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 Meirionydd region, taken back then from Llywelyn’s son, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. It protected the mountain road from Cadair Idris to Dolgellau.
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. It was one of the last castles in the hands of Dafydd ap Gruffudd, who struggled vainly to keep the rebellion alive after his brother Llywelyn’s death. King Edward I ordered the repair and extension of the captured 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 four towers, an extensive gate complex and a large courtyard surrounded by walls.
In the highest point of the area there was a centrally located, rectangular tower. Along with the courtyard located on the north-east side it was probably the oldest part of the castle. The north-eastern corner was occupied by a tower with 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. The entry road was between two smaller gate towers, 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. Finally, to enter the castle, you had to overcome the rock-cut ditch, portcullis of the first gate, the timber ramp and drawbridge, another drawbridge and the portcullis of the second gate. In the main courtyard there were several buildings attached to the inner faces of the northern wall, and a well or a rainwater tank 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 pillar in the basement was able to support the central hearth upstairs. It would be necessary because of wooden ceilings. The high quality of the tower walls suggests that it could have been the Llywelyn’s chamber, perhaps with a chapel.
In the southern, the most protruding part of the castle there was a tower with the shape of an elongated horseshoe, which was preceded by a small, walled courtyard with a deep ditch on the south side, just in front of the tower (connection of the tower with two curtains of the wall with the rest of the castle probably occurred during the English rule). The tower’s main hall was on the first floor. It was lit by windows and it was heated by the hearth. The ground floor had arrowslits and the door with the passage which led to the latrines, which served both floors. The entrance to the tower probably led through a drawbridge. Due to its separate location, tower was the most interesting element of the castle, probably it served as a bergfied, a place of final defense, although unlike the continental bergfrieds, it also had a residential function.
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.
Davis P.R., Castles of the Welsh Princes, Talybont 2011.
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.