The Secret Castle of Usk

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The Secret Castle of Usk

Norman ruins, garden art, and stunning scenery at Usk Castle in southeast Wales

(Last updated September 2023)

Usk (Brynbuga in Welsh) is a town of just under 3,000 people in southeast Wales. It is located along the River Usk, a salmon fishing river. It developed as a small market town and is a regular winner of the Wales in Bloom contest. And it has a secret castle waiting to be discovered.

Usk was an overnight stop for us on a short trip into south Wales. In the morning, we planned to head directly to our next destination in the Brecon Beacons with a visit to Raglan Castle along the way. We knew there was a castle in Usk, but it did not receive the same amount of tourism coverage as other sites in the area, including Raglan. We almost left town without seeing the castle and that would have been a shame. The ruins were impressive, the grounds beautiful and peaceful, and the views stunning.

Entrance to Usk Castle
Entrance to Usk Castle

Usk Castle and town were likely laid out around 1120. The first mention of the castle is from 1138. Today the castle is privately owned. It is open to the public most days during daylight hours for self-guided tours. We passed through a stone archway to enter the grounds. On a shelf inside the entrance we found a money box for donations and a pot of pebbles. We were to take a pebble from the pot and place it into a wooden bowl, the owners’ way of counting visitors.

Usk Castle Gatehouse wall
Usk Castle Gatehouse wall
Usk Castle Garrison Tower
Usk Castle Garrison Tower

Usk Castle

Signboards provide information about the history of Usk Castle. Topiary and wooden sculptures are found throughout the grounds. Rather than detract from or clash with the ruins, they blend nicely with their surroundings and add to the serenity of the site.

Usk Castle garden art

Usk Castle Tithe Barn
Tithe Barn with view of Usk town in background
View from Usk Castle
The view

Usk Castle view

You only need thirty to forty-five minutes to tour Usk Castle, although you may want to linger longer and enjoy the scenery and serenity. In addition to being open to the public three days a week, Usk Castle is available to rent for weddings and other events.

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  1. Another treasure you’ve brought to my inbox, Donna! I’ve never heard of Usk, but how lovely. I am always amazed that the owners of these historical sites allow and encourage visitors in order to preserve the history and make it a living thing.

    1. Jacquie, it is a bit amazing that private owners preserve history in this way. But wouldn’t it be cool to own your own castle? You’d likely feel you had to share it!

    1. Deb, it was an unusual and clever way to count visitors. The topiary was a bit of a surprise. It was nicely done and fit into the landscape.

    1. Anita, the fall colours were lovely, but I imagine Usk Castle would be quite beautiful in summer when flowers are in bloom.

  2. I love the grounds and the gardens that complement the ruins. I am glad that a private owner is keeping the history and tradition alive. I was thinking my daughter could have been married there instead of in Guthrie Castle in Scotland!

    1. Carol, Usk castle would be a beautiful spot for a wedding but I’m sure your daughter’s wedding at Guthrie Castle was lovely too. Getting married at a castle sounds so romantic!

  3. Always lovely to find something like this which is off the main tourist routes. Did you have it to yourself, or were there other visitors there. It looks like a lovely place to meander about.

    1. Yasha, there was another couple who left shortly after we arrived. We were alone for the rest of our time there. It was lovely to meander around on our own in the misty morning.

  4. Usk Castle truly is a hidden secret in Wales. I’d love to return to Wales and explore more of its history and architecture ( and food!)

    1. Rachel, I too usually enjoy imaging what ruins were like when new and did that in other sites. At Usk, I found myself more just soaking in the current mood and beauty.

  5. On our first trip to Wales in 2014, we discovered that it truly is the land of Castles. That trip we were on the western shore and toured big sites like St David’s. The trip this spring, my sister and I will be seeking out these hidden gems. Donna, thanks for showing us another place to put on the list!

    1. Rose Mary, this was first trip to Wales, but I got the feeling it has lots of hidden gems. Enjoy your upcoming trip.