My latest field trip included a visit to Caernarfon Castle, a huge Norman castle and walled city built by Edward I at the end of the 13th century. Tecwyn, the director of my program and leader of all the organized trips, says the castle is “pretty old”. I couldn’t tell if this was British understatement, subtle sarcasm, or the attitude of one whose national history predates Roman conquest.
Only about 8 miles from Bangor, Caernarfon Castle is something like the castles I dreamed about when I was a kid, reading Lord of the Rings and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s a bit crumbly (certainly no one is living there today) but still magnificent. It’s towers are intact and visitors are allowed to ascend them– something of which I definitely took advantage.
We walked into the walled town, and the first thing I noticed was a playground. It looked so out of place against the ancient, mossy stones of the wall as to be comical and oddly charming.
Walking up to the castle, I relished the first glimpse I saw of it, and imagined what it would’ve felt like for contemporaries of the impressive edifice to see the towers looming. Originally, the Welsh people were barred from the town; the king planted the English here to dilute any rebellious sentiment.
There were a few museum exhibits in the castle, but I only made it to the one on the princes of Wales– Caernarfon Castle is the place where the first prince of Wales was born, and where the current Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, was invested with his title– and a short film of the castle’s history. Of course I had planned to see all the exhibits, but when I was actually inside the castle, all I wanted to do was explore.
I spent most of my time at Caernarfon Castle scampering up, down, and across the castle walls, towers, and walkways. My friend Rachael and I found a couple tunnels, which were wonderfully dark and eerie. I was definitely feeling Lord of the Rings and a little Game of Thrones as I padded through narrow stone walls.
Anyone who’s ever climbed up a lighthouse can tell you I’m no big fan of heights, but nonetheless I braved the climb up 3 or 4 towers and (carefully) enjoyed the view. First I went up to the highest, Eagle Tower. By the time I had climbed the dark, narrow, spiraling stairs to the top, my heart was pumping frantically and I was out of breath- not from the climb, really, just the fear. But it was worth it!
I think my favorite part was just going from one tower to the next, down a level and up again; my friend and I made it much of the way around the castle without setting foot on the ground. Parts were creepy; parts were just plain cool; all of it was a wonderful experience.
If I ever get a chance to go back, I would do it in a heartbeat, and stay twice as long.