Carreg Cennen Castle
Carreg Cennen Castle
Location: Click for Map
Fee: Adults: £5.50
Over 60's: £4.50
(Students, Armed forces, Veterans)
Family Ticket: £16.00
(2 Parents/Grandparents & up to 3 Children)
I’m American, and sometimes I’m just a bit out of the loop. Dare I generalize, I think most people outside of the UK know next to nothing about the absolute splendour of Wales. We’ve all heard about the fancy manor houses and green landscapes in England, and the epic mountains and lochs and castles of Scotland, but Snowdonia National Park and Brecon Beacons National Park I knew less than zero about. And I ABSOLUTELY didn’t know that Wales has more castles per square foot than anywhere else in the world.
Let that sink in for a moment. More castles per square foot than anywhere in the world! For me, that’s better than Christmas and Disneyland all rolled in to one!
I have a very specific penchant for castles on cliffs. They are my favorite to look at and by far my favorite to photograph. So when we got our holiday rental property in Bath and I learned that Wales was 46 minutes from our flat, I did a little happy castle dance! Do you know that when I lived in Los Angeles it would take me 46 minutes to travel 7 miles sometimes?!!! And now instead of driving in rush hour traffic on the 405 (appropriately it got the nick name the 4- or 5-hour freeway) I get to go a castle!!!
Carreg Cennen castle literally means castle on the rock above Cennen in Welsh. Maybe not the most imaginative name, but what it lacks in name, it makes up for in wow factor. Several different polls have rated it the most romantic ruin in Wales, and it is easy to see why. I am shocked this place hasn’t been in a million movies and TV shows! It has, however been sketched by J. M. W. Turner. I make a joke now about the artist Turner; I think he’s my shoulder angel. Any ruin he has painted or sketched always becomes one of my favorites, and I subsequently find out AFTER I went there that he had made a work of art out of the ruin. It’s like he’s guiding me to greatness!
Carreg Cennen sits on a massive limestone cliff in the Brecon Beacons National Park area. The limestone that the castle sits on actually has two massive fault lines under it which caused a disturbance, pushed up the ground, and made this amazing rock face. The surrounding landscapes are a made of a completely different material: red sandstone. So, the river and ancient glaciers carved out the land making it even more spectacular.
Excavations and research have found human remains on this hilltop dating back to the Iron Age. There were even Roman coins found in the area from the 1st Century!
There is a pattern for many castles sites: first, an original wood or non-permanent structure was built on the site because of its location and strategic viability, after that generation upon generation built in exactly the same spot. Why? Because if it ain’t broke and it’s helping you defend your territory, keep a castle there!
The first stone castle built on this site was probably done in by Lord Rhys who lived from 1132-1197. Lord Rhys was a seriously powerful dude. He didn’t call himself a lord at all. Most of the time he referred to himself as Prince of South Wales, Prince of Wales, or- if he was feeling humble- just Prince of Deheubarth (try saying that three times fast) . During the 1170’s and onward Lord Rhys was the prevailing force in Wales. But it took a lot of toil and bloodshed for him to become the powerful leader he became.
Lord Rhys had a major squabble with Henry the II of England, whom he eventually made up with. After Henry II died in 1189, it didn’t take good old Rhys much time to stretch his princely wings and rise up against the next English king Richard II, go to war with the Normans, and acquire a whole bunch of lands and castles on the way.
Carreg Cennen remained in the Rhys family for the next 50 years until Matilda de Braose gave the castle to the Normans to piss off her son Rhys Fychan ap Rhys Mechyll. Apparently, she didn’t like her son much. He ended up getting the castle back right before it was to go to the Normans. A Welsh Chronicle at the time wrote “Rhys Fychan ap Rhys Mechyll regained the castle of Carreg Cennen, which his mother had treacherously placed in the power of the French, out of enmity for her son.” Yikes!
Much later Carreg Cennen became a stronghold for the Lancasters during the War of the Roses. The Yorks ended up capturing the castle and this was the castle’s ultimate demise. The Yorks brought 500 men and partially dismantled it so it could no longer be a threat and starting the process of making it the romantic ruin that it is today.
You’d think all that was pretty amazing history, right? But this last part may be the biggest jaw dropper of them all. Ownership of the castle ultimately passed to the Cawdor family. Then, in the 19th century the Earl of Cawdor began a broad renovation of the castle. I imagine that that was a pretty expensive undertaking. And so, in 1932 the castle was put in the hands of the Office of Works. In the 1960’s the castle and surrounding farm was purchased by the Morris family. The Cawdors unwittingly gave the castle to the Morris because the lawyers of the Cawdor estate put the wrong wording in the deeds. The deed accidentally made the castle part of the farm! Score for the Morris’, not so much for the Cawdors. Lesson to be learned: Watch the wording of your wills and property deeds people!!
The farm and castle are still owned by the son and daughter of Mr. Morris.