Coastal Castles

By 1200 A.D., the Normans had built wooden palisade fortresses all along the southern coast of Wales to garrison their troops for incursions inland against the native Welsh. Starting in the early 1200s, the Normans began to replace these wooden fortresses with stone castles. These substantial structures were strategically placed to secure and link the entire coast and were capable of being supplied and reinforced from the sea.

On our way back to Eastbourne on Wednesday, we decided to visit a few of these coastal fortresses; the first was Laugharne Castle.

As you can see, Laugharne Castle, like the bishop’s palaces, was severely damaged in the 1640s during the English Civil War and has not been significantly restored since that time.

We decided to just walk around the exterior of Laugherne Castle, saving our somewhat limited exploration time for the better preserved castle further to the east, Kidwelly Castle.

The castle at Kidwelly sits high on a hill above the adjacent river.

Like Laugharne Castle, the stone outer wall of Kidwelly Castle was constructed in the early 1200s. The inner curtain wall and four towers, which housed the baron’s residence, was constructed later, around 1270. You can see how the defenses were laid out in this model. Attackers would have to first breach the outer defenses while being attacked from the outer wall and from the towers of the inner castle.

The main gate through the outer wall (at the bottom of the photo of the model, above) was reconstructed in the late 1300s in an overhaul of the castle that also included raising the outer wall and the inner towers to strengthen the castle’s defensive capability. At the time, the surviving Welsh were rebelling and, as anticipated, they laid siege to the castle in 1403 – the surrounding town was taken and burned, but the castle remained impregnable.

Here’s the main (southern) gate which still looks much the same as it did back in 1403 (with the exception of the drawbridge which has been replaced with a permanent bridge today):

Inside the tower on the right was the dungeon. I always thought these were fictional, but at least in Kidwelly, one existed. That’s it on the floor. The grate was lifted off the top of a fully enclosed well and the prisoner was lowered down and locked in. What a miserable – and probably short – existence.

We climbed up inside the main gate and looked into the inner keep of the castle.

Like the defenders of olden times, we walked the outer wall.

And then we wandered through the inner ward and climbed up inside one of the four towers to its domed roof, from which I took this picture. If you look closely at the outer wall and the opposing tower, you’ll be able to see the different colored block that was added to raise the height of the walls and towers. The towers had to be raised so that the defenders in them would be able to shoot down on attackers outside the outer wall..

This picture is taken from the same vantage point, but looking toward the inner ward of the castle where the baron lived, rather than toward the outer wall as in the picture above.

A town grew around the outer castle walls and the town, too, was ultimately encircled by a wall and gate. All that remains of the town wall today, however, is part of the main gate.

In time, as gunpowder and canons came into use, these castles became dinosaurs and were no longer used for defensive purposes. They are battleships of the past.

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