OF all Wales’ 400 or so historic castles, the most formidable and impressive are undoubtedly the ‘Iron Ring’ of fortresses built by Edward I to encircle Gwynedd in North Wales — the last bastion of Welsh resistance to the hated English overlords.

Edward's 'Iron Ring’ of mighty fortresses at Conwy, Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Harlech encircled Snowdonia, effectively crushing Welsh rebellion and together representing Europe’s most expensive and ambitious medieval military building project.

But beyond these big hitters are a number of other lesser known ruined castles like Ewloe and Hawarden in the east, and Dolbadarn and Dolwyddelan in Snowdonia and even some sites where castles used to stand such as Mold's fascinating and mysterious Bailey Hill.

Attempting to link these historic sites together is Flintshire pensioner Mike Stevens, whose latest book offers walkers a pioneering 235 mile trail from one castle to another, enabling hikers to plot a course between all of North Wales' fortifications from Chirk to Caernarfon.

"I'd walked the Pilgrim's Way from Basingwerk Abbey to Bardsey Island and written a book about it so I was wondering what to do next," says Mike, who lives near Mold. "Many people are interested in the castles of North Wales but by and large they visit them by car and I didn't know of any guide book which helped you to walk from one to another.

"I thought it was a pretty good idea for a walk and would inspire people to get out and walk a new long distance route."

Effectively inventing a new trail wasn't easy for Mike, 80, who was forced to rediscover old footpaths and rights of way criss crossing the varied terrain.

"Little bits of it follow established walks, but in the main the route is completely my own," he says proudly. "Some bits were straightforward, but others like Dolbadarn to Dolwyddelan and the Roman ruins at Trawsfynydd are not walked very often. It was virgin territory in many ways and it was quite good walking along thinking 'this is my idea'!

"It would be great if it could become a recreational path on an ordinance survey map, but until then it won't be easy to find unless you have my book. I would like the walk in Flintshire especially to become established as the route between Caergwrle, Hawarden, Flint and Mold would make a very good path."

Recently, Culture Minister Lord Elis-Thomas spoke of the need to make North Wales' castles more accessible and informative at the launch of a new booklet called The Castles of the Lords and Princes of Wales which aims to promote the castles closely associated with the Welsh lords and princes.

"Caergwrle has now been taken over by Cadw which means it will get more status, but in truth it has been pretty much neglected," agrees Mike. "The same with Ewole and of course Hawarden's castle is difficult to see because it lies on private land and is only accessible a few days a year. Some of the castles are really fantastic, but some are in a poor state of disrepair. I'm very pleased that Bailey Hill has recently been awarded some funds because they are trying to redevelop the whole site and it will be good if the walk leads to these neglected places being opened up a bit."

At 235 miles long, Mike's trail would be a challenge for any walker, let alone one who has recently celebrated his 80th birthday, but the former college arts lecturer hopes other older ramblers follow his lead.

"I spread the whole project over a couple of years and luckily I had a companion, Hugh Taylor, to help me along the way," he laughs. "Many of the walks are two car jobs as they are linear walks so you end up 15 miles away and have to get back to base but to be fair to the bus service in North Wales we used the bus a lot to get back to our car and it was very good."

As for a favourite part of the walk, Mike prompts for the mountainous surroundings of Snowdon and the route between Dolbadarn at the foot of Snowdon and Dolwyddelan in the valley beyond.

"You can go over Snowdon or go around it but going up Snowdon is spectacular," he says. "Going on to Dolwyddelan is a wonderful walk there's no doubt about it.

"I think Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon castles are all fantastic. There the ones we really now about and they really rise up out of the earth and greet you. They're really good to walk towards - it's wonderful to have that objective and with some of them the castle comes into view long before you actually get there and it's very uplifting."

Despite his advancing years, Mike, who is also a keen actor, shows no signs of slowing down with another walking project looming on the horizon.

"When you are a walker you keep on walking," he adds. "Unless something physical prevents you, you just keep on doing it, but of course it's good to still be able to put one foot in front of the other.

"In terms of walking I have a plan to walk the border of Wales. The coastal path goes from Chepstow to Chester but the missing link is the inland route or as someone described it as 'racecourse to racecourse'. It's a long walk and will probably take me about two years but I'm determined to do it if I'm still here."

The North Wales Castles Trail is out now, published by Kittiwake and available in all good bookshops. Mike will be signing copies in Mold's The Bookshop on Saturday September 8 at 10 am and at Courtyard Books in Llangollen on Saturday, September 15.