I visited lots of medieval castles on my recent trip to Wales. However, the one that made the biggest impression on me was Pembroke Castle. Privately owned and imaginatively managed, Pembroke Castle has an enviable location, with a long history stretching right back to the Stone Age.
The Long and Fascinating History of Pembroke Castle
The building of Pembroke Castle began in 1093, and additions were made in the 12th and 13th centuries. The early owners were Normans, often protégés of the kings of England. It changed ownership several times over the centuries, and today it is the largest privately owned castle in Wales. Probably the most famous person to have lived here was Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII of England, who was born in the castle in 1457.
But the history of the site long predates the castle. Beneath the Great Hall is the Wogan Cavern, a massive limestone cave. The Norman castle dwellers used the cavern for storage, but archaeologists have found stone tools here, showing that it was inhabited as far back as the Middle Stone Age. They also found Roman coins, an indication that the Romans used the cave as a trading area.
Exploring Pembroke Castle
If Pembroke Castle looks familiar, that is because it has featured in a number of films, most recently Me Before You. It is a picturesque castle, with extensive ruins and plenty to explore. Start by climbing up to the perimeter walls, where you will have fabulous views over the water that surrounds the castle, and across the Pembrokeshire countryside. When you’ve walked around the walls, you can explore the buildings, not forgetting to climb down the steep spiral stairway that leads to the Wogan Cavern.
I was impressed by the way the castle was laid out for visitors. A large map of Wales occupies much of the central courtyard, showing the location, and type, of the numerous Welsh castles. And on each of the picnic benches is a laminated display board (in English and Welsh) with subjects like “How to be a Knight” or “Medieval Trip Advisor”. All of which makes it an excellent place for families.
Mill Pond Walk
But you haven’t finished yet. When you leave the castle walk into the town and follow the Mill Pond Walk. As the name suggests, this goes around the Mill Pond, a body of water that was created as a sort of defensive moat around the castle. As you walk you will be rewarded by fabulous views of the castle across the water.
The Normans knew how to choose a site for a castle!
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