If castles are your thing, then Wales is the place you want to go. I’m not talking about “modern” palaces with fine decor like Neuschwanstein and Versailles, but honest to goodness medieval fortresses, the kind of places to take refuge from the Zombie hordes. Choose carefully though as the castles are in various states of repair with diverse access to fresh water and other necessities.
These hotly contested lands were divided into at least four factions in the 1200’s–all of whom tried to secure their holdings withe stone upon stone. As posted previously, our family road-trip covered four countries, counting Holland, England, Wales and Ireland. I had no idea Wales would become one of my favorite places in all Europe.
The Welsh people, much more so than the Irish and the Scottish, have held onto their native tongue (e.g. all signs in Welsh & English, so you know you’ve arrived), heritage, and culture. We heard Welsh everywhere from the pub chatter, the waitresses to the gas station attendants and customers. It’s every day, every where including most schools.
We stayed out of big tourist places making one concession by visiting Pembroke Castle. Having recently seen a bit of the fortress in the movie “Me Before You” (yes, you will cry), I was unprepared for the massive structure. Surrounded by a water-filled moat (swans a-swimming), looming towers, Pembroke captured the best of both history with dioramas, models of various building stages, to scale model reconstructions. Characters stood ready to tell you about the scullery, the knighthood, the falconry and more of medieval life. With our four boys, we broke away from the Free Tour to explore at our own pace.
Pembroke also afforded us our only “gift shop” of the sort to carry my collector spoons, my son’s pins, and Christmas ornament and such. We’d already decided to buy a Welsh flag as well and couldn’t find one till here, where several sizes tantalized.
As interesting as Pembroke Castle was, my family enjoyed Wiston just as much, maybe more for the kids. We found Wiston by taking an adventure drive with no destination our first afternoon. Brown signs pointing to castles, ruins, hill forts and such abound. Stumbling upon Wiston, we discovered a ruin built around the same time as Pembroke by Wizo (love that name). Wiston is a prime example of moat and bailey construction.
Hiking through the field past earthworks and up the hill, sharing the place with cows who quite frankly found us fascinating was a real kick. One of my sons took the opportunity to stand on the castle’s hillside and give a speech thanking the cows for their support as his bovine audience lined up to watch him with serious intent. We may have worn our boys out on castles though, as the youngest sidled up to hold my hand and said, “Boy, you guys sure like history.”
We stayed on the outskirts of Haverfordwest, where a short walk took us to Spittal’s only and authentic community pub, The Pump on the Green where we ate our fill included family style bowls of peas and carrots for all.
Our best food discovery, though, were the Welsh cakes. Even the gas station had them in packages of six–perfect for our troop. I bought a package of Welsh cakes almost every time we stopped. Ryan glanced over and sighed when I returned to the car. But how could I pass up the ginger and dark chocolate Welsh cakes when the traditional fare was made with raisins? BTW- The Welsh Bakery is not to be missed. Their toffee-tiffin cut up like fudge bites is mouthwatering yum-yum.
The Welsh cakes we had were almost 3 inches across.
I’m not sure how I lived in the EU so long without visiting Wales, but I would return in a heart beat. “Keep Calm and Cwtch” said the tea cozy, and who of us doesn’t need a nice hug or cuddle?