Tomen Castell, Old Dolwyddelan

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are earthwork remains

NameTomen Castell, Old Dolwyddelan
Alternative Names
Historic CountryCaernarfonshire
Modern AuthorityConwy
1974 AuthorityGwynedd

Traces of a stone keep, known as Tomen Castell, crown a rocky outcrop on the edge of the floodplain of the Lledi River and overlooking the mountain road from Conwy to Ardudwy. Excavations in 1962-3 indicated that the keep was roughly 8.8m by 9.5m, with 2.3-2.95m thick walls. Additional defence was provided by a ditch cut at the western foot of the outcrop. Tomen Castell is thought to one of a small cluster of early stone-built castles constructed in Gwynedd at the end of the twelfth century, together with Castell Aber Ia (Castell Deudraeth) (NPRN 302700), Carn Fadrun (NPRN 95275), Dinas Emrys (NPRN 95284) and Castell Pen-y-garn (NPRN 407747). These were not placed to withstand alien invasion, but were rather an expression of a Prince's power and lordship in the unsettled period following the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170 and the subsequent division of the county between his sons. The castle pre-dates the nearby Dolwyddelan Castle constructed in the early 13th century (NPRN 95299) and it is probably here rather than Dolwyddelan that Iorwerth ap Owain Gwynedd's son Llywelyn Fawr was born in c.1173 (Coflein–Louise Barker, RCAHMW, 5th June 2008)

On top of the natural knoll, the rubble built foundations of a rectangular tower were in part exposed. The building measured c.25' on its S side. The rubble walling was 7' thick on the S, where it was preserved to an external height of three to four courses laid directly on the natural surface of the knoll, but was 8 1/2 thick on the E where it was laid on an artificial raft of loosely piled stones capped with a turf layer. Within the wall was a thick bed of silt, not yet explored but showing a burnt layer towards the W end, and overlaid with a layer of tumbled stones. The ditch at the W foot of the knoll was sectioned

It was a flat-bottomed ditch, 18' wide x 3' deep cut in the shaly rock and refilled with earth and stones, the latter lying thickest at the inner end, and showing a grey layer a foot above the original bottom indicative of partial silting or filling. (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust HER ref. Jones)

The monument comprises a prominent natural rock outcrop, naturally defended on the N, S and E by a very steep rocky precipice. On the W the slope is slightly more gradual, but still very steep. The natural defences are complemented on the W and NW by a ditch, now very silted but clearly recognisable, especially on the W. The top of the mound is somewhat uneven and on the summit are traces of a rectangular structure, perhaps 6m x 6.7m. The foundations are most clearly seen on the E side. (Scheduling Report)

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

The National Monument Record (Coflein) number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSH724521
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Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image

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  • Davis, Paul, R., 2011, The Forgotten Castles of Wales (Almeley: Logaston Press) p. 52-54
  • Butler, L., 2009, 'The Castles of the Princes of Gwynedd' in Willams, D. and Kenyon, J. (eds), The Impact of the Edwardian Castles in Wales (Oxbow) p. 27-36
  • Morgan, Gerald, 2008, Castles in Wales: A Handbook (Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf.) p. 233 (listed)
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press)
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 132
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles of North Wales (Malvern) p. 43
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 34
  • Avent, Richard, 1983, Castles of the Princes of Gwynedd (Cardiff)
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 168
  • RCAHMW, 1956, A Survey and Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Caernarvonshire Vol. 1: East (HMSO) p. 83 no. 238 online copy


  • Jones, J. E. and Stockwell, A., 2015, ‘Tomen Castell, Dolwyddelan, Gwynedd, north Wales: excavations at an early castle site’ Archaeology in Wales Vol. 54 p. 73-90
  • Avent, Richard, 1994, 'Castles of the Welsh Princes' Château Gaillard Vol. 16 p. 11-17
  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1967, 'Masonry castles in Wales and the Marches: a list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 116 p. 71-132
  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1963, 'Early castles in Wales and the Marches: a preliminary list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 112 p. 77-124
  • (Jones, J.E.), 1965, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 9 p. 193 download copy
  • Jones, J.E., 1964, ‘Tomen Castell, Dolwyddelan’ Archaeology in Wales Vol. 4
  • Jones, J.E., 1963, ‘Tomen Castell, Dolwyddelan’ Archaeology in Wales Vol. 3
  • Renn, D.F., 1959, 'Mottes: a classification' Antiquity Vol. 33 p. 106-12 (listed as siegework)

Guide Books

  • Avent, Richard, 2004, Dolwyddelan Castle, Dolbadarn Castle, Castell Y Bere (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Avent, Richard, 1988, Dolwyddelan Castle (Cardiff: CADW)