After spending the first night in our holiday apartment, we decided that we’d visit Beaumaris and its castle. We’d signed up to Cadw (the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage) so wanted to take advantage of our membership.
Rather than drive, we decided to walk the 3 or 4 miles along the Anglesey coastal path, which passed the top of the drive and went over to Beamaris along quiet lanes and through fields. It was relatively easy going – the hardest part was a steep final descent into the town – and took us just over an hour. We arrived after midday so it was time to grab something to eat.
Beaumaris is quite a small town. The reason for it’s existence is the castle which was the last of the fortresses built for Edward I in North Wales to keep control over the newly conquered territory.
Starting in 1295, the castle was built on marsh land at a strategic position at the eastern entry to the Menai Straits. The name of the settlement comes from Norman-French beaux marais, which translates as “beautiful marshes”. As with Edward’s other Welsh castles, a fortified bastide was also built alongside the fortress. Nothing remains today of the town’s fortification, but the original, rectangular grid street pattern is still evident in the old part of the town.
Bastides were populated by English settlers – the Welsh were permitted to visit during the day and were forbidden to trade. Locals from the nearby Welsh settlement of Llanfaes were forcibly removed miles away to the west of Anglesey, and settled in a new town, appropriately named “Newborough”.
Beaumaris was the last of Edward’s Welsh castles. It was designed as a “state of the art” fortress with a symmetrical concentric “walls within walls” design, with four successive lines of fortifications.
It’s considered to be the most perfect example of a concentric castle. However, it was never completed as Edward was distracted by wars with the Scots and the builders ran out of money. So it looks rather squat as the towers were never built to their full height. Nevertheless, it is still a rather impressive structure today and must have been intimidating to the locals during the 13th Century .
Our Cadw membership meant we had free entry into the castle plus a 10% discount on the guide book. There’s plenty to see and it’s possible to walk around a substantial part of the battlements which have commanding views of the Menai Straits and the town and over to the mountains of Snowdonia. It was a warm day, but rather grey and windy. The light was rather “flat” so my photos don’t do full justice to the majesty of the castle and the views.
When the castle was built, the sea would have come right up to the south gate (land has been reclaimed from the sea since then) so that it could be supplied by sea.
The outer walls were surrounded by a moat, and this has been restored so visitors can gain an impression of how it would have originally looked.
The castle is built from local stone – different types were used and laid out to give a chequerboard effect.
The huge turrets – 16 in total – are regularly spaced around the walls.
There were massive fortified gate houses in the north and the south walls.
The “inner ward” contained the domestic buildings and accommodation for the garrison.
Very little of these “everyday” structures remain, although we were able to visit the chapel
Very attractive modern stained glass windows have been installed in the chapel.
A little research afterwards revealed that they were created for Cadw by two Welsh artists – Linda Norris and Rachel Phillips, working as the Creative Partnership, Studio Melyn. On her website, which includes some good photos of the glass, Linda tells us that
We used the plan of the castle, large in scale and centralized within the window layout, as an underlying structure for the windows into which areas of colour and detail was placed. The patterns and colours reference medieval manuscripts, musical notation, coinage, heraldry and the marks of the masons who built the castle.
There are some other photos on the Studio Melyn website.