Bridgend County Borough, located in southern Wales, may be small, but it is brimming with medieval castles and possibly one of the oldest restaurants in the world. Sites like Coity Castle showcase the might of the Norman invaders who conquered these Welsh lands in the 12th century. Bridgend may be one of the best examples as to why the region is sometimes called ‘the land of castles’. But the county is not only worth visiting because of its medieval stone fortifications – The Old House 1147 is an ideal place to get a meal and mull over the fact that it has been in operation since the 12th century.
Here’s our selection of 5 sites you mustn’t miss when visiting Bridgend County Borough.
1. Kenfig Castle
Kenfig Castle was an important Norman stronghold built by Robert, Earl of Gloucester during King Stephen’s reign in the early 12th century. As an English-held stronghold in Wales, the castle was sacked by the Welsh on at least six occasions, including in 1295 during the rebellion of Madog ap Llewelyn.
By the late 15th century, both Kenfig old town and the castle had been abandoned due to encroaching sand dunes, and by 1539 John Leland wrote that both had been ‘almost choked and devoured with the sands’.
Today Kenfig Castle lies in ruins largely covered by sand. Despite efforts in the 1920s and early 1930s to excavate the site, the sands soon reinvaded and today the top of the keep is all that emerges from the dunes of Kenfig Burrows.
2. The Old House 1147
This public house dates back to 1147. In addition to being the oldest pub in South Wales, it claims to be the third oldest restaurant in the world. The basis of this historical claim lies with the building’s ‘cwtch’ (a Welsh word that has several meanings, but in this context refers to a storage space or large cupboard), which dates back to the 12th century. The cwtch is now refurbished but still boasts some original features, such as flagstone floors and wooden beams.
The pub still retains historical elements, including a thatched roof. Its restaurant boasts stunning views across the Llynfi Valley, and was extensively revamped in 2015. It has since become a hugely popular local wedding venue and award-winning gastropub.
3. Coity Castle
The beautiful, now ruined castle has its origins in the early 12th century, when Sir Payn ‘the Demon’ de Turberville built it following the Norman conquest of Wales. The 14th century saw large scale development of the fortification, making it into a more imposing structure. By the 16th century the castle belonged to the Gamage family, who added their own mark on the architecture of the site. All of these periods of construction have left Coity Castle with a mixture of different architectural styles, creating a truly unique medieval building.
Located close to the city of Bridgend, the castle is open to the public all year round. The ruins are in the care of the Welsh historic environment service Cadw.
4. Candleston Castle
Candleston Castle may not be a huge dominating fortification, but it is still a fascinating legacy of the medieval era. Built in the 14th century by the Cantilupe family, the castle was technically a fortified manor house. It is located southwest of the modern day village of Merthyr Mawr. The building fell into disrepair during the late 19th century, becoming the now picturesque ruin overgrown with ivy.
The castle is open to the public who can freely explore the medieval ruin with caution.
5. Newcastle Castle
The current ruined Norman castle was built upon an earlier Welsh fortification in the 12th century. The building was commissioned by William de Londres, one of the legendary Twelve Knights of Glamorgan and was used to subjugate the surrounding countryside to the new Norman rulers. The castle was noteworthy for its high quality stonework, with the surviving doorway being an excellent example of the craftsmanship that went into building the fortification.
The ruins are accessible to the public free of charge all year round. The castle can be found in the town of Bridgend right next to St Illtyds Church.