Dolwyddelan Castle

We’d passed this castle many a time on the road between Betwys-y-Coed and Beddgelert and always intended to stop there someday and explore it.
I always prefer exploring these small castles, built by Welsh princes, to the massive edifices built by Edward 1. Built in strategic positions, they now often sit alone in quiet countryside and if you’re lucky there will be no other visitors and you can have the castle to yourself.

There are no written records of the early history of Dolwyddelan Castle but it is thought to have been built in the early 13th Century by Llywelyn the Great, at time when Wales was made up of separate kingdoms ruled by Welsh Princes.

Unlike the great castles of Edward 1, the castles built by the Welsh princes were small, of simple design and usually built on rocky outcrops commanding views over the surrounding countryside.
The castle owes its good state of preservation today to major restoration in the 19th century.

Dolwyddelan controlled a strategic pass through the mountains of Snowdonia and was built in a lofty position on the hillside, keeping watch over pastures below and the route through the valley.

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It’s a short but pleasant walk from the small carpark up to the castle. The path takes you up to some farm buildings where you have to knock at the farmhouse door to pay the admission charge. From there you follow a path up the hillside to the castle.

On the path up to the castle

I liked these two oak trees growing out of a rocky outcrop

Above – The ruined West Tower, a later addition when the castle was in the hands of Edward 1st. The keep and the ruined west tower are joined by a curtain wall that was built along the top of the ridge

… and up a long flight of steep stairs to the battlements.

Tomen Castell
The tree covered mound in the valley below is the site of a tower that pre-dates Dolwyddelan Castle and was probably the birthplace of Llywelyn the Great. It had been a sizeable fortress but fell into ruin after the new castle was built.

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Capel Garmon Neolithic Tomb

If I had to name my favourite Neolithic tomb in Wales,  Capel Garmon would probably be the one, due to its state of preservation, its setting in the landscape and the surprise of finding this type of tomb in North Wales.

Most of the tombs in Wales are the dolmen type of structure, containing a single chamber, but Capel Garmon is more akin to the Severn Cotswold type of tombs, such as the famous Wayland’s Smithy and West Kennet Long Barrow. It was very unexpected to find this type of tomb so far away in north Wales.

An artists impression (below) shows the layout of the tomb, with a circular chamber at each end, a small rectangular chamber in the middle and the entrance via a side passage. There’s a forecourt at the eastern end which would have been used for rituals and ceremonies but there’s no entrance to the chamber from it.

Leaving Betws-y-Coed on a Saturday morning we navigated some narrow twisty roads up to the sleepy hamlet of Capel Garmon.  I say sleepy because all was quiet in the village and not a soul was to be seen. We stopped to look at the map on the village noticeboard but although it showed footpaths we still weren’t sure which would be the best one to take for reaching the burial chamber and we weren’t very sure about access either, with it being on farmland.
We needn’t have worried.  About mile out of the village we came to the farm road, where there was a signpost to the tomb and enough parking beside the road for 2 or 3 cars. From there it was an easy walk down the farm road, following the footpath signs until the burial chamber came into view.

Stones mark out the outline of the original cairn and forecourt. The hills of Snowdonia in the background
The west chamber
The east chamber

The tomb is remarkably well preserved, partly due to restoration that was done after it was excavated in 1925. The trapezoidal cairn would have been about 30m in length with a forecourt at the eastern end. Stones mark out the original shape.

The entrance is via a side passage on the southern side and leads into a rectangular central chamber with an oval chamber on each side. 

The side entrance passage and capstone of the west chamber

The main entrance into the tomb nowadays is through a large gap in the end of the western chamber.  This was created when a Victorian farmer turned the tomb into a stable and removed the large orthostat at the end of the chamber.