The remains of this earthwork motte and bailey castle in modern-day Denbighshire re grass covered and grazed by sheep today. But the outlines of the impressive structure are still clearly visible and it’s worth stopping off on the road between Ruthin and Wrexham to take a closer look. The site of Tomen y Rhodwydd overlooks the the Nant y Garth pass through the Clwydian hills to the West. It stands in the middle of a region much prized by medieval Welsh rulers, and was constructed in 1149 by Owain Gwynedd to defend the lands that he had recently won.
The motte – or castle mound – occupies the north east corner of the site and is protected by a ditch to the north and west. This would originally have been topped by a wooden tower or keep. The crescent shaped bailey, or courtyard, also protected by a ditch, is below the motte to the south east.
The castle was built at a time when Welsh rulers were fighting among themselves for dominion in the region, and Owain was yet to establish himself as the pre-eminent Welsh prince. In 1157 his rival Iorwerth Goch ap Maredudd of Powys attacked and burned the castle. But Owain’s grandson, Llewelyn the Great inherited his grandfather’s ambitions and Tomen y Rhodwydd next finds its way into the history books when it was briefly rebuilt by King John in 1212 during his tussles with the great Welsh prince.