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Tomen y Bala Castle

in the town of Bala, Gwynedd, north Wales

Map link for Tomen y Bala Castle


Photographs copyright © 2009 by John Northall

The geological fault which contains Bala Lake and the Dee and Wnion valleys is a significant feature of North Welsh geography which came to play an important role in movement and control within the country. The presence of three or more Roman forts down the valley, and the concentration of no less than four earthwork castles at the north end of the lake, emphasize the anxiety of rulers to control this area.

An unusual ringwork was built at Llanfor (SH 938368 - just behind the church) and more traditional mottes were raised further up the valley (SH 950373) and lower down, at a point where the river Dee leaves the lake (SH 930350) as well as at Bala. None of these is documented. They might be the products of the late 11th-century Norman campaign or the later Welsh revival.

Although Llanfor may have originally been the more important site, Tomen y Bala, which at 40m diameter and 9m high is the largest, eventually outstripped it. Bala is likely to have been the maerdref or administrative center of the commote of Tryweryn, and it was still fortified in 1202, when Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, who was extending his power towards Powys, drove out Elis ap Madog, Lord of Penllyn. Llywelyn reduced the defences and very probably built the more modern castle at Carndochan, but Bala must have retained its importance because an English borough was established beside it in 1310.

From the top of the mound it is possible to appreciate the typical grid plan of the streets and the regular burgage plots (property) which still dictate the layout of the center of the town. Tomen y Bala is adjacent to a large car park on Mount Street

A Guide to Ancient and Historical Wales: Gwynedd, Frances Lynch, HMSO Publications, London, 1995.


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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas