A little while ago, we had an American tell us all about books in Hay-On-Wye, now we turn to Wales in general and look at some of our favourite and most famous historical monuments, like Raglan Castle, Llanthony Priory, and Tre-Tower Court and Castle. Sometimes all it takes is a foreigner to point out what a beautiful place we live in, and there’s nothing better than remembering how amazing our home, Wales, is.
Any American visiting Wales wants to see castles. It’s a overused cliche, but there’s nothing false about it. After all, we have none of our own, we’ve got to see it someplace. And I’m over-the-moon that I got to see two of the best castles and a beautiful priory that I believe I will ever have the fortune to see.
The drive from London to Wales is a half-day trip, one filled with stunning landscapes that look like something out of an Impressionist painting. Vibrant yellows and rich greens dominate the landscape, and as we crossed the Severn Bridge – it felt like entering some kind of fantasy land.
But it wasn’t the bridge that solidified my belief that I had truly entered Wales, it was Raglan Castle. We drove up, camera in hand and quite honestly, the sight of it took my breath away. This large, magical and stunning monument is a testament to the architecture skills of the past. The towers are still beyond impressive, and the small Welsh flag flies proudly on the topmost tower, daring you to come and see it.
We entered into the front door, and from there – it was a whirlwind of history that swept me off my feet. Whether it be the kitchen, dungeon or the moat, every stone had a purpose. I’ve never quite felt so in-awe of something since the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower. To me, simply knowing that this structure has stood since the 15th century is unbelievable.
What’s great about the castle is that although it’s just an old structure to some, it can be a place of magic and exploration to others. Children won’t be bored here, and with the exhibit, adults definitely won’t be. I think of it as what Wales embodies, the fact it’s fun to explore is just a bonus.
Our next stop was Llanthony Priory. This beautiful priory was, I believe, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever had the chance to see. This partially ruined Augustinian priory is isolated, but it’s isolated in such a perfect way. With the Black Mountains rising around its elderly stone skeleton frame, it paints a picture of calm and tranquillity that you will be hard pressed to find in many other places around the world.
Although it was raining, we walked around anyways. The silence was deafening, but the greenery around seemed to offer relief. It’s unimaginable that people lived here in 1100, that someone stood right where I was standing and probably worshipped in solitary prayer and study. It reminded me that there are far more important and older things in this world than our everyday worries.
Tretower Court and Castle
Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), there are other great castles scattered over the countryside, all with their own special stories to tell. But it was beautiful Tretower Court & Castle, another castle I literally knew nothing about, was our last stop out of Wales.
We pulled up in the car, intent on not spending too much time at this castle… which inevitably turned out to be another great one. We started out in the Court, a square structure and explore the many of its dimmed rooms, riddled with small doors and winding staircases, eventually finding our way to a beautifully restored dining set that was as vibrant as it was historically accurate.
After wandering for a while, we went out a side door, and made our way into a picturesque scene. Grass, rolling hills and a beautifully preserved tower lay out like puzzle pieces, connected in just the right manner. It feels like stepping into a picture, or an oil painting from many years past. The fact that so little is known about it’s origins only adds to its mystery. And while you can’t climb to the top, the view from the sides and from the top is one of a kind, and it is absolutely worth a little side trip.
So where does Wales start? I guess it really depends how you look at it question. But if you’re asking me, I would say that it begins the moment you feel that tingling sensation in your toes when you see your first castle.
The gateway to Wales, filled with castles and the past, is open to anyone who chooses to take it. One only has to choose to step through it.
Words by Gabriella Gricius