Travel through the Welsh and English countryside to view the remnants of prehistoric, Roman, medieval and industrial sites. Explore the World’s largest prehistoric copper mine, Great Orme; Segontium Roman Fort; medieval St. Davids Bishop’s Palace and Cathedral; and the Castles and Town Walls of Edward I at Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris and Harlech, all UNESCO sites.
Although Wales shares a close political and social history with the rest of Great Britain, the country has retained a distinct cultural identity. On this tour, we will explore the historical origins of this unique land as we visit the remnants of prehistoric, Roman, medieval and industrial sites in Wales and Western England. Our focus will be on the Roman conquest of Britannia and the extensive Roman remains that scatter the modern landscape, but we will also explore the Edwardian castles at Conwy and Beaumaris – both UNESCO World Heritage Sites –, the stunning coastline of which Wales claims 750 miles, and impressive mountain ranges towering above 3,000 feet. Along the way we will experience the charming hospitality of coaching inns and local pubs, the perfect compliment to our exciting days on tour.
Beginning in 1066, the Normans began to push into Wales, but it was when Edward I, known as The Conqueror, ascended to the throne that the downfall of the Welsh kingdoms truly began. Edward first established earldoms along the Anglo-Welsh borders. Then in 1276–77 and 1282–83, he led two military campaigns to defeat the Welsh rulers and bring Wales under English rule. To accomplish this, many castles were built or repaired. And the result is some of the finest castles in the UK – Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech – and we will see them all on this tour!
Depart on a flight bound for London.
Arrive London’s Heathrow Airport and drive to Kenilworth Castle. Originally founded in 1120, in 1563 the castle was granted by Queen Elizabeth I to her favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Dudley decided to convert the castle into a great house fit to receive occasional visits from the Queen. Although now in ruins, the red sandstone remains of the Norman keep, John of Gaunt’s Great Hall, and the residential buildings, as well as a restored Tudor garden and Tudor stables still are visible. Overnight for two nights. (D)
Our explorations of the area include several fascinating sites. Stokesay Castle is the finest and best preserved fortified manor house in England. Built in the late 13th century near the Welsh border, the castle, timber-framed gatehouse, and parish church form an unforgettably picturesque group.
Originally founded in 680, Wenlock Priory was a “double monastery”, housing both men and women. By the early 13th century, the church was rebuilt on a grand scale. The parts still standing declare its former splendor. The medieval priory has elaborate decorations, and the adjoining cloister contains an unusual monks’ washing fountain featuring well-preserved 12th century carvings.
Haughmond Abbey, otherwise known as the Abbey of Saint John the Evangelist, was founded in about 1100. The remains include the Abbot’s lodgings. They provide a wonderful example of the lavish decoration along with skilled craftsmanship employed on the abbey buildings. The Iron Bridge crosses the River Severn. It was the first arch bridge in the world to be made out of cast iron.
Wroxeter, or ‘Viroconium’, was the fourth largest city in Roman Britain. It began as a legionary fortress and later developed into a thriving civilian city. Much still remains below ground. However, today the most impressive features are the 2nd century municipal baths, the remains of the huge wall dividing them from the exercise hall in the heart of the city. Recently a replica Roman Town House has been constructed on the site which gives a fascinating insight into Roman life. (B/D)
We begin the day in the Roman Amphitheater at Chester, built around 86 AD and the largest yet excavated in Britain. It lies beside the Roman fort of Deva and served as an entertainment center and training ground for the troops of the 20th Legion stationed at the fort. After crossing the border into Wales, stop to see the richly-decorated Maen Achwyfan Cross, a monolithic Northumbrian-style wheel-cross that was erected about 1000 AD. Standing 12 feet tall, its decoration includes patterns copied from Viking art. Continue on to Llandudno, a seaside resort town overlooking the Irish Sea, where we overnight at a charming inn for one night. (B/D)
Representing one of the most astounding archaeological discoveries of recent time, Great Orme Copper Mines dates back 4,000 years to the Bronze Age. The result of the studies changes our views about the ancient people of Britain and their civilized and structured society 2,000 years before the Roman invasion. We will enter the Bronze Age cavern, dug out over 3,500 years ago by miners using nothing more than stone and bone tools.
Continue to Conway Castle, built between 1283 and 1289 and located on the north coast of Wales. A masterpiece of medieval military architecture, the fort, a UNESCO World Heritage property, stands in a commanding position on a rocky outcrop overlooking the estuary. Continue to Penmon Priory, what may be the oldest remaining Christian building in Wales. The two high crosses that graced the entrance to the early medieval monastery are now housed in the church. Nearby, an ancient holy well – St. Seiriol’s Well – may have its origins to the monastery’s earliest period.
Our final stop will be Beaumaris Castle on the Island of Anglesey, the great unfinished masterpiece built by the English monarch Edward I to stamp his authority on the Welsh. At the southern end, protected by the shooting deck on Gunners’ Walk, was a tidal dock for shipping. Beaumaris was the last link in the chain of coastal fortresses built by King Edward I to control Wales. We overnight for two nights. (B/D)
In order to leave mainland Wales, we will drive across this span to the Isle of Anglesey where there are many important sites including fascinating Neolithic tombs. Bryn Celli Ddu is a burial chamber dating from the 3rd millennium BC. It was at one time a stone circle inside a henge, replaced later by this impressive tomb.
A cruciform passage grave, Barclodiad y Gawres Burial Chamber is etched with intricate patterns of zigzags and spirals on the walls and roofs. As a result, this adornment gives an indication of the tomb’s significance to the megalithic people who constructed it. Ty Newydd is a chambered tomb with a large capstone measuring approximately 13 feet long and five feet wide and is held up only with the support of two brick-built pillars.
Nearby, sited on a rocky hilltop, lies impressive Trefignath Burial Chamber. Most likely, it served as the collective burial place of the community between 4000 and 2000 BC. This afternoon, we will view two more significant archaeological treasures. Standing nine feet high on a slight ridge dominating the skyline, Ty Mawr Standing Stone is thought to be from the Bronze Age.
Built by the Romans about 300 AD to guard against pirate raids and probably the naval base of the Classis Britannica, the fortlet at Caer Gybi stood on the west shore of the natural harbor at Holyhead. The structure was made up of three defensive walls with circular watch towers at each corner. The fourth fronted the sea and may have been a dock for the Roman warships. The Romans abandoned the region in the late fourth century AD and, by the 6th century AD, Saint Cybi founded a monastery within the remaining fortification walls. A medieval church still stands here today. (B/D)
We begin the day in Segontium Fort built to defend the Roman Empire against rebellious tribes. It held a regiment of up to 1,000 auxiliary soldiers until about 394 AD. Non-citizens, these troops would be in the service of the Roman army for 25 years. Containing fine examples of the finds excavated from the Segontium site, the site museum tells the story of the conquest and occupation of Wales.
Move on to mighty Caernarfon, possibly the most famous of Wales’s castles. Its sheer scale and commanding presence easily set it apart from the rest, and to this day, still trumpet in no uncertain terms the intention of its builder Edward I. Begun in 1283 as the definitive chapter in his conquest of Wales, Caernarfon was constructed not only as a military stronghold but also as a seat of government and royal palace. In the afternoon, board the Snowdon Mountain Railway and travel through stunning scenery and with awe-inspiring views to the rooftop of Wales. Snowdon, at 3,560 feet dominates the landscape of Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. Travel to the delightful village Portmeirion and overnight for two nights. (B/D)
A variety of fascinating monuments will fill our day. Portmeirion’s designer, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis had a lifelong concern with environmental preservation. By building Portmeirion on his private peninsula in Snowdonia, Wales, Sir Clough hoped to show that architecture can be beautiful and fun. Many of the structures were pieced together from buildings destined for demolition. We will enjoy a walking tour of this unique town.
On a rocky peninsula overlooking Tremadog Bay, Criccieth Castle overlooks the town. The history of the castle is deeply intertwined in the medieval conflict between Wales and England. Originally a stronghold of the native Welsh princes, Criccieth was later annexed and added to by King Edward I. Both sides obviously had a high regard for Criccieth’s strategic siting.
Our final stop will be Penarth Fawr, one of the most important medieval gentry houses to survive in Wales. This fifteenth-century hall house displays a unique feature, a spere-truss, a roof-supporting wooden arch. (B/D)
Harlech Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered to be one of the finest examples of late 13th and early 14th century military architecture in Europe, is where we begin our day. Built by Edward I during his invasion of Wales, the ramparts sit atop a spur rock close to the Irish Sea.
Continue on to Cymer Abbey, founded at the end of the 12th century and originally supported by Welsh nobility. Like other Cistercian communities in Wales, Cymer Abbey farmed sheep and bred horses, supplying them to Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Llewelyn the Great. A Quaker community was established in Dolgellau in the 17th century. The Quakers, like many minority religious groups at that time, suffered extreme persecution and this led to the emigration of many to Pennsylvania. We will learn about the Quakers, their persecution, and their escape to America at Dolgellau’s Quaker Heritage Centre.
Our last visit will be Castell y Bere. Strung along a jagged rocky outcrop, the castle was built by Llywelyn the Great in the 1220’s to guard what was once a major route though the mountains. Continue on to Aberaeron where we spend the night. (B/D)
St. Dogmaels Abbey is our morning’s destination. Once famed for its impressive library, the abbey was founded in 1120. Constructed on the site of the ancient pre-Norman-conquest church of Llandudoch, it was named for Dogmael, a 6th century Christian saint and reputedly the cousin of St David, Wales’s patron saint. Links with the medieval past remain amongst the ruins of the old abbey church where original 15th century floor tiles can still be seen in large areas along the length of the nave. In the restored Abbey Coach House there is an innovative museum that displays a collection of beautiful carved medieval stones that once adorned the abbey.
Spectacularly crowning a crag above the wooded Teifi Gorge and protected by steep drops on two sides, Cilgerran Castle was an obvious location for a fort in an area hotly disputed by Welsh Princes and Norman Barons. Traditionally, medieval castles were designed with a keep at the center. But instead, two massive round towers guard the vulnerable side facing inland. Hillforts occur in great numbers in West Wales. These are often smaller than the great hillforts of southern England, but there are many more of them. The best-known, and the most extensively excavated, is Castell Henllys. Step back in time at these unique Iron Age battlements recreated with replica roundhouses built on top of the 2,400 years year-old excavated remains.
Before ending the day, we will stop at two dolmens – Carreg Coetan Arthur Burial Chamber, a Neolithic tomb with large capstone supported by two of the four surviving upright stones, and Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber, a magnificent megalithic burial chamber with a huge capstone delicately poised on three uprights. Continue to Tenby, a harbor town that retains the 13th century medieval walls, and overnight for two nights at a seaside inn. (B/D)
St. David’s Bishop’s Palace, the largest and most important medieval diocese in Wales, is our first visit. During the Middle Ages there were few landowners in Wales wealthier than the Bishops of St. David’s. As well as being princes of the church, they were Marcher Lords appointed by the King of England to guard the border. Therefore, it is hardly surprising these powerful prelates created a group of splendid buildings in their cathedral city. The enduring grandeur of the palace, even after centuries of neglect, testifies to the great power and wealth of the church at this time. Due to its relics of St. David, the patron saint of Wales, the cathedral was considered the holiest site in Wales. A major pilgrimage destination throughout the Middle Ages, it remains a thriving church today.
Built by the Bishops of St. David’s, Llawhaden Castle was founded in the early 12th century to protect the surrounding lands. And the ditch from this early ringwork is still visible today. Journey on, through some of the most scenic parts of Pembrokeshire, to Manorbier. This Norman Castle was the birthplace of the renowned scholar-priest, Gerald of Wales. His books are still essential reading for anyone studying the medieval period in Wales. The castle is a combination of a lavish residence for wealthy landowners and stronghold. Here we learn of feudal life during the Middle Ages, with the castle as the hub of activity, the church on the opposite hillside, and the extensive agricultural lands merging with the sea below.
Stop to see Carew Cross, one of the largest and most elaborate early Christian monuments in Wales. The magnificent sculptured cross is a royal memorial to Maredudd, who, in 1033, with his brother Hywel, became joint ruler of the early medieval kingdom of Deheubarth, now southwest Wales. (B/D)
Kidwelly Castle, one of the finest fortifications in southwestern Wales, is our first stop today. Dominating a long-disputed region, the impressive citadel developed during more than three centuries of warfare between the Welsh and their invaders, the Normans. A chronicle in stone of medieval fortification technology, it is an outstanding example of late 13th century design.
At Margam Stones Museum, we will see an outstanding assemblage of early Christian sculpture and carved stones, all housed in an early church schoolhouse. The collection includes a number of important pre-Conquest early Christian memorials, from the sub-Roman era right through to the hugely impressive ‘cart-wheel’ crosses of the late 10th and 11th centuries.
Neath Abbey was established in 1129 AD when Sir Richard de Granville gave 8,000 acres of his estate in Glamorgan to Savigniac monks from western Normandy. Here, we will visit the remains of an extraordinary complex of monastic medieval ruins, the substantial remains of a grand Tudor residence, and fragments of 18th century industrial furnaces.
Considered to be the richest man in the world in the 19th century, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, wanted to create a rural retreat to complement the opulence of his main residence, Cardiff Castle. The result was Castell Coch, a fairytale-style castle, designed by William Burges. It was lavishly decorated and furnished in the Victorian Gothic style, providing a Romantic vision of the Middle Ages. Now chiefly known as a picturesque folly, it was actually built upon the remains of a genuine 13th century castle, probably founded by a Welsh lord.
Then it’s on to Caerphilly Castle, one of the great medieval castles of western Europe. The largest in Britain after Windsor, it is the first truly concentric castle in Britain. When it was constructed in the late 13th century, it was a revolutionary masterpiece of military planning. Continue on to Caerleon and overnight for two nights at the Priory Hotel, located in the center of this attractive Roman town. (B/D)
Caerleon lay within the territory of a fierce tribe that was not pacified by the Romans until around 75 AD. As a result, Caerleon, then named Isca, was chosen as one of the three permanent legionary fortresses of Roman Britain and was responsible for the military administration of the Welsh tribes. The base was home to one of the thirty Roman Legions (of 5-6000 men each) scattered across the empire. Dr. Peter Guest, formersenior lecturer on Roman History at Cardiff University and the archaeologist who has caused a stir in the media due to recent discoveries in Caerleon, will join us for the entire day.
We begin our explorations at the remains of the amphitheater used by the army for training as well as gladiatorial shows and the best-preserved example in Britain, troop barracks, and fortified walls. After walking through the Roman ruins, we’ll go to the Wales National Roman Legion Museum and Roman Baths Museum.
In the afternoon we drive to nearby Caerwent, founded by the Romans in 75AD as Venta Silurum, to explore some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Europe. (B/D)
Our first stop today will be the imposing Cistercian abbey of Tintern, one of the greatest monastic ruins of Wales. It was built by the local lord of Chepstow, Walter of Clare, in 1131 and the family continued to be generous benefactors. Although the cruciform church is today without a roof, many of the decorated details are still visible along with ornate doorways and windows.
Continue to Cirencester, the second largest town in Roman Britain, where we visit the award winning Corinium Museum, home to one of the largest collections of British Roman antiquities in the country. A short distance away is the remains of one of the largest Romano-British villas in the country, Chedworth. The wealth of the former owner is displayed in the fine mosaic floors, two bathhouses, hypocausts (central heating), a water-shrine, and luxurious flushing toilet.
Overnight at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel at London Heathrow. (B/D)
Return to Heathrow in time for flights home. (B)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.