Thanks to its politically unstable past, Wales has more castles per square mile than any other European country. Fortress fanatics heading to the Welsh Marches can expect romantic ruins, cruel keeps and elaborate defences.
Prepare for battle as we lay siege to seven special strongholds on a two-day drive through the Shropshire Hills. Why not stay longer and explore the castles and surrounding landscape over a week?
The concealed, rectangular, red sandstone ruins of 13th-century Acton Burnell Castle lie six miles south of Shrewsbury. Edward I stayed at the castle when border skirmishes required his presence, and he also held parliament in an adjacent tithe barn (private) in 1283, believed to be the first attended by commoners. Open daily, free. english-heritage.org.uk/acton-burnell-castle
Thirty minutes south (A49), outside Craven Arms, is the finest and best-preserved fortified manor house in England. Stokesay was built for Laurence of Ludlow, one of the richest men in 13th-century England. Step into the Great Hall and the Solar to experience Middle Age opulence. Open weekends, £8.60 adult. english-heritage.org.uk/stokesay-castle
Barely 20 minutes away, a couple of miles off the A49 (use SY8 4ET for SatNav), is one of the best-preserved motte-and-bailey castles in Herefordshire, and one of the earliest in England. Cut through St Bartholomew’s churchyard to reach Richard le Scrope’s fortress, which once had a rare, octagonal-shaped keep with fine views across North Herefordshire. Open daily, free.
Head north on the B4361 for about 10 minutes to the heart of bustling market town Ludlow and its imposing Norman castle, perfectly poised on high ground above the rivers Corve and Teme. One of England’s first stone-built castles, it boasts a rare, circular chapel, and served as the administrative headquarters for Wales and the Marches during the 16th and 17th centuries. Open daily but closed 20–27 November, £7 adult. ludlowcastle.com
Hidden among Shropshire’s hills, 25 minutes west (B4361, A4113, B4385), stand the romantic ruins of Hopton Castle. One of the few held by the Parliamentarians, it was practically destroyed during a three-week Civil War siege, and its defenders reputedly murdered after surrendering. Open daily, free.hoptoncastle.org.uk
Fifteen minutes along the Clun Valley (B4385, B4368), Clun Castle clings to its vantage point. Established after the Norman conquest but destroyed in the 15th century by Owain Glyndwr’s followers, the 13th-century stone keep sits, unusually, at the side of the mound, not in the traditional middle. Open daily, free. english-heritage.org.uk/clun-castle
Perched above the Welsh Georgian town of Montgomery 30 minutes north (A488, A489, B4385), with fantastic Severn Valley views, stands Henry III’s 13th-century castle. This imposing stone structure was built to repel threats from Llywelyn the Great, succeeding twice before eventually falling during the Civil War. Open daily, castlewales.com/montgom
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.