A largely mountainous country of a little over three million people, Wales offers photographers some of the most incredible historical sites in the whole of the UK.
You don’t have to look far to find stunning valleys, beautiful beaches, surf-battered cliffs and coastlines and rolling hills that go on for mile upon picturesque mile but photographers and filmmakers flock to Wales for her magnificent man-made marvels.
As inextricably linked to Welsh history as the Eisteddfod and male voice choirs, it’s famous the world over for its historic castles and ancient Roman settlements, many of which tell the story of Wales itself.
Some have been consumed by nature, some are as magnificent as the day they were finished. Some stand guard over strategic mountain passes, some sit in the middle of the city and some are so mesmerisingly beautiful you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re straight from the pages of a fairy-tale.
Wales is every film-maker and photographer’s dream set and around every valley, cliff and rolling hill there’s something amazing to capture. When you’ve shot your short or snapped your still, make sure you send them in to Historic Photographer of the Year run by TripHistoric for a chance to win £1000 and the coveted title of 2018 Historic Photographer of the Year!
Last year it was Matt Emmet with this amazing image of RAF Nocton Hall and US Military Hospital in Lincolnshire. This year it could be you…!
If you’re hot on pre-500AD historical sites, we are sponsoring the Ancient History category and we’d love to see what you’ve got!
So, what are the most photogenic and film-worthy historic sites in Wales?
Sitting on the isle of Anglesey and known as ‘the great unfinished masterpiece’, this striking medieval castle was described as Britain’s ‘most perfect example of symmetrical concentric planning.’
Built by King Edward I in 1295 with work finally ceasing around 1330 at a staggering cost of £15,000, Beaumaris Castle was the last of the king’s formidable iron ring of castles - Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth Wells and Aberystwth and after a failed uprising by Llewelyn the Last in 1292, Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris – commissioned to affirm his conquest of Wales.
Despite being incomplete, Beaumaris played a military role, being besieged and captured by Prince of Wales Owain Glyndŵr in 1403 before being retaken by the English in 1405. King Charles I also used it as a base during the English Civil War.
Today, the picturesque ruins of Beaumaris Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offer a spectacular film and photo-op from every angle, inside and out.
Another of King Edward I’s strongholds built to exert his Welsh domination, Caernarfon Castle is a grand, imposing medieval fortress at the southern end of the Menai Strait in Gwynedd, north-west Wales.
Built under the direction of James of St George for the princely sum of £22,000, it was intended to be used as a military fortress, a royal palace and the seat of government.
Like Beaumaris at the northern entrance to the Menai Strait, Caernarfon is also unfinished and was almost constantly garrisoned by alternatively the Welsh and the English between the start of the fourteenth century up to the mid-sixteenth. When the Tudors, who were Welsh in origin, came to power in England their rule eased tensions and these huge fortresses became almost redundant. In 1538 it was reported that many were ‘moche ruynous and ferre in decaye for lakke of tymely reparations.’
A UNESCO World Heritage Site that played host to the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969, Caernarfon Castle is one of the most filmed and photographed historical sites in Wales and if you’ve seen it, you’ll instantly know why!
Caerwent Roman Town
With over a mile of the best-preserved Roman town walls in Britain, Caerwent was known as Venta Silurium, the capital of the Silures, the most powerful British tribe in South Wales. The town has been described as ‘easily the most impressive town defence to survive from Roman Britain and in its freedom from later rebuilding one of the most perfectly preserved in Northern Europe.’
Twelve miles east of Newport and often dubbed the first true town in Wales, it was built in 75 AD next to the main road from Glevum (Gloucester) to the Roman fortress at Isca (Caerleon). Today, the impressive 44-acre site contains excavated houses, a forum, an amphitheatre and a Romano-British temple with 17-feet high town walls.
At the height of the town’s prosperity there were around 3,000 inhabitants and unusually, it wasn’t a garrison town. There’s no evidence to suggest a military presence and it appears to have been an entirely self-governing, peaceful town.
Left to ruin after the second century, Caerwent is one of the most impressive Roman sites in Europe and people flock here to capture 2,000 years of history.
On permanent guard over the capital city, Cardiff Castle is a stunning, architecturally-diverse complex. It was originally built by the Normans as a motte-and-bailey castle in the 11th century on the site of a third-century Roman fort, the walls of which are still visible.
Over the centuries, several noble families – including the vastly wealthy Butes in 1766 – took ownership of Cardiff Castle, many of whom added to the complex with fairy-tale towers, outbuildings, fortifications and apartments.
The additions included lavishly opulent themed rooms adorned with marble, gilding and elaborate wood carvings as well as incredible architectural features, much designed by William Burges, perhaps the greatest of the Victorian era’s art-architects.
The castle was gifted to the city of Cardiff in 1947 following the death of the 4th Marquis of Bute and after a stint as the home of the National College of Music and Drama it is now one of the most visited historic sites in Wales with people coming from all over the world armed with still and movie cameras to capture its splendour.
One of Europe’s only three-walled Roman forts, Caer Gybi stood guard over the natural harbour at Holyhead, or Britannia Superior, in North Wales.
There are conflicting accounts of its origins, but it is thought that it was constructed to defend against pirates who were operating in the area and this smaller fort was probably an outpost of the larger Roman fort at Segontium on the outskirts of Caernarfon that was garrisoned by Roman auxiliaries from present-day Germany and Belgium.
Likely built in the late third century, the fort comprised three defensive walls with circular watch towers at each corner with the fourth side possibly a dock for Roman warships.
Abandoned in the last years of the fourth century with Roman troops needed elsewhere, the site was gifted to St Cybi in the sixth century who founded a monastery there and the Church of St Cybi still stands. Today, visitors to Caer Gybi can still view – and capture – much of the original Roman defences, with walls standing up to 4m in places and at least one original corner tower.
One of King Edward I’s ‘iron ring of castles’, Conwy Castle on Wales’s north coast was built between 1283 and 1289 during his conquest of Wales and it is considered one of architect James of St George’s military masterpieces.
Described by UNESCO as one of ‘the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe’, Conwy Castle dominates the Conwy estuary and played an important role in several wars between the Welsh and English over the centuries.
A failed siege by Madog ap Llewellyn in 1294 was followed by occupation by Richard II in 1399 and then it was held by forces loyal to Owain Glyndŵr in 1401. During the English Civil War, the castle was occupied by Charles I’s men and then it was slighted – strategically damaged so it couldn’t be used as a fortress – in the late 1640s, finally falling to ruin by 1665.
Arguably the most beautiful castle in a nation full to bursting with beautiful castles, Conwy Castle represents a childlike vision of what a castle should look like and from every angle you can get the perfect image, still or moving.
A Treasure Trove of Possibilities
Around every Welsh corner there’s something amazing to film or photograph and when you do, make sure you submit your sensational snaps and short films to Historic Photographer of the Year run by TripHistoric.
This year, we are sponsoring the Ancient History category so if you’ve got something really old, and we do mean REALLY old, we’d love to see it!
Entries for the awards close on Sunday 14th October so there’s not much time left to submit your films and photographs.