The Long And Varied History Of Pembroke Castle, Wales

Pembroke Castle, Wales
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Pembroke is one of my favourite Welsh castles. It has an enviable waterside location, and it is designed to appeal to both families and history-lovers. And, although the history of Pembroke Castle might seem to begin in the medieval period, visitors will discover that it goes right back to the Stone Age!

The Turbulent History Of Pembroke Castle

Hundreds of castles were built in Wales after the Norman Conquest, as the new overlords sought to separate and protect themselves from the Welsh people. Pembroke Castle began as a motte and bailey construction, built by Earl Roger of Montgomery in 1093.

Following a series of attacks and sieges, the building was extended and remodelled in the 12th century, until it became the strong stone structure that you can see today. A particular feature is the massive cylindrical keep, which was both a defence from invaders and a place from which to attack them.

Pembroke Castle, Wales
The stone keep and fortifications of Pembroke Castle

Gilbert de Clare, a royal protégé and first Earl of Pembroke, took ownership of the castle in 1138, but it changed hands several times over the centuries.

The Birthplace Of Henry VII

Probably the most famous resident was Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII of England, who was born here in 1457. (Recent excavations claim to have found his exact birthplace, in the 13th century tower in the Outer Ward that is now known as Henry VII Tower.)

During the Civil War the unfortunate inhabitants changed their allegiances, and found themselves successively attacked by both Parliamentarians and Royalist troops! The castle was abandoned after the Civil War and fell into decay. The ruins were purchased by a new owner in the early 20th century and there was a massive programme of restoration. Today Pembroke Castle is the largest privately-owned castle in Wales.

Wogan Cavern: The Stone Age And The Romans

However the history of the site long pre-dates the medieval castle. Beneath the Great Hall is the Wogan Cavern, a massive limestone cave. 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 may have used the cave as a trading area. And, because this is Wales, the cavern is also said to be the lair of a fierce dragon…

Wogan Cavern, Pembroke
The Wogan Cavern has been in use since the Middle Stone Age

The Norman castle dwellers built a stairway down to the cavern and fortified it with a wall and barred gateway. There was access to the river and it may have been used as a way for people and goods to enter the castle. It was also used as a store room.

Exploring Pembroke Castle

If Pembroke Castle seems familiar, that may be because it has featured in a number of films, most recently Me Before You. Built on a rocky promontory and surrounded by water, it has a spectacular location. The building itself is picturesque, with extensive ruins and plenty to explore.

Start by climbing up to the perimeter walls, where you will have fabulous views over the water and across the Pembrokeshire countryside. When you’ve walked around the outer wall, you can explore the buildings and exhibition rooms. Don’t forget to climb down the steep spiral stairway that leads to the Wogan Cavern.

Pembroke Castle, Wales
The defensive walls of Pembroke Castle

I was impressed by the way the castle grounds were 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.

Pembroke Castle, Wales
There is a giant map in the courtyard

The 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.

Pembroke Castle, Wales
A view of Pembroke Castle from the Mill Pond

The Normans certainly knew how to choose a site for a castle!

Visiting Pembroke Castle

  • it is possible to book tickets for the castle in advance – see website for details.
  • You can get to Pembroke by train. Pembroke is on the West Wales train line: if you are coming from London you will need to change at Swansea. Alternatively you may wish to hire a car.
  • For overnight accommodation in the town of Pembroke have a look at the recommendations on booking.com.

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8 thoughts on “The Long And Varied History Of Pembroke Castle, Wales”

  1. This is a beautiful place. Your descriptions are great. I love castles. I have not been to Wales and hope to go someday. I will be in Ireland in September and I am very excited about seeing the castles. I love your pictures. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  2. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of exploring castles, Karen! What strikes me most about Pembroke Castle, besides its lovely setting, is how formidable it looks and its massive size. It must have been a little eerie to stand in Wogan’s Cavern and think about its history reaching back several millennium and its Stone Age and ancient Roman inhabitants carrying about their business. Wales has been on my “must see” list for ages so your post will be pinterested and revisited again when I finally get a chance to visit! Anita

  3. Doreen Pendgracs

    Wow! I didn’t realize Wales has so many castles! I do know a couple of friends who adore Wales and are planning a return trip. I’m beginning to see why.

  4. I like history and adore castles!! I would love to visit Wales again and check out Pembroke Castle…beautiful!!

  5. We haven’t visited Wales and now you’ve got me wanting to visit. Exploring the castles and learning all the history would be a wonderful trip.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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