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Vale of Llangollen
Historic Landscape
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Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Vale of Llangollen: Dinas Brân
Llangollen Community, Denbighshire
(HLCA 1150)

CPAT PHOTO 1766.303

Steep, conical hill with gaunt, picturesque ruins of medieval castle inside prehistoric hillfort defences, overlooking Llangollen and visually dominating the Vale of Llangollen.

Historic background

The earliest evidence of activity is represented by two late Bronze Age socketed axes found within several hundred metres of the summit of the hill and possibly to be associated with early woodland clearance or defence of the hilltop. The summit of the hill is crowned by the single bank and ditch of a hillfort of later Bronze Age to Iron Age date, covering an area of over 2 hectares, probably with a single entrance on the south-west, which from its size and setting is likely to represent an important local tribal centre in the later prehistoric period. Little further is known of its history before the later 13th century, though no doubt Dinas Brân (‘crow fort’) continued to form an important landmark. A Welsh medieval castle was built within the earlier hillfort during the 1260s, by Gruffudd ap Madog, lord of Powys Fadog, most probably at a period of alliance with the Welsh prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd — the plan of the castle being closely similar to Llywelyn’s contemporary castle at Dolforwyn in the Severn valley between Welshpool and Newtown. The location of ‘the isolated and almost impregnable fortress of Dinas Brân’ is of strategic importance and has been considered ‘next to the Breiddin, the strongest natural position in all the March’. Its siting dominates the surrounding landscape from all directions and was no doubt also chosen for its symbolic significance. Occupation of the castle was relatively short-lived, however. It was burnt by its Welsh defenders in 1277 against English attack and though briefly held by English forces it was finally abandoned soon after the Edwardian conquest of 1282 and has had no military significance since that time. Having formally lain at the centre of Powys Fadog and acting as a symbol if its unity it was now to become redundant, lying on the boundary between two distinct lordships of Chirk and Bromfield and Yale with their castles at Chirk and Holt respectively.

Visited by the antiquary John Leland in about 1536 it was described as ‘Now all in ruin’, a sentiment also expressed late 16th or early 17th century in an englyn by the Welsh poet Roger Cyffin. Since the burgeoning of antiquarian and sightseeing interests from the later 18th century the hill has become an important picturesque icon within the Dee valley, fuelled by the associations with the outlaw appearing as the principal character in the Anglo-Norman historical romance Fouke le fitz Warin which features activities within ‘Chastiel Bran’, and also with the 14th-century love poem by Hywel ab Einion Llygliw to the princess Myfanwy who lived the castle. The latter was retold by the Victorian poet John Ceiriog Hughes in the love-poem Myfanwy Fychan which won the Silver Crown at the 1858 Llangollen Eisteddfod and which became a model for Welsh love poetry during the latter part of the 19th century. The dramatic setting has continued to be an inspiration to more recent writers, the castle featuring in the earlier part of John Cowper Powys’s historical novel Owen Glendower, published in 1940. A room had been made available amongst the ruins for visitors by the 1820s and by the 1880s a cottage provided refreshments. A camera obscura, housed in an octagonal metal-clad structure provided panoramas of the surrounding countryside and continued in operation until the Second World War. These commercial enterprises have since been withdrawn and following recent repair by Denbighshire County Council the castle has returned to the isolated and windswept state in which perhaps Leland observed it in the earlier 16th century.

Key historic landscape characteristics

Steep-sided, conical hill, composed of Silurian shales and siltstones, between a height of about 160–310 metres above sea level. The hill divided into a small number of large parcels of land, with mature broadleaved woodland on the slopes to the east, south and west and with grassland and bracken on the summit and on the slopes to the north with some small areas of scree.

Waymarked paths from the south-west and north-east lead through the distinctive hillfort defences of earth and stone to the summit of the hill, dominated by the ruins of the 13th-century Welsh castle which crowns the hill, built of local shales with some surviving sandstone dressings brought from further afield.

The landscape setting of the hillfort and castle has formed an important picturesque landscape image within the Vale of Llangollen since the 18th century, and has influenced the siting, orientation and aspect of a number of gentry houses within the vale, including Plas Newydd, Dinbren Hall, and Ty’n-dwr Hall.


Amgueddfa Llangollen 2003; Burnham 1995; CPAT Historic Environment Record; Davies 1929; Denbighshire Countryside Service 2003a; Fisher 1917; Hathaway et al. 1975; Hewitt 1977; Kemp 1935; King 1974; Musson 1994; Pennant 1773; Smith 1998; Stephens 1998; Thomas 1908-13

For further information please contact the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust at this address, or link to the Countryside Council for Wales web site at

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