Nothing says British history like castles. The word originally meant a fortress or stronghold, though Disney has managed to make in synonymous with a medievalish looking palace. That isn’t totally their fault, though. Nor is it totally inaccurate. Castles were definitely inhabited by rich people. But not because they liked a grand facade of wealth. Rather, they liked to be safe from their enemy’s soldiers. Caerphilly castle is just such an example. It was built by a nobleman who’s family was intent on subjugating and dominating the surrounding area. Having a castle meant he could be relatively safe from attack, while having a base from which to deploy his men and maintain control. Being safe from attack wasn’t just theoretical either. In 1294 the Welsh, unhappy about being taxed and repressed, rose up. Morgan ap Maredudd led a force that attacked Caerphilly. Half the town was burned, but they couldn’t take the castle—in which our nobleman Gilbert de Clare was cozy and safe.
In its day, Caerphilly castle was quite revolutionary. It had extra-fortified gatehouses on concentric defenses including artificial lakes and moats. It even had a semi-fortified island where the townspeople could come during a conflict. Just because it was a fortress didn’t mean the noble family shouldn’t live in style—so, their interior accommodations were rather lavish.
Hundreds of years of decay, shifting soil and possibly some intentional blasting during the English Civil War, while rendering it a little less grand, have given it the patina of age and authenticity that sparks your imagination. Yet, enough restoration has been done to guide your imagination in the right direction. Our visit was accompanied by cloud and rain—it seemed only appropriate.
The windows in this restored section of the castle show that accommodations for the noble family weren’t so bad as the shabby arrow loops on the exterior walls might suggest.
Once upon a time, the water defenses may have repelled attackers. But they certainly aren’t repelling a variety of waterfowl.