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BEAUMARIS (Biwmares) is dominated by its Castle (June– Sept daily 9.30am–6pm; mid-March to May & Oct daily 9.30am–5pm; Nov to mid-March Mon– Sat 9.30am–4pm, Sun 11am–4pm; £3.50; Web: www.cadw.wales.gov.uk ), the most picturesque of Edward I's gargantuan fortresses, built in response to Madog ap Llywelyn's capture of Caernarfon in 1294. The architect, James of St George, produced a symmetrical octagonal form, his finest and most highly evolved expression of concentric design. Lacking the domineering majesty of Caernarfon, Conwy or Harlech, its low outer walls seem almost welcoming – belying the deadly ingenuity of its design.
The town's original inhabitants were evicted by Edward I to make way for the construction of his new castle and today the place can still seem like the small English outpost Edward intended, with its elegant Georgian terrace along the front (designed by Joseph Hansom, of cab fame) and more plummy English accents than you'll have heard for a while.
Almost opposite the castle stands the Jacobean Beaumaris Court (Easter– Sept daily 10.30am–5pm; £3, joint ticket with gaol £5.50), built in 1614 and the oldest active court in Britain. It is now used only for the twice-monthly Magistrates Court. On session days you can watch the trials, but won't be able to take the recorded tour or inspect The Lawsuit, a plaque in the magistrates' room depicting two farmers pulling the horns and tail of a cow while a lawyer milks it. Many citizens were transported from the court to the colonies for their misdemeanours; others only made it a couple of blocks to the 1829 Beaumaris Gaol, Steeple Lane (same hours; £3.50, joint ticket with court £5.50), which was considered a model prison, with running water and toilets in each cell, and an infirmary.
After all this gloom, a good way to lift the spirits is aboard one of the pleasure cruises (Tel:01248/810251, Web: www.starida.co.uk ; £5) out to (but not landing on) Puffin Island. The booking kiosk is at the foot of the pier.