Friday, 19 July 2013

The Sights of Wales

Today we visited Harlech Castle which is spectacularly sited on the cliff tops over looking the Irish Sea. The castle was built by Edward I built Harlech in the late 13th century as one of the most formidable of his 'iron ring' of fortresses designed to contain the Welsh. The castle took seven years to build, and cost an estimated £8,190. In 1404 it was taken by Welsh leader Owain Glyn Dwr who proceeded to hold a parliament here. Harlech became his residence and family home and military headquarters for four years. He held his second parliament in Harlech in August 1405.Four years later, after another long siege of eight months, Harlech Castle was retaken by the English in 1409. Although an imposing edifice, Harlech is at at one with the surroundings a quality rare in the great Edwardian castles. There is a sense of harmony here, created by the way in which the castle builders took care to exploit the sites natural advantages. Looking seawards, Harlech's battlements spring out of a near vertical cliff face, while any landward attackers would first have to deal with a massive twin-towered gatehouse. The sea, was the key to Harlech's siting - seaborne access was crucial in times of siege. The fortress's massive inner walls and towers still stand almost to their full height. The views from its lofty battlements are truly panoramic, extending from the dunes at its feet to the purple mass of Snowdonia in the distance.

Due to the lack of parking which is common in the whole of the UK, we had to park down near the beach and walk up the great hill to the castle and then of course up all the steps of the tower to get the best views

Views from Barmouth

Our next stop was to see Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle a spacious ring of stones, of varying sizes up to a slender pillar. The stone circle is set on a plateau on the Shropshire border with Wales, between Corndon Hill and Stapeley Hill, Corndon Hill looms to the south, an obvious relationship. But over to the west, the panorama of the Black Mountains in Mid-Wales and southern Snowdonia, across to Cader Idris. There is a 'remote' feel about this site and lovely views to be had. An outlying stone stands to the south of the circle. The circle was originally composed of around 30 stones, of which 14 remain. None of the stones are terribly high; the tallest is about 2 metres in height. The circle is about 27 meters in diameter, and was erected between 2000-1400BCE. Like most stone circles, there are local legends associated with Mitchell's Fold. One legend associates the circle with King Arthur, and states that Arthur drew the sword Excalibur from one of the stones at Mitchell's Fold to become king. Another tale tells that one of the stones was a witch who was turned to stone as punishment for milking a cow through a sieve. The other stones were set around the witch stone to stop the witch from getting away.

A stone cairn on the neighboring mountain

We then stopped to look through the village of Llangollen with it's famous bridge crossing the River Dee and the town is overlooked by the magnificent ruined Castell Dinas Brân.

Castell Dinas Bran sits atop a hill about 1,000 ft above the floor of the Dee Valley in Llangollen.  A rugged, foreboding pinnacle, the hillock was the ideal spot to erect a castle. It seemed completely impenetrable, commanded views for miles around, and offered quick recognition of an approaching visitor, whether friend or foe. Yet, the native Welsh princes of Powys occupied the hilltop for only a few decades. "Dinas Bran" is variously translated as "Crow Castle," "Crow City," "Hill of the Crow," or "Bran's Stronghold." The castle first appears in 12th century historical documents as part of a medieval piece entitled "Fouke le Fitz Waryn,"or "The Romance of Fulk Fitzwarine." While this work claimed that the castle, known as "Chastiel Bran," was in ruin as early as 1073, the remains we see today date to the occupation of the princes of Powys Fadog in the mid 13th century. Possibly, the Chastiel Bran mentioned in the romance was a Norman timber castle, but nothing of substance supports this conjecture. However, the encompassing ditch and earthen embankments, which enclose the southern and eastern portions of the stone fortress, do date to the Iron Age. They remind us that this hilltop had strategic value long before the princes of Powys, or the Normans, ventured into the region. Interestingly, the word, "Dinas," has its origins in the Iron Age as well, and is found in the names of Iron Age hillforts throughout Wales.

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