Along the English-Welsh border, you’ll find many dramatic ruined castles (Raglan Castle), religious complexes (Tintern Abbery), and Roman fortifications (Caerleon). One beauty we hadn’t seen before — Chepstow Castle. (Free if your English Heritage pass is more than 12 months old, discounted if it is less.)
A wander through the lower bailey presents you with various wall walks, towers, and open spaces.In a side corridor near the service passage and kitchen, the oldest wooden castle doors in Europe — 800 years old — are on display, out of the elements. I’m always interesting in looking UP. Here you are seeing a slice of the Great Tower from inside the barbican around the middle bailey. How do those flowers get there? What would it be like to step through that dark doorway?A view back down the middle bailey.The marginally brave can walk up to the top of one of the remaining towers for a view over the town and the walls. I don’t remember if this is peeking through a musket loop, a window, or just general falling-down-ness.The shell of the Great Tower remains, including the very sides of two dramatic Norman arches. This is the oldest part of the castle, and may have been used by William the Conqueror as an audience chamber. (HOW COOL IS THAT.) The round-arched niches in the back (there are four, one is just out of frame) contain remains of their original 11th century decoration, and are considered to the be oldest surviving secular decorations in Britain. So, that’s pretty cool, too.Along with picturesque views toward the river through the lower windows.Handrailings on the walls — that’s more than we usually see at ruined castles.On the other side of the castle, views over the muddy Wye. That little iron bridge is fun to drive over — it’s one lane, and controlled by a traffic light allowing one direction of traffic to flow at a time. It also marks the boundary between England and Wales. Here be dragons.Climb the south-west tower of the upper barbican at the very end of the castle, and look over the upper bailey and Marshal’s Tower. Climb down past the cellars, and find the remains of an aristocratic private garden and the water gate under the river cliff.And, from along the walls near Marten’s Tower, and get a better sense of the various levels and styles all sealed within the membrane of the Chepstow Castle walls.
To my very great sadness, the Earl’s Chamber was closed for renovation during our visit. The chamber was a gloriette and is the only surviving, accessible example of this type of indoor architecture and design in Britain. (I say ‘surviving’, but it has been totally rebuilt, recreated, and restored. Either way, I was eager to see it. Oh, well.)
After exploring the castle (take your time — bring dress-up — bring wooden swords — bring a picnic) don’t forget to wander through the hilly medieval town of Chepstow at the foot and side of the castle, or wander off on one of the many hikes through the area.
Or enjoy tea in a local tea room.