Pembroke Castle is the largest privately owned Welsh castle and is situated at the apex of the Cleddau Estuary in Pembroke in southwestern Wales. It was the birthplace of Henry VII, the last king of England to have seized the throne through battle. The fortifications are designed in classic linear-fort style, funneling its attackers into a narrow passage and presenting them with a very difficult assault. Three sides of the castle are surrounded by water, naturally serving as a barrier, and the landward facing side of the structure features the thickest fortifications, with some walls measuring over 6 metres deep.
UPGRADING THE KEEP
Pembroke Castle started its life off as a Norman motte-and-bailey fortification, with most of its ramparts and palisades being timber. In 1189, William Marshal, the then Earl Marshal, acquired the stronghold and set about restructuring the wood and earth into a formidable Norman stone castle. This featured the addition of the Great Keep, which still stands an imposing 23 metres tall, and the Inner Ward, which contained apartments for the keep’s residents. In the late 13th century, the Great Hall was added, and a 55-step spiral staircase was added leading down to the limestone caverns beneath the structure, which were later fortified and served as a boathouse entrance to the castle.
A ROYALIST BETRAYAL
During the English Civil War, when most of the surrounding area in South Wales had declared its allegiance to the King, Pembroke sided with Parliament and was shortly assaulted by Royalist troops but was saved after the arrival of Parliamentary reinforcements by sea. Parliamentary forces then went on to capture three nearby Royalist castles and during this time, the leaders of Pembroke decided to switch sides, causing a massive uprising. The fortress was resistant to attacks, so Cromwell himself came with his army and finally overthrew the defenders after a seven-week siege. The Royalist leaders hiding inside were executed for treason, and the castle was ordered to be deconstructed. Instead, however, the castle was just abandoned and was not revisited until after World War 1, when it underwent extensive restorations.
A PRIME LOCATION
The castle has been featured in various TV series and films, often broadcasted by the BBC. Most notably, it was used as the set of King Miraz’s castle in the 1989 adaptation of Prince Caspian, one of the Chronicles of Narnia series. In 2011, it featured in the BBC’s Richard II, shown as part of the Shakespeare season.
Pembroke Castle is unique in that it is the only castle in the United Kingdom to be built over a vast natural cavern. Located beneath the south eastern corner of the castle is Wogan’s Cavern which can be reached by a flight of 55 steps leading down from the surface. The natural entrance to the cave was sealed off by a massive stone wall. As it is at sea level, it possible that it was used as a boathouse. It has a great deal of similarity with the tale of a castle built by the 5th century leader Vortigern who, with the help of the magician Merlin, discovered a vast cave under his castle containing two fighting dragons – one representing the Saxons and the other the Welsh. It is a karst cave, but has be further excavated to suit the needs of the castle. Fortunately, some areas of the cave remained untouched and excavations have revealed flint tools dating back to the Middle Neolithic.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Dwr Cwmwdig Berea, St Davids, Haverfordwest
Pembrokeshire, Wales, SA62 6DW
+44 (0)1348 831 376
- Address: Westgate Hill (Rd), Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom, SA71 4LA
- GPS: 51.67696389,-4.920716667
- Phone: 0044 (0)1646 681 510
- Part of UK: Wales
- Sat Nav Postcode: SA71 4LA
- Entrance Fees: Yes
- Disabled Access: Good
- Visibility from Road: Excellent
- Image Credits: Header Image: Spectrum Blue