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8 Welsh castles to explore for free this month; A host of hidden historical and cultural gems are to be opened to the public.

MORE than 300 of Wales' most iconic and unusual properties will be opened free to the public this month as part of the Welsh Government's Open Doors programme.

Funded and organised by Cadw, the initiative will give both local people and visitors alike the chance to explore the treasures of Wales' culture and history, usually closed to the public or which charge an admission fee - from chapels and cathedrals to museums and stately homes.

Here, though, is our list of 11 of the best castles to explore: CRICCIETH CASTLE September 24 & 25, 11am-4pm Built by Llywelyn the Great and perched on a rocky peninsula overlooking Tremadog Bay, its twintowered gatehouse intimidated prospective attackers. Not enough to stop Edward I's forces taking it over 50 years later, however.

Owain Glyn Dwr sealed Criccieth's fate when his troops captured and burnt the castle in the early years of the 15th century. This was to be the last major Welsh rebellion against the English. Tours at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.

RHUDDLAN CASTLE September 24 & 25, 10am-4pm Rhuddlan Castle had such a fiercely contested strategic location, Edward I - in an attempt to maintain access to the sea and keep his fortrees supplied - diverted the River Clwyd for over two miles to provide a deep-water channel for ships.

The castle was rendered untenable after the Civil War, hence its present condition. Ticketed event.

CHEPSTOW CASTLE September 24 & 25, 11am-4pm From around 1067 through to 1690, the castle, almost chameleon-like, the castle changed its appearance as fashions changed in military architecture.

Century after century, the castle grew and grew along its narrow cliff top ridge. The oldest building is the Norman great tower, but building work continued well into the 17th-century as medieval battlements were replaced by stronger musketfriendly parapets. Bows and arrows were so last century. Tours will be at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.

RAGLAN CASTLE September 24 & 25, 11am-4pm Although built for its 'wow' factor rather than with battle in mind, Raglan Castle still held off Oliver Cromwell's forces for 13 weeks in one of the last sieges of the Civil War. The castle was eventually taken and was systematically destroyed by parliament. Enough remains to still impress, however. Tours at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.

DOLFORWYN CASTLE September 17, 11am-4pm A lesser-known Welsh castle that until recently lay forgotten, lost under debris and vegetation.

But Dolforwyn Castle, near Montgomery in Powys, was the focus of a major programme of excavation and conservation between 1981 and 2001 and nestles on a peaceful, wooded hilltop above the Severn valley.

Yet this castle was once a massive statement of the authority of the last native prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.

It lay at the heart of turbulent power struggles between English kings, Welsh princes and Marcher lords. Tours are on the hour from 11am.

HOLT CASTLE September 17& 18, 11am-4pm Situated on the banks of the River Dee on the Wales-England border, a few miles north-east of Wrexham, the castle was built between 1283 and 1311 by John de Warenne and his grandson, successive Earls of Surrey, following the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.

After the castle's surrender at the end of the Civil War, the site was used as a stone quarry, and all that remains above ground today is the central courtyard.

CILGERRAN CASTLE September 24 & 25, 11am-4pm The Normans first saw the potential and established an early 'ringwork' castle at Cilgerran, but the imposing masonry castle we see today was probably the work of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke.

Cilgerran is first mentioned by name in 1165, when the Lord Rhys captured the castle. It was retaken by William Marshal in 1204, only to be taken again by the Welsh during Llywelyn the Great's campaigns in 1215. However, eight years later, William's son, also William, regained control.

LAUGHARNE CASTLE September 24 & 25, 11am-4pm The magnificent medieval castle, turned Tudor mansion, later became the perfect antidote to writer's block for Dylan Thomas, who put pen to paper in the castle's garden summerhouse.

Looking out over the estuary, like an eagle nesting on its eyrie, this impressive relic of ancient times demands you stand and stare. It will simply take your breath away. 'Brown as owls' as Thomas put it so eloquently in his Poem in October.

Some venues have limited of spaces and might be ticket entry - got to to find out


<B The magnificent Raglan Castle near Abergavenny
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 17, 2016
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