On a hill above the estuary of the River Towy in Carmarthenshire sits the magnificent Llansteffan Castle. It was built on the site of an older Iron Age Promontory Fort and has been in use for millennia, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s not only a highly defensible location, but affords some stunning views over the River Towy, and the village of Llansteffan itself. If you go to the top of the tower at the right time, you might even get to see a train in the distance.
Today, it’s all about location, and Llansteffan has got one of the best views of the sea we’ve seen from a castle. It isn’t actually the sea, it’s the estuary of the River Towy with the sea in the distance. Whatever it is, it’s beautiful.
Llansteffan Castle- A Potted History
Today we are visiting Llansteffan Castle!
The current castle, built sometime after 1100 by the invading Normans, sits on a much older iron age promontory fort.
It looks out onto the estuary of the River Towy. In its day it was a formidable defensive position because the only approach possible was via the steep hillside that, at the time, was stripped of trees making the attacking soldiers vulnerable to archers.
Llansteffan Castle’s Exterior
As you can see just from this bit here it is really quite steep a hill to climb up. Especially if you’re wearing full armour. One of the nice things about castles- one of the things that I find interesting about them at any rate- is that you can see, sometimes quite clearly, how use of the building has changed over the years. Now, this is a prime example. This used to be the gatehouse but now there’s no gate in it, there’s no doorway, the doorway is now over there, but you can still see the old doorway because it was lined with a different type of stone. You can quite clearly see the arch up at the top. Maybe that’s just me, but I find that fascinating. Behind me, you can see the current entranceway and above you can see where the gate would have been. Of course, there’s no gate there now but there are all the holes and dinks and what have you to show where the gate once was.
Our luck with the weather seems to be improving, the sun’s coming out! Which is great, because this castle looks cracking in the sunshine so it does. At one point there would have been a lot of buildings in here, people would have been living in here, and it would have been quite a lot of people living in here. So, you need a lot of room for them all to live and work and you know do the things that they do. Whatever it is that they do.
The Upper Ward
I am currently standing in the upper ward and the upper ward is quite small from the inside it’s got this, the ground floor, and then it’s got two other levels. I would say a middle floor, or an upper floor, and perhaps a walkway along the top. So this is the west tower. It’s the first time I’ve been in the towers actually, last time I went straight up the stairs and got stuck with the views. So this time I’m exploring on the ground floor before I go all the way up to the top.
The North Tower
I am now heading over to the north tower. So there’s quite a lot left of the north tower in comparison to the west tower and that there is a doorway that you can no longer get up to they’ve got some stairs in it. I’m too short to go up there. I’m in the north tower, and it’s quite interesting to read the room. Where I saw the stairs from the outside that, goes up to there. And then above that you’ve got a doorway- just up there that’s obviously where they come out. This had three floors by the looks of it, and possibly, a walkway. Two of the floors have got fireplaces on. But there’s these things stuck to the side of the wall and they’re quite fancy and ornate. They look kind of like candle holders but they’re equidistant, and there are four of them. We’re wondering whether they were candleholders or maybe some more fancy arch supports- you know for decorative purposes. It can’t be anything for roof purposes because they’re just flimsy. I thought initially that the ruins with the round tower and the rectangular room was the east bastion. However, that there- possibly extending along this wall here- is the east bastion. The bastion is a fortification that is designed to be built at an angle from the main wall so that you can fire in any direction. Which seems about right here to me, because you can fire from this section, or from the top there, or you can fire from that way. So yes, this kind of makes sense. And in front of me now I am walking towards what is possibly the end of that wall. There’s all sorts of little snippets that are left.
I thought initially that the ruins with the round tower and the rectangular room was the east bastion. However, that there- possibly extending along this wall here- is the east bastion. The bastion is a fortification that is designed to be built at an angle from the main wall so that you can fire in any direction. Which seems about right here to me, because you can fire from this section, or from the top there, or you can fire from that way. So yes, this kind of makes sense. And in front of me now I am walking towards what is possibly the end of that wall. There’s all sorts of little snippets that are left.
This is part of the gatehouse, and behind these gates- just to make sure that nosy people like me don’t go in and hurt myself- is a spiral staircase and some of the steps have been stolen away. Somebody’s thought ‘You know what? That would make a nice lintel or door frame or something’. Doorstep perhaps! Who knows. Either way, because of the fact that somebody’s thought, ‘know what I’m, having that’it’s gone and so you can’t go up there anymore. And it’s probably a good thing too because the floors inside the gatehouse are no longer there and this would lead up to those. This gatehouse was, once upon a time, the main accommodation for the lord and lady. And it’s a peculiar arrangement because this floor here had the holes for the portcullis to drop down to shut the gates. Which means that anytime they wanted to open the gates you had portcullises sat in well… I could only assume it was your living room. Upstairs would probably have been bedrooms. I mean maybe that’s the way they did it. I would have thought so. I mean, it’s a bit odd isn’t it? Imagine sitting there in your living room and somebody wants to come in so therefore you have to draw up two whacking great portcullises. I can’t imagine it was ideal with keeping the cold out either. The other thing of course, that every living room couldn’t do without, is the occasional murder hole. These were holes that you could pour stuff down through, or maybe shoot through. What self-respecting living room doesn’t need that, eh?
Behind me now is the interior of the original gatehouse and you can see in the ceiling there are a series of murder holes, which is quite fascinating. And off to the side here- they are the guard’s rooms. In the 15th century apparently, it became more important to have more comfortable accommodation than it did to have more fighting accommodation. So this was all made a bit more lavish. Which could explain the nice cushy interior of the north tower there but that might not have anything to do with it. However, let’s go now a look inside. This is the second of two chambers on the original inside of the gate. This one actually has a fireplace in it, the other one doesn’t. Which suggests that people who weren’t liked very much were sent in that one. But the other one is a bit more spacious so swings of roundabouts I guess. A bit drippy but quite nice.
While the stairs on that side of the gatehouse have been robbed out the stairs on this side of the gatehouse have fared somewhat better. So much so in fact that you can go all the way to the top of the tower, and there are some stunning views up there.