Visitors to Wales are spoilt for choice when it comes to castles. The country’s sometimes called the “capital of castles”, because it’s difficult to go more than ten or twenty miles without running into a fortress of some sort. Wales is only the size of Canada’s Lake Ontario, but it has about 600 castles. Around 100 of these are still standing proud, and Kidwelly is one.
We visited Kidwelly Castle, in south Wales, over the summer. It was a pleasant, easily digestible place to spend a couple of hours with children.
Kidwelly hosts occasional visiting attractions, and special events, like a Hallowe’en trail this October. When we visited, the lush grass of the castle’s grounds had attracted a set of dragons. Mummy Dwynwen and babies Dylan and Cariad were on a tour of Wales over the summer, to draw attention to Wales’s legends. Wales is steeped in folklore, and the tale of the red dragon (also the symbol of Wales) is perhaps one of the country’s best-known.
A Celtic king, Votigern, was about to build a fortress at Dinas Emrys in north Wales. Warned by Merlin, who was a boy at the time, that dragons were buried under the fortress site, Votigern’s men dug down and found two of the beasts: one red, one white. They fought, and the red dragon triumphed. Its victory was said to herald the coming of King Arthur.
History of Kidwelly Castle
As for the castle itself – like many Welsh castles, Kidwelly dates back to Norman times. The invaders built it in 1106 as a motte and bailey. Then, in the 13th century, Edward I ‘Longshanks’ redesigned the fortress as a stone castle, to help strengthen the English rule over the Welsh. Even now you can see how impenetrable the castle must have been. It’s set on a hill, and defended by a river as well as a double layer of protective walls. These days, the sturdy ramparts and commanding turrets make for great explorations.
A word of advice: the spiral stone steps up to the towers are very narrow, with some steps worn away to a smooth slipperiness. We found it tricky climbing up and down with children who are five and seven. If your children are younger, or you have difficulty with steps, it might be better to stay at ground level.
The views were pretty rewarding, though.
CADW, the Welsh government’s preservation agency, looks after Kidwelly Castle. There’s a small gift shop but no café, and a small car park (it was almost full when we visited, in July).
Kidwelly castle was great for a good old romp. Our children enjoyed charging around, exploring the hidey-holes and darkened nooks and crannies. Dotted around the castle were a few fun props, that you could get hands-on with, like a pair of iron shackles, and a dressing-up section in the exhibition room. The exhibition itself was in-depth and broad-ranging, covering the whole of the castle’s history. It was more suitable for adults and children older than ours. But an iron-clad Dad kept them transfixed for a bit, while I tried to read as much as I could about how the castle passed from the hands of the English, into the control of the Welsh…and then back again. It’s certainly a place that’s seen some action.
Kidwelly itself is a pleasant, small town, which sits on the banks of an estuary river. Its industrial history (it used to be home to a tinworks and brickworks) is celebrated in a museum, and the surrounding area gives plenty of opportunities for nice walks. Just look out for the headless ghost of Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, wife of a Welsh prince, who was beheaded in 1136. Her ghost is said to roam the area.
As with many places in rural west Wales, public transport is infrequent, although there is a train station in Kidwelly, with a line to Swansea or Cardiff. By car, the A484 is the road to take. The Discover Carmarthenshire website gives advice on nearby accommodation options.
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