Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Welsh Borders
Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

The Borders is a largely rural region stretching along Wales’ boundary with England – a boundary that emerged in the Middle Ages, having meant little in the prehistoric and Roman periods. Probably created largely in the 8th century, Offa’s Dyke passed through the Borders to divide the Welsh territories from the English kingdom of Mercia. Later in the Middle Ages, fortifications proliferated in the Border region, as Anglo-Norman Marcher Lords sought to cement their dominance over Welsh subjects, leaving behind such castles as Chepstow, Grosmont, and Skenfrith. In response, Welsh princes also created their own castles, as at Dolforwyn. However, perhaps the Borders’ finest castle, that at Raglan, only appeared centuries after England fully conquered Wales in the 13th century. Other survivals of the medieval landscape in this region include ecclesiastical establishments like Tintern Abbey and the priories at Llanthony and Monmouth. The counties included in the Borders region are Powys and Monmouthshire.

Archaeology & History Sites in Welsh Borders

Chepstow Castle

Situated on a narrow cliff-top overlooking the Wye River, Chepstow Castle is Britain’s oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification. Building began in about 1067 AD under the Norman Earl William FitzOsbern, after which it helped facilitate the Norman conquest of Gwent. Among its medieval features are the oldest known castle doors in Europe. Construction continued until the 17th century, when the castle was again on the front line in the English Civil War. Chepstow is the southern-most castle in a string of castles built along the Anglo-Welsh border.

Dolforwyn Castle

A typically Welsh castle with spectacular views over the Severn Valley, Dolforwyn Castle has been heavily reconstructed following two decades of archaeological excavations. Construction on the fortification began in 1273 by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Gwynedd, in an attempt to assert his claim to be the most important of the Welsh princes. Shortly following the castle’s completion, English forces under the Marcher lord Roger Mortimer successfully besieged it. After being abandoned in the 14th century, Dolforwyn fell into a state of ruin.

Grosmont Castle

The now ruined 13th-century Grosmont Castle is thought to have replaced a wooden motte and bailey fortification established shortly after the Norman conquest of England. Grosmont was one of the so-called ‘Three Castles’ that the Normans used to quell resistance in this area of the Anglo-Welsh borders. In the latter decades of the 13th century, Prince Edmund – the son of King Henry III – made alterations to create one of his key residences, while in 1405, Welsh forces besieged the castle amid the Glyndŵr Rising.

Llanthony Priory

It was a Norman knight, William de Lacy, who established Llanthony Priory, deliberately choosing an isolated location. In 1118 the priory came into the ownership of the Augustinians, a monastic order who had only a comparatively limited presence in Wales. They were later forced out by hostile locals but returned to rebuild the monastery in the late 12th century. After closing amid the dissolution of the monasteries, Llanthony Priory fell into a state of ruin, offering a romantic image set against the Black Mountains.

Monmouth Priory

Monmouth Priory began life as a monastery belonging to Benedictine monks in 1080 and became an important hub over the course of the Middle Ages. After falling to the dissolution in 1536, the priory became a private house and then a school. The Victorian era saw the construction of a new building on the site, albeit incorporating elements of the medieval fabric, most notably a late 15th-century window. Its use as a school ended in 1973, with the renovated building becoming a community hub.

Skenfrith Castle

Located on the banks of the River Monnow, Skenfrith Castle was one of the ‘Three Castles’ established by the Normans to help secure their dominance in this part of Wales. The original Norman structure, built by William FitzOsbern in the early 12th century, was later replaced by a larger fort, constructed by Hubert de Burgh between 1219 and 1232. What remains of Skenfrith Castle today are the ruins of what was once a circular keep that surrounded a rectangular ward, with a round tower at each corner.

Tintern Abbey

One of Britain’s finest surviving medieval monasteries, Tintern Abbey stands in an idyllic rural setting along the banks of the River Wye. Founded in 1131 by an Anglo-Norman lord, it was the first monastery in Wales to belong to the Cistercian Order that had formed in late 11th-century France. Other Welsh Cistercian establishments soon followed. The abbey was abandoned in 1536, amid King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Having attracted tourists since the 1790s, Tintern Abbey is now in the care of Cadw.

Tretower Court and Castle

Cadw manage two adjacent sites at Tretower, the court and the castle. The castle arose at the end of the 11th century, initially as a Norman motte and bailey structure. A stone fortification replaced it in the mid-12th century, its prominent tower giving the local area its distinctive name. Built nearby, Tretower Court is a late medieval defended house, largely erected in the 14th century but with later additions. The court is now fully furnished to give an impression of its 15th-century heyday.

White Castle

One of the ‘Three Castles’ established to secure Anglo-Norman control in this area of Wales, the White Castle perhaps gets its name from stone walls that were once whitened with lime wash. The original Norman motte-and-bailey structure later gave way to a stone castle built in the 13th century, largely by Hubert de Burgh. The internal buildings and structure of the castle suggest it was built for military purposes rather than as a noble residence, although following King Edward I’s conquest of Wales it became increasingly superfluous.

Museums & Art Galleries in Welsh Borders

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