The Info List - Castell Dinas Bran

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CASTELL DINAS BRâN is a medieval castle occupying a prominent hilltop site above the town of Llangollen
in Denbighshire , Wales
. The presently visible castle was probably built in the 1260s by Gruffydd Maelor II , a Prince of Powys Fadog , on the site of several earlier structures, including an Iron Age
Iron Age
hillfort .

Dinas Brân has been variously translated as the "crow's fortress" or "fortress of Brân", with Brân as the name of an individual or of a nearby stream. An English name, "Crow Castle", has also been used since at least the 18th century.


* 1 Early history * 2 Medieval
history * 3 Castle
layout * 4 Legends and literature * 5 Etymology * 6 Visiting the castle * 7 See also * 8 References * 9 Bibliography * 10 External links


The first building placed at Dinas Brân was not the castle which now stands in ruins on top of the mountain but an Iron Age
Iron Age
hillfort built around 600 BC. An earthen rampart was constructed probably topped by a wooden palisade and this was further protected by a deep ditch on the shallower southern slope. The walls of the hillfort encircled a village of roundhouses. Dinas Brân is one of many hillforts in this part of Wales; Moel y Gaer is just a couple of miles to the north-west near the Horseshoe Pass , and another is close by at Y Gardden in Ruabon
to the east. There are many others on the Clwydian Hills further to the north and in the Marches to the south.


Dinas Brân is in what was once the ancient Kingdom of Powys . The last Prince of Powys Gruffydd Maelor died in 1191 and the kingdom was divided into Powys Fadog in the north and Powys Wenwynwyn in the south. His son, Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor was lord of Powys Fadog and founded the nearby Valle Crucis Abbey . Although no archaeological evidence has been found some records suggest he ruled from Dinas Brân. If a structure did exist it would have been a wooden fortification probably consisting of a wooden palisade surrounding a hall and other buildings. These early records further say it was destroyed by fire and then the new castle was built on the same site, therefore little prospect for finding any archaeological evidence of the early building remains. An even earlier structure has been suggested, belonging to Elisedd ap Gwylog from the 8th century (Ried, 1973). It was this Elisedd who is named on the Pillar of Eliseg
Pillar of Eliseg
and is one of the founders of the kingdom of Powys, but again no physical evidence for any structure at Dinas Brân has been found.

The castle visible today was probably built by Gruffydd II ap Madog son of Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor sometime in the 1260s. At the time Gruffydd II ap Madog was an ally of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
Prince of Wales, with Powys acting as a buffer state between Llywelyn's heartland of Gwynedd
and England
. Dinas Brân was one of several castles being built following the signing of the Treaty of Montgomery which had secured Wales
for Llywelyn, free from English interference. Indeed, the castle at Dolforwyn Castle
near Newtown ordered to be built by Llywelyn around the same time has some similarities to Dinas Brân and may have been the work of the same master mason. The interior of Dinas Brân

Gruffudd died in 1269 or 1270 and the castle passed down to his four sons. Madoc the eldest son was the senior, but each of the sons may have had apartments at the castle. The peace between Llywelyn and Edward did not last long and in 1276 war started between England
and Wales. Edward's larger armies soon invaded Wales
and the support for Llywelyn crumbled. Two of the brothers made peace with Edward, the second brother Llywelyn and Madoc. However, the castle was not in Madoc's control as the surrender document with the English refers to conditions relating to the recapture of Dinas Brân. Meanwhile, Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln arrived in Oswestry with forces to capture Dinas Brân. As soon as he had arrived he was told that the defenders of the castle, probably the younger brothers Owain and Gruffudd - who were still allies of Llywelyn Prince of Wales, had set fire to and abandoned the castle. The reason for this action is not clear but it may be that they had no confidence that they could defend the castle against the English forces, and did not want to let it fall intact into Edward's, or their elder brother's hands. The castle was not badly damaged, the fire being mainly limited to the timber structures within the walls and Lincoln recommended to King Edward that the castle be repaired and garrisoned with English troops. Edward placed some troops at the castle at least into the next year 1277 when Llywelyn sued for peace and ordered some repair work to be undertaken.

The history of the castle during the final war which restarted in 1282 is not recorded. It may have been recaptured by the Welsh like many other castles in the early months of the war but ultimately the English were victorious. Madoc had by now died and the three surviving brothers all fought for the Welsh Prince but to no avail and following the end of the war in October 1282 and the death of Llywelyn Prince of Wales
most of Powys Fadog and the castle was granted to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey . Rather than rebuild Dinas Brân, De Warenne choose instead to build a new castle at Holt on the Flintshire
, Cheshire
border and Dinas Brân continued till the present day a picturesque and romantic ruin.


Dinas Brân is basically a rectangular castle with the longer sides running east-west. Beyond the northern wall the steep natural slope falls sharply several hundred feet whilst the southern and eastern walls are defended by a 20 feet deep ditch. At the south eastern corner where the ditch is at its deepest stands the Keep
which looks out onto a relatively easy approach to the castle from the River Dee. The two-storey Keep
would have been the strongest part of the castle with its own defended approach through a narrow passage. Next to the Keep
at the north eastern corner is the gatehouse which was originally approached by a wooden bridge spanning the ditch. There is however almost no evidence remaining of the bridge and its supporting structure so that the exact configuration remains unclear. The bridge was also overlooked by the Keep
which allowed archers stationed there to guard the entrance. The Gatehouse
had two towers either side of a decorated covered passageway into the castle courtyard. Dinas Brân southern wall and ditch

The Great Hall
Great Hall
is sited on the castle's southern side, where some of the more visible remains still stand. This was a large room used for dining and receiving visitors. Its much enlarged windows still look south across the valley and an arched gateway leads from the west end of the room to what was once the Kitchens in the basement of the adjacent apsidal ('D' shaped) tower. This tower, called the Welsh Tower, is a typical feature of Welsh castles of the period. It would have protruded from the castle wall into the defensive ditch and provided archers with a clear view of any attackers attempting to approach the southern wall. The tower had perhaps three storeys with living quarters on the upper floors. In the south western corner was a Postern gate. This was an additional exit from the castle, designed to be used in times of siege to allow the garrison to 'sally' out and attack their besiegers. Fragments of the arch remain as well as the slot for the door's drawbar.

Originally, in the enclosed area of the castle there would have been stables, workshops, storage buildings and maybe a chapel but as these were built of wood nothing remains above ground level.


Looking southwards from within Dinas Brân

Whilst the historical record for Dinas Brân is sparse, there are many myths and legends associated with the ancient site.

The popular Welsh song 'Myfanwy' was composed by Joseph Parry and first published in 1875. Parry wrote the music to lyrics written by Richard Davies ('Mynyddog'; 1833–77). The lyrics were probably inspired by the fourteenth-century love-story of Myfanwy Fychan of Castell Dinas Brân, and the poet Hywel ab Einion. That story was also the subject of the popular poem, 'Myfanwy Fychan' (1858), by John Ceiriog