The construction of the castle Castell y Bere on the hill controlling the route from Tywyn to Dolgellau, began Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great) in 1221. The new stronghold was intended to control the Meirionnydd region, taken back then from Llywelyn’s son, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn.
Located on the west coast of Wales, the castle did not play a part in the First Welsh War of Independence, which ended in 1277 with the defeat of Welsh prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, and the loss of a significant part of eastern Wales to the Normans. When the next war broke out in 1282, Anglo-Norman forces under the command of Roger Lestrange and William de Valence besieged and captured Castell y Bere. King Edward I ordered the repair and extension of the castle, which he visited three times in 1284. Walter of Huntercombe was then appointed the castle’s administrator.
In 1294, there was an outbreak of the Welsh uprising under the command of Madog ap Llywelyn, who tried to get Castell y Bere. Historical records are not clear, if the attempt was successful, the settlement near castle was certainly burnt. Eventually, the castle was abandoned, probably due to the inability to easily supply such a remote location. From then on, it fell into total ruin.
The castle was founded on an irregular, longitudinal plan adapted to the shape of the hill. Today it is difficult to determine which elements of the stronghold were from the Welsh period, and which were added in the times of Edward I. In its final shape from the second half of the thirteenth century, the castle consisted of a south tower in the shape of an elongated horseshoe, which was preceded by a small walled ward with a deep ditch on the south side, just in front of the tower. The main hall of the tower was on the first floor. The ground floor had shooting arrowslits, and the door and passage led to the latrine, which served both floors. The entrance to the tower probably led through a drawbridge. Because of its separate location, it was the most interesting part of the castle, probably it served as a “bergfied”. Behind it was a centrally located, rectangular tower, standing in the south-western corner of the main ward of the castle. Its north-eastern corner was occupied by another tower in the shape of an elongated horseshoe, and the western curtain was strengthened by a cylindrical tower, flanking the entrance to the castle at the same time. This one was between two smaller gatehouses, between which there were stairs carved into the rock. In addition, in the middle of the entrance, a small watchtower was located next to the stairs. In the main ward there were several buildings attached to the inner face of the northern wall, and a well or a rainwater tank was placed in the middle.
The best housing conditions were probably met by the horseshoe, north tower. Its main room, led by a stone staircase, was on the first floor. The basement pillar could support the central hearth on the floor. It would be necessary because of wooden ceilings. The high quality of the tower walls suggests that it could have been the Llywelyn chamber, perhaps with a chapel.
The castle survived in the form of a poorly preserved ruin, but its layout is clear, because the lower parts of all defensive walls and towers, preserved to a height of about 2-3 meters, are visible. A particularly interesting element are the stone stairs between the relics of the two gatehouses and the south tower, separated from the rest of the castle by a deep ditch. As the ruins are under the care of the CADW government agency, entry into the castle is free.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Taylor A. J., The Welsh castles of Edward I, London 1986.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Castell-y-Bere Castle.