Castell Bwlch y Dinas

As has been mentioned so many times before it is virtually impossible to date any castle remains with a great deal of accuracy. All that can really be done is to suggest plausible chronologies. At Castell Bwlch y Dinas there does not seem to be any doubt that the masonry construction of the castle occurred early in the Norman period. Indeed I would go so far as to suggest that its building would fit easiest into the period of conquest by William Fitz Osbern in his campaign in Brycheiniog in the summer of 1070 and expansion by his son in the period 1071 to 1075. The castle would to an extent then have become obsolete with the building of Brecon Castle, the new fortress of Brecon lordship, in 1093. 

The remaining standing ruins of the castle, the northern gatetower, probably dates to after October 1233 when the castle was sacked, but soon re-garrisoned. It also seems likely that the great unfinished rock-cut ditch on the west side of the castle was made at this time. A similar great ditch was probably begun and never finished at New Radnor Castle, again during this period of emergency. After this flare up of activity the castle would seem to have succumbed to Prince Llywelyn in the winter of 1262-63 when Brecknock was invaded and largely annexed by the prince. Presumably it was recovered and refortified in the period 1266 to 1274 and most likely earlier rather than later. Leland describes the castle as "a goode mile from Blaen Leveni (Blaenllyfni) upon the toppe of a notable hille, it is now ruinous almost to the hard ground, there be manifest tokens of three wardes, waulled about..." He goes on to say that the castle was destroyed by the local inhabitants of these parts during the reign of Henry IV. Destruction of this Duchy of Lancaster castle by local adherents of Owain Glyndwr seems most likely. In 1741 Buck included a long distance representation of the castle in his view of Bronllys. This shows that the castle has not changed its appearance much in the past 250 years!

The site of Castell Bwlch y Dinas keep is today marked by the huge pile of grass grown rubble which overlies the masonry remains of this once proud structure. The mound of debris is about 15 feet high and seems to indicate a masonry hall keep about 65 feet by forty feet externally. Until recently the wall of this tower, uncovered by an unofficial excavation made before 1950, protruded through the rubble at the south-west corner. Surrounding the ruin of this great tower was a further wall, or chemise which was about 100  by 80 feet. Again the tentative excavations of many years ago had uncovered the face of this wall. Unfortunately there is no reliable evidence as to the thickness of the keep walls, but these must have been six feet thick or more if the structure was over two storeys high. The photograph shows the ruins of the keep from the north.

The keep commands the upper, northern end of the hill fort enclosure and particularly dominates the inner ward. This consists primarily of a small flat, roughly rectangular area about 120 by 75 feet. Entrance to this inner courtyard was gained from both north and south, and no doubt entrance to the keep was gained from here, probably by a forebuilding now hidden amongst the jumbled foundations between the south curtain and the chemise. This design would appear to be similar to that of the keep at Chepstow which also has an original first floor entrance to the south.   Similar hall keeps may have existed at Monmouth, Wigmore, Clifford and a little later at Grosmont.

Placed in strategic positions around the walls are the remains of several towers, all of which appear to have been rectangular.  To north and south there may have been twin-towered rectangular gatehouses.  South again of this ward is a partially dug ditch which probably dates to the war of 1233-34 before a large outer enclosure which apparently once supported a farm house of some description.  Beneath the castle to the west are further defences which appear to have commanded the main road through the pass.

Castell Bwlch y Dinas and the families of Neufmarché, Hereford, Braose, Fitz Herbert, Mortimer and Talbot (ISBN 1-899376-79-8), is now available as an A4 sized book of 147 pages.  The revised book includes the full history of the Medieval castle and lordship of Talgarth, a detailed description of the remains, photographs of the fortress, plans, maps and an index.   It can be bought for £29.95 through the PayPal basket below. 


Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry


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