Castell Dinas Br�n is a Welsh medieval castle standing high on a hill above the town of Llangollen in Denbighshire, north-east Wales. It is also the site of an Iron Age hill fort.
The first building placed at Dinas Br�n was not the castle which now stands in ruins on top of the hill but an Iron Age hill fort built around 600 BC. An earthen rampart was constructed probably topped by a wooden palisade and this was further protected by a deep ditch on the shallower southern slope. The walls of the hill fort encircled a village of roundhouses. Dinas Br�n is one of many hill forts in this part of North Wales; Moel y Gaer is just a couple of miles to the northwest near the Horseshoe Pass and another is close by at Y Gardden in Rhiwabon to the East. There are many others on the Clwydian hills further to the north and in the Marches to the south.
Dinas Br�n is in what was once the ancient Kingdom of Powys. The last Prince of Powys Gruffydd Maelor died in 1191 and the kingdom was divided into Powys Fadog in the north and Powys Wenwynwyn in the south. His son, Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor was lord of Powys Fadog and founded the nearby Valle Crucis Abbey. Although no archaeological evidence has been found some records suggest he ruled from Dinas Br�n. If a structure did exist it would have been a wooden fortification probably consisting of a wooden palisade surrounding a hall and other buildings. These early records further say it was destroyed by fire and then the new castle was built on the same site, therefore little prospect for finding any archaeological evidence of this building remains. An even earlier structure has been suggested, belonging to Elisedd ap Gwylog from the 8th century (Ried 1973). It was this Elisedd who was responsible for the Pillar of Eliseg and is one of the founders of the kingdom of Powys, but again no physical evidence for any structure at Dinas Br�n has been found.
The castle visible today was probably built by Gruffydd II ap Madog son of Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor sometime in the 1260s. At the time Gruffydd II ap Madog was an ally of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Prince of Wales, with Powys acting as a buffer state between Llewelyn's heartland of Gwynedd and England. Dinas Br�n was one of several castles being built following the signing of the Treaty of Montgomery which had secured Wales for Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, from English interference. Indeed the castle at Dolforwyn Castle near Newport ordered to be built by Llywelyn around the same time has some similarities to Dinas Br�n and may have been the work of the same master mason.(Kightly, 2003)Gruffudd died in 1269 or 1270 and the castle passed down to his four sons. Madoc the eldest son was the senior, but each of the sons may have had apartments at the castle. The peace between Llewellyn and Edward did not last long and in 1276 war started between England and Wales. Edward's larger armies soon invaded Wales and the support for Llewellyn crumbled. Two of the brothers made peace with Edward, the second brother Llewellyn and Madoc. However, the castle was not in Madoc's control as the surrender document with the English refers to conditions relating to the recapture of Dinas Br�n. Meanwhile Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln arrived in Oswestry with forces to capture Dinas Br�n. As soon as he had arrived he was told that the defenders of the castle, probably the younger brothers Owain and Gruffudd - who were still allies of Llewellyn Prince of Wales, had set fire to and abandoned the castle. The reason for this action is not clear but it may be that they had no confidence that they could defend the castle against the English forces, and did not want to let it fall intact into Edward's, or their elder brother's hands. The castle was not badly damaged, the fire being mainly limited to the timber structures within the walls and Lincoln recommended to Kind Edward that the castle be repaired and garrisoned with English troops.(Kightly, 2003) Edward placed some troops at the castle at least into the next year 1277 when Llewellyn sued for peace and ordered some repair work to be undertaken.
The history of the castle during the final war which restarted in 1282 is not recorded. It may have been recaptured by the Welsh like many other castles in the early months of the war but ultimately the English were victorious. Madoc had by now died and the three surviving brothers all fought for the Welsh Prince but to no avail and following the end of the war in October 1282 and the death of Llewelyn Prince of Wales most of Powys Fadog and the castle was granted to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. Rather than rebuild Dinas Br�n, De Warenne choose instead to build a new castle at Holt on the Flintshire, Cheshire border and Dinas Br�n continued till the present day a picturesque and romantic ruin.
Legends and literature
Whilst the historical record for Dinas Br�n is sparse, there are many myths and legends associated with the ancient site.
The castle first literary appearance is in a 12th century historical document entitled "Fouke le Fitz Waryn," or "The Romance of Fulk Fitzwarine." In this tale the castle, named "Chastiel Bran," is referred to as a ruin during the early years of the Norman Conquest. The tale continues to tell of an arrogant Norman knight, Payn Peveril, who hears that no one has had courage enough to stay overnight inside the castle ruins, for fear of evil spirits. Payn and 15 'knightly followers' detemine to stay the night. A storm blows up and an evil, mace-wielding giant called Gogmagog, appears. Payn defends his men against the attacks of the giant with his shield and cross, then stabs Gogmagog with his sword. As the giant is dying he tells of the earlier bravery of King Bran who had built the castle to try to defeat the giant. Despite King Bran's attempts against Gogmagog the King had been forced to flee and since then the giant had terrorised all the land around for many years. The giant also tells of a great treasury of idols buried at Dinas Bran which includes swans, peacocks, horses and a huge golden ox but dies without revealing its location.(Oman 1926, 1989)
Castell Dinas Br�n translates into English literally as 'Castle of the City of Crows', so the simple explanation for the name of the castle is as a place where crows live. However, Dinas is a name associated with several ancient hill forts in Wales and England (i.e. Dinas Emrys, Dinas Powys, Pen Dinas and Castle-an-Dinas in Cornwall) and so can be taken to mean fort or stronghold. The origins of the name Br�n are more uncertain. There is a legend which says that Br�n was a Cornish prince, the son of the Duke of Cornwall, another suggests Br�n could be named for King Bran Fendigaid (the Blessed) also called Bendigeitvran, a Celtic God who appears in both Welsh and Irish mythology.
The castle may be approached from two directions. From Llangollen the path starts from Canal Bridge and runs beside Ysgol Dinas Br�n. It gradually climbs past several cottages before opening out onto the lower slopes of the hill. A zigzag path then climbs to the summit. The other route starts from 'Offa's Dyke Path' on the north western side of the hill. This route is shorter but steeper. Official advise is to equip yourself with stout walking shoes and warm, waterproof clothing before climbing to the castle.
The castle is a scheduled ancient monument owned and maintained by Denbighshire council with the assistance of Cadw.