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CASTELL DINAS BRAN (RUINED CASTLE)

Site Details



NPRN 307064

Map Reference SJ24SW

Grid Reference SJ2224043060

Unitary (Local) Authority Denbighshire

Old County Denbighshire

Community Llangollen

Type of Site CASTLE

Broad Class DEFENCE

Period Medieval

Site Description Crowning the summit of Dinas Bran (NPRN 165276) are the ruins of a thirteenth century castle of the Princes of northern Powys. The castle is thought to have been built in about 1270, if not rather earlier. Although the ruins are stark, the castle seems to have been magnificent and sumptuous, as befitted the principal residence of a prince. It was burnt by its own garrison in 1277 in the troubles of the late thirteenth century. The castle was abandoned after 1282, when the castle of Holt on the Dee was built as the centre of a new lordship.

The castle consisted of a rectangular court, about 82m east-west by 35m, enclosed by a stone curtain wall and with a massive rock-cut ditch and counterscarp bank except on the north where there are headlong slopes. On the short east side there was a great rectangular tower, isolated from the court by a rock cut ditch, and an ornate twin towered gatetower. Midway along the long south side a D-shaped tower projected from the court wall and there appears to have been a hall between this and the tower ditch. There was a further stone built range on the west side of the court. All this is now greatly ruined.
The castle stands within the earthworks of what appears to be an Iron Age hillfort (NPRN 93290). There is a slighter outer circuit of earthworks of unknown date and purpose.

Source: King in Archaeologia Cambrensis 123 (1974), 113-131

John Wiles 26.07.07

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The ruins of this medieval castle sit atop a prominent hill on the outskirts of Llangollen. The site originates with an Iron Age hillfort. Documentary evidence suggests the Princes of northern Powys built a timber castle here in the late twelfth century, but it burnt down without trace. It was probably Gruffudd ap Madog, son of the founder of nearby Valle Crucis Abbey, who rebuilt the castle in stone c.1270, but much like its predecessors, this third and last castle did not last long. When Henry de Lacy, commanding troops on behalf of King Edward I, approached in 1277, the Welsh defenders of the castle set fire to it so that it would not be of subsequent use for the invading English armies. The damage was not excessive as Edward I briefly garrisoned forces here, but the site was abandoned after Holt castle was built as the new centre of the Lordship after Llewelyn ap Gruffudd’s death in 1282.

According to legend, the Welsh princess Myfanwy Fychan lived at this castle and inspired the Welsh bard Hywel ab Einion to compose his famous ode in which he pines for her love. By the time the poem was written, Castell Dinas Brân had lain in ruin for quite some time and Myfanwy had married the nobleman Goronwy ap Tudur Hen, Lord of Penmynydd. It is said that this poem inspired the poem ‘Myfanwy Fychan’ by John Ceiriog Hughes as well as Richard Davies’ lyrics to the popular song ‘Myfanwy’, composed by Joseph Parry.

By the dawn of modern tourism, Dinas Brân was a spectacularly picturesque ruin sitting atop an exposed hill. Its proximity to Llangollen, situated on the historical main road through the north of Wales, ensured the ruins featured prominently in many travellers’ descriptions and drawings.

With assistance from Cadw, Castell Dinas Brân is now taken care of by Denbighshire County Council.

Record updated as part of the AHRC-funded project 'Journey to the Past: Wales in historic travel writing from France and Germany'.
R. Singer (Bangor University) and S. Fielding (RCAHMW), 2017.

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