Isle of Albion
Stunning fortress within a walled medieval town.
Photographed: Saturday 21st September 2013
Other Names: Castell Conwy
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Work began on Conwy Castle in 1283AD following Edward I's invasion and conquest of Wales, as part of what would become known as his "iron ring" of fortresses. The location controlled a strategic crossing point on the River Conwy, and was already occupied by Maenan Abbey. Edward relocated the abbey, and chose to use the site to create a new English walled town alongside the new castle.

Between 1283-1284AD, the exterior curtain walls and towers were constructed. Then between 1284-1286AD, the interior buildings were constructed while work also began on the defensive walls for the town. By 1287AD, work was largely complete - a phenomenally short construction period given the scale of the fortress. For many years, native Welsh people were not allowed within the town walls, and it was effectively a garrison town for the English invaders.

When Madog ap Llywelyn rose up against the English crown in 1294AD, Edward was placed under siege at Conwy Castle. The English held out from December of that year until forces arrived to relieve them in February the following year.

For the following century, life was reasonably quiet at Conwy. Further construction work took place, and the castle didn't see any further military action.

In March of 1401AD, after gaining entrance by stealth, Rhys ap Tudur and his brother Gwilym took control of Conwy Castle in support of the uprising of Owain Glynd┼Ár. They held the town for three months, before surrendering on condition of a pardon.

Conwy Castle saw no further action, and was subject to restoration work by Henry VIII during the 1520s and 1530s, at which time it was being used as a prison and to house visitors.

Conwy Castle had falled into disrepair by the 17th Century. At the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642AD, it was held by royalist forces, repaired and garrisoned. in 1646AD, it fell to parliamentary forces following a lengthy siege. Cromwell's forces partially slighted the castle to undermine its defensive potential.

Following the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660AD, the castle was returned to the ownership of the Early of Conwy. However, five years later, he decided to strip the remaining lead and iron from the castle, effectively consigning it to ruin and decay.

During the 19th Century, the romanticism of the period was probably partially responsible for the relatively sensitive construction of both the rail and road bridges. The railway in particular seems to have applied sensitivity when penetrating the walls, attempting to incorporate the railway gracefully into the town's fabric. Although far more destructive than would be considered acceptable today, it does have the affect of allowing the railway to blend into the character of the mediaeval town. Fortunately, while a second road bridge was built in 1958AD to replace the Victorian suspension bridge (which survives as a pedestrian bridge), most traffic now bypasses the town via the Conwy road tunnels opened in 1990AD.

Today, Conwy is a World Heritage Site, and UNESCO describes it as one of "the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe". It's hard to disagree. The castle's curtain wall and eight towers all survive intact. The walls surrounding the town are in similarly good repair, running for 1.2km and featuring twenty-one towers and three gateways. The effect of this is that the town largely retains the character of a mediaeval settlement.

It's impossible to overstate how impressive Conwy is when taken as a whole. While the castle dominates views for miles around, the walled town is also integral to the experience of the visitor. The vast majority of the wall is navigable, allowing for stunning panoramas and a wide range of perspectives across the town and surrounding landscape. Conwy feels like a town that time has passed by to some degree, and is definitely better for it.