The Norman castle at Caldicot is a relatively large fortification, built beside a small stream (Nedern Brook) less than one mile from the Severn estuary in south Monmouthshire, surrounded by lawns and trees and open to the public free of charge as part of the 55 acre Caldicot Castle Country Park, managed by the local council. Caldicot was until the end of the 19th century a small village, with the castle somewhat removed from the centre, and despite the now quite extensive suburbs, the fort retains a secluded aspect.
The castle has a slightly elevated position, high enough to observe shipping on the estuary, and within sight of several miles of the Gloucestershire/Somerset coast on the far side. The place is visited less often than some other large castles in south Wales, perhaps because of its slightly out-of-the-way location, close to both the M4 and the M48 though not directly accessible from either.
Caldicot Castle was begun at the start of the 12th century, and the oldest stone sections are from around 1170 - the circular keep at the northwest corner and the thousand foot-long curtain walls that enclose the inner ward. Other towers, a gatehouse and a great hall were added later, and the site was continually occupied for some 600 years, though it had become mostly ruined by Victorian times, before being restored, with some parts, including the keep and the gatehouse, being used as residences. Today, many rooms are still furnished and one section houses a museum, while the castle is also used as an event venue. Modern additions like health and safety notices, litter bins, cables, pipes and railings slightly spoil the sense of authenticity but the castle overall still has mostly original features, and some areas are still in an evocative, ruined state, such as parts of the walls and two of the corner towers.
The earliest castle associated with the manor of Caldicot was probably a motte and bailey structure, under control of Walter FitzRoger (died about 1129), Sheriff of Gloucester. The first stone sections were added by Humphrey de Bohun, grandson of Walter, and the castle remained with the Bohun family for the next two centuries before passing, by marriage, to Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, a son of Edward III, and it was he who instigated a second major construction phase, adding a new, larger gatehouse and a replacement tower along the north wall, known thereafter as the Woodstock tower. Disagreements with the Crown led to forfeiture of the castle, and it was later owned by the Dukes of Lancaster for a while and then the Dukes of Beaufort, who also managed nearby Raglan Castle. Following gradual abandonment, ownership of the site changed hands several more times until the castle was acquired in 1855 by Joseph Richard Cobb, a lawyer and antiquarian. He, his son and his daughter-in-law spent several decades restoring the buildings, and the family resided here until 1963, when the site was sold to the local council and managed as a tourist attraction.
The road to the castle forks off a residential street on the east side of Caldicot, past a small parking area beside a sizeable lawn - originally the outer bailey, and still partly lined by a low embankment to the north - and continues to a larger carpark in a patch of woodland, between a childrens' playground and the castle entrance. A quarter of a mile path runs along the floor of the still quite deep ditch all around the perimeter of the castle, formerly the moat, giving good views of the outer walls and the exterior of the (five) corner towers. Entry to the castle is through the grand, three-storey gatehouse, flanked by two square towers and guarded by a gate and portcullis. This was the main residential building of the Cobb family, and several rooms are open to the public, containing an assortment of furnishings, artwork and memorabilia, including a collection of relics from the HMS Foundroyant, the first flagship of Admiral Nelson, which were purchased by Geoffrey Wheatley Cobb (son of Joseph) in 1891.
The inner ward of the castle, centred on a well and crossed by a path, is otherwise occupied by a lawn - all structures are arranged around the inside of the walls, separated by trees, bushes and ornamental beds. If walking clockwise from the gatehouse, the next building is the two story southwest tower, which was converted into an apartment in the 19th century. Next is the west tower, or gateway, site of the castle's first entrance, in use during the 13th century. The original doorway is still evident, closed by a modern gate, and the tower survives nearly to full height, though much of the inner walls are missing. In the northwest corner of the castle stands the great keep, adjoining a narrower, D-shaped latrine tower that rises slightly higher. The roofs of both are still accessible, and provide the best overall views of the site. The inner floors of the keep have been restored, and the rooms include fireplaces, window seats and other architectural details indicative of their use as residential apartments. The base of the keep is enclosed by a grassy mound, the remains of the original motte, and entry is via a stairway to the first floor. A shaft in one room leads down to an otherwise inaccessible dungeon.
East Side of the Castle
Thick, overgrown walls link the keep to the north (Woodstock) tower, which is square in cross-section on the inside and chamfered to the north, and is also largely complete inside, with an accessible, battlemented roof. On the east side, after a longer wall section with a blind arch and several windows, are three small turrets and another (modern) entrance, and then the southeast tower, more ruinous than the others though retaining a fireplace, several windows and arrowslits. Steps lead up to a viewing area on the first floor. The wall between here and the gatehouse contains four ornate, recessed, two light windows, once illuminating the great hall, the remainder of which was probably built of wood since no sign of other walls remain above ground.