Penrice Castle, Swansea


★★

Cliff below the castle
Lake in a nearby valley

Large but privately-owned remains of a 13th century castle, inland from Oxwich Bay; viewable only from a distance, along a driveway
Management
Entry
Free
Location
Near the village of Penrice, along the A4118 on the Gower Peninsula
The tiny settlement of Penrice sits on top of a hill near the south side of the Gower Peninsula, overlooking a narrow valley containing a marshy stream which soon meets the sea at Oxwich Burrows. The first landowner of the site, from the de Penrice family, built a ringwork fort here a few decades after the Norman invasion, a fortification, known as Mounty Bank, that was occupied for over 100 years until replaced in the mid 13th century by a much larger stone castle half a mile northeast, on the opposite side of the valley. Overgrown earthworks of the original can still be seen, while the majority of the replacement stone structure also survives, and this is an extensive ruin, the largest castle on the peninsula, and relatively little changed from the middle ages.

Despite its size and architectural interest, the castle is not well known because it lies on private land and is deemed to be in an unstable condition, so for both these reasons it cannot be viewed close-up, instead only from a distance, along an adjacent driveway to the south. Even this view is impressive, however, as the towers and battlemented walls along the south side of the castle still rise to their original height, and are built on a steep-sided limestone outcrop framed by a few large trees, one positioned at an unusual angle. The north walls of the castle can also be seen, from even further away, along a nearby road, but a closer perspective is not possible. The landowners live in a 18th century mansion, also named Penrice Castle, just downhill from the original.

The Penrice family held the castle until 1410, when it passed by marriage to Sir Hugh Mansel, and stayed with this family for over 300 years until it was again transferred by marriage, to the Talbots from Wiltshire; the current owners, the Methuen-Campbell family, are descendants, and can trace their ancestry 29 generations back to the earliest Penrice. The Mansels also owned two other renowned mansions in south Wales, Oxwich Castle and Margam Abbey.


The Castle


The usual parking area if visiting the castle is a layby along the road between Penrice and the A4118, on the floor of the valley, at the edge of a sizable area of woodland. The rear drive from the mansion meets the road just opposite, closed by a gate and marked with a 'Private' notice, but a stile through the adjacent wall indicates a public right-of-way, which is along the drive, right past the mansion, a short distance further on the main driveway then eastwards along a path. The best views of the old castle are from the front of the current residence, from where the walls are about 150 feet away. The most visible part of the castle is the southernmost two walls of an irregular six-sided enclosure, which has small round turrets at intervals and two larger groups of structures along the far edge, mostly out of sight. They are a round keep-tower to the northwest, adjoining two square towers, and a gatehouse to the north, between two more square towers and next to several other rooms. Although not obvious due to the slightly lower public viewpoint, the castle is high enough to overlook several miles of the coastline, centred on the broad sands of Oxwich Bay.