princes of gwynedd

Driving Tours

Route 5 - Beddgelert, Criccieth and Dolwyddelan

Dinas Emrys Castle

Dinas Emrys Castle

Criccieth Castle

Criccieth Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle

Tomen Castell

Tomen Castell

This route takes you firstly to Beddgelert to explore the church funded by the Welsh Princes, onto Criccieth Castle where Gruffydd ap Llewelyn was imprisoned and then onto Dolwyddelan Castle which was built by Llewelyn Fawr and Tomen Castle where he was born.

  • Dinas Emrys Castle
  • Beddgelert
    • Site of Hunting Lodge
    • Church
  • Dolbenmaen Castle
  • Criccieth Castle
  • Dolwyddelan Castle
  • Tomen Castell
  • St Gwyddelan's Church, Dolwyddelan

Start Point: Betws-y-Coed

Along the way: When you turn left onto the A4086 at Capel Curig, the scenery gets even more spectacular! You will go past the National Mountaineering Centre at Plas-y-Brenin and then drive down the valley past a couple of lakes. Further down the road, the mountains to your right are the Snowdonia range. There are a number of lay-bys on this road so you can stop to enjoy the view. The next lake on your right is Llyn Gwynant and then the lake on your left is Llyn Dinas.

If you have time, explore:

  • Dinas Emrys Castle – Parking at the far end of Llyn Dinas, look up to the right for the site of Dinas Emrys Castle. Dinas means a Celtic hill fort. Excavation of the site of Dinas Emrys Castle has shown that there has been occupation of the site since the 5th or 6th Century but there is evidence of a 12th Century castle which is believed to have been built by Llewelyn Fawr. Due to vulnerability of the remains and difficulties of access, exploration is not advised but the hill on which the fortress sat can be seen from some distance.

BEDDGELERT

“This extensive parish, anciently called Llan-Ybor, contained a priory, founded, according to some writers, about the year 1198, by Llewelyn the Great … Having been nearly destroyed by fire, about the year 1283, the priory was repaired by Edward I …” [From: Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Wales 1849]

Llewelyn Fawr had a hunting lodge in Beddgelert, believed to have been on the site now occupied by Ty Isaf, a 17th century cottage owned by the National Trust which is well worth a look. You won't be able to visit Beddgelert without hearing about Gelert's Grave; this is a myth but an enjoyable one!

From Ty Isaf take the small dead end road and the gateway to the church is at the end. A church is believed to have been on this site since the 7th Century. A priory of Black canons or Augustinians was founded about the year 1198 and was famous for its holiness and hospitality to travelers. The community was re-formed by 1230 as the Augustinian Priory of Valley St Mary of Snowdon and the Welsh princes gave lands and paid for the new stone priory church, parts of which can still be seen, and is now the parish church. The North wall of the Church has two fine 13th Century arches and doorway to the vestry, thought to have led to the Prior's cell. The East wall has a beautiful 13th Century triple lancet window – the stained glass is not as old unfortunately. Beyond the cemetery is where the remains of the Augustinian Priory are but there is nothing visible currently.

Moving on: The village of Dolbenmaen is just off the A487. It will be easiest to park by the church probably but the clearest view of the ‘mound' where the castle stood is probably from the main road.

Along the way: As you drive down the A498, you may see signs of a railway. This is an extension of the Welsh Highland Railway for steam trains. Originally, the railway only ran from Caernarfon to Rhyd Ddu (to the west of Beddgelert) but an extension has been added to take the railway down to Porthmadog (Port Madoc), where it will link to the Rheilffordd Ffestiniog Railway to take passengers up to Bleanau Ffestiniog.

If you have time, explore:

  • Dolbenmaen Castle
    “He [Llewelyn] forded the River Dwfor at the commotal settlement of Dolbenmaen, and the tenants tending its desmesne lands stopped their work to gape as he passed, astonished that their Prince should suddenly appear in their midst like this, alone, accompanied by none of his household” - from 'The Reckoning'
    Dolbenmaen Castle would have been associated with a llys and the mound where Dolbenmaen Castle stood survives but little else. It is believed Plas Dolbenmaen may be on the site of a medieval house; Plas Dolbenmaen is the cluster of buildings opposite the church. Llewelyn Fawr later moved the court to Criccieth. St Mary's Church, across the road from the mound, was formerly a chapel and it is possible it was originally associated with the llys.

CRICCIETH CASTLE

“Like all Welsh castles, it sprang up without warning, was suddenly there before them, an awesome grey stone silhouette rising against the vivid … sky.” - from 'Falls the Shadow'

Criccieth Castle stands on a headland with a strategic site on a rocky peninsula overlooking Tremadog Bay. The twin towered gatehouse was built by Llewelyn Fawr between about 1230 - 1240. Gruffydd ap Llewelyn was imprisoned in Criccieth Castle in about 1240 for a considerable time by his brother Davydd. Gruffydd was then delivered into the hands of the English monarch, Henry III, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London but died when he tried to escape. Criccieth Castle was taken by Edward's forces in 1283 and extensively refortified which included adapting a tower for use by a catapult or stone-throwing ‘engine'. The Welsh besieged the castle around the turn of the century and in 1404 Owain Glyn Dŵr captured and burnt the castle, the walls still show evidence of scorching.

Moving on

Along the way: The route will take you along the Vale of Ffestiniog and onto the road called Bwlch-y-Gorddinan or the Crimea Pass but also has the uninspiring name of the A470. The road was called the Crimea Pass because it was built around 1854 when the Crimea War was ongoing and was reputedly built by Russian prisoners of war captured at the Battle of Balaclava. There used to an Inn at the summit of the pass called ‘The Crimea'.

DOLWYDDELAN CASTLE

“It appeared … from the rough-hewn rocks overlooking the River Lledr. … On the south, the ground fell away sharply, and deep ditches had been cut into the rock to the west and east. But what impressed … was the high curtain wall. Most castles were enclosed by timber palisades, but Dolwyddelan was encircled by stone. … Passing through a gateway in the north wall, they … surveyed the wooden buildings clustered along the walls, focusing upon the two-storey rectangular keep, its entrance protected by a wooden forebuilding. …the stairs leading up into the forebuilding were of stone … a wide pit lay between the stairs and the door of the keep, a gap that could be spanned only by drawbridge.” - from 'Here Be Dragons'

Llewelyn Fawr built Dolwyddelan Castle as a fortress of the native Welsh princes. In the 13th century he supplemented the stone keep with a stone curtain wall enclosing the courtyard. The castle saw active service in the late 13th century during the battles between the Welsh and Edward I.

Moving on: Go back down to the road and cross the road on foot. Turn left and walk towards the bend in the road. There is a gate just before a stream and there is a track the other side of the gate. If you look across the field there is a rocky knoll covered with fir trees. You can walk down this track to get closer but you can't get right up to the site.

TOMEN CASTELL

Tradition claims that this Welsh earth and timber castle which occupied a rocky knoll on the valley bottom was the predecessor to the stone castle at Dolwyddelan. Tomen Castell is said to have been the birthplace of Llewelyn Fawr. Both Tomen and Dolwyddelan castles controlled a crucial route through southern Snowdonia, and the importance of this site is further attested to by the presence of the Welsh prince's summer pastures or hafotiroedd. Today the mound or motte is covered with trees and vegetation. There are traces of a rectangular tower on the summit.

Along the way: On your left, behind Dolwyddelan Castle, is the mountain Moel Siabod which means ‘shapely hill'. It is reputed that from the top, on a clear day, you can see 13 of the 14 highest peaks in Wales, and you get a wonderful view of the Horseshoe, the mountain ridges either side of Snowdon.

If you have time, explore:

  • St Gwyddelan's Church, Dolwyddelan. This church was built in the 15th Century but the rood screen, the church bell and the carving above the altar of the ‘Dolwyddelan Dragon' are believed to be from the old church at Bryn-y-Bedd in Dolwyddelan which was 12th Century.

To complete the route, please return to the start point in Betws-y-Coed.

Along the way: Betws-y-Coed was founded around a monastery in the 6th century and grew further with the lead mining industry. Its main disadvantage for further expansion was the lack of a river crossing, the nearest being at Llanrwst. This changed with the opening of Thomas Telford's Waterloo Bridge in 1815. Following completion of the bridge, Betws y Coed became a major staging post for the London to Holyhead Mail Coach.

Photo credits:
Criccieth Castle - copyright Pierino Algieri.

The location of the main points of interest are shown below. Use the 'Satellite' button to get an overhead photo of the locations (best if zoomed in first).

A - Betws-y-Coed
B - Dinas Emrys Castle
C - Site of Hunting Lodge, Beddgelert
D - Beddgelert Church
E - Dolbenmaen Castle
F - Criccieth Castle
G - Dolwyddelen Castle
H - Tomen Castell
I - St Gwyddelan’s Church, Dolwyddelan

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List of all Driving Tours

Route 1 - Betws-y-Coed to Abergwyngregyn

Visit possibly the finest medieval fortifications in Britain at Conwy Castle and the home village of the Princes of Gwynedd at Abergwyngregyn.
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Route 2 - Betws-y-Coed, Llanrwst and Trefriw

A short route but perhaps the most evocative as you walk in Llewelyn Fawr’s footsteps.
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Route 3 - Anglesey

Visit the bread basket of North Wales with its atmospheric churches and the World Heritage site at Beaumaris Castle.
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Route 4 - Bangor, Caernarfon and Llanberis

From natural history at Swallow Falls to man-made history at Caernarfon Castle and Bangor Cathedral.
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Route 5 - Beddgelert, Criccieth and Dolwyddelan

Castles galore, including reputedly Llewelyn Fawr’s favourite at Dolwyddelan. (You are on this page).

Route 6 - North-East Wales

Let history speak to you as you explore the grim past of Rhuddlan castle.
Find out more

Contact Information

For more information please contact us at:

E-mail: info at princesofgwynedd dot com

www.princesofgwynedd.com

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