Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Castles of the Welsh Marches in England & Wales

The borderlands of England and Wales are some of the most scenically beautiful areas in the United Kingdom. This is an area between the Welsh mountains to the West and the English riverbeds to the east that has come to be known since William the Conqueror’s time as the Welsh Marches, or the March of Wales. The term comes from the early Medieval when a March, or a Mark, was used to describe a region that was fortified for defence against a neighbouring country.

Following the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror, then King of England, set out to subdue the Welsh by creating three Earldoms along the English border with Wales. These were the Earldoms of Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford. William installed three of his most trusted Norman confidants, Hugh d’Avranches, Roger de Montgomerie, and William FitzOsbern, as Earls of each respectively. For the next four hundred years the Norman lords established more smaller marcher lordships along the border between the rivers Dee and Severn, and further west. The ‘March of Wales’, a term first used in the Domesday Book of 1086, was largely independent of both the English monarchy and the Principality of Wales.

It was during this period that hundreds of castles were built, by both the Welsh and the English; there are more castles in this region than any other region in England or Wales. It is not at all surprising that some of these castles are now little more than ruins – reminders of past attempts to dominate. But many of these castles still stand in their strategic positions. From Flint Castle in the north to Chepstow Castle in the south the castles of the Welsh Marches are some of the finest examples of Medieval architecture. The line of castles along this border follow two previous attempts by the English to keep the Welsh at bay. Wat’s Dyke is thought to have been constructed in the 8th century by Aethelbald, the king of Mercia from 716 to 757 AD. His successor Offa, who reigned between 757 and 796 AD, constructed the better known, and better preserved Offa’s Dyke.

Today the remains of these dykes and the Marcher castles, set in picturesque moorlands, farms, wooded river valleys, small villages, amongst half-timbered buildings, provide a wonderful opportunity to explore the turbulent history between Wales and England. The Offa’s Dyke Path and the Marches Way are two popular national long distance trails that run between the Severn Estuary in the south and Cheshire and the Irish Sea in the North.

Major Marcher centers were established at the three largest cities, Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford, and administered by powerful earls. Border castles were also built in: Chepstow, St Briavel’s, Monmouth, Clearwell, Goodrich, Pembridge, Hay-on-Wye, Clyro, Clifford, Clun, White, Skenfrith, Grosmont, Ludlow, Painscastle, Croft, Wigmore, Montgomery, Stokesay, Powis, Hopton, Chirk, Whittington, Longtown, Huntington, and Bridgnorth.

Clun Castle

On a natural rocky hill in a loop of the Clun River is the strategically located Clun Castle. Built soon after the Norman Conquest, it remained steadfast until the 14th century despite numerous attacks from the Welsh. In the 14th century it became a hunting lodge and soon thereafter fell into disrepair. By the 16th century Clun Castle was in ruins, and the events of the English Civil War did not help its prospects either. Renovations at the end of the 19th century saved what remained, and ensured the ruins stand today.

Goodrich Castle

One of England’s best preserved medieval castles, Goodrich overlooks the River Wye. The stone castle we see today was preceded by an earth and timber structure built for Godric of Mappestone shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Expansion followed in the 12th century, when the castle played a role in English clashes with the Welsh. During the English Civil War, the castle shifted ownership between the parliamentarians and royalists. By the 18th century it was attracting tourists as a picturesque ruin.

Whittington Castle

Whittington Castle is unique in that it is the only castle in the United Kingdom to be owned and managed by a local community. A preservation trust was established to restore and maintain this strikingly picturesque castle, thought to have been constructed within the earthworks of a prehistoric hill fort. Whittington Castle is on the English side of Offa’s Dyke – here visitors will see a 12th century Marcher Norman Castle and its gatehouse, with a later Elizabethan addition – which now houses the gift shop.