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Ewloe Castle

Map link for Ewloe Castle

1m NW of Hawarden, Flintshire, northeast Wales
SJ 288 675

Photographs copyright © 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

Above the keep at Ewloe viewed from the ditch below
Below: the West Tower viewed from near the entrance to the Welsh Tower.

The only contemporary reference to the castle at Ewloe is to be found in a documentary source known as the Chester Plea Rolls, where in a report made to King Edward II in 1311, Payn Tibotot, justice of Chester, summarizes the history of the manor at Ewloe from the middle of the 12th century. He records that by 1257 Llywelyn ap Gruffydd had regained Ewloe from the English and built a castle in the wood. In 1311 this was in great part standing.

The site of the present castle bears some resemblance to that of a motte and bailey, with the so-called Welsh Tower situated on top of the raised area of the motte. This has led to a suggestion that the first castle on the site may have been erected in the middle of the 12th century by Owain Gwynedd (d.1170). But there is a distinct lack of evidence to support this theory, and it seems most unlikely that such a site - where the topography has such a strong natural slope - would have been suitable for the construction of an earthwork castle.

There have also been differences of opinion over the phasing of the construction of the stone castle. The first detailed interpretation of the castle was published in 1928, and was based on evidence that had been revealed during its clearance and consolidation. At that time, Ewloe was considered to have been built entirely by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, from about 1257 onwards. Twenty years later, a new interpretation was presented. The Welsh Tower was now seen as the work of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, dating to around 1210. Although apsidal in shape, the tower was thought to be similar to late 12th-century keeps on the English side of the border.

One feature of the building is perfectly clear: the curtain wall on the north and south sides of the lower ward abuts that surrounding the upper ward. This suggests that both the lower ward and presumably the west tower, were added as a second phase in the building works. The earlier interpretation which placed the Welsh Tower as the primary structure on the site considered the upper and lower curtains to be contemporary, and belonging to the second phase. But unless three building phases were involved - first the Welsh Tower, then the upper curtain, and finally the lower ward - the balance of evidence points to all parts of the castle having been built during the same general period. None the less, the building could have been completed in two consecutive phases.

In the absence of any other solid evidence, we should perhaps accept the contemporary documentary account, and see the castle as a construction of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the years following 1257. The first stage of work would have involved establishing a defensible position on the naturally strongest part of the site, the upper ward. To begin with, the area of the lower ward may have been used as a building compound surrounded by a timber palisade. In due course the timber defences could have been replaced by a stone curtain with a round tower included on the west side.

Ewloe Castle, Derek Renn and Richard Avent, Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, Cardiff, 1995.

Jeff Thomas (an excerpt from my 1995 travelogue essay for England and Wales)

Next we visited lovely Ewloe Castle, just 7 miles from Flint. Ewloe is a lesser-known and smaller castle with little known history. It was one of the last castles to be built by the native Princes of Wales. It is thought that it was originally built by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, and possibly added to by his grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. The castle was constructed using locally quarried sandstone and was was abandoned at the beginning of the invasion of Wales by Edward I in 1277.

We found a signpost for the castle near the town of Ewloe and parked the car in a lay-by opposite. A single, small "Cadw" sign pointed the way through an open, grassy field towards the woods, where we knew the castle was located. We just love castles that are just a bit off the beaten track! We crossed the open field and entered the woods, following a discernible yet not well-trodden path. The first thing that impressed us was the serenity of the location. After only a couple of minutes in the woods we suddenly came upon the castle, its honey-colored Welsh Tower surrounded by a curtain wall in the Upper Ward. The path then brought around the curtain wall of the Lower Ward where we saw the ruins of the round West Tower. Continuing on we came to the modern entrance to the castle, a set of steep wooden stairs at the bottom of a rock-cut ditch just beyond the Upper Ward. We entered the Lower Ward to view the Welsh D-Tower. Only about three quarters of the tower survives. The side facing the modern entrance to the castle and a bit of the round portion of the "D" are missing. Nevertheless, you can easily walk into the ground-floor of the tower to view surviving windows, doors, and holes for the wooden beams that supported the second story. On the opposite side there are a set of exterior stone stairs (a later addition) that gives you access to the interior of the tower. We climbed these and then followed an interior set of stone stairs to the top of the tower (or close to it) where we got a bird's-eye view of the castle layout and surrounding countryside. After spending some time here admiring the views we returned to ground level. We had packed a picnic lunch and this seemed like the perfect place to enjoy it, sitting in the shadow of the tower. We finished lunch and explored more of the castle. I was a very bad boy and climbed the steep ruined wall of the West Tower to get a peek inside. I then climbed to the top of the tower's lower wall, which was very risky (and/or stupid) but afforded nice views of the D-Tower opposite and both wards of the castle. We then returned to the car via the same woodland path that brought us to this enchanting site. Ewloe was different from any other castle we had seen in Wales. Having visited impressive fortresses like Harlech, Caerphilly, and Chepstow, Ewloe was both a surprise and a breath of fresh air. It once again gave us the opportunity to appreciate Wales' smaller castles. Again those who don't bother visiting some of the lesser-known castles like Ewloe, Dolwyddelan, Dolbadarn, Dinas Bran, and Castell y Bere, are missing out on some of the best Wales has to offer. So the next time you find yourself speeding across the A55 between the castles of Caernarfon, Conwy, Rhuddlan, and Flint, do yourself a favor and take the time to visit Ewloe. Chances are that you too will very much enjoy this different type of Welsh Castle experience.

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


Below: interior view of the Welsh D-tower at Ewloe Castle

Additional photographs of Ewloe Castle

Below (3): the upper approach to the castle begins at this gate and continues across the adjacent field.




Below (2): the castle is protected by a steep ditch on its southern side.



Below: view of the modern entrance to the castle leading to the Upper Ward.


Below: close-up view of the base of the ruined West Tower at Ewloe.


Below: view of the modern entrance to the keep at Ewloe Castle


Below: view of the stairs leading to the top of the keep.


Below: parts of the upper and lower wards at Ewloe can be seen from the top of the D-Tower.


Below: view towards the Lower Ward & West Tower from the Upper Ward at Ewloe.



Reflections across time: An Afternoon at Ewloe Castle
Lise Hull visits Ewloe

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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas