castle road trips in Wales
From the rugged fells of Brecon Beacons National Park to the bustling city of Swansea, South Wales is the perfect place to begin a seven-day castle road trip.
Begin your journey close to the historic town of Haverfordwest, located in the heart of Pembrokeshire. Here you will find Picton Castle: a fortress providing stunning vistas, enchanting gardens and opulent interiors.
Picton Castle and Gardens occupies a leafy 40-acre site and has been a treasured family home for more than 700 years. Constructed in the 13th century, Picton Castle’s design is unusual: half the structure is a fortified manor house, while the other half is a medieval castle. Pass four half-round towers that are typical of Edwardian design and enter through the gatehouse. A series of finely planned country rooms comprise the interior.
Walk through the White and Gold Drawing Room: a grand space adorned with lavish French furniture. Move down to the Victorian kitchen and vaulted undercroft. You will also see several magnificent fireplaces, produced by the renowned English sculptor Sir Henry Cheere.
The jewel in Picton’s crown is its gardens. The gardening styles span several periods, and you will find a riot of colour at every corner. With a garden for all seasons, Picton Castle offers rare trees, shady woodlands, exotic jungle areas and vibrant walled spaces. Children will love the willow dens and family trails hidden across the estate, while an exciting adventure playground awaits exploration.
If you want to explore the area further, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park sits 15 miles north of Picton Castle and offers picturesque coastal walks. Alternatively, hop in the car and head towards our next destination, ready for the second day of your road trip.
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Travel 61 miles along Wales’ south coast and arrive at Weobley Castle. Perched on the edge of a limestone plateau overlooking the salt marshes of Llanrhidian and the North Gower coast, Weobley Castle is one of the best-preserved manor houses in Wales. The stronghold was founded in the 14th century by David de la Bere and was later given as a gift to Lady Catherine Edgecumbe by Henry VIII. Although the manor house had been built to sustain a military attack, it is clear from the building’s remains that it was created for comfort rather than defence. Wander through the kitchen, hall and generous guest apartments, making sure to stop off at the solar – the room designated as the family’s private living quarters - to imagine nobility lounging around in opulent surroundings.
Weobley’s poor defence proved to be its downfall in 1406 when Owain Glyndŵr, the last native Welsh person to hold the title Prince of Wales, raided Gower with the aim of reclaiming Wales from English rule. Today, Weobley remains a perfect vantage point for views over the River Loughor, and is sure to keep children entertained for hours.
In the afternoon, drive for an hour-and-a-half via the A456. Pass tree-lined gorges, cascading waterfalls and dramatic river valleys at Brecon Beacons National Park, finishing with a stop at Tretower Court and Castle. Eight miles north of Abergavenny, Tretower Court and its neighbouring Castle show substantial signs of restoration and ruin. The medieval manor house is built on the ruins of an 11th-century structure, which passed between English and Welsh hands for 300 years after the Norman Invasion. An extensive restoration programme has restored parts of Tretower Court and Castle to its former glory: hand-carved period furniture, a working kitchen and stone roof tiles will all help you to imagine what it would have been like to live at Tretower during the 15th century.
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Follow the River Usk south-east for 20 miles and make your next stop at Usk Castle. Sat within a verdant stretch of unspoilt countryside, Usk Castle is as striking as its backdrop.
Usk’s ruins date back to the 13th century and stand on the site of a 12th-century earthwork defence. The fortress was attacked and captured by the Welsh in 1138, but was later retaken by Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare, the first Earl of Pembroke. The Castle was captured again by the Welsh in 1174, then retaken by the English Crown in 1184.
The gigantic, circular Garrison Tower was added to the stronghold in 1209, followed by the Treasure Tower in 1289. Walk around the inner ward – previously enclosed with a curtain wall of sandstone rubble – and stand next to the Great Keep, once occupied by Hywel, Welsh Prince of Caerleon, who was killed by Henry II’s forces during its recapture.
Eight miles north of Usk is Raglan Castle. Built with imposing towers, a grand gatehouse and distinctive oriel window, Raglan Castle wows visitors from the get-go. Wales’ youngest stone castle (it dates from the mid-1400s) was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1646, after coming under attack by Government forces. Today Raglan Castle has a ruinous charm, which earned it a cameo in the BBC’s Merlin. Although it is regarded as one of Wales’ great castles and can be seen from miles around, it is rarely busy.
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Head west on the A47 and travel through the sleepy villages of Llanarth and Llantilio Crossenny. This route takes you to White Castle: the most impressive of the ‘Trilateral’ fortresses (Skenfrith, Grosmont and White Castle) set up by Gerald de Windsor, Constable of Pembroke.
Commanding panoramic views over the River Trothy, White Castle was originally called Llantilio Castle, the medieval manor of which it was a part. White Castle saw brief military action during Owain Glyndŵr's Welsh Revolt of 1400-1415, and Henry VI carried out repairs during the mid-15th century. From the mid-16th century, the castle was left to decay. It came into state care in 1922.
Pear-shaped and ruined, 12th-century White Castle perches in the middle of a wet moat. While today the water is murky and shallow, it’s easy to appreciate the challenge this would have posed for opposition forces. Yes, White Castle’s interior is nothing more than ruins, but its curtain walls still connect six imposing round towers. Enter the outer ward through the late 13th-century gate and cross a wooden bridge. Head to the twin tower of the inner gatehouse and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
After spending a few hours exploring White Castle’s grounds, why not head north on the A49 and drive through the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty? Hidden valleys and wildlife-rich woodlands make for beautiful walking trails. Follow the bounds of the old Mercian kingdom, the footsteps of ancient drovers and take in views from Iron Age hillforts. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a buzzard overhead.
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Head along the A849 and briefly pass over the English border, taking in the Vale of Montgomery. Make your next stop two miles from where the River Severn meets Cilcewydd, in Welshpool. With more than 800 years of history and 26 acres of acclaimed gardens, Powis Castle and Garden crowns a magnificent rocky outcrop. Roses, buddleias, pomegranates and sub-tropical plants surround the gigantic, red stronghold, while ancient yews hang over manicured hedges. Powis Castle’s interior is a treasure trove of Indian textiles and exotic ornaments: head to the Clive Museum and you will see bronzes, silver pieces, jade and ivory on display. The house is brimming with beautiful sculptures and rich tapestries, reflecting the ambition and success of the Herbert Family, who still own a private apartment on the second floor. Head to the main entrance and stand on the steps upon which former residents would have welcomed King George V, Queen Mary and Queen Victoria. This vantage point also offers magnificent views over the Breidden Hills.
In the afternoon, head north for 70 miles via the A48 and A55. With Snowdonia National Park to the south and Rhyll to the north, the town of Rhuddlan offers a picturesque stop-off point. It was here Edward I famously issued the Statute of Rhuddlan, the document outlining the constitutional basis for the Welsh government, in 1284). Today, there is a plaque on the wall of the Old Parliament House in commemoration. Some four miles from the Rhyl coast, Rhuddlan Castle commands panoramic views across the River Clwyd. Built as one of Edward I’s ‘Iron Ring’ of fortresses, Rhuddlan Castle was attacked during the Welsh rising of Madog ap Llywelyn and was garrisoned by Royalist troops during the English Civil War.
Today only the shell of Rhuddlan Castle remains, but its twin-towered gatehouse still dominates the view. Why not take the stairs up to the castle wall and capture sensational shots of the surrounding countryside?
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Cling to North Wales’ coastline for 17 miles and head west to Conwy Castle. This stone fortress was constructed in 1283 by Edward I and is another ‘Iron Ring’ fortress built to dominate the Welsh coast. Conwy Castle is cold and intimidating: its towers command an excellent view over Conwy Estuary and the town huddles in its shadow. Throughout the castle’s history, residents and royals have made good use of its sturdy defences. During the time of Henry VIII, Conwy Castle was used as a prison.
Much of Conwy Castle is constructed of grey sandstone and limestone, taken from the rock upon which it sits. Scramble up to the battlements and discover panoramic views across the River Conwy and Snowdonia. Look down and you will see the roofless shell of the Great Hall: a series of low, broad arches and the remains of decorated supports. You will also see the Conwy town walls: a circuit of 21 surviving towers stretching from the harbour to the castle. Why not dedicate a whole day to exploring the historic town of Conwy? Here you will find the smallest house in Britain, Conwy Mountain, Bodnant Garden and RSPB Conwy Nature Reserve. There are also lots of cosy B&Bs and hotels to enjoy – one of which sits on the site of a Cistercian abbey - so you can enjoy Conwy late into the evening.
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For your final stop, continue west for 16 miles and head to Penrhyn Castle. This 19th-century neo-Norman fortress straddles Snowdonia and the Menai Strait. Ostentatious and designed to impress, Penrhyn Castle has opulent Gothic interiors, unique architecture and a fine art collection: a grand statement of family power and wealth. Thomas Hopper began construction on the present Penrhyn Castle in 1820, and today it houses 204 rooms and 47 corridors.
Enter through the castle’s stone façade and explore the grand dining room, kitchen and servant’s quarters. Families are given a Children's Quiz Trail that is sure to keep young explorers entertained. Enter the library and see a majestic billiard table, made of slate from the nearby quarry. In preparation for Queen Victoria’s visit to Penrhyn in 1859, slate was also used to craft a one-tonne bed, which is still on show today. Visit the Lower India Room and find mock-Norman furniture, an 18th-century Japanese lacquer cabinet and fine Chinese wallpaper. Such wealth would have confronted Penrhyn Castle’s Victorian guests at every turn.
Beyond the castle walls, the extravagance continues. A Victorian walled garden with ornamental ponds boasts colourful rhododendrons and azaleas. Daffodils, bluebells and snowdrops bloom in springtime, while a fuchsia arch blooms in summer.
Children can head to the stable block to find a charming model railway museum, packed full of information. If tiny trains aren’t enough, there is also a small Doll Museum.