Pembroke Castle, South Wales

The first castle was founded at Pembroke in 1093 by Roger of Montgomery, and withstood many Welsh counter-attacks over several decades. However, in 1189 under the ownership of William Marshall, the early earth and timber castle was gradually transformed into a powerful stone fortress. Dominating the site is the enormous round Keep, one of the largest and finest examples of its kind in the country. The walls are some 19ft (5.7m) thick, it has five floors, rising to over 70ft (21.2m) high, and is crowned by a unique stone dome. There is a substantial Gatehouse, the significant residential part of Pembroke Castle, and a Barbican which once had three portcullises. During the Civil War the immense strength of the Barbican Tower was put to the test when Cromwell tried to blow it up, but was unsuccessful in completely demolishing it.

Further buildings were added in the late 13th century, including the impressive Great Hall with its enormous decorated windows. Descending the spiral staircase, an amazing discovery can be made: a vast cave, formed years ago by the fast-flowing waters of the river. This cavern, a unique feature for a British Castle, was once used as a boat store, and also allowed access to the river. Also still complete is the Henry Tower, believed to have been the birthplace of Henry Tudor in 1457, who later became King Henry VII. In commemoration of his birth, a splendid fireplace decorated with Tudor heraldry was built, as was customary during that period.

The squeamish may wish to avoid the Dungeon Tower, where past injustices and horrors took place with alarming regularity. Here it is possible to see the 'oubliette' -a hole in the ground where prisoners were cruelly left to die. After the Civil War ended, Pembroke Castle was left to decay and, like so many other great medieval structures, its stone was quarried away for use in local homes and farmsteads. Over 200 years later, a famous antiquarian Mr. J. R. Cobb decided to buy Pembroke Castle, and he spent three years partially restoring it to its former glory. However, once again it fell into a state of disrepair and neglect until 1928, when an extensive restoration programme was undertaken.

Castles in general are fascinating places, and Pembroke Castle certainly rates highly among those holding great appeal for all ages. There's an interesting history to learn, dark secrets to unveil, innumerable staircases and turrets to investigate, a heady walk along the ramparts to enjoy, and many remains of internal decorations to find. Personally, I thought the highlight of our visit were the breathtaking views, seen from the top of the Keep, which clearly put into perspective what a magnificent defensive position Pembroke Castle commanded.

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