The scenic county of Monmouthshire close to Wales’ border has long been the site of many fascinating historic events. Soon after their arrival in England in 1066, the Normans recognised the importance of the river crossing on the Wye, and started constructing Chepstow Castle, the ruins of which today are hugely popular. Recognising the threatening power of the marcher lordships, in 1536 Henry VIII of England placed the area under English administration and created the shire (county) of Monmouth.
There are many historic sites in Monmouthshire which reflect the area’s fascinating history. The romantic ruins of Tintern Abbey, ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, have long inspired artists. Similarly, the Monnow Gate and Bridge in Monmouth is the only remaining medieval fortified river bridge in Great Britain.
Here’s our pick of 8 of the best historic sites in Monmouthshire.
Monnow Bridge in Wales is a 13th century fortified bridge and the only one in Britain whose gate tower still stands in place. A picturesque stone construction with three archways over the River Monnow, Monnow Bridge can be dated back to 1272, while the tower was built later sometime between 1297 and 1315. Today, pedestrians can walk along Monnow Bridge although the tower is not open to the public. Monnow’s stone bridge was completed around the late 13th century in a period of increased bridge-building as international trade began to flourish.
The gatehouse atop the bridge, known as Monnow Gate, was constructed shortly after the bridge in the late 13th or early 14th century. The gatehouse was the result of a medieval tax or ‘murage’ raised by Edward I to provide funds to fortify Monmouth for his nephew, Henry of Lancaster. Today, Monnow Bridge and its gatehouse are owned by Monmouthshire Council Council. The bridge is open to public access 1 day a week, allowing you to walk underneath the gatehouse and over the 35 metre-long medieval bridge that traces back to Monmouth’s Roman history.
Wyndcliffe Court is a Grade II-listed house with a large, picturesque garden, situated in Monmouthshire, Wales. The house was built in 1922 by Charles Leigh Clay, who owned a shipping company in Cardiff, Wales. The design was undertaken by Eric Francis, a successful architect, while the gardens were developed by Francis and Henry Avray Tipping, the Architectural Editor of Country Life magazine for over 20 years and an avid follower of garden design.
Stylistically, the gardens used elements of both the Italianate and Arts and Crafts architectural movements. Its features include a lily pond, sunken garden, bowling green, rose garden, ponds, sculpted topiary, a summerhouse, fountain, kitchen garden, and connections to nearby woodland surrounding the site. The gardens are open to the public every year.
Grosmont Castle is a ruined castle in the village of Grosmont, Monmouthshire, Wales. The word Grosmont derives from the French – gros mont – meaning ‘big hill.’ The castle was built by the Normans in the wake of the invasion of England in 1066, and from 1135, was paired with the sister fortifications of Skenfrith and White Castle to form a lordship known as the Three Castles. By the 16th century, the castle was no longer in use and had fallen into ruin. It was placed into state care in 1922, and is now managed by the Cadw Welsh heritage agency.
Today, the remains of the drawbridge pit, gatehouse, west tower, great hall, and chimney are visible amongst other ruins. The site is not restricted and is free to enter, and is a popular picnic site for locals and visitors alike. There are steps up onto the wall for impressive views of the surrounding countryside.
4. Chepstow Castle
Chepstow Castle is the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. Situated on the cliffs above the River Wye, it was first constructed from 1067 under the instruction of the Norman Lord William FitzObern. It was the southernmost of a chain of castles built in the Welsh Marches. In the 12th century, the castle was used in the conquest of Gwent, which was the first independent Welsh kingdom to be conquered by the Normans.
However, by the 16th century, its military importance had significantly reduced, and though it was re-garrisoned during the English Civil War, by the 1700s it had started to crumble. It then became a popular visitor destination, and was Grade I listed in 1950. Today it is open to the public.
5. Tintern Abbey
Founded in 1131 by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow, Tintern Abbey is situated on the Welsh bank of the River Wye at the border between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England. It was the first Cistercian foundation in Wales, and the second in Great Britain.
Ruined after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, the remains of the abbey have long been celebrated in poems and paintings. In 1984, Cadw took over the responsibility for the site, and today it is visited by some 70,000 people every year.
6. Raglan Castle
Raglan castle is an impressive late medieval building and although now ruined, it remains a striking presence in the landscape of south-east Wales. Much of what remains at Raglan dates from the 15th century, the period of the Wars of the Roses and the rise of the Tudor dynasty. The Great Tower is the most impressive of the buildings from this period, dominating the two courtyards of the castle. Raglan underwent its final transformation when the castle passed to the Somersets, earls of Worcester. William Somerset, the third Earl of Worcester, remodelled the hall range, built a long gallery and extended the Pitched Stone Court. He also created a garden with long walled terraces and a lake.
The castle was besieged for ten weeks in 1646 by parliamentarian troops and ultimately destroyed. In the years that followed Raglan was abandoned and left to decay. Today the decay has been halted and the building conserved through the work of Cadw and its predecessors, who have taken care of the castle since 1938.
7. Abergavenny Museum and Castle
The ruined Abergavenny Castle was first established from 1087 by the Norman Lord Hamelin de Balun. It was the site of a massacre of Welsh noblemen in 1175, and was later attacked during the 15th-century Glyndŵr Rising. No lord took up residence at the castle after the 15th century, and during the English Civil War, Charles I ordered it be slighted so that it couldn’t be usefully occupied by the Roundheads. It quickly became known for its pretty ruins.
The museum was founded in 1959 and is located in a Regency building that was built on top of a Norman motte within the grounds of the castle. It houses a fantastic collection of artefacts, permanent displays and temporary exhibitions that detail the history of the town and wider area.
8. Caldicot Castle and Country Park
Situated in the town of Caldicot, southeast Wales, Caldicot Castle was built near the site of Harold Godwinson’s former Saxon castle by the Normal earls of Hereford from around 1100. Though it was long occupied, it was eventually neglected and became little more than a farmyard. It was sold in 1857, and again in 1885, at which time it was restored as a family home. It was then owned by the same family and even had apartments created in it until 1964.
In 1964, Chepstow Rural District Council bought the council, and in 1965 it was opened to the public along with a museum.