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Dinas Emrys Castle

near Beddgelert, Gwynedd, north Wales
SH 606 492

Photographs copyright by Irma Hale

Above: the hill at Dinas Emrys viewed from a distance
Below: various views of the castle ruins from the summit of the hill

While some Welsh castles fit neatly into the category of "medieval," others are more difficult to classify, often because the castle site was used by a succession of settlers or invaders over the centuries. Both Norman and native Welsh castle builders at times built their castles or strongholds over the remains of earlier Iron-Age, Roman, post-Roman British or Saxon fortifications. Such is the case with the castle at Dinas Emrys.

Strictly speaking, Dinas Emrys doesn't qualify as a medieval Welsh castle, however this is a legendary fortress, believed to be the setting of one of the most enigmatic tales of early British history, left to us by Nennius, a 9th-century writer. The story concerns the early Roman-British-Saxon legends surrounding Vortigern, Merlin, Ambrosius, and the two sleeping dragons (one red and one white) who awoke and fought for the supremacy of Wales. (The red dragon won).

The fortress sits on a most precipitous rock, which might well be judged the strongest natural fortress in Gwynedd. The footings of a rectangular stone tower now stand on a rock above a medieval cistern. It's construction is likely to belong to the reign of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (d.1240), the most active castle builder among the Welsh princes.

Dinas Emrys is on A498 1.2m NE of Beddgelert. Owing to vulnerability of the remains and difficulty of access, all visitors must first contact NT Warden at Beddgelert. A way-marked route (45 mins attractive walk) brings you up the summit of the NE ridge. The western ramparts are fragile and dangerous; exploration is not advised.

A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales: Gwynedd, Frances Lynch, Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, London, 1995.

 


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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas