Welsh dungeons a magnet for fantasy fans.
Chic geeks with money to burn are providing a boost to the economy by travelling long distances to visit our castles and dungeons, Welsh heritage body Cadw has revealed.
Fantasy fans who adore the likes of Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter and Dungeons and Dragons are desperate to visit real- life places that inspired the magical adventures.
And Wales is rich with a heritage of dramatic countryside, myth, legend and historic buildings. It makes a compelling mix for visitors, especially Americans. They are also keen to buy souvenirs to show off their experiences.
Rhodri Owen, spokesman for Cadw, said this was having a real impact for visitors of all ages.
'You need only look at what children are buying in their droves at a number of Cadw's sites - play shields, wooden swords and archery outfits. The Harry Potter effect is well and truly at work and has undoubtedly led to a renewed interest by the younger generation in Wales' built heritage and its history. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was also an enormous success with Tolkien fanatics following this epic fantasy classic.
'With the stresses of today's daily life, people, young and old want some form of escapism and to dream of another world far away from this one - a world full of magic, wizardry, goblins and castles. Castles are often the perfect setting for anybody with a vivid imagination and indeed have been used as realistic backdrops in a number of Hollywood movies to depict the days of yore.
'We in Wales are very fortunate to live in a country that is often called the 'Land of the Castles'. Wales is home to some of the finest surviving examples of medieval construction in the world with over 400 castles built so near to each other.'
Today is international Dungeons and Dragons Day and Cadw said this game's appeal, which has spanned more than three decades, adds to the allure of Wales' historic sites. Mr Owen said, 'Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy role-playing game set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world with all manners of monsters. While Wales may not be able to offer living mythical beasts, we have a roaring red dragon on our flag, and we can offer a taste of a real medieval world and buildings, with our incredible castles.'
Dungeons and Dragons internet chat-rooms from the USA reveal a fascination with European history as an inspiration for the fantasy genre. Some tourists even boast of having 'actually stood in a real- life castle or dungeon'.
'These sites offer visitors a rare opportunity to travel back in time and discover what life was really like for the prisoners, and learn the secrets of the dark underworld and even pick up a few tips for their next Dungeons and Dragons encounter,' added Mr Owen.
The fantasy genre until recently may have seemed like a strange sub-culture for nerds and comic-book obsessives. But its influence on modern life should not be underestimated - take the video gaming industry for example.
'D&D has a special place in pop culture,' said Charles Ryan, brand manager for role-playing at games company Wizards of the Coast. 'You know a lot about D&D already. If you've ever played a game that uses levels, you know D&D; or hit points - that's D&D too.'
The huge success of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter books and films also helped make fantasy a respectable genre again, and tabletop gaming gets bigger every year with an estimated four million gamers taking part each month. Dungeons in the land of the Dragon - three of Wales' most perilous passageways
Carreg Cennen Castle: Features a mysterious passageway, which is open to visitors, leading deep into the rock face beneath this dramatic West Wales castle. The cave runs back into the hill for about 50 yards, consisting for the most part of a low, narrow gallery. The tunnel in the cliff at Carreg Cennen may be a natural feature as there are several other such tunnels running in the area.
Kidwelly Castle: Houses a well-known main prison or dungeon. From the great passage, a door on the right leads into a room which, at first glance, looks as if it houses the castle's well. On looking down into the 'well' it is apparent that it is no such thing, but a large and bare pit - the castle's main prison.
Conwy Castle: Contained a special dungeon tower fitted with an oubliette - from the French 'oublier' meaning to forget. A stark reminder of lengthy stays for many a prisoner. A pit was entered through a trap door, and at the bottom the only light and ventilation was a narrow shaft barely 18 inches square, in a wall 12 feet thick. This was indeed the point of no return!