The Ruined Castles of Montgomery and Dolforwyn
Published: Saturday 18th Apr 2015
Written by: Ginnie James
Back in August I wrote about my top five (ish) castles and high up on my list were Dolforwyn and Montgomery Castles. I am taking the opportunity now to write a little bit more about them as I believe the feeling of being part of a place’s ages-old story is heightened when you know the history of a site and its links within the wider landscape.
To get the practical out of the way, both are open sites during the day so you can visit for free whenever you want, although be warned that both do involve steep climbs up to the ruins. Well worth it though as the views will take your breath away all over again!
Dolforwyn Castle was built by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd between 1273 and 1277. Llywelyn The Last, as he is often referred to, was recognised by King Henry III as Prince of Wales as part of the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267. Needing to assert his dominance in this strategic area of his territory Llewelyn began building his castle. More rough and ready than Montgomery down the road but a great example of typical Welsh castle design of this time.
Apparently records show that the castle cost £174.6s 8d to construct. I have already spent far too much time on the internet trying to find out how much that would be in today’s terms so if anybody can help me out with this I would be very happy! However, by 1277 tensions were rising between Llywelyn and the new King Edward I. The castle was being built without the permission of Edward and other lesser Welsh princes were closing in. Besieged by Roger Mortimer and Henry de Lacy, agents of Edward I, in 1277, the Welsh defenders of Dolforwyn had little hope as it appears at that point a well had not been dug and there was no alternative water within castle defences. The new occupants modified the castle to mirror more common English designs (and dug a well!) and Dolforwyn was occupied for the next 100 years or so but then, having fallen into disrepair was abandoned and never occupied again. The stone remains of the Montgomery Castle we can see today, high on a rock overlooking the town and the border lands for miles around, were part of the castle constructed from 1223, a mile from the original Motte and Bailey castle of a couple of centuries earlier which was refortified as an outpost for the new structure. An important frontier post for English campaigns, it was here that the army marched down to Builth Wells for the surprise attack where Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was killed. During the C14th the castle wasn’t needed strategically by any forces but when attacked by Owain Glyndwr the defenders of the fortress stood firm and managed to resist, although the town below was not as fortunate.
Finally, in 1643 the castle was surrounded to Parliamentary troops during the civil war and was destroyed under the ruling government’s orders. A bit of an ignominious end for the two castles but I still love them and they have survived still to look over us. I haven’t been back up to Dolforwyn this year but my daughter did get up to Montgomery Castle this past Easter holiday.
My parents stayed for a week in Fiddlers Cottage in Montgomery over Easter and had a wonderfully relaxing time. Their peace was interrupted when my little one went to stay for a couple of nights but she loved her room and wandering around the lovely border town of Montgomery with her grandparents. I was quite sceptical when Mum, said they were going to walk up to the castle as it is a steep climb, but little legs notwithstanding, it seems that they both made it to the top and really enjoyed discovering the remains of the stronghold. If I absolutely had to pick between the two I would go for Dolforwyn as my favourite, as Llewellyn ap Gruffydd is one of my favourite historical characters and I tend to root for the underdog, but both castles are well worth a visit.
If you do go, or have been in the past, I would love to see any pictures and who has captured the best view. Please feel free to share your snaps with us on Facebook!