Abergavenny Castle is a picturesque ruin set against a spectacular backdrop of the mountains which surround the town.
The castle is located just a short walk from the main shopping area of Abergavenny with ample car parking close by. Enough of the castle remains to imagine that it must have been a formidable fortress.
The restored early 19th century hunting lodge built on the original motte, houses the Abergavenny Museum which has an interesting collection of artefacts, a Victorian Welsh farmhouse kitchen, a saddler's workshop among other displays. The museum hosts a number of exhibitions throughout the year, and has quizzes and workshops for children.
The castle was founded circa 1087 by the Norman lord Hamelin de Ballon, and had a wooden keep with a palisaded top and bottom, which was surrounded by a ditch still visible in the castle garden below the lodge. The bailey was also protected by a palisade and ditch.
In 1175 Abergavenny Castle was the scene of an infamous act: the Massacre of Abergavenny. Henry, the third son of Milo Fitzwalter was killed by Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, a Welsh prince, in 1175. As there were no other other male heirs, the castle and Brecknockshire and Upper Gwent passed to his mother Bertha who was a daughter of Milo Fitzwalter.
William de Braose decided to avenge the death of his uncle Henry. He summoned Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, his son Geoffrey and a number of other local Welshmen from Gwent to Abergavenny Castle for a reconciliation meeting, where they were all murdered and their lands taken.
From about 1190 the Normans started to rebuild the castle in stone, first the keep then the curtain walls with five towers, each capable of independent defence. The only remains of the original castle are the motte, on which the museum stands, and a length of Norman bank discovered under the east tower in 1990.
Control of the castle passed back and forth during years of turmoil as the Welsh Marches changed hands in the 12th century between the English and Welsh forces. King John visited the castle in 1215 when it was in royal hands. The castle was at its most splendid in the 13th and 14th centuries, when a huge amount building work was undertaken - the most prominent features that remain from this period are the towers in the western corner of the castle.
As peace returned to this turbulent border area only a constable and a small garrison would have been left in occupation. Since the early 15th century no Lords of Abergavenny have lived at the castle.
In 1645 Charles I ordered the castle to be made uninhabitable as Parliamentary forces approached. It was then used as a quarry for local buildings until appreciation of castles became more fashionable. Now, it still has a number of interesting features:
In 1087 the wooden keep was built, followed in 1190 by a replacement keep built of stone. From the Regency hunting lodge built there in 1819 for the Marquis of Abergavenny, a gentle slope now leads to the site of the bailey.
Considerable stores of food would have been needed in a castle that was often under attack by the Welsh. Stables, accommodation for the lord's family and army, a chapel, barns, and kitchens would have occupied much of the present space inside the curtain wall of the bailey.
High above Mill Street are the remains of two large projecting towers, built to provide crossfire along the base of the adjoining wall.
The high wall at this point looked out across a defensive ditch to the medieval township beyond. The outer walls here and elsewhere in the castle are modern boundaries.
This was probably built to strengthen the castle entrance about the time of Owain Glyndwr's attacks in 1404. Still visible are the stops for the heavy doors, draw-bar holes and the battered base of the west-facing wall. Above the gateway passage are the remains of a pleasant room with a large window and fireplace.
Just inside the gatehouse, an outside staircase leads to the north doorway of the banqueting hall, built at first floor level for defensive reasons. The corbels on the west wall probably supported a hammer-beam roof. It was here that William de Braose massacred Seisyll ap Dyfnwal and other Welsh leaders at Christmas 1175.
Worth viewing from two sides is a small window at the south end of the hall. There is evidence of the use of wooden shutters; parchment and horn were also used when glass was unsuitable or simply could not be afforded. The angled thickening of the lower wall acted as a defence against undermining and caused missiles dropped from above to ricochet horizontally.
These were built around 1300 when the castle was at its most splendid to provide living quarters for the Hastings family.
A circular staircase would have led to a passage beneath the three large windows on the first floor. The square garderobe tower and outlet are best seen from the outside.
Abergavenny is a thriving market town with a superb range of shops that has developed an excellent reputation for food.