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On the trail of the Dragonslayer

simon-on-the-river3 Mar 30, 2019. 9 comments

The other day I ventured a little bit beyond the fields we know, over the county line into Dolwyddelan, Conwy which is on the road to artists’ favourite hangout Betws-y-Coed. It’s a quaint village, within the bounds of Snowdonia National Park, home to around 500 people, farms and a pet food factory. It’s practically on my doorstep and yet I usually bomb through on the bus to Llandudno (when they run, grumble, grumble). This time I got off by Tan Yr Allt, which had been home to Hugh Davies, Bard, also known as the Lark of Elen, a renowned blind harpist who died in 1879. Dolwyddelan has also been home to a handful of novelists, poets and an Olympic sprinter

The name Dolwyddelan translates as “Gwyddelan’s meadow”, named after an Irish Saint (the Little Irishman) who endeavoured to restore Christianity to Britain in the 5th or 6th century. He’s linked to Ffynnon Elen or Elen’s Well, a rectangular basin made from rubble with a trough. The waters are alleged to have restorative properties. Gwyddelan also gives his name to the local church which houses his bell as a relic. There is a trail near the well which was one of the original village roads but I didn’t follow it on this occasion. My target destination was further uphill and you might recognise it if you have ever watched Disney’s Dragonslayer.

No, this isn’t, but it’s close. Shades of Game of Thrones, Dolwyddelan was the birthplace of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth or Llywelyn The Great, future King of Gwynedd, diplomat, warrior, scourge of the Marcher lords, proponent of the Magna Carta and pal of Henry III. He ruled Wales for around 45 years, half of which was relatively stable. Llywelyn was born around 1173 and while the exact spot isn’t known, the likely suspect is a place called Tomen Castell. Naturally, this fort no longer exists apart from the mound above, surrounded by trees.

It seems Tomen Castle was left to fall apart but Llywelyn put his attention to a more impressive structure on a rocky outcrop opposite. Castell Dolwyddelan was built in the 13th Century from local stone and slate and dominates the area. It’s unusual for a Welsh castle which were mostly built as hunting lodges rather than military fortifications. To begin with it was a tower with two floors. Edward I had a third floor added and further extension at the rear was added to house a garrison that would guard the main route through North Wales.

The path up to Dolwyddelan Castle is guarded by sheep these days and they will keep you under surveillance all the way up. Visitors are walking through a working farm as they head to the top. Welsh heritage organisation Cadw also operate a bunk house next to the farm. It can be a bit rocky going to the top.

The hall inside is rather spartan, though some display boards explain the history of the tower and suggest other castles to explore.

The best thing, dare I say, is the view from the battlements.

And that’s only one side.

Having done my exploring I had to walk back up the Lledyr Valley, which took me past the Gwydyr Forest Park (which I’m sure is where they filmed last year’s Doctor Who episode It Takes You Away). Grief I knew I was walking up hill.

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