At around lunchtime this Saturday, the sun started to break through the clouds and the temperature rose to a balmy 5°C. This could only mean one thing: pack a picnic and time to turn into explorers!
Wales is famed for its castles and we're very lucky that we've got a good selection near us. We've taken The Boy to Castell Coch (where we got married) and to Cardiff Castle, both of which he loved. However, neither are ruined enough to really go clambering on. As a result we headed over to Caerphilly Castle, which is somewhere that I only went to a few times as a child.
Built in the 13th Century by Gilbert de Clare (Lord of Glamorgan), Caerphilly Castle is the second largest castle in Britain after Windsor Castle. History websites inform me that it is 'a double-skinned fortress surrounded by large-scale water defenses', i.e. it's got an inner and an outer moat, with lakes on two sides as well. It's also the first castle in Britain to have been built with the concentric ring system, changing the basic template of future castles.
However, the most intriguing bit about Caerphilly Castle is the leaning tower.
The south-east tower is astounding. Every child in south Wales will have a photograph of them trying to push the tower back up to vertical. It was during the Civil War that the damage to the tower happened, which means that it leans at 10° (greater than the Leaning Tower of Pisa) with the most gigantic crack, wide enough for The Boy to stand in!
The greatness of Caerphilly Castle is marred by the fact that it was never able to fulfill it's destiny as a large castle or fortress. The threat of invasion (which had seen its building) passed quickly, and it had one last fleeting chance at being an active castle in the 14th Century. Then it fell to ruin until the Bute family acquired it in 1776, the third and fourth Marquesses cleared and restored it in the 19th century and the lakes were flooded by the state in the 1950s.
What it's meant is that there are a plethora of ruined walls, towers and spiral staircases to explore. And even better is that CADW (the organisation in charge of maintaining it) hasn't roped every section off, allowing for little children to practise their knightly deeds and to defend the honour of south Wales!
The castle is full of passages in the thick walls, spiral staircases, great halls and doorways to scamper through, as well as the most phenomenal view over the town and beyond into the Rhymney Valley. It's a definite site for visitors to the area, and I think this was the first of many explorations!