We are super excited to be sharing one of our bucket list pinned places that we’ve wanted to visit for a long time and finally got the chance to tick it off and explore the incredible Carreg Cennen Castle. We’d love for you to join us on our journey as we discover what remains upon this limestone craggy hilltop that sits nearly 300ft above the river Cennen, and see how they tried to prevent attacks during the wars of the roses and watch as we delve down steep stairs leading to incredible natural cave. Its apparent why this castle is one of Wales’s most romantic and iconic ruins inside the Brecon Beacons.
The story surrounding Carreg Cennen is a long yet important one heading back back to the 13th century, and interestingly its been proven with archaeological evidence of the site with findings of caches of roman coins and four prehistoric skeletons that were unearthed here that this area could of indeed been much much older. From the ground up and the moment your able to make a glimpse at the castle, you feel that sense of isolation and its dominating nature yet it’s somewhere that’s absolutely breath-taking and the views over the Carmarthenshire countryside are no joke, on a great day your able to see the black mountains in the distance.
Your journey can start from two points when visiting here and you enjoy one of two circular walks in the area, the short circular route is the one we are doing, it consists of a 10-15 minute steep ascent on fairly good paths, up the craggy hilltop, it can be quite slippy in places but who doesn’t enjoy a good challenge, its roughly around 1.6 miles and you’ll have to pay an entrance fee, whereas the longer circular route takes you on a more interesting hike with rough tracks, country lanes and through woodlands this route is around 3.7 miles long and you don’t need to pay an entrance fee. But it has to be said both of these walks provide stunning landscape and views of the castle and the countryside aswell, its certainly a great achievement of climbing to the entrance of this fortress.
Along your walk, you’ll notice rocks and remnants of some of the outer fortifications, these included stables, workshops and lime kilns which was protected by a small gateway and a stone wall. Interestingly the enclosure of the castle was designed to trap its intruders and prevent access to the castles interior. The defences for this castles gatehouse were quite elaborate, especially for its time. If an attacker managed to get through the outer gatehouse he had to make at least two sharp turns to reach a strongly defended twin-towered gatehouse to the inner ward.
Lord Rhys who was the controller of the area of Deheubarth, built a more permanent castle here in the late 12th century, though it was taken by Edward I of England in his first Welsh campaign of 1277. Edward barely had time to occupy the castle before it was under Welsh attack, first by Llewelyn, and then by Rhys ap Maredudd. Edward granted Carreg Cennen to John Giffard as a reward for his support in Edward’s conflict with Llewelyn.
It was Giffard who rebuilt the Welsh fortress in impressive style. Between 1283-1321 Giffard and his son created a complex structure that makes the best possible use of the rocky hill on which the castle stands. The west and south side of the hill fall away steeply, providing natural defences. Even after the English took over the castle, it continued to seek conflict, Owain Glyndor besieged it in 1403 though he didn’t actually take it, then later on in the wars of the roses in 1461, the Lancastrians defended Carreg Cennen against the Yorkists and it was at that point the castle was slighted and impossible to defend, leaving the castle very much ruined and as we see today.
The main gatehouse consisted of two towers, their bases were reinforced with spurs similar to the spurs of the towers of Caerphilly whilst the top was battlement, and the walls were pierced with arrow slits in the form of crosses with a wide field of fire. It had an unusual barbican with very deep pits, and this castle had the interesting concept of a series of bridges across deep pits, this meant that at any point, the bridges overlying the pits could be drawn from their supports and it would have been so treacherous for unwanted visitors! Additional protection was built within the gate so it also had the ability to protect from the inside as well, the second portcullis and the second door from the courtyard side served this purpose, the gatehouse was used as living quarters, it contained several basic living elements, with fireplaces and latrines.
The layout of Carreg Cennen was simple in layout but it provided all of the amenities any castle dweller really needed and in the inner ward, there were originally bread ovens in the western corner this is something so great to see inside a ruined castle, it’s not often you see it looking pretty much intact so this is worth looking out for when visiting, as well as the two limestone tanks for rainwater to gather that flowed down to them from the roofs, this would have provided the castle with short term drinking water during sieges. The eastern wing had two floors with a typical medieval layout of utility and storage rooms on the ground floor and then residential rooms on the first floor.
The north west tower guarded the most vulnerable side of the castle, but its round design would have been an advantage to its approaching visitors, along with the three arrow slits, one of which was altered in the 15th century to accommodate a new and technical advance in weaponry,. The musket. It was quite odd that this tower was the only one with a gun port, but it would have had unbelievable power and defences to warn off intruders.
From the north on the first floor there was a kitchen, that was accessible through some external stairs, the hall and two private chambers, inside the kitchen itself is a large fireplace on the sides of which stone cupboards were formed into a wall, there was a small room underneath the kitchen which was perhaps a pantry that would have been accessible from above through a hatch in the ceiling and through the courtyard door. Leading on from the kitchen directly into the hall, which was of course the most important room in the castle, this room would have been intended for feasts, meeting guests and ceremonies and then up the stairs and Beyond the hall is a small tower which projects into the outer ward and held the chapel, a key component of most medieval castles.
The main private chamber was called the Kings chamber and was on the first floor in the southeast corner of the castle. The only entrance to the chamber was through the passage in the wall leading directly from the hall; it was a very spacious room, well lit from the courtyard and warmed by a fireplace. Perhaps one of the most iconic parts of visiting here is to visit the interesting element of the caves, behind a defensive wall and down some steep uneven stairs a long vaulted passageway awaits you leading from the south east gate of the upper castle to the cave that’s located down below and under the castle.
It’s quite cool to see the passage way illuminated only by narrow slit openings and only really helpful if the suns up, but it’s so fascinating and intriguing to step down into the depths of the caves. Holes in the wall have been said to be used as a dovecote, but after you continue down through very narrow and low passages, you can go down more than 46 metres but at the end of the passageways a spring flows into a natural basin by the wall. The construction of such a long passage connecting to the caves is quite the mystery, using it as a source of water and a dovecote doesn’t seem to be the only reason for its construction, it’s more than likely that it had defensive functions. Never the less, it’s so cool to be able to say you’ve explored in and around a cave system inside a castle, and it’s something we encourage you to experience, but just don’t forget a torch!!
Till next time!