Conwy, Wales: Medieval Walled Town & Castle

This 12th century walled market town set on the River Conwy has a wonderful feel and enough attractions to keep everyone intrigued. Set out by Edward I after conquering Wales, the town was for English traders to dwell in and trade. At first the Welsh were not allowed inside the walls, and later they were only permitted to come within the walls for business purposes. The walls and castle were constructed between 1283 – 1289. The oldest buildings, some of which can still be seen (a church and a courthouse) were built right into the walls. Conwy is one of a series of castles built to keep Edward’s newly conquered land in check.

However, it was besieged a number of times, first in 1295. Another rebellion that led to its capture by the Welsh in 1403 was led by Owain Glyndwr, the last native Prince of Wales (currently the Prince of Wales is Charles). Some Shakespeare lovers might recognize him as Owen Glendower in Henry IV, Part I. He was heir to the Princes of Powis, and assumed the title in 1400 when he started a fifteen year rebellion (1400 – 1415) against the English. For years the fighting went on, but when Henry V took the throne in 1413 he subdued the land by granting pardons and easing restrictions on the Welsh. No one knows what happened to Owain. He seems to have disappeared in 1412, but he was neither killed nor betrayed. There is speculation, but nothing concrete. He is a Welsh national hero.

The town of Conwy flourished under Elizabeth I when places like Plas Mawr (1576), a remarkable town house, which can still be visited, were built. By 1627 Conwy castle was derelict and sold to Lord Conwy. Due to its strategic position, it was repaired during the English Civil War by royalists. However, the parliamentary army led a successful siege and damaged the castle so that it would be unusable.

For centuries Conwy was a merchant and fishing town, with tourism becoming popular in the Victorian era. It is now a favorite tourist site in North Wales.

There are many things to see and do in the market town:

  • Conwy Castle: an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the castle and walls are considered to be some of the finest in Europe. It is opened year round and is included in an Explorer Pass.
  • Plas Mawr: an exceptional Elizabethan townhouse, that some argue is the best in all of Britain. It’s open from April to September, has reasonable admission costs and is part of the Explorer pass.
  • Aberconwy House: owned by the National Trust, Aberconwy is believed to be one of the oldest buildings in Wales.
  • The Smallest House in Britain: for £1 (50p for children) you can tour the one up one down 16th century cottage, which holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the smallest house.
  • Castle bridge: a Thomas Telford built suspension bridge, with huge castle turrets; it can be walked across, or viewed from the neighboring bridge.
  • Castle Walls: walk around the medieval market town and see the landscape of Conwy from on high. Truly a remarkable experience. (Involves spiral steps, cobbled stone walkways and steps climbs).

Conwy can be reached by train. In fact, the train is conveniently located by the castle and if you are on the castle walls, you can descend down to the platform when it is time to leave. The train ride from Llandudno Junction is very beautiful. If you sit on the right side, you’ll see the castle coming into view before you reach the town. I sat by a lady on the train that said she’d lived there all her live and it still was the most stunning view to her.

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