Saturday, January 7, 2012

Harlech Castle! The true castle on the cliff!

Back story of the Castle

     Harlech Castle was part of a new group of castles to be built in North Wales for King Edward I's from about 1272 until 1307. Construction on Harlech itself started in 1283 and continued until 1289 it was started right after the second Welsh war for independence. At the height of the castle's construction in the summer of 1286 nearly 1,000 men were employed.

     The castle played an important part during the War of the Roses and the English Civil war. Ownership of Harlech passed to the Crown and then transferred (1914) to the Office of Woods and Forests. The castle was then placed in the hands of the Welsh Office and now kept up with by Cadw. Cadw, a Welsh word which means keep, is the Welsh care taking office of such buildings. And finally in 1986 Harlech Castle was accepted into the World Heritage catalogue.

The Fortifications!

     The first defense is the fact that the castle sits on a sheer cliff!!! There is a wall that goes around and up the cliff for around all sides of the rock out-cropping that the castle sits upon.  I would consider this the outer-most wall that connected to the next outer wall; by a small extension that could be easily deafened. Also keep in mind that the Irish Sea was around 2 sides of the rocky out-cropping! Next comes the main gatehouse with its MASSIVE wooden door and THREE portcullis' (a hanging metal gate that allows you to see through, example here).

     As I walked through the massive entrance way I noticed very weathered grooves on the sides of the walls. There may have been another heavy inner wooden door but no definite proof as ever been found. As you would walk through this corridor you would notice holes in the ceiling and arrow-loops in the walls...all the better to kill you with! :D The inner-most walls were about 15 FEET (which is about 4.6 meters thick). The outer walls all seemed to be a little more than half as wide as the inner-most walls. The steps from the sea up to the castle had long ago been closed off "health and safety" (pfft). This was further secured later in time with a tower at the base of the cliff near the sea to protect shipments.

And now, I give you...Harlech Castle.

The stairs are the only way to the castle today...a VERY imposing sight to see when going up the stairs.

You walk up the stairway to the castle, and the ruins underneath the stairs are where the old gatehouse was.
This is the sight from the back right of the castle, everything you see USED to be ocean. Over centuries the water has receded and it is where the castle used to get supplies.

This is from the front right of the inner keep looking down to the right-front tower, the parking lot is where I stood to take the first picture and you can see the parking lot and stairs up to get a better idea of the castle.

View of the back of the Keep from the wall near the back right tower. You can go up the stairs, but they end where you see them sadly, you can get a feel for it by the size of the people! MASSIVE and imposing!

This is the back way into the castle and looked about the same as they do today, they just had a floor back then and a huge door to allow the guards to qucikly get to the outer-most walls and patrol the cliffs.
A picture of myself and Harlech in the background! I was eating at a small place in town, the food was amazing and so were the women! Though my girlfriend may not like that last bit ;) Lol.

This is a picture I took of the castle as shown in the info book you buy when you visit. This helps to give a better idea about castle's walls and set-up.

     All information is from the book I bought at the caslte and my own observances! Hope you enjoyed this edition of...A Yank in Europe! More castles and countires to come! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Yank in Wales!

As an American living in the United Kingdom I have the chance to travel all over Europe and really get a feel for how Europeans feel about various things. For anybody who doesn't know, Wales or Cymru (in Welsh) is a small country in the United Kingdom. The best way to describe the nation of Wales is to call it a semi-autonomous state, no exactly independent but it "sort of" is.

It is a beautiful country to begin with and looks completely different from England, to this author at least! I travelled to the northern part of Wales; this is where people actually speak Welsh. I was there to see the castles that were erected by the English as a bulwark of sorts to keep the Welsh suppressed in times past. The castles are now mostly ruins, but they are MASSIVE(!) ruins and some of the most imposing buildings I have ever seen.

The front of the castle from the inside while standing on the wall.
All right enough with the history lesson, let’s get to the actually stuff!!! The first day we saw Rhuddlan Castle shortly after entering Wales and it was, and I use the term loosely, a small castle. It was physically imposing (as they all were) and it sat on the bank of the Rlwyd River. The picture below is what you first see when crossing the bridge to the castle, the bridge is built on the ruins of the old bridge and gatehouse built in centuries past. The castle dates from 1277 and construction continued to 1282 and again from 1300 to 1302. Today the castle has nothing inside and is only consist of the walls, towers, and grounds. near the coast is a small hollow tower and a remains of a wall. When you walk atop the walls and get a view of the surrounding area, and yes, sheep it will take your breath away.
What I first saw as I crossed the bridge to the castle!
This is crossing the bridge, you walk over the down dry moat.

History tells us that eventually the castle fell into disrepair and and the locals took their hammers to it to build their fences and homes! I loved the castle and it stands to last another thousand years I'd reckon, unless YOU go see it, to help keep it around...and the locals from taking more stones ;).

What you see as you walk into the castle!