Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Criccieth castle

As I've strayed into Wales, I'll stay there for a while. Why not? It's one of my favourite places on earth :)

Criccieth is a small town of just under 2,000 inhabitants, the majority of whom are actually Welsh; and Welsh is the predominant language spoken. The town is on the south coast of the Llyn Peninsula, which sticks out into the sea just below the Isle of Anglesay (Ynys Mon).

This is Criccieth castle, strategically placed on its own rocky promontory overlooking both town and sea.

You really can't miss it as you drive down the south coast of the peninsula. A bend in the road (just past the layby with the good views of Moel y Gest) and there it is; standing proud on the skyline. It's been over twenty years since the summers when I used to be on team at the Abersoch Holiday Mission a little further down this coast, but the sight of Criccieth castle still gives me the tingle of excitement which I associate with my Abersoch days. It's a 'nearly there' kind of thrill, which is totally unfair on Criccieth because the whole family had two excellent camping holidays here when the boys were little and this summer will be the sixth consecutive year that one or both boys have been on Pathfinder/CYFA activity camp in the town.

The castle itself was built in three phases over a relatively short period of time in the 13th Century. There is some dispute as to who exactly built what, but the most common consensus is that the first two phases were constructed by native Welshmen Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Llywelyn ap Gryffydd, and then additions were made by Edward I & II.

The original purpose of the castle was to strengthen the power base of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in North Wales, particularly against the growing encroachment of the English (still a perrenial problem). The location of the castle by the sea would have allowed for supplies to be brought in to feed a Welsh garrison and a lookout on the castle walls would have been able to see from the mountains of Snowdonia to the far curve of the peninsula, as well as across Cardigan Bay to the castle at Harlech.

The inner ward with it's fortified gatehouse and murder holes was added to by Llywelyn ap Gryffydd who built an outer ward with a dividing series of courtyards, all of which would have to be crossed before reaching the inner gate. In addition, his new outer gate was defended by a large rectangular tower, two, or possibly three, storeys high.

In spite of all this fortification, in 1282-83, Criccieth castle fell to Edward I and English rule began. To emphasise his dominance in the area, he immediately began to refortify the castle, adding an extra rectangular tower and rebuilding the gatehouse towers built by the Welsh.

The castle came under seige in 1295 during the rebellion of Madog, but although both this one and Harlech came under serious threat becasue of their distance from any other English stronghold, supplies were brought in from Ireland by sea and eventually a relief force arrived to supplement the existing garrison and put down the rebellion. Among other things, the relief force brought 18 crossbowmen and 2,500 crossbow bolts to be shared out between  the two castles.

The military significance of Criccieth castle came to an end with the advent of Owain Glyndwr, who, in 1404 captured the town, sacked the castle and set it on fire.

Today, what remains of Criccieth castle is managed by Cadw, which is the Welsh Assembly Government's historic environment division, and it's well worth a visit; even in the rain :)

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