In a region famous for its ancient ruins and fortifications, how could we pass up the opportunity to visit at least one castle during our recent trip to Pembrokshire? With its illustrious and long history, ties to royalty and impressive walls, Pembroke Castle was the obvious choice for a castle day out. With reasonable entrance fees (£5 adults, £4 for over 3s), Pembroke Castle is also a great outing with a little one as should you have to cut your visit unexpectedly short, you do not feel unduly robbed!
Pembroke Castle looks exactly how a castle ought to. Perched atop limestone cliffs, high above a natural moat of the Pembroke River, the imposing castle walls make for a dramatic first impression. Despite taking the toll of numerous conflicts, Pembroke Castle has undergone sympathetic restoration which sees the castle returned to a good imitation of its former glory whilst still showing off the scars of its long and often bloody history.
Roo was instantly taken with Pembroke Castle. From the moment we collected our tickets and edged through what used to be the Barbican and Great Gatehouse, she was enthralled. Filled with natural curiosity and a sense of adventure no doubt inspired by her dramatic surroundings, Roo raced through the gates and was off to explore.
Pembroke Castle has a lot to offer different age-groups. With Roo eager to explore, we were glad we had picked up a guide-book from the shop so we could enjoy the tour on a more adult level as she raced ahead with abandon. For those without itchy-footed toddlers, there is a great short video introduction to the castle as you enter. Older kids will enjoy the historical exhibitions which bring the castle’s history to life through models and tableaux of key historic moments. Pembroke Castle would be a perfect spot to bring kids studying a relevant historical period – and with such a long history, there are plenty of periods to choose from! Pre-schoolers like Roo will love to simply run in the castle’s vast central green, potter about the ruins and explore the more physical elements of Pembroke Castle.
Pembroke Castle has a long and fascinating history. Most famous as the birth place of Henry VII, anyone who has watched the ‘White Queen’ BBC historical drama series will recall frequent references to Pembroke during the Wars of the Roses.
In actual fact, the castle dates back to the Old Stone Age. Cave dwellers during the ice-age are believed to have inhabited the vast rocky cavern of the Wogan upon which the castle is built. Such primitive occupation of the cliffs here are thought to have continued intermittently through the prehistoric eras.
In later history a palace and then fort were built on the site, spanning the Dark Ages, the Norman Conquest and into its most well documented period during its occupation by the Plantagenets and then the Tudors, bringing to the throne in Henry VII an essentially Welsh king. Following the death of Jasper Tudor though in 1495 it was never again used as a private residence. Pembroke Castle ‘s role in the Civil War did see it return to the historical textbooks of today when Oliver Cromwell himself was sent to deal with a Welsh rebellion here. This period of conflict caused huge damage to the surrounding town as well as to Pembroke Castle itself, with sections blown up with gunpowder.
Roo was surprisingly taken with a few historical snippets picked up during our visit. She demanded repeat visits to stare through the grills into the gloom of the dungeons. Down below old John stared back up at her, continuing to suffer on in model form for the sin of being a rival landowner to a former Lord of Pembroke. She was also intrigued by the fact that so many of the interior walls were fallen and that former rooms and buildings were now open to the elements. Weeks on she still tells me about the ‘naughty people’ who wanted to take the castle and bashed down its walls.
We also enjoyed scaling the remaining towers. The views from the ramparts and top of the Dungeon Tower were impressive but those with a head for heights should not miss out on a trip to the top of the Great Tower. From here the views back into the castle as well as far reaching vistas over the surrounding town and countryside are definitely worth the climb.
A note for parents of little ones – to get up the tower there is a long climb up a spiral stone staircase. The steps are steep and narrow and not for the knackerty kneed! They also make it a tricky climb for little people. Roo hitched a lift to the top in a carrier on her Dad’s back. If I had been visiting alone I probably would have given the trip to the top of the tower a miss. We were also glad to have brought Roo’s rucksack with reigns with us – it made us feel a little more secure when navigating the more adventurous parts of the castle!
Having thoroughly explored the key ruins of the castle we headed out for a short walk before lunch. There is an inviting looking cafe in the castle itself, good child & baby friendly loos and plenty of picnic benches. With limited time on our hands though we were eager to see the castle from the opposite side of the river and also to test out a short pushchair wander taking in the best of Pembroke Castle’s magnificent exterior.
On our way out (and having resisted buying our newly enthused little soldier all manner of toy swords, shields, story books and other enticing objects in the shop) I spotted an advert for a summer concert in Pembroke Castle grounds. If only we had been there at the right time! It’s definitely worth checking the Pembroke Castle website for upcoming events if you are in the area as I can’t think of a more magical setting for outdoor theatre or music.
For more information, prices and events at Pembroke Castle, please visit their website.