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Castles at Each End of the Pass

Bryn Castell
&
Pen-Y-Mwd

by John Northall
Text and photographs copyright by John Northall

The Pass

Before the construction of a modern road along the North Wales coast, the main northern route across the Four Cantrefs from Chester to Anglesey ran a few miles inland. This was because of the many limestone headlands that jut out to sea preventing the passage of herds and carts. In medieval times the road crossed the River Conwy at Tal-y-Cafn and climbed up the hillside between the mountain peaks of Tal-Y-Fan and Drum, the way being marked by a pair of standing stones that still exist. The mountain pass is named Bwlch-y-Ddaufaen which translates as "the pass of the two stones". The route follows the Roman road which passed close to several Iron Age hillforts before dropping down past the spectacular waterfall of Aber Falls and reaching the coast through the narrow valley above Aber.

There were earthwork castles at each end of this mountain road...

Bryn Castell, aka Tal-Y-Cafn

This small castle is at the eastern end of the ancient road and it overlooks the site of the modern road bridge across the Conwy. There is no recorded history about this site. The mound has been damaged by digging on one side, presumably to recover gravel for local use.

      
Above left: Looking west across the bridge. The mound can be seen in the trees above the low cliff.
Above right: Looking south, the damaged part of the mound can be seen on its left hand side

The Royal Commission into the Ancient Monuments of Wales gives the following information:

  • Alternative Name: Castell Maelgwn (from the writings of Fenton p177-178).

  • Ordinance Survey map co-ordinates: SH78537191

  • Situation: On the west bank of the River Conwy at Tal-y-Cafn bridge 40 ft above the river.

  • Construction: An oval mound of fine river gravel. No sign of a bailey.

  • Size: 335 ft circumference at the base, 15 ft high, summit 50 ft x 36 ft.
  • Pen-Y-Mwd, aka Aber

    The earthwork castle at Aber is often attributed to the English thrust into North Wales by the Earl of Chester in the 11th century and is thought to be concurrent with the strong earthworks at Caernarvon (where the Edwardian stone castle now stands) and Aber Lleiniog on the Isle of Anglesey. A separately constructed stone tower remains built into a later house on a nearby low hill and it has recently been attributed to the Princes of Gwynedd; perhaps the earthwork castle was superseded by a stone one as was the case at Dolwyddelen.

    The castle mound is well preserved and stands near the small river which runs down from Aber Falls. A raised platform of earth adjacent to the mound is probably the site of an attached bailey but there is no protective rampart to be seen. As the castle stands at the heart of a small and no doubt ancient farm it is quite likely that the bailey rampart was removed by farmers many years ago. The antiquiquery Leland wrote that part of a bulding was still visible on the mound when he visited the site (over 100 years ago).

          
    
    Above left: The castle mound from the seaward side. The nearby hill was once an Iron Age hillfort and is probably the place where Prince Llewellyn had an English nobleman hung for striking up a very close friendship with his wife while being held captive! The valley up to Aber Falls can be seen in the background.

    Above right: Looking north towards the sea from the road as it curves around the castle site. The area on which the sheep are grazing was probably the bailey.

    The Royal Commission into the Ancient Monuments of Wales gives the following information:

  • Alternative Name: Llan Boduan (from the writings of Leland p84).

  • Construction: Earthern Mound (note that large river stones can be seen where the earth has been worn away). Ditch to south.

  • Size: 120 ft diameter at the base, 22 ft high, summit 57 ft x 48 ft.
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    Continue with John's essay "Pen-y-Castell"
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