Today I visited the excavations at Hen Caerwys for a second time and then on to two medieval castles in North Wales: both properties of Cadw and both originally dating to the thirteenth century.
Both castles are in impressive and strategic locations that dominate their environs. Also, both may well have had far longer significance as places in the landscape: Denbigh as a royal llys and maybe a prehistoric fort. Rhuddlan is situated beside the lowest ford of the River Clwyd and a strategic location where a Saxon burh was constructed by the West Saxons, and then Norman castle was founded before it became a location selected for a new Edwardian castle.
Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t identify a straightforward ‘archaeodeath’ dimension to either. Still, I would note that the only memorial dimension Cadw let creep into their properties is the year of construction appearing on concrete and stone steps. Most signs are heritage boards or warnings against the dangers of climbing, bashing your head, slipping, falling over things and down things. There are many ways to perish at the castle.
As a visitor, I can say that Rhuddlan won hands down in terms of extremely friendly staff who went out of their way to help me with my kids; a truly brilliant couple of ladies who made the visit special. Rhuddlan also had a better gift shop with a serious range of books (for once). It also won on the pigeons; dozens of the blighters and lots of their mess. Despite having to negotiate their leavings, my kids had fun trying to search for dragons in the ruins, only to find the flapping and cooing was only a pigeon, or a squawk that was only a jackdaw.
Denbigh is impressive as a castle with an urban context and it has new buildings within it and ongoing restoration work. The principal staff member who greeted us was great, but I wasn’t much impressed by his colleagues misguided attempts to respond with badly pitched humour to my autistic child’s questions (which were aimed at me anyway, not him). I was neither particularly impressed by their animations (which was inaudible in any case so simply a cause for confusion rather than education for my kids) and the heritage boards attempting to engage kids in the narrative which were again simply confusing. Also Denbigh was marginally more expensive and a section of the attraction (the postern gate) was closed with building work that had no sign explaining its purpose or duration.
What each castle shared was little in the way of attention to the landscape dimensions of their placement, associated townscapes, religious houses and socio-economic dimensions. It was all about ruins. So as a homage to this ruin-focused view, with Rhuddlan winning on number of staircases to climb and higher, with Denbigh winning on number of short staircases and a fabulous chunk of the accommodation leaving a huge piece of rubble at a jaunty angle, I here share some of my photographs of Rhuddlan….