Prepare to be amazed if you visit Pembroke Castle! We certainly were! Expecting to see a small provincial castle overlooking a small town in Pembrokeshire. Little did we know just how much was on offer for families. You can visit the impressive Norman Keep/Tower, take a walk across the brilliantly innovative map of Welsh Castles/Cathedrals..... or for those brave ones you could even venture into the Castle Dungeons or the enormous Wogan Cavern. Who'd have known that Pembroke Castle would be such an exciting place for the whole family to visit.....
Having spent some time researching for our visit to Pembrokeshire, we chanced upon this useful article from Visit Pembrokeshire entitled 'Six of our favourite Pembrokeshire Castles' and headed across to Pembroke Castle via Carew Castle. Lying in a truly atmospheric location, Carew Castle is an enormous stone castle that overlooks a mill pond, which powers the nearby tide mill. Carew Castle and Tidal Mill's rich history spans over 2,000 years and tells of knights of the realm, kingmakers, Elizabethan intrigue and Civil War devastation..... not to mention providing real inspiration for budding young photographers like Lottie (see here to find out about her winning entries for the Family Travel Show & Lonely Planet Kids).
But as beautiful as Carew Castle undoubtedly is, we'd been told that there were further riches to discover in South Wales.... Especially as this area has the largest amount of castles per sq mile in the world!! So where better to grab a history road schooling lesson than Pembroke Castle.
You might have already known that Pembroke Castle is the birthplace of Henry VII and idyllically set on the banks of the river estuary, But you may not have known that this mighty fortress is steeped in British history... A true wonder of Wales.
DID YOU KNOW?????
Pembroke's Castle Gates are set at 90° right angles to trap the battering rams used by castle invaders, before the portcullis dropped to shatter the battering rams into timbers
Whilst it may not compare to William de Valance's lavish feast above, we certainly enjoyed a hearty lunch of delicious sandwiches and welsh cakes at the cafe...But with plenty still left to explore within the castle, we slurped the last remnants of our gigantic mugs of hot chocolate and coffees and headed out once more....
Delve a little deeper and you can discover Pembroke's role as the main port to connect the mainland with Ireland or the key part it played in Henry II's return to take the Royal Crown. Dig a little deeper and you'll find out how the Norman's created a 'buffer zone' to safeguard Pembroke Castle by using Flemish settlers hence South Pembrokeshire's more cosmopolitan feel....
But perhaps the most interesting aspects were found in the stories of individuals connected to Pembroke ranging from William Marshall (almost catapulted into the castle wall), John Power (and his drawing of straws in the Civil War) to Margaret Beaufort (forever remembered as the lady behind the portcullis on the penny coin and the mother of Henry VII).... Or perhaps that the Tudor dynasty that ruled England (including Henry VII) actually came from Anglesea in Wales (and back to the time of King Arthur!)
Pembroke appears to offer plenty for regular visitors... and as a dog friendly site it also means it works for families like us that have a four legged member of the family... but it also offers more at certain times of the year like Halloween or its Christmas Market (see here)
Although perhaps we wouldn't recommend taking your four legged friend up the 75ft high 'Great Keep'.... it's steep steps need a guiding hand but the view from the top is worth every step (just like Ghent's Bellfort Tower!)
Pembroke Castle's unique and highly engaging map provides a great centrepiece that smaller toddlers or young children will love to explore. Just imagine being able to run across Wales and visit over 30 castles in a minute!!! But there's so much more including the speaking 'wall mounted' knights that give interesting narratives about Pembrokeshire and then there's the spiral staircases that kids love too!!! But just as importantly there's plenty of open space too... So we reckon it's perfect for all ages... even the older teens who will love the informative digital trail that can be downloaded to help guide you around the site.
Our girls know just how fortunate they've been to set off around Europe discovering places we've only seen in books beforehand... but places like Buda Castle (Budapest), Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace or the Chateaus of the Loire have inspired a real interest in history in both girls.... ensuring we've seen over 50+ castles from the interesting Knights Templars in Tomar, Portugal through to Sweden's impressive Vadstena or Scotland's atmospheric Dunnottar Castle.
It may not have the visual cinemas of Lincoln Castle or Alnwick Castle, but none have bettered the centrepiece 'Great Map' of Welsh Castles that provides a great visual understanding of Wales' geography and allows you to see why castles were built there. The colour coding adds another level of interest as you find out which were built by invaders or those that kept invaders out!!
In truth, it has such a rich history of its own that it doesn't need much more than what you see before you..... Of course the app helps, as too did our enthusiastic guide (Martin) who took us on the 1.45pm guided tour (75mins long). But the castle is well laid out for easy access and you could easily explore on your own. For us though, we've found that 'expert guides' make all the difference and offer the girl's a far more rounded visit (see our Dubrovnik Walls or Tower of London posts). But if you do visit without taking advantage of the morning or afternoon guided tours, then don't miss 'Wogan's Cavern'.... a huge cave under the castle's keep.
Another tip would be to find time to enjoy the digital trail (using smartphone/iphone) or try exploring the brilliant picnic tables with their laminated displays that stimulate plenty of conversation about castles, history and much more.... It's a great idea that we haven't seen elsewhere and it certainly impressed Lottie!
Full of interesting historical anecdotes... it was interesting to learn that early Norman arches were actually rounded not pointed (as we'd previously thought) or that they used the sun's heat to create a solar room at the top of the Great Keep, before heading down 2 floors to its hearty fireplace in the evening....
There really is plenty to keep everyone entertained, from amateur historians to energetic young toddlers..... so leave a full day and you won't be disappointed... But if you do have a few minutes to spare then its worth checking out this below
For those that have followed our journey closely, you'll know we love a good treasure hunt even starting to make our own treasure trails (see this one from Trogir in Croatia)... but now we're back in the UK, we've found a fantastic website that already has over 1,000 Treasure Trails to try...
So following our castle visit, we headed into Pembroke to try and solve the murder-mystery quiz that sees you solve clues, rearrange words and even look upside down to find one answer...
Each one takes around 2-3hrs and is a great way to see a town for the first time.... good fun with plenty of opportunities to learn too... No homework on our Roadschooling journey tonight!!!
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