The Heritage Hiker’s Guide to Caerphilly

Caerphilly Overview

Caerphilly – Caerffili is a large town in southeast Wales in the UK. It has a bustling town centre wrapped around an impressive Medieval castle. Caerphilly is set in a rolling green landscape and like many towns in southeast Wales it grew rapidly during the 19th century with the growth of mining. Historic records tell us settlement in the area began much earlier with our prehistoric ancestors.

Caerphilly from Prehistory to Roman times.

On the outer edges of the town Bronze Age activity is see in the nearby hills in the form of burial cairns. A Bronze Age dagger was found near the castle which suggests there was human activity in the area as far back as the Bronze Age..

Evidence for later Roman activity in the town is strong. A Roman Fort was built around 75AD near the site of the castle during the Roman conquest of Britain. In 1963 excavation of the site showed it was occupied by Roman forces until the middle of the 2nd century. A coin of Tetricus II , dating to the 3rd century was found in a garden near the castle wall.

Medieval Caerphilly – The Castle

Caerphilly Castle – Castell Caerffili is known as one of the great Medieval castles of western Europe. It is the second largest castle in the United Kingdom, the first is Windsor Castle near London. Caerphilly Castle  is described as the first truly concentric castle in Britain and hailed as a 13th century military masterpiece.

Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle ©heritagehiker

On the 11th April 1268 Gilbert de Clare began construction of Caerphilly Castle. He built the castle to secure the area from attack and prevent lowland south Wales from falling into the hands of the Welsh leader Llywelyn the Last (Llywelyn ein Llyw Olaf). Llywelyn realised the threat and tried but failed to prevent the castle from being built. He made an attack in 1270 but building began again in 1271. Alterations, included the great hall by Hugh le Despenser in 1322-6, were the last making it a very pure example of late 13th century military architecture.

By 1283 the need for Caerphilly as a military stronghold had gone. Minor Welsh attacks in 1294-5 and 1316 failed to make any impact. The last action that Caerphilly saw was in the war between Edward II and his queen. Intent on destroying the power of her husband and his favourite Hugh le Despenser, Queen Isabella besieged the castle from December 1326 to March 1327. But by this time Edward had fled and Hugh had been hanged. Thereafter the castle declined and fell into ruin.

What happened to the Castle?

In the late 16th century Thomas Lewis of The Van was granted permission to use its stone to build his new house causing further damage to the castle. In the Civil War it was unusable and an earthwork redoubt was built instead to the north-west, the remains of which are still visible in the trees beyond the north lake. By the 18th century the lakes were dry and houses had been built against the foot of the south dam. The castle was first restored by the Bute family.

Caerphilly Castle was used as a filming location for Merlin and the Doctor Who episodes ‘The Rebel Flesh’ and ‘The Almost People’.

Visiting Caerphilly Castle

The castle is now in the care of CADW. It is open daily to the public (charges apply). Check ahead for visiting times as they do alter seasonally (click here). Dogs are welcome on the ground floor of the site.

Van Castle Castell-y-Fan

Van Mansion known as The Van or Y Fan was built by Edward Lewis around 1529. It was added to later in the 16th century by his son Thomas Lewis using stone from nearby Caerphilly Castle. Thomas’ son transferred the family seat to St Fagans in 1616 and from then the house fell out of importance. The site was occupied in various ways up until the 1960s but then fell into ruin until it was renovated in the 1990s and later restored in 2017.

Van Mansion AKA The Van or Y Fan
Van Mansion AKA The Van or Y Fan ©heritagehiker

The estate included the house and entrance court, walled and terraced gardens. The house is now approached by a sunken lane from the south, replacing the disused original drive from the west. To the north-west of the house is a vaulted sunken well chamber. Narrow stone steps lead down a to a circular pool. In the north-east corner of the garden is a dovecot.

The house is now a luxury B&B

Morgraig Castle – Castell Morgraig 

Morgraig Castle is found on Caerphilly Mountain located on the border between the old medieval Welsh Lordship of Senghenydd and the English Lordship of Glamorgan. The castle is dated to the mid-13th century and it is possible it was never completed. The site is now ruinous.

The castle is on private land behind the Travellers Rest Inn and the site is now heavily overgrown.

Famous People from Caerphilly

There are several notable figures linked to Caerphilly such as Comedian Tommy Cooper, Newport County midfielder David Pipe, Wales footballers Aaron Ramsey and Robert Earnshaw. Tributes have been paid in the naming of central parks to Dafydd Williams and Morgan Jones who also had historical links to the town.

Dafydd Williams Park

Dafydd Williams was an ordained minister, theologian and political philosopher of the enlightenment period of the 18th century.  He was born in Waun Waelod near Caerphilly in 1738.

Williams wrote a series of political works and founded the Royal Literary Fund in 1790 which is a benevolent fund that helps British writers in financial difficulties. Throughout its history, it has helped a number of prolific writers such as Joseph Conrad, D H Lawrence and James Joyce.

Dafydd Williams Park Noticeboard Caerphilly
©heritagehiker

In 1792 Williams was invited to Paris and became a citizen of France. Williams assisted in the drafting of the Girondin constitutional project during the French Revolution.  He left France and returned to Britain after the execution of King Louis XVI in 1793.  He later took up residence at the Royal Literary Fund on Gerrard Street in London where he died in 1816. 

Dafydd Williams Park, Obelisk Memorial

Dafydd Williams Park named in his memory is located south of Caerphilly Castle and offers great views of the castle and moats.

Gorsedd Stone Circle

Gorsedd stones circles are a group of standing stones constructed for sites of the National Eisteddfod of Wales. The stones are an integral part of druidic Gorsedd ceremonies of the Eisteddfod. The Eisteddfod was held in Caerphilly in 1950 and the Gorsedd Stones from the event are located in Dafydd Williams Park. The earliest Gorsedd of Bards was held at Primrose Hill, London in 1792 by the antiquarian, poet and stonemason Iolo Morganwg. Iolo wanted to emphasise the fact that the culture and heritage of the Celts were integral parts of Welsh history.

Path to the Gorsedd Stone Circle
Path to the Gorsedd Stone Circle ©heritagehiker

Caerphilly hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1950.

The first official National Eisteddfod was held in Aberdare in 1861.

Morgan Jones Park

Morgan Jones Park located west of Nantgarw Road is dedicated to his memory. It opened to the public in 1934.

Morgan Jones Noticeboard Caerphilly
©heritagehiker

Morgan Jones

Morgan Jones was born in Gelligaer in 1885 and attended Lewis School, Pengam and later University College, Reading. He became a teacher and was later elected a Labour Party councillor for the Gelligaer Urban District in 1911.

In World War I he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector. He became chairman of the South Wales Anti-Conscription Council and after the war he was elected to Glamorgan County Council.

In a 1921 by-election he was elected Member of Parliament for Caerphilly. Morgan Jones was the first conscientious objector to be elected to Parliament after World War I. He became Parliamentary Secretary to The Board of Education in 1924 and 1929. He would hold his Caerphilly Parliamentary seat until his death in 1939.

Walks

For the long distance walker there is the 27 mile walk across the Glamorgan Ridgeway from Port Talbot to Caerphilly Castle.

There is the Caerphilly Castle to Castle Coch walk which is just around 5 miles each way and the Caerphilly Mountain Circular Walk a 6.5 mile circular walk.

For articles related to Caerphilly see Newbridge and Lower Machen

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