Carreg Cennen Castle: a superb castle on the edge of the Brecon Beacons

You can see Cerreg Cennen Castle from far away, even before you reach the nearby village of Trap. The men defending the castle would have seen you long before you reached the grassy slopes and rocks below.  The limestone rocks, formed millennia ago from a fault named after the castle – the Carreg Cennen disturbance – and river running below it give the castle its name: the rock on the Cannen. 

Tir y Castel Farm on the approach to the castle is more ancient than the castle itself; the Welsh longhouse dates from the 11th Century.  It is a working farm with nearly seventy pedigree Longhorn cattle, a three-hundred strong flock of sheep and two Welsh horses; there was also a foal in the field when we visited. By the farm there is a tearoom in a converted barn serving produce made from the farm’s Longhorn beef, cawl and homemade cakes with a small shop selling sheepskins and thumbsticks.  You might need one to lean on up the hill.

Go through the kissing gate and over the small cattle grid, looking up at the grey walls of the castle against the sky, until you reach a small hut where you pay an entrance fee (see Cadw's website for current prices).

The Beacons Way passes this point, so you may see some hardy walkers either fresh, having set out from the village of Bethlehem where the route starts, or a little weary, having walked across the National Park from The Holy Mountain.  You can’t see quite that far but on a clear day they say that you can see for sixty miles.

While there was a castle on the site in the twelfth century, built by the Welsh Princes of Deheubarth the remains we see today are of the castle built in the thirteenth century by John Giffard.  He had fought with Simon De Montfort, challenging the authority of Henry III but was captured, and changed sides to support Henry and his son, Edward I.  Carreg Cennen was one of his rewards.

You enter, on the east side, the outer ward, now marked only by low ruins. The outer ward housed stables, workshops and lime kilns.  Watch out for the outfall from the castle latrines!

To the right the real protection for the east and north flanks of the castle begins.  The barbican, the main way into the castle was heavily fortified and attackers would need to have crossed several drawbridges. These are now replaced with metal walkways. Inside the main fortress there are arrowslits from the various towers at strategic firing positions but note that the south wall (in front of you when you enter) is relatively lightly defended, as it would have been all but impossible to have scaled the cliffs below. 

Climb higher up towards the battlements to see the principal chamber of the house with its fine, tracery window and to look back down into the inner ward.

At the south east corner of the inner ward a small door leads down a steep flight of steps to a corridor built into the cliffs.  This descends to a cave, used for storage and to keep prisoners. There was also a freshwater spring at the end of the cave. Remember your torch, or you can hire one at the ticket hut.

We finished our time up at the castle by walking outside the walls.  We look great care as there are long drops over the cliffs but try to reach the little rocky outcrop on the north side of the castle with views up to the Black Mountain one way and over the Towy valley to the foothills of the Cambrians on the other.

Despite being captured by Owain Glyn Dŵr, dismantled by Yorkist soliders in the Wars of the Roses and ravaged by the weather, it’s astounding to consider how much the castle’s stonework is still intact.  And it’s easy to see why the castle has made such an impact over the centuries.

You can drive to the castle from Llangoedmor House in just over thirty minutes.  Follow the signs from Myddfai to Llangadog.  Go through that village, bearing right and down past the church.  Cross the Heart of Wales railway line and then the River Towy and turn left onto the A40 towards Llandeilo.  Go straight on at the next roundabout and through Llandeilo and Fairfach.  Keep straight on until you reach the College Arms on the right, turn left and follow the brown signs to Cerreg Cennen Castle.

There are excellent walks of varying lengths around the Castle and you can plan a good day out with a trip to the castle, a walk and lunch or tea at the tearoom at Tir y Castel Farm or at the Cennen Inn in Trap, about two miles from the castle.  Dogs are welcome, but do keep them on a lead as there are sheep around.