Dryslwyn Castle looming over the Tywi
View west from Dryslwyn
The Cadw sign

I’m on a bit of a South-West Wales roll here, and also a castle theme. I might as well get it out of the way and do a second-in-a-row post on this subject area. Here, I consider the fabulous Dryslwyn Castle, Carmarthenshire.

I am a great fan of Dryslwyn. I used to take groups of students there regularly when I taught in Carmarthen. I even recall taking a Canadian academic there who hadn’t previously seen the Welsh landscape and remember how astounded they were by the castle and its setting. It really is a fabulous ruin, and yet only one among many stunning castle ruins to be visited in Carmarthenshire.

While my previous blog on Nevern Castle discussed a well-preserved 12th-century motte-and-bailey castle, Dryslwyn is largely dated to the following century. Sitting on an isolated outcrop with the picturesque Tywi valley, within sight of Dinefwr and Carmarthen castles to the east and west respectively. In this location, the castle dominates movement along the valley: a key artery of communication in the landscape of South-West Wales. The ruins of the castle are now paired with the striking Paxton’s Tower, a nineteenth-century folly discussed here, which is skylined to the south-west.

Reconstruction of the earliest phase of the early 13th-century castle and plan of the castle’s evolution through the 13th century

Founded in the early 13th century by the Welsh rulers of Deheubarth, the earliest reference is 1245. There may well have been an earlier site here, but I don’t think there is archaeological evidence conclusively for this. It is therefore difficult to know whether there had been earlier fortifications on the site dating back, as one might suspect, into the early medieval period, if not into prehistory.

Following the revolt of Rhys ap Meredudd in 1287, the castle was subject to a siege by the Earl of Cornwall which involved sappers attempting to undermine the castle falls. The castle was maintained through the 14th century and Rhys ap Gruffudd became constable in 1402 before joining the Glyndwr revolt. The precise impact of the revolt on the castle is unclear and the history of the castle after this date is unknown.

View from the outer gate looking east towards Dinefwr Castle and the Black Mountain

Dryslwyn is notable for being not only a multi-phased 13th-century castle but also a short-lived hill-top medieval castle borough with its own fortifications and gateway. One can clearly see the many house platforms cut into the hillside. The castle had a St Bartholomew’s Day fair from 1281, and presumably the town was established by this time.

The site has seen excavations and analysis by Chris Caple of Durham University, revealing much about life in this 13th-century castle during its Welsh and English phases of occupation. The earliest phase was a circular keep in the inner ward dating to the early 13th century. The inner ward was significantly remodelled in the later 13th centuries and the middle and outer ward were established.

In heritage terms, the portrayal is simple and now somewhat at odds with the 12th-century Nevern Castle preciously discussed. Whilst at Dryslwyn, Caple’s excavations are long finished and published the heritage boards have not been uploaded in over 15 years. As seen in a previous blog, Nevern, the excavations have yet to be updated but the site possesses a valuable website with information about the history and archaeology of the castle.

This is simply a photo essay, so I will now leave it to the stunning pictures I took earlier this year.

The impressive ruins of the great hall overlooking the Tywi, looking west
Artist’s reconstruction of the inner ward’s buildings
Dryslwyn Castle chapel
The dramatic ruins of the inner ward
Another view of the inner ward chapel
View of the inner ward hall with Paxton’s Tower behind
View of the castle from the north end of the outer ward
The gateway into the outer ward

Above is a photo gallery of images pertaining to the castle itself, below are a range of pictures of the medieval borough that grew on the slopes approaching the hill-top castle.

Reconstruction of town and castle
View up through the town’s gateway
The main entrance into the town
Houses within the town
View of the castle across the borough
The borough defences
Looking along the line of the borough defences