Chester and Wales

Chester (Roman Deva or, as they style it locally, Dewa) is much more commercialised and built up in the old central part of the city than I remember (of course, I was last there in the early 80’s, IIRC) – The Rows (two levels of medieval shops, one at ground level, one above with a covered walkway in front) have been heavily touristified … still interesting, but overdone.

The Grosvenor Museum has a good selection of local finds, mainly Roman, of course, as well as a period house at the rear with each floor/room done in a different period style … I gather the house is old enough for all the stuff from the late 17th century through to Victorian period are things it ‘lived’ through … though, of course, the furnishings aren’t original, though they are period.

One thing they had excavated which wasn’t back when I was here last (or maybe I didn’t head over, as it was winter, and snowing, as I recall) was part of the Roman Amphitheatre … the largest stone built north of the Alps, if the screed is to be believed. They originally (back in the early 80s) thought it originally had a wood superstructure for seating which was only later replaced with stone when the site was expanded … to make it the biggest & etc. Important for a major Legionary fortress and supply base, I guess.

The excavated part of the Amphitheatre

Welsh Castles

The next day I headed off for Wales proper to see some of Edward I’s castles – I headed to the furthest one I wanted to see, Harlech, which I hadn’t seen that last time I was here (it was winter and, driving, the roads beyond Caernarvon were narrow and winding … and snow covered.

They’re still narrow and winding.

Harlech is, of course, mostly ruinous – but truly massive, even with it’s walls partly slighted. It’s now at least a couple of klicks from the coastline, evidently storms in the late 14th and 15th century silted up the inshore approaches and the village of Harlech is down below now on what was once a coastal port which made the castle hard to successfully besiege.

The Main Gate entered over the Dry Moat
That’s the Village below and the Coast in the distance (just short of the hills at the top of the photo)

Then on to Caernarvon which, unlike Harlech, was part of a walled Town’s defences … it’s also massive, but not as brutish and hulking as Harlech. It;s also more intact internally as it has been used much more recently for a variety of military and civilian functions.

The main gate of Caernarvon

Conwy is, like Caernarvon, part of the town of the same name’s defences – but is sort of between Harlech and Caernarvon in the brutishness stakes. It’s also only slightly less ruinous internally than Harlech, though the external walls are in somewhat better condition.

The modern approach to Conwy

It’s amazing that these castles were built, though not to completion (and some were never really used seriously) in such a short period of time (less than 20 years) … but Edward almost literally threw money at them. IIRC Harlech (or was it Caernarvon) cost around 8000 pounds in 14th century money … many many many millions in real comparative purchasing power today! And that was before the costs of the garrisons!


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