I stagger as Aidan runs into me, clinging on for dear life. “Where?” I ask, smiling at the surprise in his eyes as he realises I’m excited instead of afraid.
“In the pit, over there.” He leads me to it, just past the moat surrounding Caerphilly Castle and beside a ‘ye olde’ signpost proclaiming the trench to be a dragon’s lair in both Welsh and English.
There is indeed a dragon in there. Four, in fact: two baby dragons, a mummy dragon (presumably), and the head of a large daddy dragon protruding from the entrance of a man-made cave. Anywhere else it might have seemed a little lame, but since we’re in Wales, the heart of dragon country, and this is our best chance of seeing these mythical creatures, Gareth and I both ooh-and-aah until little Aidan himself is bouncing on his toes, alternating hiding from and exclaiming at the family of dragons.
The novelty soon wears off however – at least for the adults – and we follow a pair of nonchalant geese (careless of the toothy predators within spitting distance) past the pit, only to discover the beleaguered statue of a knight straining to keep one of the castle’s towers from falling over. At an angle of 10° (compared to the 4° lean of the famous tower at Pisa), the knight looks like he has his work cut out for him.
Backtracking, we amble through the Keep’s gate and enter the courtyard. We make a habit of visiting Caerphilly Castle every time we come to town to visit family, but we rarely go inside. This time, we’re delighting in exploring these old ruins with the wide-eyed amazement of a 7-year-old boy egging us on, past crumbling walls and windows open to the elements.
We stumble upon four artworks inside a little round tower room. Intricately carved, each of the ‘Four Heads’ tells a little bit of the story of the castle in a unique and interesting way.
From there, we head up curved stairs to see a great room with a large hearth and a colourful tapestry, our minds conjuring up images of a time long since past. We hear the clatter of the portcullis being raised and lowered. We discover a maiden’s bedroom and see a crossbowman take aim across the battlements. We walk on top of the thick walls, gaping at the view and wishing every day was as good as this day.
Finally, exhausted, we pause for a break on a bench inside the courtyard, while a group of young schoolchildren that can collectively only be described as a ‘noise’ enters the castle, with two harassed-looking teachers in tow. We sigh in relief, grateful that we were already done exploring the interior.
We head back to the dragon pit for a last goodbye, and Aidan finds a button to press. Suddenly, a manly voice with a pronounced Welsh accent erupts from a speaker close by. The storyteller captivates us with the tale of the Cadw dragon family. We are so enraptured that we hardly notice the schoolchildren joining us, all quietly listening to the story as well.
When the tale ends, we leave the kids (now quite raucous again) behind and head for the souvenir shop. Aidan twists my arm and I buy him a small red dragon, so that he will always remember his visit to Wales and the story of the dragon family living underneath Caerphilly Castle.
But our adventure isn’t quite over yet! There is more to see outside the keep. For their sins, both Aidan and Gareth have a turn at being locked up in the stocks, while I regret the lack of rotten tomatoes to hand.
Released from their punishment, we head on to investigate the life-sized replicas of siege engines on display. My favourite is the trebuchet, and I imagine what it must have felt like being trapped within a castle while besiegers pounded the walls with enormous boulders.
All too soon, our time is up! Leaving our medieval daydreaming behind, we head into town to meet up with family over coffee.
Goodbye, Caerphilly Castle – until the next time we come to visit!
Have you visited Caerphilly Castle? Did you see the dragon family? Do you get as excited about exploring old castles as we do?