Castell y Bere, Gwynedd
9 miles S. of Dolgellau
B road off B4405
Deep in the mountainous heart of mid Wales, nestling at the foot of Cader Idris, lie the ruins of Castell y Bere. An atmospheric site, it is an outstanding example of a stronghold of the native Welsh princes.
Situated in the upper Dysynni valley, the shape of the castle is dictated by the isolated rocky outcrop on which it stands. Castell y Bere once controlled one of the primary routes through central Wales and was built by Llywelyn the Great in the 1220's, not against the invading Normans, but to secure his position as Prince of Wales against his warring compatriots.
Once a formidable fortress with towers at each angle, defended by an impressive array of ditches, as as well as a drawbridge and a portcullis, today the scenes of siege and warfare seem centuries away from the tranquility and beauty of this location.
Few historic sites in Wales can compare with the special atmosphere experienced exploring this very special ancient site.
~ History ~
1221 - Construction of the Middle Tower (probably the original keep) is built by Llywelyn the Great. Additional towers and curtain walls are added during the following 60 years. The castle, built on the summit of a rocky outcrop on the eastern side of the Dysynni valley, controls the important route-way running from the coast to Dolgellau.
1282 - In December 1282 Llywelyn the Last, leader of the Welsh opposition to King Edward I, is killed in a skirmish with English troops near Builth in mid Wales. With Welsh support collapsing all around him, his brother Dafydd retreats into the mountain fastness of Gwynedd.
On 18th January the English capture Dolwyddelan Castle in the heart of Snowdonia. As winter recedes, and with Welsh resistance all but crushed, Dafydd moves south to the wilds of Cader Idris mountains and the castle of Bere.
Edward's forces advance on the stronghold from two directions. Robert L'Estrange marches west from Shrewsbury and William de Valence moves north with over 3,000 men. Although Dafydd manages to avoid getting himself trapped inside the castle, he is unable to take any action to lift the siege. The garrison surrender on 25th April. Two months later, after a massive manhunt, and betrayed by his fellow countrymen, Dafydd falls into the hands of the English. On the 3rd October 1282 he is gruesomely put to death in Shrewsbury.
1283 - Following the capture of the castle, thick walls connecting the South and Middle Towers are built by the English for King Edward I.
The design of the South Tower suggests that this may have been built as an addition to the original castle by possibly Llywelyn's grandson, Llywelyn the Last, as it provides additional spacious accommodation with ground floor access (a significant weakness for any fortification) at a time when defensive considerations may not have been so much to the fore.
The English quickly see that this tower, being isolated from the rest of the castle and overlooked by the Middle Tower, undermine the overall defences of the castle. For this reason the additional walls are added.
1284 - King Edward I visits the castle to assess the re-fortification work and upon his third visit grants the new town of Bere free borough status.
1286-87 In response to the revolt led by Rhys ap Maredudd in south-west Wales, elaborate defensive features are added, including ditches and two gateway towers, each with its own drawbridge and portcullis. Such a sophisticated entrances cannot be matched in any other Welsh castle. For its time, Castell Y Bere is technologically advanced for its day.
1294 - In the autumn of 1294, with Welsh resentment of English government mounts into a much larger revolt and spreads over most of the country. In the north, under the leadership of Madog ap Llywelyn, the Welsh overrun the castle and town of Caernarfon and slay the sheriff.
By 18th October the king issues orders to Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, to ensure the Castle of Bere is adequately supplied and everything is being done to secure the safety of the castle and its garrison. On the 27th October, he sends further instructions to the Earl and others to prepare to mount an expedition to relieve the castle.
Robert Fitzwalter, its constable, is hastily recalled from his expedition at Portsmouth and joins the relieving forces. His absence may encourages the rebels to besiege the castle.
It is unknown whether the relief expedition is ever successful or not. However, within the next few years the castle is abandoned forever.