Aberystwyth Castle

Aberystwyth Castle is located on the west coast of Wales, and is the only castle of King Edward’s iron Ring of castles that he built in Ceredigion. The castle guards the coastline, as well as entry into the mountains to the east. The first fortification at Aberystwyth was an iron age hill fort, which was occupied for about 300 years, into the first century BC. Other fortifications followed, although the first true castle, known today as Tan-y-castell, wasn’t built until the 12th century. Traces of that castle, which was constructed in earth and wood, are still visible above the River Ystwyth to the south of the current castle. Tan- y -castell was burned by Gruffydd ap Rhys, King of Deheubarth and then rebuilt by Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd of Gwynedd, King Owain Gwynedd’s wayward brother, when he took over Ceredigion after Read more…

Kidwelly Castle

Kidwelly Castle was built by the Normans in the 12th century to control the Welsh of Deheubarth and south Wales. the castle was built above the River Gwendraeth and the town of Kidwelly. Today it consists of a square inner bailey defended by four round towers. It is further protected by a semi-circular outer curtain wall on the landward side, with a massive gatehouse next to the river. A jutting tower protects the riverside walls, making the castle an impenetrable fortress. You might have seen Kidwelly Castle in the opening scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail but it had a long history before that. Initially, it was a motte and bailey castle, meaning it was built in wood on top of a man-made hill and surrounded by a wooden palisade. In the early 12th century the castle was Read more…

Caernarfon Town Walls

This is a 360 degree video of the Caernarfon town walls! You can use your mouse/finger to move around the video as you watch it. After King Edward conquered Wales in 1282, he wanted to control the country and its people more than just militarily and politically. He also wanted to control it socially and economically. To do that, first he built his iron ring of castles, of which Caernarfon Castle was meant to be the central jewel, and then he established walled towns, populated by English settlers, through which all commerce in the country had to take place. In order to build the towns, the native Welsh were evicted, and because Welsh people were not allowed inside the walls, the language of commerce and government was English or French, not Welsh. The Caernarfon town walls were built in stone, Read more…

Sarn Helen

Sarn Helen means “Helen’s Causeway.” It is named for Elen, the wife of Macsen Wledig, who Welsh legend says ordered the building of the roads in Wales in the fourth century. The historical record indicates the road was actually built far earlier by the Roman legions who conquered Wales in the first century AD, in order to allow the rapid movement of troops and military supplies. Most of the Roman road network in Britain was completed by 180 AD. Sarn Helen began in north Wales at the Roman fort of Cae-rhun. It ran south to Trefriw. From there it went to Caer Llugwy and Dolwyddelan. Then it headed through the Cwm Penamnen Valley. It ran past Bryn Y Castell to the fort of Tomen y Mur. From there it went to Dolgellau and may have crossed the Afon Dyfi at Read more…

The Treason of Dafydd ap Gruffydd

Dafydd ap Gruffydd was a member of the royal house of Gwynedd. His father was the eldest son of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, the ruler of Wales in the early 13th century. Born in 1238, Dafydd himself was the youngest of four sons. His family was rocked by conflict throughout his life. With the death of his grandfather in 1240, his father and uncle fought among themselves for control of the country, resulting in Gruffydd’s imprisonment in Criccieth Castle. Dafydd’s mother pleaded to Henry III to intercede, which he did, only to imprison Gruffydd at the Tower of London, as hostage for his brother’s good behavior. Thus, Dafydd grew up in England, as a close companion to Prince Edward, who later became Edward I of England. Gruffydd died in 1244 when the rope by which he was trying to escape his Read more…

Llanfaglan (St. Baglan)

Baglan ap Dingad was a 6th century saint, whose church is located a few miles south of Caernarfon.  Much of the church as seen today dates to the 18th century. The churchyard is circular, however, indicating the site was used for worship possibly even before St. Baglan established his church.  Although many coastal churches were raided by vikings during the early medieval period, there is no record of it having happened to St Baglan’s. At one time St. Baglan’s was a center of community life, but modern times have isolated it and it no longer has a parish.  The beautiful wooden interior furnishings date to the 18th century. Further evidence for St Baglan’s  antiquity comes from several stones built into the fabric of the church itself.  The inscription on the stone indicates it was the grave of someone named Lovernius. Read more…

The Prince of Wales

What is the actual origin of the Prince of Wales? With the death of Queen Elizabeth, and the ascension of Charles to the throne of England, Charles has designated his son, William, to replace him as the Prince of Wales. Readers of my books will be aware that the reason the Prince of Wales is the son of the English king is because, back in 1284, after King Edward I conquered Wales, he hauled his 8 month pregnant wife to Caernarfon so she could give birth to Edward II in his half-built castle there. Then in 1301 Edward gave this son the title, Prince of Wales. Ever since, the Prince of Wales has been the son of the English king. King Charles himself was invested as the Prince of Wales in 1969 at Caernarfon Castle. Though both Wikipedia and many Read more…

Caer Seion

Archaeological evidence indicates that Caer Seion was occupied at least as early as the 6th century BC. Like many iron age communities in Wales, it is located at the top of a hill, in this case Conwy Mountain, with a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside, including the mouth of the Conwy River. Caer Seion is unusual in that the main fort contains a smaller, more heavily defended fort, complete with its own distinct defenses and entrance, but with no obvious means of access between the two. Speculation has suggested that it was accessed by ladder or perhaps even a high walkway, like a battlement. The second fort appears to have been occupied starting around the 4th century BC. It does appear that both forts were occupied simultaneously for roughly two hundred years, until the 2nd century. The larger fort Read more…

Caerhun (Canovium)

Canovium is located on the Conwy River, at what is known now as Caerhun. It was a Roman fort built to guard the northernmost ford across the Conwy River. The road associated with this ford ran from Holyhead to Llanfaes, across the Menai Strait via the Lafan Sands, to Garth Celyn (Aber), and then over the Bwlch y Ddeufaen to Caerhun and points east. Rather than build a brand new road, the Romans improved this ancient pathway. (And we have made videos of many of these places) The fort was originally built around 75 AD in timber, to house upwards of 500 men. The fort was rebuilt in stone in the 2nd century and acted as the Roman administrative headquarters in this area. In addition to a headquarters building, granaries, and barracks, the fort also included a bathhouse outside the Read more…

Pen y Castell

Pen y Castell has been called “a primitive castle of unknown history”. It is located in North Wales, about 7 miles upstream from the town of Conwy, on the east bank of the Conwy River, near Cadair Ifan Goch and above the village of Maenan. During the medieval period, it would have guarded an important river crossing. The castle was constructed similarly to that of Garn Fadryn on the Llyn Peninsula. In his 12th century chronicle, Gerald of Wales indicates that in 1188 Garn Fadryn was newly built, likely by the sons of Owain Gwynedd. It is possible that Pen Y Castell was built by them at the same time. Still visible today, if you beat a path through the woods, are the remains of walls and a keep, all almost entirely overgrown with vegetation. It is particularly beautiful in Read more…

Prince of Wales

Why is the Prince of Wales the son of the English king? And why are there so many people claiming to be the ‘true’ Prince of Wales running about? And why were the rulers called ‘prince’ instead of ‘king’? Like most of Europe, before the Norman conquest of England, all of Britain was divided up into many small kingdoms. At some point after 900 AD, the Saxons in England consolidated all their smaller kingdoms into one with one king, which is why there was a single throne later for William the Conqueror to lay claim to. At that point, Wales was still divided into a dozen small kingdoms, each with a king, not a prince. It was only in 1200 that Llywelyn Fawr conquered most of the country and in order to get recognized by the King of England and Read more…

Penrhyn Castle

Penrhyn Castle is located just to the east of Bangor, on a promontory overlooking the Menai Strait. It was originally a medieval fortified manor house, founded by Ednyfed Fychan, who was the seneschal to the Kingdom of Gwynedd and served Llywelyn the Great and his son Dafydd ap Llywelyn. That original construction was destroyed in the building of the Neo-Norman folly that can be seen today. The present castle was begun in 1822 by George Day Dawkins-Penrhyn, who’d inherited the estate from his cousin, the first Baron Penrhyn. The Penrhyn fortune was built initially on the backs of nearly 1000 slaves who worked sugar plantations in Jamaica and then, after the abolition of slavery in 1833, through the exploitation of generations of Welsh slate miners. By the late 19th century, over three thousand men worked the Penrhyn mine, the largest Read more…