Dinefwr Park and Castle
12th-century Welsh castle, historic house and 18th-century landscape park, enclosing a medieval deer park.
A magical land of power and influence for more than 2,000 years, Dinefwr Park and Castle is an iconic place in the history of Wales. Two forts are evidence of a dominant Roman presence. The powerful Lord Rhys held court at Dinefwr and influenced decisions in Wales.
Dinefwr Park and Castle
The 'hands-on' Newton House exhibition (so called because you can pick up display panels) gives visitors an atmospheric circa 1912 experience.
Exhibitions on the first floor tell Dinefwr's story and inspire visitors to explore the castle and park.
Don't miss the National Nature Reserve at Dinefwr
Visit the old castle and see the views from the top of the castle
Visit the servants' quarters and watch the servants performing their tasks and hear them chatting about their lives.
Dinefwr Park: Newton House
An 18th-century landscape park, enclosing a medieval deer park, Dinefwr is home to more than one hundred fallow deer and a small herd of Dinefwr White Park Cattle.
A number of scenic walks are available including access to Dinefwr Castle, with fine views across the Towy Valley.
There is also a wooded boardwalk, particularly suitable for families and wheelchair users. Newton House, built in 1660, but now with a Victorian façade and a fountain garden, is at the heart of the site.
It has two showrooms open to the public, a tea-room which looks out onto the deer park and an exhibition on the history of Dinefwr in the basement.
There had been a manor house on the ancestral estate at Dynevor Park since the 15th century but It was in 1775, at the time of the creation of the 1st Baron, that the grounds were remodelled by Capability Brown in the fashion of the time - a carefully-controlled 'wilderness' of sweeping parkland punctuated by groups of towering trees.
Stroll back through the deer park and you soon arrive at Newton House (or Plas Dinefwr), the 'new' castle. Although the present Newton House dates back to 1660 and Sir Edward Rice - the great-great-great-great-great grandfather of the present Lord Dynevor - the house has substantial 18th-century and Victorian Gothic additions.
Newton House has had something of an unhappy recent history. It was sold by the present Lord Dynevor in 1974 and suffered badly, falling into near ruinous disrepair. It was occupied by squatters for many years and was stripped of many of its original features. (No more than two people at a time are allowed on the top floor because the structure has been weakened by the removal of beams and joists for firewood!)
Mercifully, both the mediaeval castle and Newton House have recently been restored by Cadw and the National Trust respectively, who now run the park, its buildings and a tea shop.
Dynevor Park is also open to the public. Check the National Trust website for opening times, admission prices etc on: www.nationaltrust.org.uk.
Dinefwr Park and Castle: Things to see and Do
Explore Dinefwr Park, one of the most beautiful man-made landscapes in the British Isles.
Born in the late 18th century, it's the creation of George Rice and his wife Cecil, with additions by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Join the many visitors who've been inspired to paint and write about Dinefwr for centuries.
People have lived at Dinefwr for more than 2,000 years.
Buried under the parkland are an Iron Age farm, two Roman forts and an 'English' town created by Edward I about 700 years ago.
Still standing is the castle, created by the Lord Rhys and rebuilt over the centuries to leave the great building we see today.
Edward I destroyed the power of the Welsh princes and in 1276 the English crown took over the lands of Dinefwr.
The castle survived, and by 1425 was once more controlled by a powerful Welshman: Gruffydd ap Nicholas.
His son, Rhys ap Thomas, led his army into battle at Bosworth in 1485. He is said to have killed Richard III. This helped Henry Tudor become king of England and led to the Tudor Dynasty. Rhys was consequently knighted and given great wealth and power in Wales.
However the land and honours won under Henry VII were all lost under Henry VIII. Rhys ap Gruffudd, the grandson of Rhys ap Thomas, was charged with treason and executed in 1531. These were turbulent times and beheading was a hazard of life in those days, as anyone who watched the TV series 'The Tudors' will have noticed.
There were always plots and politics was about who could stitch up who in order to get them beheaded. Politics nowadays is milder with 'parliamentary expenses scandals' and the odd sex scandal being the mechanism to remove the opposition; beheading is no longer seen as a necessity. As for Henry VIII, I do not think much of him!
After Henry VIII, the family changed their name to Rice and steadily began buying back the family’s lost land.
By 1659 Dinefwr was wholly back in the family and Edward Rice started to build himself a new house. The castle was no longer habitable and greater comfort was required.
Old paintings of Dinefwr show the castle standing in mature trees, looking down over spindly rows of young plants and the newly painted house.
The walk from the country house, complete with tea rooms and a servants quarters display, to the castle ruin on its hill, takes you through a field and some woodland paths. Here, despite the dogs on lead rule, you are on your own and able to let the dogs off the lead for a good run - assuming of course, there is no livestock in the field. As usual we tired the dogs out off the lead first, going to the castle, then we went into the main house for a browse of the displays, while the dogs, settled, rested in the car.
We did not check if you could take dogs inside the house but I presume not. There were not many people when we went there, but we tend to visit these attractions mid-week to avoid the crowds. It is a worthwhile place to visit.
Dinefwr Park and Castle: Full Architectural History
The castle was transformed in the late 17th century when the top of the keep was rebuilt to form a summerhouse.
The southern turret was also equipped with a roof and a tiled floor, and the castle became the focus for summer visits and picnics.
The earthworks surrounding the castle were altered somewhat to allow easier access from the Newton House.
By the late 18th century, however, both roofs had been destroyed by fire and the castle was largely abandoned to nature.
The great circular keep belongs to a group of similar structures, such as those at Bronllys, Skenfrith and Tretower (as well as Dryslwyn), most of which are dated to around the 1230s.
At Dinefwr, the keep and adjacent Welsh gate may have been the work of Rhys Gryg, who held considerable influence, and - for the last fourteen years of his life - presided over a period of relative peace, during which he may have had the opportunity to embark on building operations of this scale.
Following the Edwardian conquest, repairs were carried out on the tower, bridge, hall and ‘little tower’.
A new gate was constructed, and the ditches were cleaned and extended around the town.
Also, two large and three small buildings were erected in the bailey.
The ‘little tower’ may refer to the north-west tower which seems to have been remodelled at this time. It might also have been during this phase that the rectangular chamber block on the north-east was constructed, perhaps adapting an earlier structure which had previously acted as a hall.
With the death of Rhodri Mawr, the Kingdom of Gwynedd passed to his eldest son Anarawd ap Rhodri.
Rhodri's second son Cadell ap Rhodri took possession of the Dark Ages Kingdom of Dyfed by the late 9th century, establishing his capital at the citadel of Dinefwr.
Cadell ap Rhodri's descendants are designated Dinefwr after the citadel from which they would rule Dyfed.
The Dinefwr dynasty under king Hywel Dda would unite Dyfed and Seisyllwg into the Kingdom of Deheubarth in the early 10th century.
The Dinefwr dynasty would rule in Deheubarth until their conquest by the Anglo-Normans in the 13th century.
This branch would compete with House Aberffraw for supremacy and influence in Wales throughout the 10th, 11th, and 12th century, with Powys variously ruled between them.
Eventually, a branch of Dinefwr was established in Powys by the mid 11th century, designated Mathrafal after the castle there.
Dinefwr Castle & District
The Wikipedia entry on Dinefwr explains that Dinefwr was a local government district of Dyfed, Wales from 1974 to 1996. The district of Dinefwr was named after Dinefwr Castle which was the royal capital of the Principality of Deheubarth and one of the three principal royal courts of Wales.
So Dinefwr castle was once a little kingdom in its own right and this became the basis of the modern government district of the same name until recently (1996).
Dinefwr district was formed by the merger of the borough of Llandovery, the urban districts of Ammanford, Cwmamman and Llandeilo along with Llandeilo Rural District, from the administrative county of Carmarthenshire.
In 1996 the district became part the new county of Carmarthenshire.
Dinefwr Castle: From small kingdom to popular picnic destination
Situated on a majestic hilltop above the Tywi Valley, Dinefwr Castle occupies a place of great affection in the minds and traditions of the Welsh people. Dinefwr Castle is associated with the princes of Deheubarth, the kingdom in south-west Wales.
Evidence suggests very strongly that the history of Dinefwr Castle is entwined with the rule of the Lord Rhys (d. 1197).
Over time the castle changed hands between the princes of Deheubarth (they rather fought each other for the kingdom) and gradually evolved into a formidable fortress. It fell to the English Crown from 1287, thereafter becoming a centre of English royal administration and authority.
By the end of the Middle Ages the castle had fallen into ruin and was over-run by ivy. The Castle had a new lease of life when a conical roof was built on to the keep to create a picturesque summerhouse.
Thereafter it became an eighteenth-century picnicker’s castle.
and a great family, the heir unfairly beheaded by Henry VIII, the Rhys dynasty once ruled over the mediaeval kingdom of Deheuberth which, at its peak, took in large parts of modern day Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire with Breconshire thrown in for good measure.
All that remains of the mighty Dinefwr lands today, one thousand years later, is the small (though perfectly formed) Dynevor Park in Llandeilo.
The history of the mediaeval dynasty of Rhys is very well recorded but less so is what happened to the family after they were dispossessed in 1277 by Edward the First, who finally subdued all of Wales by 1284.
Today's Dynevors claim their descent from these same twelfth century Lords Rhys. The mediaeval dynasty however remained dispossessed for 200 years until a Welsh king, Henry Tudor (Henry the Seventh, who also claimed descent from the Lords Rhys), seized the English throne from Richard the Third in 1485 and restored the lands to the latest member of the family line, Rhys ab Thomas.
Rhys had raised an army in support of Henry in 1485 so the restoration of his lands was his reward, as was a knighthood granted him by Henry.
The next king however, Henry the Eighth, reverted to type and took the lands back from ab Thomas's grandson, Rhys ab Gruffydd, who was accused of plotting with the king of Scots to overthrow Henry and make himself ruler of Wales.
Part of the evidence against him was that he had sought to stress his links with the ancient Welsh kings by adopting the name Fitzurien (still part of the Dynevor family name today.) The charges were preposterous and fabricated but it was Rhys's misfortune to be guilty of a crime greater even than treason in Henry's eyes: owning extensive estates and wealth when Henry was in permanent need of money.
Rhys's fate was sealed and he was executed in 1531, having no chance of justice at the hands of a man who would soon behead two of his own wives (Anne Boleyn in 1536 and Catherine Howard in 1542).
Henry's daughter, Queen Mary (reigned 1553 - 1558), restored some of the lands to the Rhys family and Charles the First (reigned 1625 - 1649) finally restored all the lands to them (who by now had anglicized their name to Rice).
A 19th century historian descibes these events thus:
The Dynevor estates were given by Henry the Seventh to Sir Rhys AB Thomas, and descended with his other possessions to his grandson Rhys Ab Gruffydd, from whom, through an act of the most cruel injustice, they again reverted to the crown, in the reign of Henry the Eighth.
Rhys's ancestors had been in the habit of occasionally adding AB Urien, or Fitz Urien, to their names, in conformity to the general Welsh practice, in order to show their descent ['Ab' and 'Fitz' both mean 'son of'']. This designation, after being disused for some time, was again adopted, probably in a vain frolic, by young Rhys.
The circumstance being reported to the king, and being associated with the immense possessions and unbounded popularity of the family, was construed [by Henry the Eighth] into a design to assert the independence of the principality, and to dissever it from the English government.
It was also supposed, without the shadow of proof, that this was part of a concerted plan to depose King Henry, and bring to the English throne James the Fifth of Scotland.
To increase the absurdity of the whole business, the plot was said to be founded on an old prophecy, that James of Scotland with the bloody hand, and the Raven, which was Rhys's crest, should conquer England.
On such frivolous grounds was this young chieftain, himself one of the first commoners in the realm, and connected by marriage with the family of Howard, arraigned for high treason, found guilty, and beheaded.
Dinefwr Castle: Restoration of the House of Dynevor under Queen Mary
On the accession of Queen Mary, his son, Gruffydd AB Rhys, had his blood restored, and received back part of the estates. (Subsequently) Charles the First relinquished to Sir Henry Rice all that (remained) in the hands of the crown.
The estates thus restored to the family were valued at about three hundred pounds a year; these constitute their present Welsh territories, and are all that remain to them of the princely possessions of their ancestors.
The house of Dynevor has always held considerable influence in the county [ie Carmarthenshire], and has in several instances furnished its parliamentary representatives.
(Source: Thomas Rees, The Beauties of England and Wales, 1815. Reprinted in A Carmarthenshire Anthology, edited by Lyn Hughes, Christopher Davies, 1985, pages 107 - 108)
Dinefwr and Newton House
Since being restored to something resembling its former glory, Newton House has become an important feature of Llandeilo's cultural life, providing a superb setting for concerts and exhibitions.
The National Trust acquired the deer park and the outer park at Dinefwr in 1987. Newton House was purchased by the Trust in 1990 having been through several hands since first sold by Lord Dynevor in 1974 (death duties finally achieving what Henry VIII could not - the removal of this 2,000 year old family from their estate and lands). The East Drive was acquired in 1992.
The generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund facilitated the purchase of Home Farm and Penparc in 2002 and the site of a Roman fort has since been discovered on Home Farm. Dinefwr is now 286 hectares in extent (707 acres).
Dinefwr Park and Castle Admission
2015 Prices to visit Whole property, Adult: £6.09, Child: £3.04, Family: £15.23, Group: £5.70
Curiously I do not recall paying to go in but I may have been a member of the National Trust at the time.
Newton House and most of Dynevor Park are owned and managed by the National Trust but the modern-day park also includes Castle Woods, Llandyfeisant Church and Dinefwr Castle which comprise the southern edge of the park, overlooking the river Towy. These are all owned by another public body, the West Wales Wildlife Trust, though another public body again - CADW, the Welsh ancient monument organisation - maintains Dinefwr castle on their behalf.
The Castle Woods Nature Reserve has been described as "...one of the most exciting woodlands in South Wales" by no less an authority than Peter Crawford, a senior producer with the BBC's Natural History Unit, in his book 'The Living Isles.'
"The woodland is primarily oak and wych elm," he writes. "The shrubs and ground cover are outstanding with cherry, holly, spindle, dog violet and the parasitic toothwort. Lichen communities are of importance and include the rare lungwort. Overlooked by the romantic Castle of Dinefwr the fine old parkland has a herd of fallow deer. The mature trees attract woodpecker, redstarts and pied flycatchers. In winter the water meadows draw large numbers of ducks."
The woods were purchased by the Wildlife Trust West Wales in 1979 and extend for dozens of acres along the steep slopes which rise from the Towy meadows up to the old Dinefwr Castle and to Penlan Park.