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Ewloe Castle

Map link for Ewloe Castle

1m NW of Hawarden, Flintshire, northeast Wales
SJ 288 675

Photographs copyright © 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

Above the keep at Ewloe viewed from the ditch below
Below: the West Tower viewed from near the entrance to the Welsh Tower.

The only contemporary reference to the castle at Ewloe is to be found in a documentary source known as the Chester Plea Rolls, where in a report made to King Edward II in 1311, Payn Tibotot, justice of Chester, summarizes the history of the manor at Ewloe from the middle of the 12th century. He records that by 1257 Llywelyn ap Gruffydd had regained Ewloe from the English and built a castle in the wood. In 1311 this was in great part standing.

Below: An artist's conception of how the castle may have once appeared

The site of the present castle bears some resemblance to that of a motte and bailey, with the so-called Welsh Tower situated on top of the raised area of the motte. This has led to a suggestion that the first castle on the site may have been erected in the middle of the 12th century by Owain Gwynedd (d.1170). But there is a distinct lack of evidence to support this theory, and it seems most unlikely that such a site - where the topography has such a strong natural slope - would have been suitable for the construction of an earthwork castle.

There have also been differences of opinion over the phasing of the construction of the stone castle. The first detailed interpretation of the castle was published in 1928, and was based on evidence that had been revealed during its clearance and consolidation. At that time, Ewloe was considered to have been built entirely by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, from about 1257 onwards. Twenty years later, a new interpretation was presented. The Welsh Tower was now seen as the work of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, dating to around 1210. Although apsidal in shape, the tower was thought to be similar to late 12th-century keeps on the English side of the border.


Below: interior view of the Welsh D-tower at Ewloe Castle

One feature of the building is perfectly clear: the curtain wall on the north and south sides of the lower ward abuts that surrounding the upper ward. This suggests that both the lower ward and presumably the west tower, were added as a second phase in the building works. The earlier interpretation which placed the Welsh Tower as the primary structure on the site considered the upper and lower curtains to be contemporary, and belonging to the second phase. But unless three building phases were involved - first the Welsh Tower, then the upper curtain, and finally the lower ward - the balance of evidence points to all parts of the castle having been built during the same general period. None the less, the building could have been completed in two consecutive phases.

In the absence of any other solid evidence, we should perhaps accept the contemporary documentary account, and see the castle as a construction of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the years following 1257. The first stage of work would have involved establishing a defensible position on the naturally strongest part of the site, the upper ward. To begin with, the area of the lower ward may have been used as a building compound surrounded by a timber palisade. In due course the timber defences could have been replaced by a stone curtain with a round tower included on the west side.

Ewloe Castle, Derek Renn and Richard Avent, Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, Cardiff, 1995.

Jeff Thomas 1995

My wife and I visited the castle on a beautiful sunny day in May of 1995. Not much is known about Ewloe, and since it's not one of the better-known north Welsh castles, we didn't know what to expect. We had a bit of difficulty finding the castle, but we were rewarded with one of those unexpected pleasant surprises we've now come to expect while travelling through Wales. After parking the car along a pull-over off the road leading from Hawarden, we set off on foot to find the castle. A single, small "Cadw" sign pointed the way through an open, grassy field towards the woods, where we knew the castle was located. We just love castles that are just a bit off the beaten track! We crossed the open field and entered the woods, following a discernable yet not well-trodden path.

After only a couple of minutes in the woods we suddenly came upon the castle. The first thing that impressed us was the serenity of the location. Located amidst peaceful, green woodlands, the warm, honey colored-to-reddish ruins of Ewloe seem oddly at peace with their natural surroundings. The castle offers visitors perhaps the best opportunity to explore and understand an architectural feature most often associated with native Welsh castles - the D-tower. Although this type of tower existed at other Welsh castles, such as Castell y Bere, the remains of Ewloe's tower are substantial enough to understand this important feature without the aid of castle guide-books. This alone makes a trip to the castle worthwhile, but it's the magic of the site that will beckon you to return.

Again, words seem inadequate to describe the impressions Ewloe Castle left with us that day. Words like "magic," peaceful," and "charming" come to mind, but I think maybe the essence of the feeling has something to do with the fact that Ewloe is so different from any other castle you'll find in Wales. After visiting huge, impressive fortresses like Harlech, Caerphilly and Chepstow, Ewloe is both a surprise and a breath of fresh air. It gives visitors the chance to appreciate Wales' smaller castles, which were built for entirely different reasons than their mighty, better-known cousins. Those who fail to appreciate castles such as Ewloe, Dolbadarn and Carreg Cennen are missing an important part of Welsh history.

The castle at Ewloe affords visitors perhaps the best and most intimate opportunity to explore and learn about this most Welsh type of castle. So the next time you find yourself speeding across the A55 between the castles of Conwy, Flint and Chester, do yourself a favor and take the time to visit Ewloe Castle (also off the A55 and admission is free), for a different yet wonderful Welsh castle experience. Afterwards, chances are, you too will describe the experience as a memorable, pleasant surprise!

Additional photographs of Ewloe Castle

Below (3): the upper approach to the castle begins at this gate and continues across the adjacent field.




Below (2): the castle is protected by a steep ditch on its southern side.



Below: view of the modern entrance to the castle leading to the Upper Ward.


Below: close-up view of the base of the ruined West Tower at Ewloe.


Below: view of the modern entrance to the keep at Ewloe Castle


Below: view of the stairs leading to the top of the keep.


Below: parts of the upper and lower wards at Ewloe can be seen from the top of the D-Tower.


Below: view towards the Lower Ward & West Tower from the Upper Ward at Ewloe.



Reflections across time: An Afternoon at Ewloe Castle
Lise Hull visits Ewloe

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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas