The ruins of Criccieth Castle sit on top of a rocky headland that is roughly the shape of a truncated pyramid and commands magnificent views across Tremadog Bay.
In fact, the view from Criccieth’s peak remains outstanding to this day and clearly demonstrates the tactical benefit of the castle’s lofty position. Originally started by ‘Llywelyn the Great’ of the Kingdom of Gwynedd around 1231, it is classified as a native Welsh castle. As a fortress it has seen considerable conflict, been used as a prison and as a scenic backdrop for one Britain’s greatest fine art painters.
The castle started its life as a motte-and-bailey and was rebuilt in stone by Llywelyn the Great. It was markedly different from the usual style of Welsh castle in so much as it had a twin D-shaped towered gateway that incorporated a gate and portcullis, murder holes and outward facing arrow-slits in each tower. Its elevated position made it a formidable fortress. A spring-fed well provided water for the garrison and the south east flank was protected by the sea. Construction and expansion of the castle continued under Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and included the addition of a new rectangular tower.
In 1283 it was captured by English soldiers of Edward I and redesigned by James of Saint George who added another two-story rectangular (siege engine) tower and strengthened many other structures. The outer curtain wall was enhanced by the addition of a barbican.
The fortress had only been completed for two years when, in 1292, it was besieged by Welsh rebels led by Madog ap Llywelyn, a distant relation of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. The uprising spread rapidly across Wales but the castle resisted capture, largely due to provisions being supplied from the ships that could still make land. The rebellion failed and England once again established its authority in the region.
Wisely, the English selected Sir Hywel ap Gruffydd (Howel of the Battleaxe) as constable of Criccieth Castle. Hywel was Welsh but had distinguished himself at the battle of Crecy and was therefore an ally of the English. However, having a Welshman back in charge of the castle did a lot to appease the ever rebellious locals.
The castle was then used as a prison until 1404 when Welsh forces loyal to Owain Glyndŵr recaptured the castle which, by then, had become a symbol English oppression. On this occasion a French fleet had blockaded the bay and stopped additional men and provisions from resupplying the castle. To ensure that could never be used again the Welsh tore down the walls and set fire to anything that would burn. The castle was never restored. From the date of its construction to its final demise was a period of only 173 years – a very short time indeed.
THE SHIPWRECKED MARINERS
The famous British painter Joseph Mallord William Turner used Criccieth Castle as the background for one of his paintings but showed it as a reversed image. It is part of series of paintings depicting shipwrecked mariners and man’s relationship with the sea.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Tyddyn Sianel, Llanystumdwy, Criccieth
Gwynedd, Wales, LL52 0LS
+44 (0)1766 522 855
- Address: Castle Street, Criccieth, Gwynedd, Wales, United Kingdom, LL52 0DP
- GPS: 52.7051489903527,-3.49365234375
- Phone: 0044 (0)1766 522 227
- Part of UK: Wales
- Sat Nav Postcode: LL52 0DP
- Entrance Fees: Yes
- Disabled Access: Limited - Steep paths & wheelchairs are restricted to visitor centre only
- Visibility from Road: Excellent
- Image Credits: Header Image: Gail Johnson