Dinas Emrys

Dinas Emrys is a medieval castle that overlooks Llyn Dinas in Snowdonia near Beddgelert. The current castle was built over the top of an ancient hillfort and sits on a strongly fortified rocky outcrop. The castle started out as an Iron Age Hillfort. According to Welsh mythology, it was here that King Lludd ab Beli buried two dragons, one white and one red, which were to fight each other for all eternity. Modern archaeology reveals that Dinas Emrys was reoccupied in the late Roman period, since the rough stone banks around its western end date to this time. With the departure of Rome, chronicles from Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth tell the story of King Vortigern retreating into Snowdonia during his wars against the Saxon invaders and choosing this location as the place to build his seat. Unfortunately for him, Read more…

Dinas Dinlle

Dinas Dinlle is an Iron age hillfort, and possibly once the site of a Roman lighthouse, located southwest of Caernarfon on the Irish sea in North Wales. The hillfort is a roughly rectangular defended enclosure with a high inner rampart and also an outer terraced rampart, which is divided by a deep ditch. It measures approx. 230m north-south by 145m east-west and would originally have enclosed approx. 4 hectares. The fortifications survive on only three sides today as the west side has been eroded away by the sea. Formerly the site may have stood well inland.  Even today, it is possible to make out small depressions which are thought to indicate the locations of Iron Age huts. It also includes a mound that may be the remains of a barrow or burial. Finds of Roman pottery suggest that the Romans Read more…

The Celts in Wales

The Celts are an overarching term to refer to the ethnic group that spread through Europe in the pre-Roman era. The Irish, Welsh, and Scots all have a Celtic ancestry, but they settled their respective regions before the Roman conquest of Britain.  There is an amazing amount of debate as to the origin of the Celts:  were they Phoenician?  stocky and dark?  tall and blonde?  as culturally cohesive as the label suggests?   The standard theory is that the Celts were an Indo-European group that gradually migrated across Europe and Asia, with an identifiable, distinct culture by 750 BC.  As a group, they were well-known to the Greeks and Romans.  The map to the right shows the migrations of the celtic (or proto-celtic) groups around 1000 BC.   Note the expansion of the Celts in particular between 500 and 200 BC into the Read more…

Iron Age Hill Forts in Wales

Hill forts were a significant part of the Iron Age in Wales, which occurred during the 500 years leading up to the Roman conquest of Britain.  “The earliest iron artefact in Wales is a sword dating to about 600 BCE, but by 400 BCE iron was being smelted and crafted into tools all over the British Isles. The tribes of Wales developed regional styles of working iron, gold, and other metals, following the exquisite western European style known as La Tene (after the village of La Tene in Switzerland). At the same time as iron was introduced to Britain a new crop of settlers arrived from northern Europe.”  http://www.britainexpress.com/wales/history/iron-age.htm   This new group were the Celts.  They overran the whole of Britain, whether by conquering the then-native peoples, or gradually settling the country over a period of time. According to the Read more…

Dinas Bran (Castle)

  Dinas Bran is a medieval castle begun in 1260 and destroyed in 1277 during the Welsh wars with King Edward I of England. The first settlement that we know of was an iron age hill fort, from which it gets its name.  “Dinas Bran” is variously translated as “Crow Castle,” “Crow City,” “Hill of the Crow,” or “Bran’s Stronghold.” The castle first appears in 12th century historical documents as part of a medieval piece entitled “Fouke le Fitz Waryn,”or “The Romance of Fulk Fitzwarine.” While this work claimed that the castle, known as “Chastiel Bran,” was in ruin as early as 1073, the remains we see today date to the occupation of the princes of Powys Fadog in the mid 13th century. Possibly, the Chastiel Bran mentioned in the romance was a Norman timber castle, but nothing of substance Read more…

Caer Fawr (Iron Age Hill Fort)

Caer Fawr, or ‘The Great Fort’, is the scene of the final battle in The Pendragon’s Quest.  It is an iron age hill fort with extensive fortifications, most of which are hidden now by vegetation.  The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales did a study of Caer Fawr and if you’re interested in the topic, it’s worth downloading:  http://www.rcahmw.gov.uk/LO/ENG/Publications/Electronic+Publications/Gaer+Fawr/ It “occupies a prominent hill 1.4 kilometres to the north of Guilsfield (Cegidfa) and 5.4 kilometres north of Welshpool in the old county of Montgomeryshire, now Powys. The topography of this area is dominated by the River Severn, 4.7 kilometres to the east (Fig. 2). The hills flanking its wide river plain rise gently to the west and more steeply to the east and are cut by the tributary rivers which feed the Severn. A series of Read more…

Aberystwyth Castle

Aberystwyth Castle, located on the west coast of Wales, is one of the few large castles in Ceredigion proper.  To the east is mountainous terrain and it guards the entire north/south coast of Wales.  A fort has existed in the area since prehistoric times, and over the centuries, different peoples have added to, knocked down, and rebuilt multiple fortifications. The first ‘castle’ at Aberystwyth was on Pen Dinas.  It is an iron age hill fort, overlooking both the sea and the city of Aberystwyth.  It was occupied for about 300 years, into the first century BC. “The ridged top site is enclosed by a series of banks and ditches.There have been numerous finds on the site and most are now in the hands of the National Museum of Wales. They include a clay pot made in the Malvern Hills and Read more…

A Medieval Siege

Besieging a castle was a far more common form of warfare than a fight on an open battlefield.  Sieges had the element of surprise and required fewer men than battle too, such that a ruler could beseige a castle with his enemy inside, while freeing other forces to wage war elsewhere. The goal in beseiging a castle was not to destroy it, but to take it, since castles were pawns in the great game of controlling land.  They were usually heavily fortified and defended, so a beseiger had several options when he was on the outside looking in: 1)  to starve/wait them out 2)  harassment and trickery 3)  a straight assault Often, attackers employed all three tactics at various times.  The defenders, on the other hand, hoped and prayed for relief.  As Saladin says in Kingdom of Heaven “One cannot Read more…

The origins of the name ‘Woodbury’

  The name ‘Woodbury’ has its origins in the old English word wudu, meaning ‘wood’ and byrig, dative of burh ‘fortified place’.   While not native to Britain (as in, not Welsh), it’s roots are Saxon, and thus the place-name ‘Woodbury’ in Devonshire predates the Norman conquest of 1066.   The name was recorded “as ‘Wodeberie’ in the Domesday Book of 1086, and the latter ‘Ve(s)burg’. The derivation of both placenames is from the Olde English pre 7th Century . . . The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of David de Wodebir, which was dated 1273, Hundred Rolls Devon, during the reign of King Edward I.”  http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Woodberry In 1848, there were three locations in England with the name ‘Woodbury’ (and lots in the US, but that’s another story): “WOODBURY, a hamlet, in the parish of Gamlingay, poor-law Read more…