Take a virtual tour around Carew Castle and see photographs of the various rooms.
Elizabethan Walled Garden
Pass through the Elizabethan walled garden containing the herb garden. Although not the original site for the herb garden, herbs played an important part in castle life and this reconstruction shows the four main uses of herbs: culinary, medicinal, aromatic and dye plants.
Look back across the castle green to see the site of the outer wall and gatehouse of the 13th century castle. Excavations have revealed the foundations of this gatehouse, a substantial curtain wall and a rock-cut moat. The road built by Sir Rhys ap Thomas in the Tudor period can be seen leading through the gatehouse. Within the enclosed area in front of you stood stables, a barn, a bakehouse and other buildings, all of which were probably destroyed during or after the Civil War.
Move on to the second gatehouse. Notice that in front of the gatehouse the remains of a ravelin or v-shaped gun emplacement of the Civil War still exist. The early Tudor gatehouse carried massive doors behind which were great bars; the draw-holes for these can still be found on one side with the porter’s lodge above the gate.
From the post marked ‘3’ you can look up at the east range, which at first glance shows a continuous line of wall, but which on closer inspection shows the dividing lines between the late 12th century Old Tower immediately ahead of you, and the late 13th century building on either side.
Arrow slits provided cover against fire from attackers who might have broken through the gatehouse, while the windows show a wide range of styles, from a very early and tiny blocked opening to the Tudor addition to the Old Tower.
Moving into the east range you come to what would have been the third gatehouse. While you’re here have a look at the channel for the portcullis or iron gate, which would have strengthened the doors and drawbolts as the last line of defence. Watch out for the murder holes in the ceiling of the passageway through which the garrison could fire arrows and hurl other missiles at the unsuspecting attacking force below!
Turn right in the courtyard and enter the vaulted undercroft. The east range was built by Sir Nicholas de Carew almost as a house within a castle for his family’s use. This ground floor area provided storage space for food, beer and wine.
Move through the arch into the kitchen passing the staircase on your right. This main room, with its ribbed vaulting, served as a kitchen where cooking would have been done on the open fire. The steward was head of the household under the lord, and as such he had his own private room next door, with a garderobe or latrine.
If you go up the stairs and turn right into the chapel, you will see more ribbed vaulting. This chapel would have been plastered and probably painted in brilliant colours of red, blue and gold. Note the aumbry or cupboard for the hold vessels (left of the window), the piscina (right of the window) and the stoop for holy water (next to door).
The priest, like the steward, was a very important figure in the household, providing basic medical care and teaching the children in his private room next door, with its corner fireplace and window seat. Beyond this is a bedchamber and another garderobe.
If you go up the next flight of stairs you’ll find yourself in the solar. Above this private withdrawing room for the lord and his family you can see the battlements and the corbels which carried the roof timbers. There is a suite of small rooms beyond the solar and further up the spiral staircase is a small guardroom with access to the guardwalks.
Return to the level of the chapel and climb the flight of stairs on your left through a complex of rooms onto an open platform. The platform is immediately above the passageway of the third gatehouse, and at one end has ‘murder holes’ in the floor through which the garrision could fire arrows and hurl other missiles at the attacking force below. The other end of the platform would have housed the winding gear for the portcullis.
Continue to the end of the passage and the south-east tower and you’ll find yourself in what would have been used as a family room. The line of the pitched roof is visible and again the battlements can be seen. The large Tudor windows face south and give excellent views of the surrounding countryside.
Return down one flight of stairs to the level of the chapel and turn left into the Lesser Hall. The Lord would entertain his guests in the hall, which was panelled during the Tudor period. Sir Rhys ap Thomas made a number of alterations to the building, including the addition of the Bath stone Tudor windows.
The upper floor here would have been a bedchamber and you can see a superbly carved Bath stone fireplace. This fireplace carries the coat of arms of Henry VII and was also placed here in the time of Sir Rhys ap Thomas.
Then take the steps into the Courtyard and move across to the three-storied porch. This magnificent entrance to the Great Hall was built by Sir Rhys ap Thomas, and the coats of arms above it are those of Henry Tudor (centre), his eldest son, Prince Arthur (left), and Catherine of Aragon (right).
Arthur was married to Catherine in 1501 but died the following year. Wishing to retain the Spanish alliance, Henry then arranged for his second son, the future Henry VIII, to marry Catherine. This ill-fated marriage famously led to divorce and the break with the Roman Catholic Church and the setting up of the Church of England. Elsewhere in the courtyard a number of Bath stone windows include carved Tudor roses.
Enter the Great Hall through the ground floor entrance. In the Tudor period this building was on two levels, the storage area below and the Great Hall itself, with a high wooden roof. Don’t forget to have a look at the huge fireplaces on either side of the minstrel’s gallery at one end. This hall saw the gathering of most of the Welsh nobility for the Great Tournament of 1507.
Go up the stairs of the north-west tower to the first floor. This great corner tower of the castle is said to be haunted by the ghosts of a seventeenth century lord and his pet ape, who died in mysterious circumstances (visit the Ghost Stories page to find out more…). From the windows of this first floor room there are excellent views of the 23-acre millpond, the causeway and the restored tidal mill.
Return to the courtyard and take the next entrance on your left. This will bring you to the last part of the castle to be built – a huge extension running the full length of the north front, the work of Sir John Perrot during the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603). The very large windows in the outer wall show that the castle was being transformed into a country house. The inner wall, with its arrow loops, and the curved flank of the north-west tower were once part of the outer face of the castle.
Elizabethan long gallery
Now make your way into the next doorway in the courtyard. Here you can see the immense scale of Sir John Perrot’s building on three levels, with the top one running the full length of the castle on this side, thereby forming an Elizabethan long gallery some 46 metres (150 feet) in length. The castle continued to be inhabited up to and beyond the Civil War. It was finally abandoned to become a ruin in 1686.
And now, if you haven’t already, take the mile-long walk around the millpond to get some fantastic views of the castle and tidal mill from every angle!