Ruthin castle was built in 1277 by order of King Edward I who handed the fortress over to the Welsh Prince Dafydd ap Gruffydd. It is one of the oldest castles of Wales and it has been built years before great fortresses like, for example, Caernarfon or Conwy. It was 1st known as Castell Coch yn yr Gwernfor (the red castle in the great marsh). The fortress originally consisted of 2 wards and 5 round towers guarding the inner ward. All that remains today are 3 of these towers and the ruined double-towered gatehouse. Ruthin castle is situated by the river Clwyd overlooking the eponymous little market town. In 1646 the castle survived an 11 week siege during the Civil War but was demolished in 1648. In 1827 it has largely been rebuilt and today serves as a hotel. It is surrounded by beautiful parks and woodlands.
And as any proper British castle Ruthin does, of course, also houses a ghost. The apparition of the Grey Lady is said to be haunting the battlements and has also, occasionally, been seen outside the castle walls. It is assumed that she was the wife of one of the castle's commandants in 13the century and that she has murdered her husband and therefore was sentenced to death.
You can only explore the gardens and the castle from the outside unless you're a hotel guest.
Denbigh Castle and Town Walls are much the largest, the strongest and the best preserved of all borderlands fortresses. Here in 1282 Edward I's general Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, began a new link in the English chain of castles, on the site of a long-established Welsh princely court - perhaps Dinas Fechan (the "little fort") which gave Denbigh its name. Here too he founded a new defended town for English immigrants, compulsorily "transplanting" the existing Welsh inhabitants. In 1294 these retaliated by ravaging the unfinished works, which were recovered only after the intervention of a large royal army. On the summit of Caledfryn Hill stands the core of the stronghold, the castle itself, its walls defended by 7 towers and a new-style "keep-gatehouse" - the most elaborate in Wales. Beyond, acting as an outer defence, is the fortified town, with (still largely surviving) walls with a lenght of more than 1 km. Their Burgess Gate is among the finest medieval town gatehouses in Britain, while the impressive Goblin Hole Tower at their Western corner protects a vital well. Despite its strength, Denbigh frequently attracted trouble, being attacked by Owain Glyndŵr and, as a Yorkist power-base, several times during the Wars of the Roses. Though the castle generally held out, the walled town was burnt at least twice. The elderly stronghold's career, however, ended in a blaze of glory during the Civil War. After repairing the decayed castle and town walls, the Royalist Colonel William Salesbury ("Old Blue Stockings") defended his "unpierceable rock" against Parliamentarian assaults and bombardments for over 6 months. Denbigh finally surrendered - by the king's direct command - only in October 1646, among the last Royalist fortresses to fall. In the borderlands, only Holt Castle held out longer.
A key to the town walls may be borrowed from the castle when open, or during Winter from the library in the town centre.
The dramatically situated ruins of Dinas Brân Castle were built within the ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort. There are conflicted records of who built the castle, but the prevalent opinion is that it was Gruffydd Maelor I, who started to raise a castle in the 1260s. From its lofty heights, towering above the Dee valley, the princes of Powys Fadoc ruled this Northern part of Wales. Much to the chagrin of Edward I, who sent the Earl of Lincoln, Henry de Lacy, to besiege the castle. The Welsh lords were forced to submit after the castle was set on fire and largely destroyed. After another insurrection in 1282 by Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the castle was again captured and given, together with the lands North of the Dee to the marcher lord John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. This was the end of the independence of the principalities of Northern Powys, and the castle was never repaired. But in 1402, Owain Glyndŵr unsuccessfully attempted to capture the site in a last effort to reunite the Welsh. Today there is little to excite in the fragments of the stone curtain wall that follows the contours of the hill, but the remains of the shell keep still dominate the landscape. An apsidal tower projects from the Southern wall, which would have protected the most vulnerable approach, and 2 drum towers commanded the Eastern entry. Scant traces can be found of a hall on the Southern side, and of a barbican beyond the ditch, which guarded the entrance gate. But the allure of Dinas Brân, apart from its stunning location, lies in the many legends that have grown up around it. Tales of King Brân, the evil mace-wielding giant Gogmagog, and a golden ox and other treasures buried beneath the hill, create a veil of mystery. The castle is also known as the 'Grail Castle' due to its legendary links with the Holy Grail.
Valle Crucis Abbey (Abaty Glyn y Groes) lies in the Dee (Dyfrdwy) valley 3 km North of the town of Llangollen. It was an ideal location for the Cistercians, medieval monks who deliverately sought out wild and lonely places. The abbey's name means "Valley of the Cross" and it refers to the 9th century Pillar of Eliseg which stands nearby (erected by Cyngen ap Cadell (died 855), king of Powys, in honour of his great-grandfather Elisedd ap Gwylog). The abbey suffered a serious fire in 1236; traces of burning are still visible on the lower stonework of the church and the South range. Substantial rebuilding had already taken place when the abbey found itself on the losing side during Edward I's Welsh campaigns in 1276-1277 and 1282-1283. Many original 14th century features remain, including the glorious West front complete with a richly carved doorway and the beautiful rose window. Despite of the uprising of Owain Glyndŵr and the following turmoils at 15th century, Valle Crucis has been extended during this time. The vaulted chapter house is an especially well preserved feature and dates from this time. The wealth of the abbey certainly increased, and by the end of the century poets praised the hospitality of its abbots. This prosperity was limited by comparison with many English abbeys, however, and Valle Crucis was dissolved in 1537 as one of the lesser houses. After the dissolution the buildings rapidly fell into disrepair; in the late 16th century the eastern range was converted into a house with a new roof-line. Many of the ruins were later in the century used as a farm. Excavations and clearances of the ruins were carried out in the mid to late 19th century.
A very fine collection of medieval memorial sculpture is preserved in the dormitory, and there is a small exhibition revealing more of Valle Crucis and the Cistercian monastic life.
Begun in 1277, it was built as one of the "iron ring" fortresses put in place by Edward I of England to subdue and control his Welsh conquests. It was the 1st of the revolutionary "concentric fortresses"; followed by, for example, Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and Beaumaris. Rhuddlan castle was able to obtain supplies by sea (which is over 3 km away) due to the canalisation of the river Clwyd: a mammoth task involving 1.800 ditches, taking 3 years to complete. The main buildings were grouped against the inner walls, and included the great hall, a kitchen and a chapel, but these can now only be traced through their foundations. The castle walls show an interesting contrast between the warm sandstone core and the grey stone covering.
According to the oldest versions of the tale, it was at Rhuddlan castle (and not at Caernarfon) that Edward I proclaimed his baby son the first Prince of Wales ("born in Wales and without a word of English").
Ewloe Castle is intriguing. It is not a fairytale castle like Conwy, but instead is a hidden gem in the green woodlands of North East Wales. Located 1 mile north west of Hawarden, just off the A55, Ewloe is a ruinous castle located in a beautiful valley.
It is hard to find, with only a small roadside sign pointing it out. There is a pull-over lane off the road where you can park and then you need to walk straight across the green field to the woodlands in the distance. Go through the small gate and you will see the remains of the castle through the trees.
This is a very peaceful place. We were the only people around. Birds were chirping and a small stream was running just below the castle. Although in ruins, the castle was still pretty special to me. You can climb to the top of one of the remaining towers and look out over the leafy valley.
This is one of those off the beaten track places that make your holiday special - no admission charge, no noisy tourists pushing past you, just you and a pretty castle in the Welsh woodlands - magical!
Llanarmon DC, Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, Llanarmon DC, Denbighshire, LL20 7LD, United Kingdom
Good for: Families
Bull Lane, Denbigh, LL16 3LY, United Kingdom
Good for: Couples
Chester Road, Gresford, Wrexham, LL12 8PW, United Kingdom
Good for: Solo