Caring for the castles and abbeys of the Welsh princes
By Gwilym Hughes
Heritage in Wales (Summer 2011)
Introduction: The twin peaks of Deganwy Castle overlook the mouth of the river Conwy and face the great fortress-palace built by Edward I at Conwy following his invasion in 1282–83. However, the fragmentary remains of Deganwy that are visible today scarcely hint at its crucial role in the ebb and flow of invasion and counter-invasion along the narrow belt of lowland coastline between Liverpool Bay and the mountains of Snowdonia. At least four successive castles stood on this site, but each one was systematically destroyed to prevent it from falling into the hands of opponents.
Like many other key medieval monuments, the castle is barely known to the tens of thousands of visitors who pass by on their way to the picturesque seaside resort of Llandudno. And yet these sites are hidden gems locked away in the Welsh countryside, with extraordinary stories to tell about the life and times of Wales’s native princes. Deganwy is just one of eleven such sites that have benefited over the last three years from Cadw’s Welsh Cultural Heritage Initiative (WCHI). The aim of this initiative has been to unlock the secrets of these iconic sites and to ensure that they are conserved for future generations to enjoy. However, the key to the success of the programme has been to negotiate full public access to the monuments, many of which are in private ownership.
Of course, Wales is home to some of the most magnificent medieval monuments in western Europe. The imposing castles built by Edward I in north Wales are rightly recognised as some of the greatest military and architectural masterpieces of the medieval period, their global importance recognised by their inscription as one of Wales’s three World Heritage Sites. Almost as impressive are the castles associated with the Marcher lords, such as Pembroke, Kidwelly, Caerphilly and Chepstow.