Fragmented but attractive remains of a minor Norman castle, beside the River Usk: a wooded motte and parts of three towers
At the centre of Crickhowell, 6 miles west of Abergavenny along the A40; NP8 1BE
Near the centre of Crickhowell in south Powys, overlooking the River Usk, stand the fragmented remains of a 13th century castle that was occupied for around 200 years, after which the place became derelict, and eventually most of the stones were removed for other building projects. What survives is a section of a round tower adjoining one wall from a rectangular tower, and a tall fragment of another tower, part of a gatehouse. These are situated at the base of a wooded mound, 50 feet high, which was originally the castle motte, supporting a shell keep; some minor masonry blocks are the only relics from this. The tower fragments were linked to a wall that continued around the grassy area to the south - the bailey, which is now used, somewhat incongruously, as a children's playground; the tall, narrow gatehouse tower is just 20 feet from the nearest play equipment.
Crickhowell Castle is not well signposted, seemingly not regarded as a major attraction in town, and can be viewed in just a quarter of an hour, but the two surviving sections are quite striking, and photogenic. Because the surrounding trees and mound shield most of the nearby buildings, and the castle adjoins open fields to the east (a cricket ground), it still presents quite a rural, unspoiled aspect, even though the main road is just 300 feet away. A suitable parking place for castle visitors is in the Beaufort Street carpark, close by on the far side of the A40.
The first sight of Crickhowell Castle when walking along the approach path is the remains of the double tower, at the east edge of the castle bailey; these consist about half of the walls of a round tower, with several narrow windows, next to one wall of a rectangular tower, still topped by battlements. The footprint of this tower is evident from foundations along the other three sides, while the rear of the round tower is fenced off owing to a moderately deep basement. The walls are substantial, around 3 feet thick at the base, and the internal masonry, including windows, chimneys and fireplaces, is obviously of a high standard. From these eastern towers, a wall once ran 150 feet to the gatehouse, set between a pair of D-shaped towers, and the other significant fragment of the castle is a tall but slender wall from the westernmost of these towers. Again, the other gatehouse components are evident from foundations, at most one foot high. The tower fragment is about 30 feet tall but just 6 feet across at the base. A path climbs the wooded hill beyond, and the summit gives good views of the castle site, through gaps in the trees. Apart from a few overgrown stones on the hill there is no visible trace of any other part of the castle, which included five more towers along the remainder of the bailey walls, and the circular shell keep.
Crickhowell Castle began with a motte and bailey construction, built around 1120 on a low ridge above the north bank of the River Usk, beside a small tributary stream, and was initially held by the Turberville family. In 1243 it passed by marriage to Sir Grimbald Pauncefote, who replaced the wooden fort with a stone keep, and installed stone walls around the bailey to the south, and, apart from a brief period with the Mortimers, it stayed with the Pauncefotes until 1403 when the castle was attacked and partly destroyed by Owain Glyndwr, leader of Welsh uprisings in this area. Parts remained habitable for another hundred years or so, but the place was later abandoned, and stones were gradually removed, though it seems the ruin was significantly more complete as recently as the 19th century. The castle is also known as Alisby's Castle, after Gerald de Alisby, who was governor during the 1320s.