When trying to conquer a hostile nation, the first thing you’ll need to do is build sufficient fortifications to keep them from killing you while you whip them into submission. The medieval walled town and castle of Conwy show how serious Edward I and the English were about dominating the Welsh. And it is not at all difficult to imagine the size and scale of their presence might have caused a teeny bit of resentment and hostility.
The castle was built between 1283 and 1289 as part of a wider project to create the walled fortifications of Conwy, and cost around £15,000, a huge sum for the period. Over the next few centuries, it played an important part in several wars. It was a temporary haven for Richard II during the English Civil Wall, in 1642 the castle was held by forces loyal to Charles I, holding out until 1646 when it surrendered to the Parlimentary armies. The castle became an attractive destination for painters in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Visitor numbers grew and initial restoration work was carried out in the second half of the 19th century.
Today, we are left with the most complete and best medieval walls in Britain, only now the Welsh live inside them, as well as outside. The city of Conwy is very charming, quite the storybook tourist destination. It is possible to walk almost all around the original walls, which had towers at regular intervals, just to keep an eye on the locals.
And of course, as the central feature of this gated community, the castle rises in splendor, dominating the landscape from every vantage point – as it was intended to.
Eight hundred years later, the ruins still speak loudly of power, unbeatable technology and seemingly endless resources. The castle is a place for imagining what was, and how it must have felt to be the unwelcome force in a hostile country. The floors may be gone, but the fireplaces remain, along with the feeling of an army isolated and always alert to possible rebellion.
The town inside the walls is quite picturesque. We are staying the Castle Hotel, in the room with the charming oriel window just over the doorway. Don is inside it watching the street as I write, projecting both Mapp and Lucia, as well as the ever-vigilant English invaders. Reports on activity are provided on the quarter hour.