Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle

This is one of a string of castles built by King Edward I of England along the Welsh coast from Flint to Aberystwyth. It was built from 1283 to 1287 in tandem with the walled town, North Wales’ largest medieval borough. Most of the town walls remain intact. The walls and castle are part of a United Nations World Heritage Site.

The castle is dramatically positioned on a rock outcrop where the Gyffin stream flows into the Conwy estuary. It was designed by Master James of St George, who came from Savoy (now part of southern France). Most of the stone came from a quarry c.600 metres to the west. Edward I was besieged inside Conwy Castle during a Welsh rebellion in 1295.

The castle has eight towers, two barbicans (fortified gateways) and a classic dungeon – a deep and windowless pit! Visitors get a good sense of the castle’s shape as they walk atop the curtain walls.

The castle’s eastern end was separated from the rest by an internal defence (a large wall and ditch). It housed rooms reserved for the king and queen, the bakehouse (where you can still see the giant oven) and food store. Steps led directly to the estuary shore.

The castle was taken in 1403 by Owain Glyndŵr’s forces. By the Civil War it had fallen into disrepair but John Williams, former Archbishop of York, repaired it and the town walls at his own expense, for the Royalist cause. Later he was snubbed and switched sides, helping the Parliamentarians capture the castle in 1646.

The bakehouse tower was damaged in 1655 to make the castle unusable as a defence. Construction of Thomas Telford’s suspension bridge in the 1820s partially destroyed the steps to the estuary.

Railway engineer Robert Stephenson carefully took his route around the south of the castle on a purpose-built ledge, and decorated the towers of his tubular bridge with castellation. In the 1880s the London & North Western Railway was praised for repairing the bakehouse tower. This may have seemed philanthropic, but the tower was perilously close to the tracks!

You can glimpse the damaged tower in JMW Turner’s painting of c.1800 from the bank of the Gyffin stream. A 1794 painting by JC Ibbetson shows how the castle looked (in moonlight) before the bridges and quay were built.

Today the castle is in the care of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s conservation body. Follow the link below for opening times.

Postcode: LL32 8AY     View Location Map

Conwy Castle on Cadw website