Castell y Bere - a castle to treasure in the hidden foothills of Snowdonia
In the 2007 docu-drama, a Prairie Home Companion, he said stoicism was rife and people were often prepared for the worst, but hoped for the best. If you ever felt really happy, you were advised to wait, because it was soon sure to pass.
Although perhaps a strange analogy, these words, although uttered long
after the English invasion into
Perhaps in the face of repeated defeat by the invading forces of
Like a Minnesotan winter in
This would have certainly described with a great degree of precision,
the incursions of the Anglo-Saxons, that arrived in significant numbers after
the fall of the
King Arthur's supposed last battle at Camlann (one site is allegedly
some 8 miles from Glyn-yr-aur at Ganllwyd) in 537 saw many of the existing
Celtic tribes pushed brutally back in to what is now
King Offa in the 9th century, built his legendary dyke or
fortification to keep the Welsh away from his centrally located
And the remainder was left to existing Welsh princes particularly in
and around Snowdonia, who were adjured on pain of death to also show fealty and
loyalty to William the Conqueror. It seemed, the legendary Y Mab Dagoran, or
Welsh leader who would restore
Over time, the
But his predecessors also helped greatly to achieve the startling
total of 641 castles, which now in various states of decay, can be found
across all of the counties of
Although not all castle building was the preserve of the Norman and Plantagenet line. Welsh princes also began in the 12th century to build up their own defences to protect their lands - often from neighbouring Welsh incursions, aswell as offering a further line of defence to any encroachment by land-hungry English kings.
Historians have calculated that only 10 per cent of all castles ever
He actually married King John's daughter Joan, and set up his main
powerbase at Garth Celyn, near modern-day
He spent much of his reign in battle with other Welsh princes in a bid to maintain his supremacy. He had hoped for an an entirely independent kingdom, and did all he could do stay on amicable terms with King John and managed for a time, to make him a more pliant ally than many of his forebears had been.
But to consolidate his powerbase, he set about building several stone
castles that stretched from
As you drive up the mountain passways from the
Perhaps the best defence the fortresses of Llewelyn offered was that they often were hidden high among the mountains and were largely inaccessible.
Perched precariously on rocky promontories with sheer cliffs protecting their ramparts and walls, what they lacked in showy grandeur, they certainly made up for in other ways. What an enemy couldn't find, he surely couldn't conquer!
But try to find Llewelyn his enemies did and they ranged throughout
the course of his turbulent reign from his nearest and dearest family through
to successive kings of
Perhaps on a par to Richard the Lionheart, from a very young age Llewelyn was keen on war and fighting. He managed to wrest Gwynedd away from his uncles Dafydd and Rhodri ab Owain by the time he was 21 (in 1194).
He successively built up his empire from the west of the River Conwy
by agreeing various treaties with King John and by taking over various
And as was the fashion by many Marcher lords at the time, he set about
building a series of castles to maintain the boundaries of his kingdom. This
was some 60 years before Edward I, the grandson of King John, who built his
iron ring of castles in
Llewelyn's kingdom stretched from his principle residence at Garth
Celyn (now Pen y Bryn, Bryn Llewelyn) in between
Castell y Bere marked this southern flank, and Llwelyn's court would move between his other main castles that were located at Criccieth, Ewloe, Dolwyddelan and Dolbardarn, amongst others.
Interestingly, there were said to be 10 cattle farms located at Dolwyddelan, which was said to be located at a strategic point along a mountain pass route.
Cattle ranches, to feed his people and armies, were also located here in the shadow of Castell y Bere.
By Welsh standards, the castle was built on a fairly expansive and
grand scale. It had several towers and a fairly large keep and some of the
most majestic views in all of Snowdonia and
Dolwyddelan for example was a simple style castle. While Castell y Bere, built after 1221, seems to have more apartments, towers and more impressive defences.
As you pass through the gate from the car park up towards the castle and the rocky promontory on which it sits, its sad perhaps to reflect that it barely lasted 73 years, before it was burned and neglected after a Welsh revolt.
In its hey day, the castle would have had oranate tiles, stained glass windows and ornate masonry and statues around its grounds. But after 600 years or more of standing empty, there is little left to indicate such a lavish setting.
However, once past the last twist in the curving routeway, the remains of the once grand castle entrance come into focus. In its hey-day, a protruding watch tower or barbican would have stood guard over the castle's entrance, and people would gain access to it by a series of timber bridges, and drawbridge, over the deep-cut rock moat. Today, a series of wooden stairways have taken their place.
A set of authentic steps have, however, stood the test of time and take people up to the main level of the castle and its buildings.
It's quite hard to glean from the ruins what it would have actually looked like in its prime, but fortunately there are some information boards within the castle that help to explain what would have gone where.
Remains of an sturdy round tower (built to defend the entrance), greet
you as you move across the central courtyard in addition to a fairly large
well, that is still full of water. Excavations were said to have found some
interesting leather and pottery artefacts from the reign of Llewelyn. And
various rooms lead off from the central open area up up to the
This towers is apsidal or D-shaped so as to enable it to be defended better on the exterior, but allowing more living spense on the interior. It has a sister tower at the southern end, which was added by Edward I when he took the castle by force in 1283. It too mirrors this shape and had separate living apartments.
Prior to this though during Llewelyn's reign the
It should take people a comfortable 30 minutes to tour all of the site and become acquainted with its overall layout and surprising nooks and crannies.
But as you wind your way back down towards the car park, its perhaps heartening to know you have paid homage to this particular monument that still stands as proud testimony to Wales turbulent and troubled past. It is a landmark that few seek out, but perhaps is all the more precious because once discovered you'll want to return to these here parts again, again and again.
Now see the slideshow.