The Medieval Stronghold Guarding the River Wye
Discover Chepstow Castle, Wales. The castle dramatically perched on a cliff overlooking the Wye Valley.
As you enter Wales via the magnificent Seven Bridge road signs, remind visitors of an ancient British language spoken, Welsh. It is the oldest living language in Europe and is of Celtic origin. Forts, defensive earthworks and giant stone castles straddle the border, mountain passes and old coastal ports. Welcome to the land of more than 600 castles, and Chepstow is a fine example of medieval military architecture.
The journey from London Heathrow to Chepstow is under 2hrs drive. Stopping in Bath, and the Cotswolds en-route is a smart idea making travel more enjoyable. Stay overnight at Llangoed Hall Hotel, visit Chepstow and tour the Brecons Beacons National Park with your driver-guide. Our perfectly designed Classic Tour of Wales hits the highlights of Wales.
A brief history of Chepstow Castle
Construction began shortly after the successful Norman invasion (1066) of England. It was vital that William the Conqueror secured the weak spot and perimeter of his new realm. His close Friend Earl William Fitz Osbern was instructed to build a castle.
The town is bounded to the north and east by the fast-flowing tidal waters of the River Wye. Fits Osbern appreciated the defensive site and built a rectangular keep on the rocky cliff. During the 12th Century, the formidable and admired William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke made improvements at Chepstow. He brought his experience of living in and defending castles in the holy land. The defensive technology of stone cylinder-shaped towers connected by thick stone walls with walkways was virtually impregnable.
Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk (1143-1221) and Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester (1460-1526), made additions, making a comfortable home and at the same time counteracting new siege methods and weaponry. The destructive power of 17th Century cannon deployed during the English civil war often proved too much for these old forts and fell into disrepair.
Life in a castle
Castles were places of communal living, and the lord would have a large number of ‘retainers’, usually part of the extended family, squires and knights in training. His lordships entourage could number over 200, and most would sleep in the great hall and not have comfortable chambers. The great hall is continually heated by a massive open fire in the centre of the room.
The length of stay would be dictated by local security, food available from local farms and the state of the plumbing. It could quickly become unpleasant to stay in a castle with blocked latrines. Two hundred people feasting daily often caused sanitation issues. These powerful groups would then move on to the next property leaving behind a small armed force, under the leadership of a ‘constable of the castle.’ Their job was to defend the castle, make repairs and keep prisoners alive.
Valuable items would be removed from the castle and travel with the lords and include tapestries, furniture, bedding, and elaborate drinking vessels.
Features of the Chepstow Castle
There are some fantastic old doors at Chepstow, but how old. Thought to be 13th-century. After further research, dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating, we now know the doors date from the 1190s making these the oldest castle doors in Europe.
The doors were sheathed in iron plates to prevent burning or battering. There is an elaborate lattice framework on the inside with the earliest mortise-and-tenon joints known in Britain. Imagine what extraordinary tales these doors could tell us if alive.
William Marshal installed the doors during the time of 1146-1219. He was one of the most incredible men of the age. With only a horse and armour, the young knight-errant built a reputation as a serious combatant in military tournaments. Over time, his intelligence, skill at arms and integrity took him to the highest positions in the land. He became virtual ruler of England during the absence King Richard I (the Lionheart) while on crusade. He kept his promise to King John and protected the young boy King Henry III. In effect, he was regent of England before the child King came of age. Chepstow’s old doors and towers are a reflection of a thorough leader who understood security.
The Great Tower
The Great Tower is 120 ft long and 45 ft wide, windowless on the landward side (for protective reasons) but with soaring gothic arched windows facing the river allowing light to flood in. It was the Great Hall of Chepstow providing a considerable space to entertain and to administer justice, underneath the main oak floors were cellars for wine.
Cross the Wye River with driver guide and choose a spot for a picture, there are several magical views of the castle from various vantage points. In the early 19th Century, Britain’s most famous painter JMW Turner captured a bucolic aspect of Chepstow and nearby Tintern Abbey. His art triggered the first real visitors and the curious and been visiting ever since.
Touring and accommodation
Chepstow is an excellent stop before you enter the picturesque Wye Valley. A short drive from Chepstow is Tintern Abbey, continuing on the medieval story of Wales. Our suggested Classic Tour of Wales itinerary is ideal for the first visit to Wales.
Merging Wales with England makes for a dynamic experience of mountains, stately homes and cosy country pubs. If this is your first time to the UK, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands.
There is a wide choice of accommodation in the Wales. Cottages, Manor House Hotels and traditional Guest Houses. For people who a like a traditional Manor House Hotel, we recommend staying at the Llangoed Hall Hotel. It is on the edge of the Brecon Beacons with easy access to local golf courses, hiking trails and small towns.
Guardian of the River Wye
Climb the towers, explore dark hidden rooms and hear the tales
- Preserved Medieval Fortress
- Access to Towers
- Summer Events
- Oldest Doors in Europe
- A William Marshal Stronghold
Castle Gates with Portcullis Slots
Chepstow Perched on Cliffs above the River Wye
Chepstow from the River