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Castle of the Week 1 - Castell y Bere

Castell y Bere lies in the mountainous region of mid Wales on the southern border of Gwynedd, at the foot of Cader Idris. Although in ruins now, it was, for a short while, an outstanding example of a Welsh stronghold. Unlike those built by the English in Wales to intimidate the local population, Castell y Bere was a castle built by a native Welsh prince as a home and stronghold. Welsh-built castles were simpler structures than English castles being built at the time, mainly due to lack of money.

In 1221, Llywelyn Fawr took control of Merionnydd from his son Gruffydd and started to build his castle. He chose to build it on a lozenge shaped flat plateau of rock on the floor of the Dysynni Valley. Although similar to other castles built by Llywelyn with D-shaped towers at the north and south ends, it had a unique south tower which was separated from the main castle buildings by a ditch cut in the rock. The walls were fairly low, but the position and the strong towers made up for this.

In the war of 1282-3 it was besieged by the English army under the Savoyard Sir Otto de Grandison. It fell on 25th April 1283 and a small garrison and some masons and carpenters were left there by King Edward I. A walled yard was built to link the south tower to the rest of the castle. A small town was built close by. The castle was recaptured during Madog ap Llywelyn’s revolt in 1294. There seems to be no further mention of it after this time and the conclusion is that it was abandoned along with the town.

The entrance was on the west side and was protected by two ditches & two drawbridges, separated by steep steps, and guarding them were two towers, a small square tower and a large round tower set into the main wall. Just inside the entrance was a well, much larger than usually found in castles of the time. Various treasures such as leatherwork and broken pottery have been found in it. The large square central tower was probably the main defensive point. The north tower had two staircases leading to the upper floor and it is probable that this housed a royal chapel. The south tower had two storeys as well with a latrine which implies domestic accommodation and this probably housed the prince’s private appartments. Access was probably by a wooden walkway from the central tower and a wooden bridge over the ditch.

Now there is very little of the castle left and it is hard to work out the original layout, but the stunning scenery of the surrounding area means that it is still visited today.

Written by GillB*

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