Carreg Cennen sits remote and high on top of a huge limestone crag rising up out of the Brecon Beacons in Carmarthenshire. A spectacular sight at sunset with the River Cennen running 100 metres below and into the distance, and though the climb to this historic castle is steep the views from the top are magnificent.
Within the high crag is a deep limestone cave which is thought to have been a storage area, or perhaps a hiding place during prehistoric times; it’s also thought to have been a natural well underneath the castle.
The crag is thought to have been the site of a prehistoric hill fort in the Dark Ages and that there had been a Roman presence during their invasion of Britain since artefacts have been discovered in archaeological digs of the area. The site was also known to have been a stronghold of the Welsh princes, and this particular fort was held by Rhys Fychan at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Carreg Cennen might have been able to withstand the onslaught by the Norman troops, but for the fact that Fychan’s mother, Matilda de Braeos, betrayed him to the Normans and handed the castle into Anglo-Norman hands.
The castle site was granted to John Gifford who had impressed the king with his valour and effectiveness during the Welsh invasion, and the Welsh fortification was demolished in order to make way for the new stone castle. It’s thought that it was he who began building Carreg Cennen in about 1283-4. This was around the time of the massive building programme which began at this time in order to have strategic strongholds along the English border with Wales and around the country of Wales to gain complete control and bring Wales under the control of the English crown.
Carreg Castle proved to be a formidable vantage point and was virtually inaccessible because of its position and height. That being the case, it’s remarkable that in 1403 Owain Glyndwr’s armies unleashed an onslaught on the castle and managed not only to breach its defences but to cause considerable damage. Documents written in 1416 record the fact that Carreg Cennen had been almost completely destroyed.
Rebuilding took place over the next seven years under the control of Rhys ap Thomas, and Carreg Cennen changed hands many times over the next couple of hundred years, either falling into English hands or by being seized by Welsh raiding parties.
By the time of the Wars of the Roses, and following the battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461, the Lancastrians took shelter here. The House of Gruffudd were sympathetic to the House of Lancaster but by all accounts the Lancastrians won a reputation for savaging the area and became known for being bandits and thieves, running amok in the surrounding countryside. Their dubious exploits came to a swift end in 1464 when the Yorkists attacked the castle, took control and then systematically destroyed the castle to make it unfit for use either as a stronghold or a place it love.
Carreg Cennen stayed derelict until the nineteenth century when Lord Cawdor attempted some restoration and rebuilding, and in the twentieth century Cadw (Welsh Historic Monuments) took over the administration and now looks after the castle and grounds. Tickets and opening times are available from their website pages of Carreg Cennen Castle.