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Llanafan Fawr Castle

located just off the road in the village,
about 4 miles southwest of Newbridge-on-Wye,
Powys, mid-Wales SN 966 557

Photographs copyright 2002 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

 

My wife and I spent a week in Llanafan-fawr in April of 2002. During our time there we were given a guided tour of the immediate area by Mr Adrian Foster, proprietor of the nearby Red Lion Inn, one of the oldest (and best) pubs in all of Britain. Interestingly, the "castle" at Llanafan is one of several ancient sites found in this tiniest and most beautiful of mid-Wales villages. One thing that is certain is that the site has been considered important by its inhabitants for many centuries. Historians argue that the history of Llanafan stretches back to Britain's Iron Age to about 330 BC. In fact, in the local churchyard you'll find an amazing yew tree that was recently scientifically dated to an age of between 2,200 and 2,300 years!

Below: the church at Llanafan Fawr dedicated to Saint Afan

Going forward in time from the Iron Age, historians point to evidence of Roman occupation in the area, however Llanafan is perhaps best known for its associations with the Welsh Saint Afan, whose tomb is found the church's cemetery. The church at Llanafan Fawr and the artefacts inside, Saint Afan, and the holy well nearby all have associations with the so called "Age of Saints" in Britain (although St Afan very probably dates from a later period).

 

Below: two views of the ditch and mound at Llanafan Fawr

 

 

The castle at Llanafan lies in close proximity to these other sites, which makes this area of only a few hundred yards, a virtual microcosm of Britain's ancient past. The castle appears to be a modest ringwork lying west of the church surrounded by a double ditch. There is no recorded history for the castle, although most feel it was probably connected with the medieval Norman lordship of Buellt. While some historians view the castle at Llanafan as simply a minor Norman castle, one of dozens found throughout mid-Wales, others feel that the site may have originally been be an Iron Age henge.

Although my expertise in such matters is limited, I would inject a third possibility by making the observation that the "castle" at Llanafan seems remarkably similar to the moated site found at Old Radnor, also located in mid-Wales. The "castle" at Old Radnor is actually a modest moated site associated with the nearby church. Given the importance of Llanafan due to its associations with Saint Afan, could the ringwork there be a moated site as well? The appearance of these two ringworks, as well as their siting relative to their respective medieval churches, are definitely similar.

Is Llanafan an ancient henge, a minor Norman ringwork, or a moated site somehow associated with the local church? Fortunately, an investigation by archaeologist Graham George is planned for later this year (2002), that will hopefully shed some light on these and other questions regarding this history-rich little corner of mid-Wales. Stay tuned!

Jeffrey L. Thomas
April 2002

 

Below: view of the church (in distance) from the mound/ringwork at Llanafan Fawr.

 

References:

Adrian Foster, Llanafan Fawr. A Brief History of the Pub & Area, Foster & Foster Publishing, 2002.
Paul M. Remfry, Monuments in the Landscape, vol 8. The Castles of Breconshire, Logaston Press, 1999.

 

Learn more about the history of Llanafan Fawr

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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas