Saturday dawns dry but very foggy. We finished our last walk in thick mist that enveloped the cliffs of Creigiau Eglwyseg and completely hid Castell Dinas Bran from view. Sadly, it looks like we will be picking up where we left off in almost identical conditions.
The top of the hill is invisible ahead, which may be something of a blessing; as others have mentioned, it’s a steep walk up here from the town, especially the last climb up to the fort itself. As a place to assault, I think I’d be favouring the “starve ‘em out” option, rather than the direct approach.
Due to the restricted visibility, we come upon the medieval ruins before really seeing anything much in the way of prehistoric ramparts. It’s an atmospheric spot, enshrouded in thick mist, where chunks of masonry loom out of the murk and just as quickly fade away again. We are missing out on the spectacular views though.
There are earthworks to be “seen”, especially at the northeast of the hilltop, outside the medieval ruins. There is also a daunting rock-cut ditch, but this probably belongs to the castle, rather than the fort. Even for Iron Age builders of great fortifications, I think that would have been a challenge too far, perhaps.
For all the atmosphere conjured by the mist, the lack of views makes the visit rather less than it could be. One to come back to on a clear day, with blue skies and a warm summer breeze. We make our way off the hilltop utilising the path heading northeast, and once off the top of the hill, fort, castle and all are immediately swallowed back into the pervasive gloom.
Visited Spring 2009.
Dominating the surrounding area of Llangollen, this is a site that can be seen for miles around. There are well sign posted footpaths from the town to the top BUT it is a long, steep walk. I have walked up quite a few hillforts but this was perhaps the toughest - I was knackered when I got to the top! How on earth they managed to build a castle up here and carry all that stone up I don't know! The views are wonderful and there are reasonable remains of the castle although I can't say I noticed anything of any previous Iron Age defences? There is a very good small (free)museum in Llangollen which gives an account of the site over the years with the usual finds etc. Well worth a visit.
One for the fit and enegetic only!!
More fairies at Castell Dinas Bran: Llandyn Hall is on the south-east slope of the hill.
Fairies under Trees.-- One of our readers has forwarded us an old document, dated Nov. 30th, 1817, containing a quaint description of a walnut tree of extraordinary dimensions. It grew on a rock of limestone at Llanddyn Farm, near Llangollen; its height was about twenty-five yards, and its boughs covered a space of ground about thirty yards diameter. According to a story in the neighbourhood, this tree was very old. A man 95 years of age said that he remembered a bough of it being broken by the snow when he was a child, and that his grandfather used to tell the family that, in olden times, fairies used in the dead of night to celebrate their marriages under this walnut tree. ---Shrewsbury Chronicle, 3 Nov. 1882. From
Notes and Queries
The Folk-Lore Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3. (Mar., 1883), pp. 90-93.
A story from Wirk Sikes' book 'British Goblins' (1881).
The scene of this tale is a hollow near Llangollen, on the mountain side half-way up to the ruins of Dinas Bran Castle, which hollow is to this day called Nant yr Ellyllon [hollow of the goblins]. It obtained its name, according to tradition, in this wise:
A young man, called Tudur ap Einion Gloff, used in old times to pasture his master's sheep in that hollow. One summer's night, when Tudur was preparing to return to the lowlands with his woolly charge, there suddenly appeared, perched upon a stone near him, 'a little man in moss breeches with a fiddle under his arm. He was the tiniest wee specimen of humanity imaginable. His coat was made of birch leaves, and he wore upon his head a helmet which consisted of a gorse flower, while his feet were encased in pumps made of beetle's wings. He ran his fingers over his instrument, and the music made Tudur's hair stand on end. " Nos da'ch', nos da'ch'," said the little man, which means "Good-night, good-night to you," in English. " Ac i chwithau," replied Tudur; which again, in English, means " The same to you." Then continued the little man, " You are fond of dancing, Tudur; and if you but tarry awhile you shall behold some of the best dancers in Wales, and I am the musician." Quoth Tudur, "Then where is your harp? A Welshman even cannot dance without a harp." " Oh," said the little man, "I can discourse better dance music upon my fiddle." "Is it a fiddle you call that stringed wooden spoon in your hand?" asked Tudur, for he had never seen such an instrument before.
And now Tudur beheld through the dusk hundreds of pretty little sprites converging towards the spot where they stood, from all parts of the mountain. Some were dressed in white, and some in blue, and some in pink, and some carried glow-worms in their hands for torches. And so lightly did they tread that not a blade nor a flower was crushed beneath their weight, and every one made a curtsey or a bow to Tudur as they passed, and Tudur doffed his cap and moved to them in return. Presently the little minstrel drew his bow across the strings of his instrument, and the music produced was so enchanting that Tudur stood transfixed to the spot.' At the sound of the sweet melody, the Tylwyth Teg ranged themselves in groups, and began to dance. Now of all the dancing Tudur had ever seen, none was to be compared to that he saw at this moment going on. He could not help keeping time with his hands and feet to the merry music, but he dared not join in the dance, 'for he thought within himself that to dance on a mountain at night in strange company, to perhaps the devil's fiddle, might not be the most direct route to heaven.' But at last he found there was no resisting this bewitching strain, joined to the sight of the capering Ellyllon.
'" Now for it, then," screamed Tudur, as he pitched his cap into the air under the excitement of delight. "Play away, old devil; brimstone and water, if you like!" No sooner were the words uttered than everything underwent a change. The gorse-blossom cap vanished from the minstrel's head, and a pair of goat's horns branched out instead. His face turned as black as soot; a long tail grew Out of his leafy coat, while cloven feet replaced the beetle-wing pumps. Tudur's heart was heavy, but his heels were light. Horror was in his bosom, but the impetus of motion was in his feet. The fairies changed into a variety of forms. Some became goats, and some became dogs, some assumed the shape of foxes, and others that of cats. It was the strangest crew that ever surrounded a human being.
The dance became at last so furious that Tudur could not distinctly make out the forms of the dancers. They reeled around him with such rapidity that they almost resembled a wheel of fire. Still Tudur danced on. He could not stop, the devil's fiddle was too much for him, as the figure with the goat's horns kept pouring it out with unceasing vigour, and Tudur kept reeling around in spite of himself.
Next day Tudur's master ascended the mountain in search of the lost shepherd and his sheep. He found the sheep all right at the foot of the Fron, but fancy his astonishment when, ascending higher. he saw Tudur spinning like mad in the middle of the basin now known as Nant yr Ellyllon.' Some pious words of the master broke the charm, and restored Tudur to his home in Llangollen, where he told his adventures with great gusto for many years afterwards. [Rev. T. R. Lloyd (Estyn), in 'The Principality.']
As Earthstepper says, Dinas Bran has been suggested as the resting place of the holy grail - but this hill of the fairies is also connected with another treasure. Gold - maybe a golden harp, specifically - will be found by a boy who is led to it by his white dog with a silver eye. Dogs like that can see the wind, you know. Susan Cooper uses the theme in her book 'The Grey King'.
It's also possible that the St Collen story now associated with Glastonbury Tor ( http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/26342 ) was originally intended to be set somewhere round here (after all, St Collen spent plenty of time here and the town below, Llangollen, is named after him).