Easter in North Wales – Day 2 Deganwy Castle

It was a bit of a strange morning weather-wise. Blue sky and bright sunshine one minute then all-over white cloud and hazy sunshine the next, with the best of the blue sky appearing in the direction of the coast a few miles away. It was dry and warm though and nice enough to have breakfast with the van door open, however I’d just settled down with my toast and marmalade when I was interrupted by the sound of a tractor and there in the next field, less than a hundred yards away, one of the farm workers was muck spreading. It didn’t smell too bad at first but by the time I was ready for going out the ‘perfume’ was much stronger although I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. Living within spitting distance of my own local countryside I’m quite familiar with various aromas drifting over from the nearest farm, and camping on a farm site the occasional farm smells are only to be expected.
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For several years now, whenever I’ve been to Conwy, I’ve been intrigued by a pleasant looking steeply sloping gorse covered hillside above Deganwy across the estuary; when I found out a few weeks ago that it’s possible to walk up there to the remains of an old castle on a rocky outcrop it immediately went on my ‘to do’ list and this was the day I was going to go up there.
Deciding to take the route nearest to the outcrop I left the van in the car park near Deganwy station and set off uphill on a very pleasant residential street off the main road. Towards the top of the street a narrow path between two houses took me to the lower slopes of the outcrop and from there it was a steep and steady climb up and around until I got to the top. Now I don’t quite know what I was expecting to see when I got there but what I wasn’t expecting was a whole lot of not-very-much; a few bits of old wall here and there and that was it, although the views were good.
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Less than halfway up – the view across the estuary
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The history of Deganwy Castle goes back to the late 11th century although the site had been occupied at some point for centuries before that. In 1080 Robert of Rhuddlan, a Norman knight and important retainer of the Earl of Chester, was looking to expand his own lands so built a timber and earth castle on the hilltop at Deganwy. He was staying there in July 1093 when there was an invasion by armed men from three Welsh ships; he rode out to the attack but was killed in the subsequent skirmish, with the Welsh raiders allegedly sailing off with his severed head attached to the mast of one of their ships.
The history of the castle in the hundred years after Robert of Rhuddlan’s death is rather vague but by the end of the 12th century it was in the hands of the Welsh Prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great, and aided by the policy of King John it remained that way into the early 13th century. In 1210 however, Llywelyn turned against the King which prompted John to send an English army to invade the castle but it was pre-emptively destroyed by the Welsh to prevent it being used by the English. Unfortunately John was unable to sustain his army in Wales and Llywelyn was able to recapture the castle in 1213. He substantially rebuilt it in stone and it became one of his key facilities; in 1228 he even imprisoned one of his own sons there. Llywelyn died in 1240 and under the leadership of his son David the Welsh once again destroyed the castle to prevent its use by the English.
Deganwy Castle was eventually taken over by Henry III and in the years 1245-54 it was rebuilt into a substantial medieval fortification. The main part was constructed on the western summit of the hillside and crowned with a substantial round tower, while a secondary irregular-shaped structure known as Mansel’s Tower was built on a smaller eastern summit nearby, with a bailey established between the two hilltops. As Henry rebuilt the castle one of his noblemen wrote a letter home…
”His Majesty the King is staying with his army at Gannock (Deganwy) for the purpose of fortifying a castle which is now built in a most strong position there. We are dwelling round it in tents, employed in watchings, fastings and prayers, and amidst cold and nakedness. In watchings, through fear of the Welsh suddenly attacking us by night; in fastings, on account of a deficiency of provisions for a farthing loaf now costs five pence; in prayers that we may soon return home safe and uninjured. And we are oppressed by cold and nakedness because our houses are of canvas and we are without winter clothing.”Β  From: Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora (thirteenth century)
A Royal Charter in 1252 had formally created a new borough adjacent to the site of the castle but over the subsequent decade this new settlement was subject to frequent Welsh attacks, culminating in the castle being besieged and captured by Llywelyn the Last in 1263. His territorial achievements were approved however when in 1267 Henry III sealed the Treaty of Montgomery, recognising Llywelyn as overlord of Wales.
In 1272 Edward I became King but relations with Llywelyn soon broke down, in particular over Llywelyn’s failure to pay homage to Edward. After the defeats of two Wars of Welsh Independence and the death of Llywelyn, killed in battle in 1282, the whole of North Wales, including Deganwy Castle, finally came under the control of the English. Five years earlier Edward had started to build his ‘iron ring’ of castles around North Wales but Deganwy Castle wasn’t suitable to be re-used; the 1263 siege had shown how vulnerable the hilltop location was so Conwy Castle across the river estuary was built as a direct replacement. Building materials were robbed from Deganwy Castle for the new structure and what remained of Deganwy was completely ruined. The ruins visible today belong mainly to Henry III’s castle though the bases of two D-shaped gatehouse towers and a section of the curtain wall hastily built by Edward I can still be recognized.
The Welsh-built revetment wall and tower base of the upper bailey
Northern gate of the lower bailey
View across to Conwy marina
View across the estuary with Anglesey in the distance
View towards Great Orme
View towards Llandudno and Great Orme
Accommodation block wall
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View inland
Conwy Castle and quay
View towards the smaller hilltop
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Section of wall from the southern outer gateway
The castle’s twin hills
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Heading back down the hillside
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Heading back down to civilisation I took a route across the part of the hillside which has intrigued me for so long, eventually joining a path which brought me out into a small cul-de-sac of houses just up the hill from the road into Deganwy marina. From there it was just a short walk past the station to where I’d left the van, and finding the Tea Station Cafe open I called in for a much needed coffee and a snack before setting off to return to the camp site.
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After the steep climb to the top of that rocky outcrop I’d been a bit disappointed to find there wasn’t a lot there but what it lacked in actual castle was more than made up for by the peace and quiet. I was the only one up there and it had been nice to sit for a while in solitude with the dogs and take in the views even if the sunshine was a bit hit-and-miss. And at least now, when I see that hillside from across the river in Conwy, I can finally say I know what’s up there.

26 thoughts on “Easter in North Wales – Day 2 Deganwy Castle

    1. The UK might be a very small country compared to yours but it’s certainly big on history and there are so many old and ancient buildings and places with lots of historical interest, it’s nice to be able to explore them.

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  1. I am so glad you got to the top at Deganwy and what a bonus to have it all to yourself.

    Great photos and fabulous view – clear why Robert chose that location, wonderful defensive position (but perhaps he should have stayed put because it didn’t do him much good 😬)

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    1. I suppose you could say Robert really lost his head over that location πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ It was a bit of an effort to get to the top, though the dogs did help by pulling me up, but worth it for the views when I got there. I might just go again sometime…. πŸ™‚

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  2. I admire you for climbing all the way up there, the views were well worth the walk and doing your research of the history of the castle is very interesting, Conwy castle is certainly more substantial.

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    1. The views were certainly worth the climb, they would have been even better with a less cloudy sky. Doing the research has proved to be very interesting though the letter from the nobleman was printed on an information board at the bottom of the slope between the two hills – in these modern times it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to camp up there in tents while Henry’s castle was being built.

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  3. I can see why you had the urge to see what was on the top of that hill – and I can see why Robert thought it was a good place to build a castle. Even though there wasn’t a lot left to see, it did give you the incentive to find out more of its history, never mind the views, and it may be peaceful there now, but it would have been anything but back in medieval times.

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    1. If you look at the photo of the castle’s twin hills, that grassy slope leading to them was part of the long incline which has fascinated me for so long – you’ll see it properly in the next post. The rocky outcrop with the castle remains and the good views was a bonus. I reckon I must be weird – I can see a certain beauty in just a simple field and it makes me want to go there πŸ™‚

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    1. If you drive from Llandudno Junction into Deganwy along the A546 with the rail line on your left the rocky outcrop is visible in the distance but once you get to where the houses start on the right you can’t see it. It’s very noticeable from across the river though.

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  4. You were correct that the views were good – really far reaching and on such a clear day too πŸ™‚
    sometimes the ‘nothingness’ is rather refreshing πŸ™‚

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    1. The views would probably have been clearer still with less cloud around. The peace and quiet up there was lovely though, I think we all need a bit of that sometimes πŸ™‚

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  5. I don’t know how many people actually go up there but I can’t imagine it ever gets overrun with tourists. It was lovely and peaceful at the top and worth the steep climb for the views.

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  6. No, there wasn’t. It’s the sort of place you wouldn’t know about unless someone told you about it or you found it on the internet while looking for something else. I didn’t know you can go up there until I was looking across from Conwy in February and saw someone walking down the gorse covered slope – looked on Google maps when I got home and found there are about three different footpaths to get to the castle outcrop but none of them are signposted. Maybe that’s a good thing, at least the place won’t get crowded πŸ™‚

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  7. It was certainly a steep climb but in spite of the lack of actual castle it was worth it for the views. I may be a glutton for punishment but I’m planning another sortie up there soon πŸ™‚

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  8. There’s a lot to be said for some peace and quiet, especially when it comes with views like that!
    I often breathe in the freshly spread fields when I’m cycling to work. It clears the lungs πŸ™‚

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    1. Sorry Jules, I don’t know how on earth I missed this comment. My ex was brought up on a farm in Suffolk and if we were ever driving through countryside with freshly spread fields he would breathe in deeply and say they were “Good country smells” πŸ™‚ My favourite country ‘perfume’ though is haylage, especially when it’s fresh πŸ™‚

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  9. I love that you were determined to check out the castle, so you climbed that hill! Hills covered in gorse look spectacular at this time of year don’t they, better than the actual castle I think..

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    1. I love gorse, the coconut smell is lovely, and gorse covered hills always look attractive in the sunshine. My nearest golf course has lots of gorse and I love walking through there at this time of year.

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