The second day we were in Pembrokeshire we planned to go to Pembroke Castle. It’s only about 35 miles away from the campsite but still takes an hour to get to by car thanks to the abundance of tiny, windy roads. Personally I love driving down tiny country roads because you get to see a mixture of pretty country houses, beautiful wooded avenues and rural landscapes. That said, if you’re used to driving in cities be prepared to adapt your driving style because it’s not always for the faint-hearted with multiple blind hairpin bends around which oncoming traffic may not be as cautious as you. More than once I had to hug a bush to squeeze the two cars past each other.
Once at Pembroke we were greeted by the intimidating sight of the castle almost as soon as we arrived in the town. Originally built in 1093 (later rebuilt by William Marshal in 1189), Pembroke castle is the largest privately owned castle in Wales. For what one would assume are intentional strategic military reasons, the castle is situated on a rocky promontory surrounded on three sides by the Pembroke River and the views of the river from the battlements are something to see.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking Pembroke Castle was merely a large grassy courtyard surrounded by the ancient stone fortifications. You soon realise though that these walls are packed with stuff to see and do. Exhibits, dioramas, battlements, tunnels and all manner of original features in varying states of repair. Some areas look almost unchanged whereas others have succumbed to the weight of time and erosion.
Never before have I seen such a wide variety of things to see in a castle setting. Notable features included
– long, dark, spooky tunnels
– a huge tower so tall that the condensation made it seem that it was raining inside
– a beautifully decorated seating area with fairy lights strung across the ceiling
It’s clear a lot of effort has been made to pinpoint and highlight every bit of history held within the walls of the castle. Key areas are highlighted with information and there are multiple rooms showing documentary footage exploring the castle’s history.
While we were there, children were taking part in a re-enactment and exploration of life in the castle known as Knight School. Although it was raining too hard for us to take part, it was great to see kids dressing up and playing with swords in the courtyard. There was also more than one costumed character dotted around the castle and we were often directed to points of interest by a friendly knight in armour.
All the areas of the castle are connected by multiple spiralled staircases but it’s worth noting that these are often very tight and certainly not suitable for those with physical disabilities or impairments to their movement. Although there is much to see at ground level, the upper levels are accessed via these tight stairs and even I found myself climbing them rather nervously. They are predominantly fitted with handrails but can still be quite treacherous when wet and slippery. It does make one wonder how knights were able to get up and down them in full battle armour.
After resisting the urge to deck ourselves out in full armour from the giftshop we headed out into the town. The town of Pembroke is really charming itself and is worth a look around as it has a number of quaint little boutiques, shopping arcades and tea rooms, many of which seem hugely dedicated to the tourism brought in by the castle. On the way back to the car we grabbed ourselves some cakes from The Cake Shop Tea House whose selection of cupcakes, sponges and pies is something that has to be seen to be believed. I would have taken photos but it was wall-to-wall customers. Their TripAdvisor page does it justice though (both the pictures of the cakes and comments about rude waiting staff are wholly accurate).
A place we’d definitely recommend is Brown’s fish and chip shop. Having searched for a place that wasn’t full up or subject to Dickensian seating rules we discovered this lovely little place that served simple traditional food but with lovely service and great booth seating.
Overall Pembroke was a beautiful place that we’d love to go back to again one day!