En route to the Early Medieval Archaeology Research Group (EMWARG) conference in Lampeter where I delivered a paper on the Pillar of Eliseg’s topography of memory, Adrian Maldonado and myself stopped off to visit the amazing site of the thirteenth-century medieval castle of Castell y Bere, Llanfihangel y Pennant, Meirioneth. This is one of my favourite castles – remote, beautiful, surrounded by knarled oaks and set within a splendid valley. We were alone in visiting the site but for a solitary biker. A true must-see for any visitor to historic sites of Wales.
Frances Lynch in her ‘Gwynedd’ guidebook describes this as a ‘romantic castle’ which ‘appears to grow naturally’ from the spur of rock upon which it is situated. It is possible that it has earlier origins, but the ruins that survive date to the time from 1221 when Llewelyn ap Iowerth (Fawr) built a castle on the spot. The fortification was besieged and captured by the English in 1283 and retaken by the Welsh rebellion of 1294, after which it may have been abandoned.
The castle features the distinctive D-shaped towers of other castles by Llewelyn. The North Tower might have contained the royal chapel, whereas the South Tower – separated uniquely from the rest of the castle – might have housed the royal apartments. The central tower was the principal defensive feature of the castle. Other notable features are the two draw-bridge entrance with odd barbican and round tower. Just inside the entrance is the superb well.
The rock-cut ditches defend the entrance and separate (distinctively as this happens at no other site) the south tower from the rest of the castle (see above). As Adrian observed, the ditches are more than a defensive feature: the bare rock itself creates a formidable aesthetic: a daunting defensive of jagged, rising stratigraphy.
The other striking thing about the castle is the location; situated in the middle of a tight Dysynni valley, very much an isolated dead-end that gives the sense of being a perfect location for a monastic foundation as much as a castle. Our road trip then went on – we headed for Llanbadarn Fawr, subject of another blog post.