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Is Cadw Membership Worth It?

From the Roman amphitheatre in Caerleon to the medieval castle at Beaumaris, many of Wales’ most important heritage sites are managed by an organisation called Cadw. While many of the 130 archaeological and historical sites in Cadw’s care are open to the public free of charge, some do charge an entry fee – a fee that is waived for Cadw members. But is Cadw membership worth it? In this article I look closely at what membership provides to help you decide if Cadw membership is right for you. We include a list of archaeological and historic sites managed by Cadw from which you can create a personalised itinerary and start exploring Wales.

In the Welsh language, the term Cadw – which is pronounced kadu – means “to keep” or “to protect.” This sums up the organisation’s whole raison d’etre; it works to preserve the heritage of Wales, whether that be a Neolithic portal tomb or an ironworks from the Industrial Revolution.

Cadw is the Welsh government’s historic environment service. As well as working to preserve heritage sites and keeping them open to the public, it oversees research into many of these properties and tries to keep alive the skills necessary for their ongoing conservation.

As of 2022, Cadw manages 130 heritage sites across Wales. The majority are found in northern and southern counties, with fewer in the middle of the country. Most of these attractions are free to enter, although the larger sites typically charge an entry fee to help cover the substantial costs of maintaining them. A small number of these sites, such as the Margam Stones Museum, are jointly owned or run by Cadw in tandem with another organisation.

It should be noted that not all heritage sites in Wales are managed by Cadw. Some, such as Cardiff Castle, are independently run. Others belong to The National Trust, a charitable organisation that is active across the United Kingdom. If in doubt, it is worth checking beforehand whether a site is run by Cadw or not.

What is Cadw Membership?

What are the Benefits of Joining Cadw?

Free entry to Cadw properties

The main advantage of Cadw membership is free entry to its fee-charging attractions. This means that you can visit as many Cadw sites as you wish over the course of a year, including returning to the same places repeatedly, and you will not have to pay entry at any point. This will save you hassle and time when entering each site.

If you visit enough Cadw sites within a year, membership can prove cheaper than independently paying the entry fee to each attraction. As of 2022, Cadw membership for an adult individual cost £53.90 for a year. This money would be recouped by visiting seven fee-charging Cadw sites – Caernarfon Castle (£11.10), Caerphilly Castle (£10.10), Beaumaris Castle (£8.30), Castell Coch (£8.30), Blaenavon Ironworks (£6.60), Tintern Abbey (£6.60), and Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths (£4.80) – which collectively would cost £55.80 for an adult individual.

If you visit a fee-charging Cadw site on average once a month, or are hoping to visit around seven or more Cadw sites on your trip to Wales, then membership will probably save you money. If you only visit around six (or fewer) fee-charging Cadw properties per year, then you may find it cheaper to pay the entrance fee to each one – although there are reasons to become a member other than simply saving money.

Giving you an incentive to see more historic places

Knowing that you have free entry to Cadw sites for a year can give you that extra incentive to actually get out and make the most of your membership. It will also provide the peace of mind that, rather than having to rush around a site to see as much as possible, you can return at a later date at no extra cost to see parts of a property that you missed the first time around.

Handbook and magazines

Cadw members receive two copies of the group’s magazine each year, filled with articles and news about forthcoming events. They also receive a free copy of the Cadw handbook, which gives details about the organisation’s sites and their opening times.

Supporting the work of Cadw preserving Welsh heritage

Joining Cadw means that you will be supporting the preservation of Wales’ heritage. Conserving historic sites and keeping them open to the public costs a lot of money and membership dues are one of the ways that Cadw finances its important work. Even if you do not visit enough Cadw attractions to recoup the cost of membership, you can think of your membership fee as a donation to a good cause.

Benefits in England, Scotland and the Isle of Man

Cadw membership also has advantages for those visiting other parts of Britain or the Isle of Man.

Cadw members are entitled to free entry at Manx National Heritage properties and 50% off entry at sites run by English Heritage and Historic Scotland. Those who renew their Cadw membership at the end of their first year will also be upgraded to receive full free entry to English Heritage and National Scotland properties.

In turn, members of English Heritage, Historic Scotland, or Manx Heritage are entitled to free or reduced price entry to many Cadw properties. For this reason, there is little incentive to become members of Cadw as well as English Heritage or Historic Scotland. However, as membership of these state-run organisations does not provide reciprocal benefits with The National Trust, those who visit a large number of heritage attractions each year may wish to join the latter charity too.

What is the Cadw Monument Pass?

Explore Cadw's Historic Places

Basingwerk Abbey

Founded in 1131, Basingwerk Abbey was initially established by Benedictine monks from Savigny Abbey in Normandy. As Savigny joined the Cistercian Order, so did Basingwerk in 1147, at which point the Cistercians were establishing themselves as the dominant monastic order in Wales. The abbey underwent expansion in the 13th century, from which period many of its Gothic ruins date. Today the abbey stands in Greenfield Valley Heritage Park and is the starting point for the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way that leads all the way to Bardsey.

Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber

Bryn Celli Ddu is probably the most famous archaeological site on Anglesey. A Neolithic monument, it underwent several phases of development. Excavation suggests that it originated as an earthen henge containing several stone settings before people in the later part of the Neolithic period transformed it into a passage grave. In this form it represents an earthen tumulus containing a narrow stone-lined passage aligned with the summer solstice. The remains of several deceased people were then placed inside this chamber, perhaps indicating ancestor veneration.

Caerleon Amphitheatre

The modern town of Caerleon is built on the remains of a Roman legionary fortress and settlement that was known by the Latin name of Isca Silurum. Located on the edge of today’s town is the amphitheatre, a well preserved example built around 90 AD. Containing 8 entrances, it would have seated about 6,000 spectators eager to watch blood sports and gladiatorial combat. The 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth alleged that the amphitheatre, because of its shape, was King Arthur’s Round Table. Archaeologists excavated the amphitheatre in 1926.

Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths

Known at the time as Isca, the town of Caerleon was one of the major hubs for the Roman Army in Britain. Evidence for this can be found at the Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths, a heritage attraction managed by Cadw. Isca was one of just three permanent legionary fortresses in Roman Britain, and today boasts the only Roman barracks on public display anywhere in Europe. Also on show is the open-air swimming pool, or natatio, in which soldiers would have cleaned themselves, relaxed, and socialised.

Carreg Coetan Arthur Burial Chamber

Its name a reference to the legendary King Arthur, who plays an important role in traditional Welsh folklore, Carreg Coetan Arthur is part of a Neolithic burial chamber constructed around 3000 BC. Today it survives as a dolmen, although it is likely that the structure was inside a mound made of earth and perhaps also stone. Archaeologists excavated the site during the 1960s and 1970s, revealing cremated human bone as well as fragments of both Grooved Ware and Beaker Ware prehistoric pottery.

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.

Cymer Abbey

Founded in France, the Cistercian Order spread rapidly across 12th-century Wales. Established in 1198 at the mouth of the Mawddach Estuary, Cymer Abbey was one of the various Cistercian monasteries formed in this period, although never grew to the size of some of the order’s larger establishments. After the monastery was forcibly shut during the dissolution of the monasteries, it is probable that monks from Cymer hid a silver paten and gilt chalice in nearby mountains – where these items were discovered during the 19th century.

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.

Dyffryn Ardudwy Burial Chamber

The double burial chamber at Dyffryn Ardudwy dates from the Neolithic or New Stone Age period. The monument’s builders probably chose the location very deliberately, on a hillside that looks out into Cardigan Bay. Excavation has shown that the first, smaller dolmen was erected here and covered with a cairn of stones, after which a second, larger tomb was built and then encased in a cairn that enveloped its older neighbour. A cup-mark is apparent on one of the tombs, evidence for prehistoric rock art.

Flint Castle

Construction on Flint Castle began in 1277 AD, making this the earliest castle to be built by King Edward I during his campaign to conquer Wales. Using architectural features that are more commonly found in French castles, the layout of Flint Castle is unique in the British Isles. One of its most noted features is the presence of a great tower or donjon in the south-east corner. Royalists held the castle during the English Civil War, after which it was slighted by the victorious Parliamentarians to prevent Royalist re-use.

Archaeology Travel WRITER

Ethan Doyle White

When not exploring archaeology and history sites at home and abroad, and then writing about these for Archaeology Travel, I research religion in early medieval England and contemporary uses of heritage. In 2019 I completed a PhD in medieval history and archaeology from University College, London. Read More

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