Beaumaris Castle - Anglesey’s medieval marvel
- Credit: Archant
The king of the castle in Beaumaris knows how lucky he is, as he told our resident dirty rascal, Paul Mackenzie
You see Beaumaris long before you reach it: the huge grey stone towers of its massive castle looming on the horizon as they have done for centuries. And once you’re in the town it’s hard to avoid the castle which dominates Beaumaris in exactly the way King Edward I intended it to.
Building work began in 1295 to create the impregnable fortress which is notable not only for its size but also its almost perfect symmetry. After defeating the Welsh and establishing English control of the area, Edward wanted to create a network of impressively large castles across Wales to demonstrate his enormous wealth and power and to subdue the pesky, rebellious natives.
The castle at Beaumaris on the eastern shore of Anglesey was the largest and last of Edward’s castles in Wales and it did its job, quelling talk of rebellion enough to enable Edward to head north and wind up the Scots instead.
More than seven centuries later it is now owned by Cadw, the arm of the Welsh government responsible for looking after historic buildings, and about 90,000 visitors marvel at the castle every year. Those tourists make up the only invasion you’re likely to encounter in Beaumaris these days; they come from all over to tour the castle and to enjoy the town’s other attractions.
The castle is managed by Mike Williams from Conwy who knows how lucky he is to work in such an impressive place. ‘My office is a medieval castle,’ he said. ‘You can’t beat that.’
Mike turned down a promotion last year in order to stay at Beaumaris and he added: ‘I’ve got such a nice job I didn’t want to leave and be office-bound somewhere. Every day is different here. I get to meet different people and face different challenges. I didn’t want to lose that for a better paid job I wouldn’t have enjoyed as much. Money isn’t everything.’
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Mike, who had been planning for a career in teaching or countryside management, decided against taking a place at Bangor Univeristy when he found he enjoyed a summer job at Conwy Castle so much. More than 20 years later he is in charge of the third busiest castle in Wales and he added: ‘We get a lot of foreign visitors, especially from America and Canada and it’s always nice to have a walk round the castle and talk to people and answer their questions and find out about their trips.’
Next month the castle will host the fifth annual Medieval Festival (August 23-25) which will showcase the skills that would have been commonplace when Edward ordered it to be built. The inner ward will be transformed into a medieval camp with demonstrations of fighting, while the more peaceful outer ward will see music, dancing and storytelling. Local traders will be able to set up stalls within the castle walls and the festival will also feature archery and birds of prey
And Mike, who returned to Beaumaris last month after a spell back at Conwy, added: ‘We had some cracking events at Conwy but this is the castle I always wanted to run. I could really see the potential here.’
He is hoping to replicate the success of a St David’s Day event at Conwy which raised money for local groups and said: ‘The castle is for visitors but it needs to be for the local community as well, so they can gain from it and have a connection to it. I’d like the castle to be a part of the community.’
And while the castle may dominate, it is not the only reason to visit. The courthouse and gaol are popular attractions and the pier – renovated very attractively a couple of years ago – is the perfect spot to enjoy an ice cream and glorious views over the boats gently bobbing on the water to Snowdonia. It’s also the place to take one of the boat trips which offer a different view of Anglesey and a closer look at some of the offshore wildlife.
Back on dry land there are lots of great walking and cycling routes and plenty of places to eat and drink around the town and if you time it right and beat the queue, you can support some Cheshire ‘ex pats’.
Karen Black has run Beau’s Tea Shop on Castle Street for more than 10 years with husband Nigel. The couple moved to Beaumaris from Bollington and Karen said: ‘We had lived in Cheshire all our lives and we had always dreamed of opening a tea shop. My husband had all his childhood holidays on Anglesey and we would come over at least once a year. On one visit we noticed a tea shop for sale and less than eight weeks later we were open.’
The tiny café has just five tables and it is rare for there not to be a queue. Karen, a former manager at Debenhams in Manchester, added: ‘We had never done anything like this and I suppose we were a bit naïve but it has been great. It took off from day one and I think the reason it works is that my husband and I are both here all the time. He’s the cook and I look after the front of house.
‘It is only small – five tables, 30 people – but we’d rather do five tables well than ten tables not as well.’
Carole Hough is another who has made the move to Beaumaris from Cheshire. She left about four-and-a-half years ago with her partner Jeff Elms and she now runs the Victoria Cottage B&B. ‘Jeff and I have only been together a few years and Beaumaris was the first place we went for a weekend away,’ said the former independent financial advisor. ‘We fell in love with the town and just kept being pulled back again and again.
‘It’s like stepping back in time 50 years, everyone knows each other and everyone is so friendly. There is a real sense of community and a nice mix of people. We had got to know quite a few people before we moved in and when we did, there were cards through the door and lots of people were wishing us well.’
The couple still have a house in Comberbach and Carole added: ‘We were initially looking for a holiday place, I’m not really sure how we ended up running a B&B. It has been wonderful though – in our first year hotels would send guests to us when they were full, that’s an example of the community spirit.’ n
Need to know
Where it is: Beaumaris stands on Anglesey’s east coast. Once over the bridge turn right and aim for the A545. Type LL58 8AP into your sat nav to find the town centre.
Where to park: The town is geared up for visitors but can get busy at peak holiday times. There are pay and display car parks around the town but the biggest is by the castle (LL58 8RA) and costs £3 for up to 12 hours.
Where to eat: Going hungry is not an option in Beaumaris with plenty of places to satisfy even the largest of appetites. There’s a good range of cafes and delis as well as restaurants and pubs that serve good food. You’ll find excellent sea food and an emphasis on local produce.
Where to drink: There is a good choice of pubs and bars in the town centre but we particularly like The Olde Bull’s Head, an historic building which is packed with character and serves good beer. Charles Dickens stayed here once and wrote a damning review of the food, but we’re happy to report it’s much better now.
Where to stay: There is no shortage of holiday accommodation with hotels, guest houses and B&Bs dotted around the town. Find one that suits you at visitwales.com or beaumaris.com where you’ll also find more information about the town.