How do you prop up a stone tower leaning at over 10°? Very Caerphilly. Cheesy puns aside, the tilt of Caerphilly Castle’s Civil War-damaged south-east tower surpasses Pisa’s by a whopping 6°.
But here you have to share your holding-up-the-tower snap with a six-metre-tall statue that’s already doing the job; it represents the 4th Marquis of Bute, who, from 1928 to 1939, continued the restoration of the castle started by his father.
Dominating the heart of Caerphilly, this awe-inspiring 12-hectare fortress is the second largest in Britain, behind only Windsor Castle. Commissioned by Gilbert de Clare in his bid to defy Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, it was built in a rapid three years, between 1268 and 1271. The first concentric-circle fortification in Britain, its design – on an island surrounded by artificial lakes – made it a formidable bastion. Allow two or three hours to explore the gatehouse rooms, restored and reroofed Great Hall, and the recreated wooden fighting platform.
For lunch and a proper Welsh cake with a view of the castle, cross the road to Glanmor’s Tea Rooms on the corner of Castle Arcade before starting your foray up the mountain.From the car park at the rear of the castle, drive around the one-way system into Market Street, turning left into Van Road. Go past the industrial estate and up to the car park at the summit.
1. From the top
At the bottom of the car park, walk through the gap in the low wall and take the left fork going gently downhill. Stay on the left-hand path, past silver birch, thick ferns and bracken, with stunning views of the ridge on your left. As you enter the woods, keep going downhill on a wide track as it turns to the left. When the path forks at the stone waymarker, take the right turn and go straight downhill to Coed Parc-y-Van car park.
2. Into the woods
Leave the car park, turning right into Van Road, and in 150m carefully cross the road to join a marked footpath going steeply uphill past houses. Turn right at the driveway, and at the road, turn left to go uphill, over the railway and past Wernddu House. At the sign Coedydd Caerffilli The Warren, go straight ahead.
3. Black gold
In roughly 150m, turn left through the metal gate into Coed y Werin and continue gently uphill through gorgeous mixed woodland, managed by Caerphilly Woodlands Trust. For a short diversion, look out for a path on the right that takes you to an information board ‘Carboniferous Caerphilly’, and to view Rhondda No.2 Coal Seam, its black gold glistening.
Return to the route and at another information board about the coal, clay and brick works once sited here, turn left on to a path going uphill. At a metal gate, cross the road, watching for mountain bikers, and go straight uphill into Forestry Commission woods. Keep a look out for fabulous fungi on the forest floor.
4. Forest finds
At the clearing just past the air shaft, turn right on to a narrower path, going uphill through woodland. The path steepens, then at the T-junction turn right. Go through two metal gates, then turn left on to a road that leads up on to the ridge and through farmland. Continue uphill, the fence on your left. Under the spreading beech trees, look to your left for gorgeous views of Caerphilly Castle. On a clear day, you can see across the heads of the valleys as far as the Brecon Beacons. Continue uphill, and where the path forks, turn left.
5. Rolling ridge
At the top, turn left on to Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Walk, pausing for beautiful views over Cardiff and to the Bristol Channel beyond. Bring a container for blackberries – the pickings are rich here. Go through a field, then the farm gate and turn left to follow the single-lane road past the farm buildings and down through a copse of beech. Continue until you reach Van Road and cross carefully, back to the car park where you began.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.