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Ewloe Castle

Map link for Ewloe Castle

1m NW of Hawarden, Flintshire, northeast Wales

Text copyright 1997 by Lise Hull
Photographs copyright 1995 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Lise Hull

he day I visited Ewloe Castle was typically Welsh. The sun had risen after several hours of rain. Skies were brilliantly blue, the land resoundingly green, farmers' fields equally mucky. I knew the best approach to such a day was to follow the Boy Scouts' time-tested adage: "be prepared"! So, I loaded the car with an assortment of gear: a wool sweater in case it was brisk, a slicker in case of more rain, shorts and t-shirt for the heat, and, thankfully, my trusty pair of wellies. More than any other item, my drab-green Wellington boots saved me (and my clothing) from despair and the wrath of the muck gods. And at Ewloe, my wellies again salvaged the day.

Alongside the B5125 a sign indicates the presence of Ewloe Castle. A tiny layby exists for parking, donning your wellies or whatever all-weather gear is necessary, and preparing for the mysterious trek to the castle. I say "mysterious" because, from the roadside, what is visible is farmland, organized with fences, clumps of trees lining the farthest end. The only logical way to find the castle was with a bit of reason and perseverance, despite the daunting prospect of crossing the field. With no castle in sight, it seemed pointless to continue, but, as an avid castle- hunter, I had to go on.

Trusting the sign, I gathered up the stamina to journey across the seemingly endless field completely encumbered though I was by the defiant clods of earth that blocked my way. Recently plowed, this field was definitely more suitable for four-hoofed beasts rather than one of the two-footed human variety. Nevertheless, though muck and mire dared my passage, my intended goal - a great Welsh castle - inspired fortitude and a disdain for the rebellious mess about my feet.

So, I resolutely pressed forward toward the distant trees, slogging confidently, my wellies keeping my feet dry and warm, steadying my steps. As I forged ahead, I had moments where I doubted my sanity, but my passion for adventure - and castles - propelled my onward. Finally, I reached the trees. There, I detected the presence of earthworks (right), and I knew my destination was close by. Suddenly, almost by accident, Ewloe Castle burst into view.

And what a view! Incredibly, this native Welsh castle sits in a hollow, below the level of the field I had just dragged across, nested in the great forest of Ewloe. Most castles in Wales are perched on hilltops, situations offering reasonable views of any activity in the area, well-placed early warning devices. At Ewloe, the unusual placement rewards us with one of Wales' most exhilarating experiences - the fresh moment of discovery.

Actually, there are two pathways to reach Ewloe Castle. The second one is through Wepre Park, by way of a steep footpath. From that direction, you will notice that the castle actually does sit on a hilltop, above two small brooks, the Wepre and New Inn. The setting of the castle may be related to its closeness to the waterways and to the River Dee, which is only about a mile away.

Ewloe Castle is one of Wales' best kept secrets. It is a grand ruin, most likely built in the 1250's by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Prince of Wales. Sadly, the site receives little acclaim in a land so richly gifted with castles and other ancient monuments. In many ways, Ewloe is the classic Welsh castle, and that fact alone should be enough to garner more publicity. Along with its lack of notoriety comes a lack of tourists, a fact which has its good and bad points. Bad, because the castle remains a hidden wonder. Good, for the experience of the moment: the tree-shrouded glen which the fine castle guards exudes serenity and allows us, at least for a while, to distance ourselves from the busier world just a short path away.

An artist's conception of how the castle may have once appeared

Essentially, the plan of Ewloe Castle is semi-circular, formed with two separate sections, the Upper Ward with the great Welsh Tower and the Lower Ward where the daily activity was centered. Around the perimeter are two critical defensive features: the lengthy rock-cut ditch and steeply sloping embankments, and the extensive curtain wall which encompasses both wards.

From above, the most noticeable structure is the great Welsh Tower. For several years controversy has cloaked this tower. Citing its similarities to other Welsh towers, such as at Castell- y-Bere where there is concrete evidence that Llywelyn the Great built the stronghold, many scholars have theorized that the Welsh Tower was also built in the early 1200's by the great Llywelyn ab Iorwerth. However, CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments now supports the theory that the latter Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was the founder of the great tower. They base their decision on evidence from documents dating to 1311 which state that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd erected a "castle in the corner of the wood" in 1257 (Renn and Avent, 1995).

Below right: a view inside the D-tower

Having recently received some well-deserved restoration work, the Welsh Tower remains a proud relic from the time of the native Welsh princes, regardless of which Llywelyn was responsible for its construction. Clearly the focal point of the castle, the building is an outstanding example of the apsidal tower, a typically Welsh feature. As the strong-point of the castle, this mighty tower served as the keep, offering the lord and his household reasonable comfort on a regular basis while functioning as a formidable refuge during a siege.

Access to the Welsh Tower was at first floor level, one of several tactics designed to impede entry from any unwelcome visitors. Around the upper level, a timber hoard (or fighting platform) once projected outward from the tower, allowing defenders to stand above attackers in relative safety. The main apartments were located on the first floor, above the basement. From the upper level, inhabitants could access the wall-walk by climbing an interior stairway. The ultimate height of the Welsh Tower was in part determined by the presence of a pitched roof over the first floor accommodation. The tower rose above the level of the wooden roof and offered it solid protection.

The Lower Ward is a quiet contrast to the Upper Ward we have just examined. However, in the Middle Ages, this open area would have been filled with timber structures and the hustle and bustle of the castle's business. Little remains to testify to that activity, save the well and what appears to be the site of a latrine built into the curtain wall, but the Lower Ward probably once contained the hall, the associated kitchen block, and, perhaps, the chapel (Renn and Avent, 1995). At the westernmost end of the Lower Ward stands the greatly ruined West Tower, a once formidable round tower prominently placed to guard this vulnerable end of the castle.

Ewloe Castle is an eye-catching spectacle, well worth any effort to reach its awesome walls. The structure is an intriguing monument to the Welsh princes who fought for so long to regain their independence from the English. When you are in north-east Wales, be sure to seek it out!

Lise Hull owns and operates Castles of Britain, an information and research web site providing a wide range of information on the castles of Britain. Mrs. Hull has a Masters Degree in Historic Preservation, and has visited well over 160 castles in Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland. She welcomes any and all questions concerning the castles of Britain, and invites people to visit her web site or contact her directly via e-mail at: castlesu@aol.com.

 

Reflections across time: An Afternoon at Ewloe Castle
Follow this link for a ground plan of the castle
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