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Beaumaris Castle: Military Masterpiece

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By Car: Take the A545 into town. Parking: take first road to right on entering Beaumaris (opposite green-faced hotel). Proceed along seafront to car park. Buses: from Bangor, buses 53, 56,57,58. From Holyead and Llangefni, buses 4,4A, X4. From Cemaes and Amlwch, bus 62. (For updated information see link at right.) Beaumaris Castle open every day 9.30am to 6pm. (For more information on visiting the castle, use link to Cadw website at right).

You might be forgiven for assuming that Beaumaris Castle, the UNESCO world heritage site, is in the town of Beaumaris. But you'd be wrong.

The castle actually stands mostly within in a different and much older town, called Llanfaes. During the Middle Ages, Llanfaes was an important town in its own right and a stronghold of the kings of Gwynedd. Around the year 1200, Llewellyn the Great even founded a priory here, to mark the grave of his wife, Joan.

© Georgios Kollidas | Dreamstime.comSo, in the 1290s, when King Edward I of England moved to suppress the rebel Welsh on Anglesey, he naturally targeted Llanfaes. Not only did he conquer it, he removed it!

Edward uprooted all the village's residents and forcibly moved them across the island, to a brand-new village the English called Newborough. Then he started to work on a castle.

The last (and greatest) castle in the Iron Ring

In 1295 Edward ordered work to begin on the last - and most well designed - of his five castles, a perfectly shaped fortress on the 'beautiful marsh' (beau marais  in Norman French) - Beaumaris.

Two thousand labourers and 400 masons quarried the stone from Penmon and Benllech, transported it to Beaumaris, and erected it into giant walls. In a year the castle had advanced far enough for Edward to grant a charter to build the accompanying new town. Three years after starting, the castle was defensible, but it was never actually finished.

Innovations in design: protecting inhabitants -- and their food supply

Come and see this perfect fortification. It is a soldier's delight (and I ought to know, having been a soldier in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers for more than 30 years).

Artist's impression of a finished Beaumaris castle; © Cadw, Welsh Government (Crown Copyright)For example, if you were stationed to serve in Beaumaris Castle, you would not starve, because its innovative design included defensible supply routes. An inlet of the sea ran across "The Green" (where cars now park) to the castle. The wall extending from the castle to the present road allowed supply boats to be unloaded in safety.

Defence was strong. A surrounding moat - the East part of which has now been filled in for a children's playground - kept attackers at bay.  And a high wall studded with towers made it easy to shoot anyone who had crossed the moat.

Any attacker who somehow miraculously managed the moat and the high outer wall then faced an inner open area, where he would easily be spotted (and slain) by a sharp-eyed guard.

Civil War reenactors; © Cadw, Welsh Government (Crown Copyright)Then there was an even higher inner wall, to protect any royal occupants.  And the entrances to the inner keep are out of line with those through the outside wall - designed so that an attacker must slow down, change direction, and become an easier target.

Still, not impenetrable?

In the English Civil War Sir Richard Bulkeley held the Castle for the Royalists, until the Commonwealth Army conquered it in 1648. This led to some demolition of the castle in the late 1650's. 

Bulkeley's descendant, Sir Richard Williams-Bulkeley, remains Constable of the Castle today. The Bulkeleys have a magnificent alabaster tomb in the church in the middle of the town, where there are superbly carved oak pews, reputedly taken from Llanfaes Priory. The church also holds the stone sarcophagus of Joan, wife of Llywelyn and daughter of King John of England.

Sarcophagus of Joan/Siwan; © Mick SharpOf course, after the castle was built, Beaumaris town grew into an important settlement and eventually served, for a few hundred years, as capital of Anglesey. It was from the town's 1614 courthouse that troublesome locals were "transported" (sent far away to work). In the 1829 town gaol, prisoners were hung from a gallows over the street.

Beaumaris offers visitors so much history in one place, plus lovely shops, fine restaurants and the chance for sea trips from its elegant, renewed Victorian pier. Visit!

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