Gwynedd Archaeological Trust
Regional Historic Environment Record

Castell Carndochan, Dolhendre

Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 4977
Trust : Gwynedd
Community : Llanuwchllyn
Unitary authority : Gwynedd
NGR : SH84703065
Site Type (preferred type first) : Medieval CASTLE
Status : Scheduled Monument

Summary :
Castell Carndochan is thought to be a native Welsh castle, perhaps built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth sometime between 1215 and 1230. It stands on a rocky ridge overlooking the Lliw valley. Little is known of the history of the site except that it was visited by Edward I in 1283-4.

The castle consists of a curtain wall with three towers built into it and a rock cut ditch further controlling access from the ridge on the south west side. Two of the towers set into the curtain wall are dry stone built and bear a strong resemblance to those at Carn Fadryn and Pen y Castell. The apsidal tower at the west end is different, being built of coursed, mortared masonry, and is relatively well preserved. The foundations of a building in the centre of the castle may be the remains of a central tower or keep.

Description :
A typical 'Welsh' castle; dated with confidence to the mid-C13th despite absence of architectural detail and documentary evidence. The principal building is an apsidal tower, still up to 8ft high, connected to a round tower at the NE end. There is no sign of a gateway to the castle, entrance may have been by means of a ladder or wooden ramp.

Castell Carndochan, the structural remains of a medieval castle as described above. The strength of the position suggests the possibility that originally it was the site of an Iron Age hillfort. <2>

Aerial photographs. <3>

A Welsh castle, situated on a rocky spur overlooking the Afon Lliw. The castle is thought to date to the mid-13th century, although there is little architectural detail and no documentary evidence to confirm this. The principle structure on the site is an apsidal tower, surviving to a height of 8 ft, which is connected by a curtain wall to a round tower at the north-east end. The southern wall incorporates a semi-circular tower, and in the centre of the enclosure are the foundations of a square building. It has been suggested that the castle may overlie an earlier hillfort. (Riley & Roberts, 1994)

A preliminary assessment excavation has shown that the site retains well preserved masonry beneath the rubble and has the potential to produce hard dating evidence. The D-shaped tower appears to have used a different source of lime than the other structures, perhaps indicating that it was built in a different, perhaps later, phase of construction. The overall impression of the site is that it was less substantial than many of the other castles of this period. It shares many constructional features with sites such as Castell y Bere but seems relatively slight in comparison. The amount of tumbled stone on site suggests that the towers and curtain wall were not particularly high. The ditch barely functions as an obstacle and may have been more of a symbolic barrier than a military installation. (Hopewell, 2014)

Excavations in 2015 in a rubble-covered 12.5m x 6m area in the southern part of the south of the castle revealed the entrance, a length of extant curtain wall and a small half-round tower. Radiocarbon dates from two pieces of charcoal recovered from the site produced dates of 829BP +/- 18 or 1170 to 1258 cal AD (95.4%) and 785 +/- 18 BP or 1220-1271 cal AD (95.4%). These dates encompass the periods of all the probable builders of the castle and so do not allow this phase of building to be attributed to an single ruler. (Hopewell & McGuiness, 2016)

The three seasons of excavation have identified the plan and some details of the features previously obscured by rubble in the southern part of the castle. The first season recovered half of the plan of a small half-round tower similar in shape and scale to the north-eastern tower at Dolforwyn Castle in Powys. Smaller towers with a distinctly D-shaped or half-round plan also occur at Caergwrle (Hope) and Castell Dinas Bran. These seem to have had a primarily military and lower status function with very restricted internal areas that are notably different to the hall-like accommodation afforded by the larger towers which are basically rectangular with an apsidal end (Avent 1983, 11 and Brodie 2015 238-40). Brodie argues that there was a move in building practice toward smaller towers although he does not include Carndochan in this sequence due to the lack of dating evidence. It seems likely that the small tower at Carndochan belongs to an earlier phase along with the curtain wall and possibly the square keep and predates the large apsidal tower. This phasing is, however, provisional and requires further confirmation. The wooden elements of the square keep were destroyed by fire but the masonry appears to have remained largely intact after this event. This suggests that the current poor condition of the castle is a result of natural decay as opposed to slighting in the medieval period. The entrance appears to have been a somewhat asymmetrical barrel-vaulted passage through the curtain wall with a thickening to the inner face and a gate at the outer end. This probably led to a terraced path running obliquely across the slope. (Hopewell, 2017).

Sources :
Brodie, H. , 2015 , Apsidal and D-shaped towers of the Princes of Gwynedd , Archaeologia Cambrensis : Vol. 164 : P.231-243
Hopewell, D. , 2014 , High Status Medieval Sites: Castell Carndochan, Conservation and Assessment Excavation ( © GAT)
Hopewell, D. , 2017 , High Status Medieval Sites: Castell Carndochan Excavation Report 2016-17 ( © GAT)
Hopewell, D. & McGuiness, N. , 2016 , High Status Medieval Sites: Castell Carndochan Excavation Report 2015-16 ( © GAT)
Riley, H. & Roberts, R. , 1994 , Hydro-Electric Scheme Dolhendre, Gwynedd ( © GAT)
Hogg, A. H. A. , 1955 , Merioneth Historical and Record Society , <1>
Ordnance Survey , 1974 , SH83SW 1 , <2>
Royal Air Force , 1957 , RAF F22/58/2122 0170-1 12 3 57 , <3>
Taylor, A. J. , 1951 , The Archaeological News Letter , <7>
Avent, R. , 1983 , Castles of the Princes of Gwynedd , <8>
Cathcart King, D. J. , 1983 , Castellarium Anglicanum , <9>
Avent, R. , 1994 , Chateau Gaillard , <10>

Events :
43207 : Me 049 Fmw Site Visit (year : 1989)
43208 : Me 049 Fmw Site Visit (year : 1995)
40278 : Hydro-Electric Scheme Dolhendre, Gwynedd (year : 1994)
44674 : High Status Medieval Sites: Castell Carndochan (year : 2014)
44675 : High Status Medieval Sites: Castell Carndochan (year : 2015)
44902 : High Status Medieval Sites: Castell Carndochan. Excavation Report 2016-17 (year : 2017)

Related PRNs : 303152

Compiled date : 12-04-1988

Images :

The above data are supplied by GAT in partnership with its Local Authorities (Anglesey, Conwy and Gwynedd County Councils, and Snowdonia National Park Authority), © GAT 2019 (and in part © Crown, 2019 - as indicated)
This information is supplied for the purposes of personal interest only and may not be used as part of a commercial project.

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