The Three Castles stand in the open countryside of Monmouthshire, where the valley of the river Monnow creates a gap in the natural defences of the southern Welsh border. They were first raised as earth and timber castles, perhaps during the earliest Norman advance into the area by William fitz Osbern (d.1071), earl of Hereford. King Stephen (1135-54) united the strongholds in the single territorial lordship of the Three Castles in about 1138.
The transformation of the Three Castles into masonry fortresses began in the late twelfth century, when White Castle’s inner ward defences were replaced in stone. Grosmont and Skenfrith retained their wooden fortifications until the early decades of the thirteenth century, when Hubert de Burgh (d.1243) held the lordship of the Three Castles. The castles were modified as they changed owners over the centuries, and while they briefly resumed a military role in 1404–05, during the revolt of Owain Glyndwr, the Three Castles were disused and abandoned by 1538. Free.
ABERGAVENNY CASTLE – 12.4 miles, 20 mins. NP7 5EE.
Abergavenny castle (1087) is one of the best examples of a motte and bailey castle in Britain. With a restored keep set on top of a man made mound, there are also enough walls remaining to show that this must have been an impressive castle when in full repair. The castle meadows, stretching out alongside the River Usk provide a picturesque scene at all times of the year, and the brick path makes for an idyllic walk. Free. More..
RAGLAN CASTLE – 21 miles, 25 mins. NP15 2BT.
Raglan is without doubt one of the finest and most enjoyable medieval castles to visit in Wales. Traditional home of the Somersets, Earls of Worcester, Raglan was one of the very last castles built in Britain, begun in 1435 by William ap Thomas. It is part castle, part palace, with far more attention to comfort than earlier castles. However, it was certainly built for defence as well, for it took one of the longest sieges of the Civil War to subdue it. Cromwell’s engineers did their best to destroy the massive Great Tower, but failed. More..
CHEPSTOW CASTLE – 34 miles, 50 mins. NP16 5EY.
Chepstow Castle, in a spectacular setting on top of cliffs overlooking the River Wye, is the oldest surviving stone fortification in Britain. It was built under the instruction of the Norman Lord William Fitzosbern, soon made Earl of Hereford, from 1067, and was the southernmost of a chain of castles built along the English-Welsh border in the Welsh Marches. Over the centuries it has played an important part in the life of the market town that grew up outside the castle gates. Alterations to the castle over time reflect changes in weapons and warfare, and it is possible to identify the major phases of building with certain powerful owners. More..
GOODRICH CASTLE – 17 miles, 30 mins. HR9 6HY.
Standing high on a rock outcrop above the River Wye, Goodrich Castle is one of the region’s most striking ruins. A pale red sandstone keep was constructed in the middle of the 12th century. The original ‘Godric’s Castle’ was established in 1095 by Godric Marplestone who held the manor at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086. More..
TRETOWER COURT AND CASTLE (near Crickhowell) – 21 miles, 35 mins. NP8 1RD.
Against the backdrop of the Brecon Beacons stands a stark round tower, clearly a military fortification of great antiquity. Its companion piece, in contrast, is a handsome stone manor house. Oldest Tretower is a substantial 13th century stone keep built on the remnants of an earlier Norman earthwork castle. By the more settled 14th century, the castle’s inhabitants felt secure enough to build a spacious new court, a fine example of a grand late-medieval country residence adorned with exceptional woodworking. More..
CAERPHILLY CASTLE – 47 miles, 1 hour. CP83 1JD.
Caerphilly Castle is one of the great medieval castles of western Europe. Several factors give it this pre-eminence – its immense size, making it the largest in Britain after Windsor, its large-scale use of water for defence and the fact that it is the first truly concentric castle in Britain. Of the time of its building in the late 13th century, it was a revolutionary masterpiece of military planning. The castle was constructed by Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century as part of his campaign to conquer Glamorgan, and saw extensive fighting between Gilbert and his descendants and the native Welsh rulers. More..
CASTELL COCH – near Cardiff – 53 miles, 1 hour. CF15 7JQ.
This building is chiefly known as a romantic folly supposedly reproducing a small medieval Welsh chieftain’s stronghold, built in the 1870s, for the 3rd Marquess of Bute to a design by William Burges, and possessing the most remarkable interior decoration. However, it was built upon the remains of a genuine 13th century castle built in two stages. Evidence was found of the building having been deliberately slighted by mining. More..
CALDICOT CASTLE – near Chepstow – 44 miles, 50mins. NP26 4HU.
Caldicot Castle is set in beautiful tranquil gardens and a wooded country park. Founded by the Normans, developed in royal hands as a stronghold in the Middle Ages and restored as a Victorian family home, the castle has a romantic and colourful history. You can immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the castle’s exciting past. There is lots to do; you can explore the Gatehouse, restored by the Victorians; take in the breath-taking views from the top of the medieval towers; enjoy a leisurely game of chess, using giant playing pieces; discover the medieval herb garden; wander around some countryside walks in 55 acres of beautiful woodland and pasture; or relax in the courtyard and country park beyond. Free. More..
OTHER HISTORICAL SITES:
BLAENAVON IRONWORKS – 19.5miles, 30 mins. NP4 9RN.
The Blaenavon Ironworks started production in 1789 and was to become the first purpose built multi-furnace Ironworks in Wales. At that time it was on the cutting edge of technology. The furnaces were coke fired and the blast provided by a steam engine. Blaenavon is now home to one of the best preserved 18th century ironworks in Europe. It is complete with furnaces, cast houses, a magnificent water balance tower, cupola furnace, calcining kilns and ironworkers cottages. Free. More..
THE BIG PIT – 20.5 miles, 35 mins. NP4 9XP.
Big Pit was a working coalmine until it closed in 1980. Then in 1983 it became a museum of the South Wales mining industry. Now it stands high on the bracken-clad moors of north Gwent importing visitors instead of exporting coal. The highlight of the visit is the hour-long underground tour, led by ex-miners, which takes you down in the pit cage to walk through underground roadways, air doors, stables and engine houses built by generations of mineworkers. On the surface you can explore the colliery buildings – the winding engine-house, the blacksmiths’ workshop and the pithead baths where you can learn more about the story of coal and its extraction from below the ground. Free. More..
CAERWENT ROMAN TOWN – 42 miles, 50 mins. NP26 5AU.
Caerwent Roman Town is the name of the collection of Roman ruins which formed part of the once buzzing Roman settlement of Venta Silurum. Probably founded in the first century AD, Venta Silurum reached its peak in the second century and was home to a range of buildings and facilities. From the remains of houses, a temple and an amphitheatre to its impressive 17-feet high defensive walls, Caerwent Roman Town has much to offer. There are information panels along the way and pre-booked guided tours are available on certain days. Free. More..
CAERLEON ROMAN FORTRESS AND BATHS – 29 miles, 45 mins. NP18 1AE.
Caerleon Roman Fortress is home to the impressive remains of a first century Roman legionary barracks, fortifications, amphitheatre and baths. In fact, they are said to be Europe’s only such barracks on display. Built in approximately 75AD, the Caerleon Roman Fortress was known as Isca and would have been home to the Second Augustan Legion. Spread over 50-acres, it would have housed approximately 5,000 people and was in use for some 200 years. Today, the well-preserved ruins of Caerleon Roman Fortress offer a fascinating insight into life at a Roman fort on the edge of the Empire. Amongst the highlights are its grand bathhouse, 6,000-seater amphitheatre begun in 90AD and the L-shaped barracks themselves. Free. More..
TINTERN ABBEY – 21 miles, 40 mins. NP16 6SE.
Tintern Abbey is in the lower Wye Valley on the way to Chepstow. It was founded in 1131 as the first Cistercian Abbey in Wales (and the second of what were to become 86 abbeys in Britain), on land originally owned by Henry I – the fourth son of William the Conqueror. The original sizeable 1100s stone Romanesque monastery and abbey church were completely demolished in the late 1200s to make way for new gothic buildings. More..
DORE ABBEY – 5.5 miles, 13 mins. HR2 0AD.
Dore Abbey was founded by French Monks in 1147 – the only Cistercian Abbey in Britain founded from Morimond. It is remarkable for its wealth and features dating from the 12th century to the 17th century restoration. Dore Abbey, still used as a Parish Church, can be found in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley. More..
LLANTHONY PRIORY – on the way to Hay – 13.8 miles, 30 mins. NP7 7NN.
Llanthony Priory was one of the earliest houses of Augustinian canons to be founded in Britain, and is one of only a handful in Wales. It is chiefly famous today for its wild and beautiful setting, far up the Vale of Ewyas in the Black Mountains. It was the priory’s remoteness in the Welsh hills which was its undoing, however, making it vulnerable to attack. Giraldus Cambrensis described it, in the late 12th century, as being ‘fixed amongst a barbarous people’. Free. More..
ST. NICHOLAS CHURCH – Grosmont.
The church was built in the early 1200’s, at around the same time as the castle and the magnificent Norman nave has survived with only limited restoration. The Early English chancel was reconstructed in the 1870s by John Seddon, who rescued the whole church from a ruinous state and put in the glass screen dividing chancel and nave. Free. More..
HELLENS MANOR – Much Marcle – 22.7 miles, 35 mins. HR8 2LY
One of the most interesting yet little known of England’s historic homes is Hellens Manor House in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, now owned by the Munthe family trust. It was not the first building to occupy the site, once home to a group of monks. The house started out as a small castle. The building was converted to a manor house in the 15th century and building continued through the 17th. More..
EWENNY PRIORY – Near Bridgend – (68 miles, 1hr 20mins). CF35 5BW.
“The most atmospheric Romanesque space in Wales” (T J Hughes, Wales’s Best One Hundred Churches). Ewenny Priory is the most complete and impressive Norman church in South Wales and one of the finest examples of a fortified church building in Europe. It was completed by 1126; in 1141 it became a Priory of the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter, Gloucester. Free. More..
TREDEGAR HOUSE, Newport, NP10 8YW (44 miles, 1 hr)
One of the most significant late 17th century houses in the British Isles. For more than 500 years the house was the home to one of the greatest welsh families, the Morgans, later Lords Tredegar. (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/tredegarhouse) 01633 815880. More..
See More.. for opening times and admission charges.
National Trust: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk
English Heritage: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk