Wednesday, May 09, 2007

World Heritage day - 8 May 2007

We had previously known King Edward I as a romantic from the memorial crosses he built marking Queen Eleanor's funeral journey.

From our trip to north Wales, we saw him in a different light. In the 13th Century he commissioned a series of strategic castles, around the coastline of northern Wales; these are all now classed as world Heritage Sites

Beaumaris CastleOn our final day we visited another three of his castles. Beaumaris is a perfectly symmetrical castle; built on a marsh beside sea it had a channel cut to allow ships to tie up beside the walls. Possibly the pinnacle of medieval military architecture, this castle was built from scratch on a new site, so was unfettered by previous constructions and allowed the designer free reign to explore the latest defensive techniques. Ironically, it was never fully completed and never saw action until the Civil War some four centuries later.

Conwy Castle and Suspension BridgeThe whole of Conwy is like a film set. A C 19th suspension bridge leads to the castle walls. Like Caenarfon, the castle has walls to walk along, corridors to explore and towers to climb. It is a stunning castle set at one corner of an amazing town, itself a World Heritage Site.

ConwySurrounding the town, almost intact, are its medieval walls. Unlike Caenarfon where what remains of the walls seems to get lost in the modern town, Conwy’s walls are its defining feature. Inside the walls medieval houses have survived: we visited one of the oldest and reputedly the finest remaining Elizabethan Townhouse in Britain, a Tudor merchant's house. Plas MawrThe exterior of Plas Mawr is white plaster, which apparently is how the town walls and castle originally looked: it must have been very impressive. In fact all of the castles we visited on this trip were originally plastered inside and out and lime whitewashed. They must have made a fantastic sight on the occasional sunny Welsh day.

Bodnant GardenJust outside Conwy is Bodnant Garden; these were equally impressive, in a different way. These gardens are famous for their rhododendrons and azaleas; and, in spite of the inclement Welsh weather, everything was looking stunning.

As we headed back to London, on a rather quicker journey than King Edward could ever have imagined, we had a quick stop at one more of his castles. Castle Rhuddlan is inland, and a 2-mile section of the passing river was straightened and channelled to bring the ships up to the foot of the castle. This was the first of Edward’s northern castles; Beumaris was the last.

Castle RhuddlanOne weekend is not long enough to visit all the surviving castles in Wales; there are 641, and not even long enough to visit all the castles Edward built, but the 13 we saw gave us a great appreciation of the building skills from so long ago.

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