Overhaul for heritage attractions along the Cardigan Bay coast
It has been over 600 years since the original entrance to Harlech Castle has been in proper use, but now, thanks to a £6m project by Cadw in conjunction with the Heritage Tourism Project, visitors will soon be able to enter over a new bridge leading to this magnificent fortress. Today, the main section of the bridge is due to be lowered into position and the project seems to be on track for the bridge and new visitor centre to be open by Easter.
A World Heritage Site, Harlech Castle looms large over the town that developed around it and much of the castle, including the forbidding walls, remain. Making the most of the natural advantages of its position the castle appears to grow out of the cliffs and was almost impregnable. A 200ft stairway leads down from the castle to the base of the cliff where the sea used to reach. This all important supply route was no doubt of vital importance to the defenders and inhabitants of the castle during the seven year siege remembered in the song, now ingrained in Welsh Culture, ‘Men of Harlech’.
Another castle, where an even more extensive restoration is nearing completion is Cardigan Castle. It has been nearly 20 years since the castle has been properly open to the public, but a £12m restoration and redevelopment project has brought the castle back to life and it should be opening its doors this spring. It is hoped that this revamped heritage attraction and events venue will attract over 30,000 visitors during the first year and will continue to become a premier attraction in Wales. Reading about all they have done I would say that their optimism is not misplaced. Along with interpretation and heritage exhibition spaces, the regency garden has been recreated and a restaurant featuring floor to ceiling glass as been built to make the most of panoramic views of the River Teifi. Cardigan castle has a long and varied history from its founding in the C12th century, to medieval battles between Welsh rebels and the Norman rulers, to being in private hands up until the 1990s. It is also reported to be the site of the very first Eisteddfod (a festival of poetry and music) when Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth (ruler of a number of territories in South West Wales) held his court there in 1176. Moving forward 839 years, over 3,000 daffodils have been planted in the grounds so there should soon be a profusion of colour from the national flower adorning the site.
The castle is not the only impressive heritage attraction that the Cardigan area has to offer. As well as some other historic buildings in the town, especially The Guildhall, just a mile down the river is St Dogmaels, a lovely village home to C12th abbey ruins, accompanying visitor centre and museum and water mill in full working condition. Well worth a visit in my opinion. I must admit that I haven’t been for a couple of years but when I went with my daughter and parents we had a wonderful afternoon exploring the abbey remains, perusing the collections and exhibitions in the museum and indulging in gorgeous cakes from the café in the visitor centre. We were also lucky enough to be there when the parish church of St Thomas, adjacent to the abbey, was holding its annual flower festival and some of the arrangements were spectacular.
I hope that this year more people than ever before will experience the historical delights of the Cardigan Bay coast as there is so much to discover and enjoy and there is plenty of room for everybody!