Beaumaris is often considered the most technically perfect concentric medieval castle in Britain, if not in all Europe. It was the last and the largest of the eight castles built by Edward I to subdue Welsh resistance to his dominion over North Wales. It was designed by Edward I's chief military architect, the Savoyard mason master James of St George, and has an almost perfect symmetrical layout. Though never completed, Beaumaris is among the best preserved of its era. The UNESCO added it to its World Heritage list in 1986.
Edward Longshanks, so nicknamed owing to his remarkable height, had participated to the last major crusade to the Holy Land. Proclaimed King of England upon the death of his father, while still away in the Levant, in 1272, he is remembered for his wars of conquests against Wales and Scotland, and immortalised (as the bad guy) in the 1995 film Braveheart starring Mel Gibson. His experience as a crusader undoubtedly boosted his confidence that he could overpower his Celtic neighbours.
Edward I's invasion of North Wales was more successful on the long-term than in Scotland. Rhuddlan Castle was the first of the so-called Iron Ring, built in 1277, following the First Welsh War. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales, was killed during Edward's invasion in 1282. In 1284, Edward I promulgated the Statute of Rhuddlan which restricted Welsh laws and recognised the king of England as overlord. Further rebellions occurred in 1287–8 and, more seriously, in 1294.
Construction of Beaumaris Castle begun in 1295 to protect the northern approach of the Menai Strait in the turbulent former Kingdom of Gwynedd. Edward had made of Llanfaes the seat of government of Anglesey in 1283, and it is this town, which he renamed Beau Mareys ('beautiful marsh', in Norman French), that he chose for his castle. Llanfaes was the island's main trading port, the wealthiest borough in Wales and largest in terms of population. Yet its population was forcibly moved 19 km (12 mi.) away to the other side of the island, at Newborough, to make way for the new castle. Beaumaris was resettled by English and Norman-French residents.
Beaumaris is the only of Edward's castles that was built on flat land rather than on a promontory, Anglesey's topography being as it is. A second storey was planned for the north gatehouse, as well as grand state rooms, a hall, kitchens, stables and a granary, but were never built. Edward's funds dried up and all work stopped in 1298. They resumed at a much reduced pace from 1306 to 1330, but the castle was eventually left unfinished.
Nevertheless, surrounded by a deep moat supplied by the sea, an eight-sided exterior curtain wall interspersed by 16 drum towers, and huge inner walls 5 metres (16 ft) deep and 12 metres (40 ft) high, the castle would have been virtually impregnable. A tidal dock at the southern end permited ships to sail right up to the castle, protected by the shooting deck on Gunners' Walk.
Beaumaris Castle is open daily except for 24th, 25th and 26th December and 1st January. Visitors can access the castle from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm between 1st March to 31st October (until 6:00 pm in July and August). The rest of the year it is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (Sunday from 11:00 am). The last entry is 30 minutes before closing. Admission to the premises will incur a charge of £3.80 for adults and £3.40 for concessions.
How to get there
Beaumaris does not have a railway station, so unless you have your own wheels getting there might be a bit tricky. The nearest station is Llanfairpwll 10 km (6.3 mi) away, on the North Wales Coast Line from Chester to Holyhead. You can try to catch a cab from there or hitchhike. If the weather is nice and you feel like hiking for two good hours, you can walk east from Llanfair PG along the coast of Anglesey, past the scenic Menai Bridge, overlooking Mount Snowdon upon the horizon.
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