Of all the many castles I’ve visited (and let’s face it, there’ve been a few!), the one I have the fondest memories of is Carreg Cennen.
Perched atop an enormously tall limestone crag on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in south-west Wales, the castle is an impressive and unforgettable sight.
I first remember visiting the castle as a child with my father and being awestruck by the ruined fortress, sitting 300ft high on a hill, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
So when some friends invited me to join them on a daytrip to the castle last week, I immediately said yes.
The present castle dates from the late 13th century and is thought to have been built by one of King Edward I’s allies John Giffard.
Earlier incarnations of the castle possibly include one built by Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth (who also owned nearby Dinefwr Castle), in the late 12th century and an Iron Age hillfort.
Today the castle is privately owned, sitting within Castell Farm, and is maintained by Cadw, the Welsh heritage agency.
The castle’s owners Bernard and Margaret Llewellyn inherited it from Margaret’s father who accidentally acquired it from the Earl of Cawdor in the 1960s, when the Earl inadvertently included the castle in the deeds to the farm.
As I drove into the farm (my friends and I took separate cars to maintain social distancing), I was greeted by a friendly woman who showed me where to park.
The farm (above), which sits at the bottom of the limestone crag, features a small shop, tea room and toilet, and as it was lunchtime, we made a beeline for the café.
The charming tea room sells homemade food (think cawl, toasties, jacket potatoes) and a selection of mouthwatering cakes.
Armed with a scone and a pot of tea, I made my way into the adjoining barn, where socially distanced tables were set out for diners, to await my Welsh rarebit. The service was polite, efficient and friendly, and the food utterly delicious.
Happily sated, we made our way up the huge limestone crag to the castle, stopping part way up to say hello to an inquisitive young bull in a nearby field (the farm’s cattle and sheep roam the fields surrounding the castle).
As we reached the top, we made our way across the walkway to the castle’s entrance (below), which is flanked by the remains of twin towers, stopping to look around both towers before stepping inside the main courtyard.
There isn’t a huge amount to see inside the castle as much of it was dismantled by the victorious Yorkists following the Wars of the Roses in 1462 (it was a Lancastrian stronghold).
But there are a few interesting features, including parts of the inner ward, a small walkway (below) and the remains of a few towers (ground floor only) to explore.
It was easy to socially distance inside the castle as the centre is a huge open, grassy space and everyone was being respectful by patiently waiting for one group to exit a tower or room, before going in themselves.
One of the castle’s most unusual features is the cave that sits underneath it and that’s connected to the castle via an underground passage.
The cave’s currently closed because of the pandemic, but I vividly remember exploring it as a child with a lamp I’d been given by the ticket office.
Beyond the castle walls, we spent sometime exploring the features atop the limestone crag and admiring the spectacular views of the surrounding Carmarthenshire countryside and the River Cennen below (below).
As we made our way down the crag from the castle, I noticed a signpost with a red and yellow castle on it.
Intrigued, I asked the chap at the ticket office about it and he explained it marked a couple of walking trails to Castell Farm. The yellow castle marked a short 45-minute walk, the red a longer 7.5km trail.
We decided to follow the yellow trail and found ourselves strolling along a path through the woodland beneath the castle (above).
The winding trail took us down to the River Cennen (below) and then followed a path close to the river, before joining up with a nearby country lane that took us back to the farm.
I really enjoyed our visit to Carreg Cennen. I hadn’t been there since I was a child and despite being a little apprehensive that it wouldn’t live up to my vivid childhood memories, it didn’t disappoint.
Thanks to its spectacular location, the ruined fortress is a romantic, awe-inducing sight and one of the most impressively located castles in south Wales.
- Carreg Cennen Castle, Trapp, near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire SA19 6UA
- Open daily: 9.30am-5.30pm April to October, 9.30am-4.30pm November to March
- Adults £5.50, children £3.50, seniors £4.50 – there’s no need to pre-book your tickets, you can buy them at the castle entrance
A previous owner accidentally acquired the castle: That doesn’t happen every day!
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I know, I can’t begin to imagine how the farmer (and the earl!!) felt when he realised that one of the country’s top castles had been included in the deeds by mistake!
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