Cadw, the Welsh Government’s Historic Environment Service (or, as I like to think of them, the guardians of some of Wales’ most beautiful heritage sites), are running a summer campaign this year which asks us to ‘pack your imagination’.
We were invited to go along for a double bouncy / non-bouncy castle experience!
There is a variety of exciting family fun activities in Cadw sites around Wales and we were very happy to hear that, at Caerphilly Castle, this includes a bouncy castle and Lego workshops.
So, on a satisfyingly bleak and rainy morning (I like a bit of ‘bleak‘ as you know), we drove the short distance from Cardiff and, armed with the customary Fruit Shoots and Tunnocks Caramel Wafers, prepared to explore.
There is ample quite cheap car parking, by the way, in the nearby long-stay pay & display car park and the castle itself is very well signposted.
The first thing we noticed was the geese and ducks who grace the surrounding river. There were loads of them!
Mindful of the fact that the Romans allegedly used geese as guards we walked somewhat gingerly towards the imposing silhouette of the castle.
Isn’t it funny how you can live in a place for decades and completely forget how fantastic the places on your own doorstep are?
For some reason, despite the fact that I had visited Caerphilly Castle as a child, I had forgotten how big and strikingly majestic it is.
In fact, Caerphilly is Wales’ largest castle and the second largest castle in the UK (the largest being Windsor Castle).
It is also very well set out for visitors, with a site office/gift shop and toilets (very important for us family explorers).
There are also art installations, exhibitions and great use of projection (for example, to create a portcullis or a roaring fire) which help to bring the castle alive.
Caitlin and Ieuan loved the many towers and halls and were fascinated by dark corridors and foot-worn turret stairs.
The views over the castle ramparts are spectacular – even shrouded in the kind of misty murkiness only South Wales seems capable of producing.
Caerphilly Castle was begun in 1268 by Earl Gilbert de Clare who was a rich and powerful English nobleman.
His new home had to weather its first attack in 1270 whilst still under construction.
The castle had rings of stone and water defences to repel an attack.
In its huge Great Hall, it is probable that King Edward II was entertained there in 1326 on the run from Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer.
And, as another point of interest, the south-east tower out-leans the Tower of Pisa.
We enjoyed the art installations, although I’m not too sure this interpretation of “the wife” is all that flattering.
The story of Caerphilly Castle is very well documented by Cadw and it is easy to get a sense of how hard life must have been then.
For a start, life expectancy in 1268 was 31, although if you managed to get to 20 you stood a good chance of living to 45.
The daily focus must have been on survival. How different must it have been for families then!
The “Pack Your Imagination” Campaign is a great opportunity for little ones to put themselves in their ancestors’ shoes to bring one of the hardest (and one of the gruesomest) periods in our history to life.
After a great hour or so exploring, the kids could resist the lure of the bouncy castle no longer and, ignoring the drizzle, had a great time bouncing like Tigger on a sugar rush. (I managed to restrain myself from joining them).
I can heartily recommend a bouncy castle as a quick method of tiring your kids out.
As long as you can then withstand the inevitable “I’m tired, I’m hungry” etc.
There was only one thing for it – off to the Black Cock Pub on Caerphilly Mountain we went for a lovely pulled pork madras and freshly cooked fish goujons and chips for the kids.
The pub is also just a stone’s throw from another Cadw site – Castell Coch built by eccentric genius William Burges for John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute. But that’s a tale for another day.
Entry to Cadw sites is free if you are a member (a family membership is £66), otherwise, a family ticket is £16.50 (2 adults and all children under 16). If you join Cadw at the site, there is a £10 reduction in the membership fee.
For further information about Caerphilly Castle go to www.cadw.wales.gov.uk.