Dolbadarn: our castle and other Llanberis legends

Dolbadarn is just one of many Llanberis legends

Dolbadarn Castle keeps quiet watch along the Llanberis Pass.

 

Dolbadarn Castle (we affectionately think of it as our castle) sits quietly within the grounds of the Royal Victoria Hotel, sentinel of the twin lakes of Padarn and Peris.

It is, quite possibly, the most overlooked castle in Wales and, although we quite like having it to ourselves, we think we should share this and other Llanberis legends with you in the hope that you might visit and share in the magic of our wonderful village.

Small but mighty

Nested in tranquil woodland, it’s easy to assume this marvel of 13 century engineering has led a quiet life in comparison to larger, more heroic fortresses in the region, such as Harlech and Caernarfon.

But Dolbadarn was keeping watch long before Edward I set his sights on Wales. It played a crucial role in Llywelyn the Great’s quest to unite the Princes of Wales and its strategic position at the foot of the Llanberis Pass meant even a small garrison could control movement through the valley, which was the principal route into the kingdom of Gwynedd.

Dolbadarn was taken by English forces in 1284, and the castle became the sorry victim of neglect and pilfering. Timbers from the interior were taken and used in the construction of Caernarfon Castle. The fact that this little fortress, now in the care of Welsh historic monuments CADW, has remained relatively intact is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of Welsh engineers, who were new to the phenomenon of castle building.

Clever design

Unlike its complex and imposing cousin, Castell y Bere in Llanfihangel y Pennant, Dolbadarn is of simple construction, an example of a ‘round tower’ keep. The design, almost childish in appearance, was incredibly effective. Constructed from local slate the castle was as much as part of the landscape then as now.

With the main entrance located on the first floor, entry would have been virtually impossible once the access ladder was retracted. Unwelcome visitors would have been met with a barrage of missiles from hoardings (wooden platforms built out from the walls) on the upper reaches of the tower.

When it came to missiles, anything went. Along with burning oil and boiling water, rotten food, human excrement, even dead bodies would be pelted down to repel attackers – a rudimentary form of chemical warfare.

Image courtesy St John O'Neill, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, via Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy St John O’Neill, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, via Wikimedia Commons

Dolbadarn keep was encircled by a wall housing the day-to-day activities of the castle: the bakery, the kitchen, the stores and the stables. In addition, smaller towers to the south and east of the enclosure provided extra vantage points and a great hall was used for entertaining visitors and to accommodate passing nobility.

Today, only the round tower survives intact but the remains of enclosure buildings, including the hall, can also be seen.

The lowest level of the keep is possibly the most interesting and mysterious, with no useful record of its use. The basement could only be accessed by a single tiny trapdoor and, with so little known of its function, one may wonder at the sinister purpose it could have served.

Political player

Before being seized by Edward Longshanks, Dolbadarn played a crucial role in the struggle for the overlordship of all Wales.

Claimant to the throne, Owain Goch, was imprisoned in Dolbadarn for almost 20 years by his brother and ruler, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. Almost 200 years later, Dolbadarn once again because a symbol of Welsh independence when the castle was used by Owain Glyndwr to house prisoners of war.

This episode became known as ‘Dolbadarn’s last gasp’ but, wow, what a way to bow out of our proud history!

Llanberis: where fact meets fiction?

The small village of Llanberis sits at the heart of Snowdonia National Park. It is well-known as a world-class climbing centre and has a proud history of slate mining but the area has its fair share of myths and legends too.

Llanberis has a rugged beauty: sitting below craggy peaks, on the shores of not one but two massive glacial lakes and scarred by slate mining, it is a fitting setting for a tale or two.

The cannibal witch of Llanberis

Canrig Bwt, the Cannibal Witch, was believed to lie in wait halfway up the Llanberis pass near a small stone bridge called Pont y Cromlech, today a popular climbing spot. Just to the right of the bridge is a stone altar dating back to 400 AD. Allegedly, the witch made her home beneath the altar and, after having sold her soul to the Devil, she began eating little children.

Pont y Cromlech, site of spooky Llanberis legends!

Mysterious Pont y Cromlech is a popular climbing spot today.

Reluctant for the children of Llanberis to become the witch’s next meal a brave young man stepped up to vanquish her once and for all. Armed with an iron sword, and blessed by both a Christian monk and a white (good) witch, the young man set off to meet his destiny.

Unfortunately, on arriving at Canrig Bwt’s lair he was so horrified by what he saw he froze in terror. Slowly, terror gave way to rage, and the brave young man flung himself at the witch with all his might. This is what happened next:

“The blessed sword, with holy sprigs and iron stopped the witch in her tracks, about a foot away. She stood still, unable to move he lifted the sword and severed the neck from the body. Her eyes still glowing in her head as it rolled down the mountainside.”

The generous Tylwyth Teg

With Canrig out of the picture the parents of Llanberis could breathe easy again. However, there was still the problem of the Tylwyth Teg, the fairies; they were rather fond of stealing away unbaptised babies!

Unlike Canrig, the fairies treated stolen children kindly and almost always left their own ugly (only by fairy standards because, to humans, fairies are always very beautiful) children in their place to make up for the loss.

On the whole, Welsh fairies are reputed to be fair if rather mischievous beings; they also have a reputation for generosity. Another local Llanberis legend explains:

“On dark, misty mornings a friend of hers would go to a particular spot in Cwmglas Hollow with a jugful of sweet milk and a clean towel, and place them on a stone. She would then return, and find the jug empty, with money placed beside it.”

Those hoping to cash in on the legend will be disappointed. To this day, few – if any – are party to the knowledge of where exactly Cwmglas Hollow is. Some think it is a climbers’ cottage called Cwm Glas Mawr in the Llanberis Pass (quite close to Canrig’s old haunt at Pont y Cromlech) but, like the fairies, no one is sure if it even exists at all.

Do you know of any other Llanberis legends? If you do, we’d love to hear them. Tweet us here or post on our Facebook page. We’re always keen to learn more about our village and we’ll share our favourites!

Images: Dolbadarn Castle courtesy of Gary Platt via Flickr 2014, Pont y Cromlech courtesy of Eric Jones via Wikimedia Commons.

10 legendary places to visit in North Wales in 2017

Visit some legendary places in North Wales

North Wales is a land of myths and legends!

 

2017 is just around the corner and to herald the start of the Year of Legends we’re bringing you a whistle-stop tour of ten legendary places in North Wales to visit next year. From the mythic to the modern and the Celtic to the contemporary, the Year of Legends embraces everything epic about our country.

If you’re planning a trip to North Wales, put these places at the top of your must-visit list!

1. Snowdon

Snowdon is one of the best-known mountains of the British Isles and the tallest in Wales but it’s not just its enviable stature that makes it such a fascinating place. Snowdon is a landmark inextricably intertwined with the mythology of North Wales and, like the endless paths and trails circulating and surmounting it, tales of the mountain are many and diverse.

We’ll tell you much more about Snowdon in one of our upcoming blogs but, for now, satisfy yourself with the knowledge that this, above all the region’s mountains, was King Arthur’s mountain; the scene of some of his most iconic adventures and challenges.

You can follow in the hoofprints of Arthur and his knights and see the national park from a different aspect aboard a trusty steed. Gwydyr Trekking Centre and Snowdonia Riding Stables are located within the park and offer you the opportunity of being transported back to the Arthurian Age for an hour or two.

As you ride, if you know where to look, you will see Arthur’s influence on Snowdonia everywhere: in the deep water of mountain lakes said to harbour the magical sword Excalibur; in the eagle-high caves reputed to house slumbering knights; on the stone cliffs where dragons once, and perhaps still, perched.

2. Pass of Llanberis

No visit to North Wales is complete without an ascent of the Llanberis Pass deep in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park. The climb is dizzying and breathtaking and it’s easy to understand why it’s a mecca for hikers and climbers – some of the most challenging routes up Snowdon start here.

All year round the play of the light – on snow or moorland – presents an ever-changing canvas for photographers and artists alike. For those of a more poetic disposition this part of Snowdon is steeped in the myth of Arthur, he is reputed to have vanquished giants and fought his last battle close by. Whether on foot or by four wheels or two, scaling Pen y Pass and descending into the town of Llanberis is an unforgettable experience.

3. Caernarfon

Caernarfon is one of those places, rare in many parts of the UK, where history and heritage are so prevalent you can almost feel the past. Boasting Celtic and Roman remains, a most perfectly preserved medieval stronghold – home of princes and warriors – and being the historic port capital of our slate industry, Caernarfon is a small town with a big story.

But Caernarfon offers much more than just history: Beacon Climbing Centre and Cartio Dan-Do offer brilliant days out for thrill seekers while for younger children, a visit to magical Gypsy Wood will bring Welsh fairy tales to life.

4. Beddgelert

Suckers for a great story should pay a visit to the pretty alpine town of Beddgelert, resting place of Prince Llewelyn’s trusty hound, Gelert. We won’t spoil it by recounting the tale here but, trust us when we tell you, it’s a tearjerker!

Fans of the paranormal will find much to spook and scare in and around Beddgelert too. A local pub comes complete with resident ghost, a long-dead proprietor with unfinished business in the village! If you’re brave enough, head into the woods but beware the Tlywyth Teg (the Fair People); they are just waiting to lure you away to dance for a year and a day in fairyland!

Outdoor pursuits centre, Plas Gwynant, is said to be haunted by a cheeky, noisy poltergeist but, more sinister still, are sightings of a phantom horseman and huge black dog that frequent the road on the way to our next destination, the Aberglaslyn Pass.

5. Aberglaslyn Pass

An area of outstanding natural beauty, this is home to one of the most beautiful rivers in Snowdonia. But don’t let the idyllic woodland surroundings deceive you, this is a place with a dark history. Like its neighbour, Beddgelert, the valley is awash with supernatural folklore.

The most famous tale concerns Pont Aberglaslyn (Aberglaslyn Bridge), believed to have been built by the devil himself. Lying in wait to claim the first living soul to cross the bridge the devil was tricked by the famous Welsh sorcerer, Robin Ddu (Black Robin), who sent a dog across before himself! It is likely that the story is just a story, but are you brave enough to cross the bridge?

6. The isle of Anglesey

A place steeped in myth and legend, the isle of Anglesey is the fabled home of the druids, the mysterious leaders of the ancient Welsh people. The island is a living, breathing history book, with remains, ruins and relics at every turn. From the haunting Bryn Celli Ddu to the stately Plas Newydd, the imposing Beaumaris to the industrial heartland Holyhead, visitors to Anglesey cannot fail to be impressed by the wealth of heritage here.

If history’s not your bag, a visit to Anglesey can include legendary experiences too. Mon Active and Anglesey Adventures are just two of island’s many outdoor pursuits centres where you can try everything from paddleboarding to coasteering to surfing.

Walkers and bikers can enjoy an epic visit too. Bikers can throw down the gauntlet on the thirty-sixty mile long Lon Las Copr bike trail, while walkers can challenge themselves to conquer the Anglesey Coastal Path, a 125 mile scenic route, taking in the island’s major towns and sights.

7. Ynys Llanddwyn

Staying on Anglesey, visit the diminutive island of Ynys Llandwyn near Newborough, home of Wales’ patron saint of love. St Dwynwen, an ancient princess forced to choose between love and family, is reputed to have spent her final days in seclusion here and Welsh lovers have been making the pilgrimage ever since.

It’s possible to cross to the island at low tide and you can even get married here! We think there’s nowhere more romantic to tell a loved one Rwyn’n caru ti, cariad” (I love you, sweetheart) on St Dwynwen’s Day, the 25 January.

Aside from the romantic legend surrounding this beautiful promontory (it’s not technically an island at all) the stunning views, nearby picture postcard villages and superb restaurants make a visit to this part of Anglesey well worth the effort indeed.

8. Portmeirion

An Italian abroad, that’s what Portmeirion is to us. Wandering the quaint village on the banks of the River Dwyryd, you could be mistaken for thinking you’ve stepped onto the Italian Riviera.

Brainchild of famous architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, this quirky little slice of Wales may not be well known outside our borders but is worth a visit for the rich history and cultural legacy surrounding it.

Location of cult Seventies TV show, The Prisoner, and home to North Wales’ premier music festival, Festival Number 6, Portmeirion is a delight for the eyes and a feast for the senses.

9. Bala

North Wales is a haven for rare and exotic plants, owing to our wonderful micro-climate, and some of the UK’s best-known and most-visited formal gardens are located here. But there are still hidden gems for plant lovers to discover.

Caerau Uchaf Gardens has been dubbed Wales’ highest private garden, standing at over 1,000ft. The garden is a joy to behold anytime of the year: in high summer it is the epitome of classic garden design and in midwinter crisp, frost-framed views over Bala will take your breath away.

Nearby, a visit to enjoy the scenery of Llyn Tryweryn, is perhaps one of the most serene moments of your action packed trip to North Wales in the Year of Legends. But even here there are secrets. As you gaze, pause for a moment and reflect on the waters… what lies beneath? A drowned village forgotten by time perhaps…

10. Cader Idris

This famous mountain of three peaks overlooking Dolgellau is the supposed home of cultured giant, Idris Gawr. Idris was a giant with the love for the finer things in life, in particular music, poetry and astronomy, and his mountain home became a place of pilgrimage for aspiring bards.

In search of inspiration they would sleep atop the mountain in the hope of awaking bestowed with poetic genius – or madness! Even today, many people avoid camping on its slopes, afraid in case the legend proves true.

Locals believe a nearby lake, Talyllyn, is bottomless owing to its dark waters. There is a picturesque walking trail around the lake that rewards you with some splendid views of Cader Idris, perhaps you will catch a glimpse of the giant through the mists?

More likely, you will you see (or hear) jet fighters on a circuit of the Mach Loop, as Snowdonia is one of the UK’s few Low Flying Areas!

Why not stay?

So, you see, 2017 has all the makings of a legendary year but we’ve only just scratched the surface of our fascinating history. We’ll be sharing many more stories and secrets of North Wales right here on our blog.

If we’ve inspired you, why not make a stay of it? Located right at the heart of this mythical region, the Royal Victoria Hotel is perfectly placed for brave heroes and thrill seekers to explore North Wales and find their epic! Click here to book your visit now.

Image by Les Haines