A pilgrimage to a private Welsh castle
Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Manorbier Castle in Wales.
There are few medieval ruins in the world "as unspoiled and naturally beautiful" as Manorbier Castle, said Stephen Barry Brookes at The Washington Post. Unlike the 600 or so other ancestral piles in Wales, this 12th-century manor is also privately owned — which in this case means that legions of tourists don't trudge through the grounds every day. What really sets Manorbier apart, though, is the guest cottage within the castle walls, available for renting on a weekly basis. When I discovered that my 26th great-grandfather, a Norman knight named Odo de Barri, was the man who built Manorbier, I had to visit, and the castle's charming owner, Dame Emily Naper, obligingly squeezed my wife and me in for one magical night. The entire castle was ours, she said, then put the key into my hand.
As we strolled the ruins, the atmosphere "felt forgotten and almost dreamlike, as if we'd stumbled into a place undisturbed for centuries." Everywhere we turned we noticed remnants of a vanished world — "a kitchen fireplace large enough to roast an ox, limestone floors worn smooth with time, and narrow staircases spiraling up through battle-scarred towers." Then we pushed open an exterior door, and a landscape appeared that "nearly took my breath away: meadows of wildflowers sweeping down to the glittering sea, with the cliffs of the rugged Welsh coastline stretching off into the distance."
Manorbier is located in Pembrokeshire, a southwestern corner of Wales that is both "steeped in history and spectacularly beautiful." On Tenby's North Beach, a local artist named Marc Treanor had us join him as he carved a vast, intricate geometric pattern in the sand while a crowd of onlookers gathered on the cliffs above to watch. Later, after dinner in the village, we returned to the castle and wandered the silent ruins, sitting briefly in the great hall to imagine my ancestors' lives before climbing an ancient tower to watch twilight fall. "And when the stars finally came out over the crenellated walls, we said good night to the ghosts we'd conjured up, took a last look around, and went into the cottage to dream."