It is the largest castle in Wales and the second-largest in Britain, after Windsor. It covers a 30-acre site and is a mass of concentric defensive walls, surrounded by moats and artificial lakes. It was built by the Norman Gilbert de Clare, known as Gilbert the Red for his red hair, mainly between 1268 and 1271, in order to subdue the Welsh - and it still dominates the area. The castle declined as it became redundant and it was rescued from total ruin by the Bute family in the 19th century.
Chirk is a picture-book medieval fortress as well as a sumptuous home, with wonderful gardens and a spectacular wrought-iron entrance gate. Roger Mortimer, Marcher Lord, began the castle in 1295 as one of King Edward I's chain of castles along the Welsh/English border. Since 1595, it has been owned by the Myddleton family. From 1910-1946, it was leased to Lord Howard de Walden and was scene of lavish entertaining in the 1930s.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain and a World Heritage Site. It was designed by Thomas Telford and carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the river Dee. The Aqueduct is 336 yards long, 42 yards high and 4 yards wide. You can walk across (the advice is not to look down), or take a boat.
Evocative remains of a Cistercian monastery, dating from 1201.
Note - parking is difficult at this site.
Dinas Bran Castle, or Castell Dinas Brân (Crow Castle in English), is a legendary ruined fortress built on the site of an Iron age hillfort. The medieval castle was probably built in the 1260s by Gruffudd ap Madog, Lord of Powys Fadog. However, to prevent it falling into English hands, the Welsh burned it to the ground shortly afterwards and, by 1282, it had been abandoned. Part of it was later used as a dwelling and it was apparently home to a Myfanwy Fychan in the 14th century, for whom the poet Hywel ap Einion Llygliw (c1330-1370) wrote a love poem - Myfanwy Fychan of Castell Dinas Brân. There are many legends and stories associated with Dinas Bran - it was the castle of Bran, hiding place of the Holy Grail - etc. The site is only accessible by foot and is about 1,000 feet (307m) above sea level.
The sight of Conwy Castle across the Conwy Estuary is unforgettable. Conwy is one of Britain's few remaining walled towns and its castle, which is part of the defences, is magnificent and massive. One of English King Edward I's 'iron ring' of fortresses designed to keep the Welsh under control, it was his most expensive, and it was built between 1283 and 1289. By the 17th century, though, it was in a poor state. It was occupied by Royalist forces during the Civil War, but fell to Parliament and subsequently intentionally damaged to put it beyond military use. Its owner then stripped it of useful materials.
Conwy Castle is part of a World Heritage Site.
Portmeirion is a fantasy village in North Wales created by architect Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925-1976. It has no other purpose than as a place of enjoyment, where you can just wander about, have something to eat, attend an event, or stay. There is an Italian feel to the village, which has mostly been constructed from scratch but which also includes structures moved from other locations. It was made famous as the setting for the 1960s TV series, 'The Prisoner'.
Note - dogs are not welcome, except guide dogs. Children are allowed in, though.