Secret Castle series. Dinas Brân.
A dramatic ruin which keeps watch over the town of Llangollen. Your steep climb up will be rewarded with panoramic views of the beautiful Dee Valley.
You can only imagine how magnificent this castle was when it was built in the mid to late 13th century.
Sitting atop a prominent hill just outside Llangollen, it is well worth the steep 30-minute climb from the town for spectacular 360° views of the Dee Valley below.
Built in the 1260s by a local Welsh ruler – thought to be Prince Gruffudd ap Madoc – it stood guard over what was then an important strategic trade route through the Dee Valley. It was the primary residence of the prince and his court.
But alas, the castle’s des-res status was short lived. It came a cropper of the turbulent final decades of the 13th century – when English King Edward I (builder of Conwy and Caernarfon Castles amongst others) was relentlessly menacing the Welsh. In the 1280s, the face of an imminent English attack, Dinas Brân was burnt to the ground by its local defenders.
Dinas Brân – for the best views of the Dee Valley
Yes, there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a climb to Castell Dinas Brân. And yes, you will probably need a little sit down when you get to the top. But oh, isn’t it worth it. The views are spectacular.
Below you nestles the town of Llangollen, set against the seriously beautiful backdrop of the Berwyn hills. To the west stretches the heather-covered Llantysilio Mountain and the limestone crags of the Eglwyseg Escarpment. To the east you can just about pick out the Shropshire Plain.
The castle ruins are romantic and atmospheric. But you can’t help pity the man or woman who had to do the equivalent of the weekly shop. That’s some cart to cupboard carry.
To get to the castle summit, follow the footpath which starts near Llangollen Wharf. A fairly flat gravel path gives way to a steep grassy climb. Worth stopping (for breath) and to read the information boards on your way up.
Dinas Brân means ‘Crow’s Fortress’, and you’re likely to see a few of them as you walk. Look out for the beautiful crow sculpture on the gate at the bottom of the hill. He marks the start of the big climb ahead.
Myfanwy, muse and heartbreaker of Dinas Brân
Every castle needs a tragic love story, and Castell Dinas Brân doesn’t disappoint. Its tale of love and woe stars none other than Myfanwy, daughter of the Norman Earl of Arundel and reputedly the most beautiful woman in Powys. Trouble is, Myfanwy is vain and likes nothing better than to be told how beautiful she is. Preferably on repeat.
Many men went to Dinas Bran to court Myfanwy, but she wanted nothing to do with them. Despite their looks and wealth, they were unable to compose and sing poems that reflected the true depth and rarity of her beauty. Or so Myfanwy felt.
Only one man, Hywel ap Einion, a penniless young bard who lived in the valley below the castle, had the talent to satisfy Myfanwy. One day Hywel plucked up the courage to climb up the hill to the castle with his harp, where he sang and played for her. He fell deeply in love. He believed Myfanwy loved him back, but the truth was, she just loved his words and devotion.
Hywel’s hopes were finally dashed when a richer, more handsome and equally eloquent lover came along. Hywel was dropped like a hot rock from the castle long drop. Quickly forgotten by Myfanwy, he spent the rest of his days wandering through the local hills and forests composing sad poems to his lost love.
Far from Myfanwy’s marble towers
I pass my solitary hours
O thou shinest like the sky,
Behold thy faithful Hywel die!
Poor old Hywel.
Visiting Castell Dinas Brân
There are no restrictions for visiting the castle. There is no entry fee. Spend your cash instead on a nice lunch or other refreshments at the Corn Mill pub on your return to Llangollen. In suitable weather it’s worth sitting out on the Corn Mill’s terrace which stands on stilts over the River Dee. The Pontcysyllte aqueduct is a short drive from the town, as is the Valle Crucis Abbey. All well worth a visit on your next trip to Llangollen.
Stay near Castell Dinas Brân
Stay in a beautiful Dioni holiday cottage in this beautiful North Wales landscape. Take a look at some of our favourites here.