The Iron Ring of Welsh Fortress Castles by Edward I
The days we spent in Wales were a bit of a blur if I'm honest. We packed in so much I can't remember what we did when. But I do remember the castles.
I wrote a while back something that I believed to be true at the time. I was annoyed at fantasy writers, because having visited England and explored and tromped over dozens and dozens of castles, I was irritated at how wrong they described them. Almost all fantasy writers describe the interior almost as a regular house, with hallways and chambers (parlors) and hallways.
This really irked me after I'd been to a few dozen castles because I felt like I'd been lied to. None of the books I'd read could be full realized in my imagination because the actual castles were nothing like the books written. I get it, sure, it's "fantasy" so I should get over myself but I always felt like the authors were at least trying to root them in some form of realism.
I still actually feel like fantasy authors don't really write castles correctly at all, not really. At least, not (most) American ones. How could they? Looking at pictures in a book or online just does not give you the feel and layout. It's just something I am always thinking about when I am exploring castles. I've been to quite a few. The only author I feel like that really grasps castles is Tad Williams. Every place I tromp about in England feels like some part of the Hayholt that managed to find its way to England somehow and I was exploring *it* instead of the actual castle I was seeing. Particularly Kenilworth and Beaumaris. I am pretty certain it's... well... you'll see soon enough.
What I did not realize, however, is that the Welsh castles that Edward I (the Longshanks.... yes, that one) built in the 13th century all had hallways. Of course, I had been to Conwy years ago but none of the others, but this trip, we made it to all four. Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and Beaumaris. These were all to dominate and subjugate the Welsh -- I know they call Edward I the Hammer of the Scots but in truth he could barely be bothered with them and was focused on Welsh revolts for decades. He beat them down twice and in order for a third revolt to never occur, he built the "Iron Ring" of those great four Fortress castles in north Wales.
Harlech, Conwy and Caernarfon were basically contemporary but Beaumaris was an advanced design. It was also never completed. Beaumaris was totally spectacular. It is also not as ruined as the others and you can still enjoy the interior halls, they are almost complete. I cannot express my nerdy joy at discovering what I finally recognized as a "Fantasy" castle. The hallways were dank and wet and dark, so dark in some places where there was no electric lighting. I could completely imagine how insane they would have been in the middle ages. You would need a torch or oil lamp just to walk in the halls even in daylight, they were THAT dark. It was totally great. :D
They twisted, they turned, they went on and on and on in tight angles, up circling staircases and dizzying heights. It was completely and totally fantastic and I was heady with thousands of castles and places I'd read about.
There were rooms off the hallways in sections, and smaller rooms right off the main chambers, absolutely for servants or lesser guests. My imagination was running full sprint, it was just perfect.
So castles do have hallways, who knew. At least, 'fancy' royal castles built by a King that were the pinnacle of castle building and the engineering marvels of the century, at any rate. Most still don't. Most are just keeps, with walls around an inner bailey and buildings built along the walls. Keeps absolutely have no hallways! They just have corner spiral staircases that brought you floor to floor and each floor was one big room, sometimes two. Dividers were a big thing in the middle ages, made of wood and fabric.
I'm just wishing American fantasy authors would have just gotten it closer to the real thing. Maybe I should have been reading British fantasy authors but... I am not sure I know any other than Tolkien and he didn't spend a lot of time in his books walking around the living quarters of castles like every current author seems to do. Maybe that should tell us something about the current state of fantasy, haha!
I didn't bring my camera to Caernarfon or Conwy. I'd already been to Conwy and the light was bad that day - very rainy. Caernarfon was spectacular but it was rainy and grey. I didn't even break out my phone! But Beaumaris had me slipping out my phone anyway, because look at the passages and twisting curves and side nooks and rooms. It was endless and perfect and I couldn't resist. I didn't have my canon but that just gives me a good reason to come back and hope for good weather. Besides, the watery and rainy day just added to the atmosphere, the passages were dank, wet and dark. Exactly how castles should be, it was just excellent! :)
I know I've been expounding about fantasy authors and the lack of authenticity but let me just end this post with a bit of hilarious history about Harlech castle. It was considered an engineering marvel at the time, it had 4 portcullis gates and a moat and a drawbridge and an incredibly imposing strong gatehouse... and yet... it fell to every siege that faced it. Four times it was sieged, four times it fell. Kind of says a lot about the hearts and strength of the Welsh, if you ask me ;) They were the ones taking it back from the English each time.