A dear friend is visiting from Canada right now. It’s all making me quite homesick. To get over it, I thought I’d take my friend to places that make me happy. Yesterday I took her to my hometown. You might remember this photo from my blog earlier in the month about the long history of Wigan. We ate meat and potato pies (my hometown specialty), and took in a Wigan Latics football game.
Today we went to one of my favorite places. Wales. Conwy Castle in Wales to be precise. The castles King Edward I built in North Wales are some of the most spectacular medieval buildings in the world. As the official Conwy Castle guidebook states, “Flint, Rhuddlan, Aberystwyth, Builth, Conwy, Harlech, Caernarfon, and Beaumaris were all built from scratch by a single organization—The King’s Works—often concurrently in the uneasy aftermath of war.”
They were all designed by James of St. George, King Edward I’s chief architect, who is regarded as one of the greatest military architects of the age. The castle and its town walls (which can still be walked today) cost 15,000 GBP to build—an amazing 45,000,000 GBP today.
UNESCO classified Conwy Castle as a World Heritage Site, stating it is one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe.”
Conwy was impressive for many reasons. It took a surprisingly quick four years to build between 1283 and 1287. This included taking down a monastery brick by brick, and rebuilding it at a site thirteen kilometers away to make way for the castle on the rocky outcrop surrounded on three sides by water fed by the River Conwy.
Personally I like the small details. Did you know there are twelve individual latrines that project over the town wall? This didn’t exist in any of the other castles, but King Edward’s ‘wardrobe’, similar to a modern day civil service, worked in the castle, and the toilets were built to make their lives a little easier.
It is also on record that Edward’s only stay at Conwy was during the rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn during December 1294. Walter of Guisborough, the chronicler, describes a scene were castle supplies were reduced to a single barrel of wine that was reserved for the king. He quotes the king as saying, “In hardship, everything must be held in common… As God on high watches over us all, I am the start and cause of all this, and I should do no better than you.”
All the logistics and quotes aside, as we walked the walls today, it was easy to imagine living there during the medieval period, as the heroine of a great love story. It’s possible to suspend disbelief about the hardships of the time, and imagine being married in the beautiful royal chapel, or pacing across the East Barbican, waiting for your knight in shining armor to return home.
I have a story in mind for Conwy… but then I am sure everyone else who visits this beautiful castle does too.
*Thanks to Conwy Castle and Town Walls by Jeremy A. Ashbee, and Conwy Castle Visitors Information for many of the details included in todays post.