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13th Century North Wales Castles

Animosity between the Welsh and the English can be traced back to the 13th century, when the efforts of Edward I to conquer Wales were resisted by Llywelyn, Prince of Wales and his followers. Today, physical conflict between the nations is confined to the rugby pitch but the network of Castles built in the late 13th century remain a lasting legacy to this period of conquest and resistence.

Edward I built castles along the North Wales Coast at strategic points to help his campaign to conquer Wales and protect his forces from the Welsh resistence, concentreated in the hills of Snowdonia.

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle, on Anglesey was commissioned by Edward I as part of his plan to conquer North Wales. It was deliberately built on the opposite bank of the Menai Straits to Garth Celyn the 13th century home of the Princes of Wales in an attempt to quash local resistance. Work began in 1295 and while the castle was never completed Beaumaris has been awarded World Heritage Site status.

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon is the largest, and most famous castle, built by Edward and was the venue for the investiture of Prince Charles as the current Prince of Wales in 1969. The castle dominates modern Caernarfon and there also remain some of the walls that Edward built to strengthen his defences. Caernarfon’s position at the meeting of the River Seiont and the Menai Strait gave Edward domination of the surrounding area. This domination increased as Edward developed a network of Castles along the coast from Conwy to Harlech.

Criccieth Castle

Edward did not have a monopoly on castle building in the 13th century. Criccieth Castle was started earlier in the century by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth of Gwynedd and continued by his grandson, and Edward’s adversary Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales. Then, as now, the castle dominated the rocky peninsula on which it was built and the Welsh used it as a base for their war against the English, until it was captured by Edward’s army in 1282.

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle Photo David Dixon under a Creative Commons License

Crossing the River Conwy was vital to Edward if he was to capture the North West corner of Wales. The tidal estuary provided a natural barrier which Edward needed to control. Edward’s father, Henry III had established a castle on the estuary at Deganwy, but this was destroyed by Llywelyn The Last in 1263.

The strategic importance of Conwy was such that Edward lost no time in building a replacement. It took just 6 years from 1283 to build the current castle. 1500 men worked on the site and the cost of roughly £15000 made Conwy the most expensive of Edward’s Welsh castle projects. £15000 may not seem much today but estimates put the modern comparison at in excess of £150 million.

Harlech Castle,

Harlech Castle

Harlech Castle Photo Gwen Hitchcock under a Creative Commons License

Harlech was the most southerly of the four castles Edward built to surround Llywelyn’s heartland. The coastal position gave Edward control over the shores and enabled supplies to be shipped on the Irish Sea. Again the castle was completed in under 7 years and completed Edward’s grip on what we now call Snowdonia.

Harlech played vital roles in British history long after Edward’s death. Between 1461 and 1468 it was besieged for 7 years as a Lancastrian stronghold in the War of The Roses. It is thought that the traditional Welsh song “Men of Harlech” was written in honour of those who survived the longest siege in British history.

In the English Civil War, Harlech was the last Royalist defence against the forces of Parliament and the castle has not been used as a fortress since its capture by Cromwell’s men in 1647.

For more ideas Welcome to Wales or 100 Days Out in Wales

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Days Out from Newcastle by Train

Newcastle is an ideal starting point for a day trip by train; head to the coast or along the line of Hadrian’s Wall. Here are just a few ideas for a day out without a car:

Carlisle has a Castle, Cathedral and Modern Shopping Centre

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle Photo Magnus Manske under a Creative Commons License

Carlisle is a city with over 2000 years of history. The Scottish border is less than 10 miles away and the city has played a vital role in battles between England and Scotland. Attractions include Carlisle Castle, Carlisle Cathedral and the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. For those with more modern tastes, The Lanes Shopping Centre, Victorian Market Hall and regular Farmers Markets provide both retail therapy and refreshment.

Getting There

Trains run every hour from Newcastle to Carlisle. The journey takes about 1 hour 25 minutes

Is Berwick upon Tweed in England or Scotland?

Berwick upon Tweed is another town on the Scottish Border. The train journey from Newcastle takes in sensational views of the Northumberland coastline, and should be regarded as part of the day out.

Berwick has been a source of conflict between England and Scotland for centuries, with both countries claim the town as their own. By the 15th century, the town had been captured, or sacked, on no fewer than 13 occasions. Since 1432 it has been on the English side of the border; but the Elizabethan town walls, are part of the testimony to the town’s volatile history.

Walking on the walls offers unrivalled views of the Tweed Estuary, The Northumberland coastline you can take in some spectacular views over the wide estuary of the River Tweed including Robert Stephenson’s famous viaduct bridge, which carries trains from London and Newcastle over the River Tees and into Berwick station. What remains of the 12th century Berwick Castle is just a few yards from the railway station, but much of the original castle was destroyed by the railway company in the mid 19th century, as they built the station on the site.

Getting There

Regular services link Newcastle and Berwick, the journey takes about 45 minutes.

Go Walking in Hadrian’s Wall Country

The train from Newcastle to Carlisle runs along the route of Hadrian’s Wall, which was built by the Roman Emperor, almost 2000 years ago, in an attempt to repel the invading Scots. Tyne Valley Train Trails are marked walks between stations on the line, allowing passengers to explore the local countryside before rejoining the train. These walks vary in distance from three to six miles. Hexham, a thriving town midway between Newcastle and Carlisle, was named “Britain’ Favourite Market Town by Country Life Magazine. Visit the historic abbey, dating back to the 7th century, or Hexham Old Gaol. The town also has a wide choice of antique ships and coffee houses.

Getting There

Trains to Hexham and the Tyne Valley Line run every 30 minutes from Newcastle to Hexham but through trains to Carlisle do not call at all Tyne Valley Line stations. The journey to Hexham takes about 40 minutes.

Explore 19th Century Warships at Hartlepool Maritime Experience

HMS Trincomalee

HMS Trincomalee Photo David Manly under a Creative Commons License

The Hartlepool Monkey has legendary status, it it claimed that, in the Napoleonic Wars, local fishermen hung a shipwrecked ship’s monkey in the belief that it was a French spy. Like the legends of Robin Hood and the Loch Ness Monster, the story is both believed and doubted in fairly equal measure; but what cannot be disputed is Hartlepool’s long and rich maritime history.

Hartlepool Maritime Experience recreates what 18th century life was like in a seaport. Explore the decks of the wooden frigate HMS Trincomalee, built in 1817, and see what life was like in the days of Nelson and Napoleon and the Battle of Trafalgar.

Getting There

Trains run every hour from Newcastle to Hartlepool. The journey takes 45 minutes.

Other Ideas for a Day Out from Newcastle

There are plenty more attractions in easy reach of Newcastle by train including:

· Visit Edinburgh, Scotland’s Capital City

· The Roman City of York

· Alnwick Castle, Hogwarts in the Harry Potter Films

· St Mary’s Lighthouse Whitley Bay (take the Tyne and Wear Metro)

· Tynemouth Castle and Priory (take the Tyne and Wear Metro)

For more ideas NewcastleGateshead.com or 100 Days Out in North East England

National Rail provides up to date details of train times and fares.

Day out at BeWilderwood

Little Miss Adventures

Bewilderwood titleA visit to BeWilderwood (near Wroxham, Norfolk) has been high on my list-of-places-to-go since Little Miss was just a baby. So many friends have recommended it to me, and when we were on our Haven holiday at Wild Duck last year, I finally found out what everyone had been going on about. It was definitely one of the highlights of our holiday, even Little Miss’s dad agreed that it was a good day out (and that really is saying something!).

BeWilderwood is one of the biggest adventure playgrounds you’ve ever seen. It’s set among 50 acres of woodland with a series of treehouses, slides, zipwires, mazes, wobbly bridges, cargo nets and lots more. But the real magic for the kids (and adults actually) is the story of the characters that live at BeWilderwood which is brought alive through really clever theming and detail. Right from when you enter, you are…

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Family Days out from London by Train

Visitors to London can easily reach tourist attractions across the South of England. Regular train services allow day trips to cities and seaside resorts.

London is in easy reach of coast, sea and countryside. Shopping, historic cathedrals, sandy beaches and traditional English market towns can all be reached from London in under 2 hours by train. Here are just a few ideas:

Visit Norwich Cathedral and Castle

Elm Hill

Elm Hill Norwich Photo John Oyston

Norwich offers an intriguing mix of ancient and modern. Shopping malls, historic streets, Victorian arcades and open air markets offer a great choice of household name department stores and small independent shops selling everything from jewellery to mustard. The city is built around the Norman Castle and the 900 year old cathedral, which are linked by a maze of back streets and alleys, including Elm Hill dating from Tudor times.

Getting There

Trains to Norwich leave from Liverpool Street. Trains run every 30 minutes and the average journey time is 1 hour 55 minutes.

Rochester Cathedral and Chatham Dockyard

Rochester Cathedral gh Dave Benyon.

Rochester Cathedral Photo Dave Benyon under a Creative Commons License

The Medway Towns of Rochester and Chatham are an ideal escape from London’s hectic pace. Rochester, with its castle and cathedral, has a history dating back to Roman Times. Three miles away, Chatham Dockyard celebrates over 400 years of shipbuilding, including Nelson’s HMS Victory and Dickens’ World celebrates the life and work of Charles Dickens; who spent most of his childhood in Rochester.

Getting There

Trains to Rochester and Chatham leave from St Pancras (via the high speed Channel Tunnel Link) and Victoria. Trains run every 30 minutes from St Pancras, with an average journey time of 40 minutes. Trains from Victoria run hourly and take an hour.

The Oxfordshire Cotswolds for Tea Rooms and Antique Shops

Buttercross Witney gh Brian Pready.

Buttercross Witney Photo Brian Pready under a Creative Commons License

The Oxfordshire Cotswolds are the epitome of the traditional English Countryside. Bustling market towns, ornate tea rooms, antique shops and sleepy villages with thatched cottages are found in a region recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Oxfordshire Cotswolds cover an area west of Oxford and includes the towns of Burford, Witney and Chipping Norton.

Getting There

Trains run from Paddington to Charlbury and Kingham. Bus connections at Kingham provide links to Burford, Witney and Chipping Norton. Trains run hourly and the journey takes 1 hour 25 minutes.

Portsmouth Harbour has Britain’s Tallest Tower

Spinnaker Tower

Spinnaker Tower Photo Anthony Eden under a Creative Commons License

Portsmouth is a waterfront city with a long naval tradition. The attractions in the Historic Dockyard include The Mary Rose Museum, HMS Victory and The Royal Naval Museum. A more recent development is the Spinnaker Tower at Gunwharf Quays. Taller than Blackpool Tower or the London Eye, Spinnaker Tower offers unrivalled views of Portsmouth Harbour, The Solent and The Isle of Wight.

Getting There

Trains to Portsmouth leave from Waterloo. Trains run every 30 minutes and the average journey time is 1 hour 37 minutes.

Other Ideas for a Day Out from London

There are plenty more attractions in easy reach of London by train including:

  • The seaside resorts of Margate and Eastbourne
  • The world’s longest pier at Southend
  • The university cities of Oxford and Cambridge
  • The Royal Pavilion and shopping in Brighton
  • The Royal Castle at Windsor

National Rail provides up to date details of train times and fares.

Dan yr Ogof : The National Showcaves of Wales

Discover 300 million years of history at Dan yr Ogof, Europe’s largest showcave complex and relive the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

The River Tawe rises in the Black Mountains in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The area is popular with walkers and climbers enjoying the fresh air and stunning views; but below the surface is a hidden treasure. Dan yr Ogof is a cave system stretching for 11 miles beneath the South Wales countryside. First explored, in 1912, by local brothers Tommy and Jeff Morgan the caves are now thought to be the largest showcave complex in Europe and, in 2005, a poll of Radio Times readers voted Dan yr Ogof “The Greatest Natural Wonder in Britain”.

The National Showcaves Centre for Wales now welcomes visitors to Dan yr Ogof daily during the summer months. Access to the caves is via a descent of 100 steps, so they may not be suitable for all; but there are also things to do at ground level for all ages. There are 10 different attractions altogether and one admission fee covers them all.

Dan yr Ogof

Dan yr Ogof Photo Neil Howard under a Creative Commons License

Discover 300 Million Years of History Beneath the Swansea Valley

Explore over 1.5 kilometres of caves, in three showcaves, revealing over 300 million years of history. Dan yr Ogof is the main chamber and visitors see frozen waterfalls and angels hiding in the shadows on the way to the Bridge Chamber. Here the public make a return trip to the showcaves entrance, but the cave stretches for a further 10 kilometres which is accessible only by experienced cavers.

Human life once lived in the smaller Bone Cave, the remains of 42 human skeletons have been discovered and there are exhibits depicting how our forefathers used the caves.

The highlight of the Cathedral Cave is the Dome of St Paul’s. Named after its London counterpart, the dome has two waterfalls descending over 20 metres each to form an underground lake.

See 200 Life Size Dinosaurs in the Dinosaur Park

Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs at Dan yr Ogof Photo Rob Purvis under a Creative Commons License

The prehistoric theme continues on the surface with one the largest dinosaur parks in the world. Over 200 replicas recreate the time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth over 65 million years ago. See a life sized T Rex measuring 12 metres long 5.6 metres high and weighing over 7000 kilograms.

Stepping slowly nearer to the 21st century, the Iron Age farm shows life on the Welsh hillsides almost 3000 years ago. The lives of Jeff and Tommy Morgan, who discovered the caves in 1912, are remembered at the Shire Horse Centre and Mr Morgan’s Victorian Farm.

Children will love the indoor play areas and meeting the animals. The themed Jurassic Karting track is designed for 3 to 6 year olds and children up to 10 will love Barney Owl’s Playground. Barney Owl’s is an indoor adventure playground with slides, rope climbs and aerial walkways. Outside, shire horses, llamas, ponies, rabbits and chipmunks are waiting to make friends.

Dan yr Ogof Showcaves are about 20 miles north of Swansea and 15 miles from M4 (junction 45). Take the A4067 and the caves are about 5 miles after the village of Abercraf.

Opening Hours are from 10am daily March 28th until November 1 2015, last admission is 3pm (3.30 in Welsh school holidays)

Admission Prices

Adults – £13.75
Children – £9.50 (aged 3 -16)
Children under the age of 3 – Free

South Wales

From the Severn Bridge, to the Pembrokeshire Coast South Wales has a surprise round every corner. The major cities of Cardiff and Swansea are modern cities that retain their history and culture. Outside the cities, two National Parks, Britain’s first officially recognised Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (The Gower Peninsula) , museums, theme parks and heritage steam trains offer something for all ages,interests and budgets.

For more ideas like our Facebook page 100 Days Out in Wales

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Margam Park Photo John Oyston

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Cardiff Castle John Oyston

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Langland Bay Photo John Oyston

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Porthcawl Photo John Oyston

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Aberdulais Falls Photo John Oyston

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Rhossili Bay Photo John Oyston