Wales is a brilliant holiday destination for history buffs. Here’s our guide to the best castles in South Wales: the Gower Peninsula edition.
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I love learning about the history of the places I visit, so I’m always on the lookout for interesting historical sites and buildings to visit on my travels.
Wales is a brilliant holiday destination for history buffs as it’s overflowing with attractions like these. Unsurprisingly then, I was in my element during our recent holiday to Swansea Bay as there were so many castles to see in the local area.
The beautiful Gower Peninsula has several worth a visit, so why not make a daytrip of it and go on a road trip through one of the prettiest spots in Wales?
Here’s the Gower Peninsula edition of our guide to the best castles in South Wales….
The Best Castles in South Wales – Gower Peninsula Edition
Oxwich Castle isn’t actually a castle, it’s a stately Tudor manor house. Towering over Oxwich Bay you can understand why it got its name though, as it was built by a father and son that enjoyed incorporating military-style designs into their home.
The more extravagant parts of the ‘castle’ haven’t lasted the test of time and now lie in ruins, but the humbler section of the property was actually used as a farmhouse right up to the 1950s. I particularly love that it’s still owned by the same family, centuries later.
Outside the remains of an epic dovecote’s worth checking out – This was partly to provide the residents with a consistent supply of fresh meat – but also to show off!
Weobley Castle is perched on the edge of the Gower Plateau and looks down over the Llanrhidian marsh and the sandy shores of the Burry Estuary. Today it’s actually part of a working farm.
You get that vibe as soon as you arrive though, as you walk through the front garden of a farmhouse to get to the ticket office for the castle, which appears to be part of the farmer’s home!
It’s more truthful to describe Weobley as a fortified manor house rather than a castle (bit of a theme here, huh?), but you cannot deny its grandness. It dates back as far as the 1300’s, when it was documented to have belonged to the de la Bere family, the head of the house being a steward to the local Gower lord.
Built over two floors, visitors can now wander through the remains of the property, entering through the gatehouse and into the main courtyard. Only remnants of the southern towner and chapel still remain, but it’s clear to the see exterior of the main house and I loved the idea that the castle’s kitchen was the same size as its main hall!
A small exhibition is on display in the solar; this would have been a guest room and a lounge; you were treated wonderfully if you visited here, as the views through the windows were amazing!
Sitting majestically at the top of The Mumbles’ hill, Oystermouth Castle offers visitors amazing views down over Swansea Bay.
The castle dates back to the 12th century and conservation work began in earnest back in 2010. This involved improving access by building pathways around the site and opening up Alina’s chapel to the public as a visitor centre, along with a new 30-foot-high glass bridge.
Restoration work uncovered several exciting finds such as medieval graffiti and a labrynth of vaults and new rooms that had been hidden away for centuries, many of which can now be visited by guests.
As is the case with all good castles, Oystermouth is said to be haunted by several ghosts including a crying lady in white with wounds on her back. This is believed to be Alina de Mowbray, daughter of the Lord of Gower, who lived in the castle during the 1400s. Often there are spooky events held over Halloween – would you be brave enough to check them out?
Sadly Oystermouth Castle is currently closed to the public while they undertake further restoration work, but keep an eye on the official website to find out when it’s going to reopen.
Although all that’s left of Pennard Castle is a ruin, this site is still worth a visit.
There’s lots of old tales about the castle, such as it was built by a wizard, and that it was destroyed by angry fairies, but my favourite is the story of the Gwrach-y-rhibyn, or shrieking banshee.
With its sunken eyes, black hair and robe, and, of course, wings, this ghost is said to haunt the castle and claw and peck at anyone who dares to try to sleep within the castle grounds.
The truth is that castle was built back in the 12th century after the Norman invasion of Wales, but bad placement meant it was abandoned due to encroaching sand dunes. Now most visitors come across it by accident as there’s no signs, but many Gower coastal walks take you past the castle.
If you come specifically to visit Pennard,expect a bit of a trek – the closest car park is still quite a walk away and you’ll have to navigate the dunes to reach the castle’s remains. Still, the views over Three Cliffs Bay make the walk thoroughly worthwhile.
Beyond the Gower Peninsula
Swansea castle is the city’s oldest building, but is now swamped by the surrounding modern offices and shopping centre.
A decent amount of the castle has survived sieges, rebellions and wars, making it well worth a visit, but to get the most from a trip here, look into taking a tour inside the castle.
Keep your eyes peeled if you want to see Loughor Castle as it’s a very easy one to pass by. This is because today it sits right next to the busy A484 road, and is hidden behind several houses. We actually drove by it twice on our hunt for the castle, and had to park up and wander around until we stumbled across it.
Don’t expect too much from Loughor, as all that remains is one tower and doorway. However, when it was built back in the 13th century, it was a daunting fortification that looked over the river and controlled a strategic road running across the Gower.
Its history goes back even further, as this site was also home to the Roman fort of Leucarum. Now, however it sadly seems to be a place where teenagers come to hang out or history lovers like ourselves hunt it out.
We spent all of five minutes here looking around, particularly as there’s no signs, on the site, just a small one on the main road (blink and miss it), so do your research before you visit. However, it is a nice spot to have a picnic on a sunny day, next door to a lovely park and just across the road from the Loughor Estuary.
We actually spent much longer there, as it’s a great spot for walk along the shoreline, rock pooling – or skipping, crab and bird watching, and as my teenager called it, ‘treasure hunting’. Yes, we came home with a bag of their finds including a crab shell, sea glass, a vintage Pepsi cola bottle and a retro Nokia phone (don’t ask!).
I’d also recommend stopping for lunch or dinner at the Loughor Boating Club’s Riverview restaurant, right next to the estuary, where they make cheap hearty meals as well as serving a local delicacy – GG’s Gelato. Their Biscotti ice cream is to die for!
More castles in South Wales
Like a good castle? If so I’d recommend visiting the official CADW website, as this is the organisation that looks after the majority of Welsh heritage sites.
Wales has castles galore (think Caerphilly Castle, Castell Coch and Raglan Castle – the latter we had the joy of visiting during our stay in the Brecon Beacons) and this website is an cyclopia of the historical wonders Wales has to offer!