“Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd” is the UNESCO World Heritage name for a collection of historic sites in North Wales. In 1986 four castles and their attendant fortified towns, all related to the reign of King Edward I of England, were designated collectively as a World Heritage site. UNESCO cites these 13th century English constructions as outstanding examples of fortifications and military architecture worthy of preservation.
Our road route from Portmeirion to Liverpool took us near Edward I’s Welsh castles. Over the morning’s coffee we discussed seeing two or three castles; if we hurried we might see all four. Caffeine induced optimism overrides rational travel planning.
Shortly before noon our rental car’s wheels squeaked to a stop outside Caernarfon Castle’s stonewalls. As we slowly straightened our stiff bodies and emerged from our compact car it was obvious that we wouldn’t be seeing the full suite of UNESCO designated fortifications. Caernarfon Castle is large. Tall crenellated walls spiked by towers surround an expansive grassy interior space. With access all through this remarkably intact structure, up and down, in and out, it takes hours to tour. And we had figured at breakfast that the castles would require only short visits. Lonely Planet neglects to mention that Caernarfon’s castle and town walls are worthy of a full day of touring.
Inside of Caernarfon’s walls, exhibits explain the fortress’s place in Welsh and English history. The construction of a fortress in Caernarfon was initiated in 1283 after the English King, Edward I, defeated the Welsh forces in the region. A castle, King Edward believed, would consolidate English rule. Legend has it that Edward the First promised the people of Wales that he would select “a prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of English”. Indeed, Edward II, Edward the First’s son, was born in Wales at Caernarfon. And at the time of his investiture as Prince of Wales, Edward II, like all infants, did not speak a word of English or any other language for that matter. I suspect that the Welsh people were not pleased.
In modern times the Principality of Wales continues a close association with Caernarfon and the British Throne. By convention, since 1301 the Prince of Wales has usually been the eldest living son of the King or Queen Regnant of England. The investitureof Charles, the Prince of Wales, was performed in 1969 in Caernarfon Castle’s courtyard.
By the time we departed the castle, toured the town’s walls, and made small dents in massive plates of fish and chips served at the Black Boy Inn, it was late afternoon. The idea of seeing three or four castles in one day was exposed as a caffeinated fantasy. Perhaps we could visit one more of the UNESCO-designated fortifications, if we hurried. Back in the rental car we sped off to see Beaumaris Castle.
Beaumaris Castle is on the island of Anglesey, the largest island in the Irish Sea. Anglesey, or Ynys Môn in Welsh, is separated from the rest of Wales by the Menai Straits. Crossing the Menai Suspension Bridge we hurried through the developing rain on the narrow slick-wet Welsh roads. Twenty minutes before the official closing time, we reached the castle’s grass covered parking lot. A fast tour seemed possible. Hurrying we reached the entrance desk of the moat-surrounded castle with fifteen minutes to spare.
“We’re closed,” said the woman at the ticket desk.
“We’ll be fast,” I offered.
In my hand was a handful of quid ready to pay for a short visit.
“The castle is closed,” the keeper of the tickets finished abruptly. There’d be further discussion.
The money didn’t matter.
It was frustrating. Apparently “closing time” is an arbitrary unpublished moment before the published five o’clock time. And the castle looked so interesting. Too bad we’ll likely never see the inside.
Usually there’s nothing that motivates a return visit to a place more than being shut out. In this case, with the out of the way location, another effort to see the inside of Beaumaris Castle seems unlikely. What lies inside of Beaumaris Castle’s moats will remains for us a mystery.