The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


4 Dec 2008
  Aberystwyth Impressions

Aberystwyth was a flyby visit on my way from Pembroke to Caernarfon, though should I ever come to Wales again, I'd like to spend more time there than two hours. It's a lively place because of the many students, but less hectic than Bangor with its connection to the train line to Manchester. James from the Sir Benfro blog (that's not a title, but Welsh for shire, btw.) gave me a qick tour to the promenade and the castle remains.

View to the Pier at low tide

The pier had once been 900 feet long, but only about 300 remain today after the sea reclaimed parts of it. The sea tends to do that; Ceredigion Bay is also the location of the legendary Cantre'r Gwaelod, one of the sunken cities that line the coasts - its legends are related to Kêr Ys in Brittany.

The history of Aberystwyth goes back to the 4th century BC when Iron Age settlers fortified the hilltop called Pen Dinas. The remains of that large hillfort can still be seen. Albeit the Romans had been in the area (there's a stretch of arrow straight road the way I came that stands out among the winding Welsh tracks, and James told me that a few remains of a smaller Roman fortress can be found near where he lives) there is no trace they ever tried to establish a Roman fort on the site.

Pen Dinas, seen from the castle

To the far right is a slender pillar; a monument erected in 1852 to honour the Duke of Wellington's victory at Waterloo, paid by public funding. It's interesting to see what people in the 19th century were willing to support financially - we got the misplaced Hermann (Arminius) monument much the same way. Try that today and you'll get laughed at.

In the foreground are some of the stones that form a bardic circle of 13 standing stones symbolising the 13 old counties, pre the 1974 reform. The castle ruins have become a park today, a change Edward II might have liked better than his father.

Aberystwyth Castle, one of the towers

But it was not Edward I who started the castle building at Aberystwyth, it was one of the Gilbert de Clares who erected an earthen and timber ringwork castle down at the river Ystwyth in the 12th century.

In the early 13th century, after he ousted the de Clares and other Norman chaps, Llywelyn ap Iorweth 'the Great' decided a hill by the sea was a better place for a castle than a valley and built the first one in the present spot. Makes one wonder why he didn't chose Pen Dinas, either. Like so many castle at the time, the one of Aberystwyth changed hands several times after Llywelyn's death as the Norman/Welsh wars moved to and fro.

Aberystwyth Castle, remains of the inner bailey and hall

Edward I was the one who got really serious about the castle thing once he conquered the Welsh, and turned Aberystwyth castle into a structure as formidable as Caernarfon or Conwy. Our friend Master James was the official overseer though he soon left his associate Master Giles of St. George in charge and returned to north Wales. The modernising of Aberystwyth castle according to the standards of 1294 cost 'only' some 4,300 pounds.

The reason the castle is damaged much worse than Ed's other biggies lies in the fact that the sea is only a few yards away, and on a bad day not even that. Add to that the gales and torrents of a typical Welsh day, and even stone and mortar will crumble within time. The castle was beginning to succomb to decay as early as 1343, and the Civil War saw the end of it.

Old College with Constitution Hill in the background

What we got here is not a castle or cathedral, though it looks a bit like a mix of both, but the Castle Hotel, built 1872. It soon went bancrupt and was bought by the University College of Wales. It still houses some departments of the university, besides the newer locations at Penglais Campus and Llanbadarn Campus. The students surely got a pretty place to work in, but I wonder how often they'll find the Atlantic in the cellar. Let's hope they at least have a functioning central heating, something the Llywelyns, Owains, Henrys and Edwards will have sorely missed. Maybe that's the reason the Romans stayed away from the rain- and windswept Ceredigion Bay.

I was lucky, I had a nice day when I visited Aberystwyth.
 
Comments:
I worked in Lynton, North Devon, for a while back in the mid nineties, and we could see Wales across the Bristol Channel. There was a local saying: "If you can see Wales, it's going to rain; if you can't see Wales, it's already raining." Given the climate in that part of the world it's amazing that any C12 stonework is still standing at all.

But how lovely the countryside is, and how much history crammed into such a small space!
 
Lo Satima, that's so true. Though I've been lucky when traveling in the UK so far, I got more good than bad weather days every time.
 
Aberystwyth and the surrounding countryside is, indeed, worth a longer visit. I spent many happy childhood holidays in those parts.
 
One of my dreams is visiting UK. Especially Scotland, but I will definitely not neglect England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
Thank you for this lovely presentation :)
 
Lol Lady D, the list of places to visit or revisit grows in no relation to my finances. ;)

Plan for a long trip, Dark Wolf. I had two weeks for Wales and didn't cover a third of what I'd have liked to see.
 
Do many hill forts get re-used as the sites of medieval castles? I haven't ever looked into this but I have the impression that most didn't; you get occupation in the Iron Age and sometimes again in the post-Roman period, but then they seem to be mostly left to themselves. I've heard it argued that Iron Age and post-Roman had similar (or at least, not dissimilar) subsistence economies, so they tended to use the same sites, whereas the Roman and later medieval periods shared a greater influence of trade and commerce and tended to use a different set of sites. I doubt the distinction was absolute but it may have a point.
 
It's an interesting thesis which I should look into. Though there are exceptions, Eildon Hill for example was used by the Romans (Trimontium). I got the impression they built their frontier forts according to Roman defense patterns but the ones that supported a foray into the land (Scotland or Wales) were set up more randomly, so why not use an already existing site? I don't know much about the Iron Age patterns in southern Britain which was completely conquered, so maybe there are different developments again. One surely was the rise of the country estate villas.
 
Wonderful tour of the castles and intriguing history, Gabriele.

Thank you for your wonderful comments on Shelley Munro's website today.
 
I must visit there. I'm hoping to get back to Wales next summer.
And pretty soon, when I finish Shadow of the Lion, I will resume work on my Celtic novel so a visit here might be very inspiring.
 
Thank you, Barbara.

Wynn, you definitely should visit Wales again for inspiration. The Scottish westcoast is a good place, too.
 
Another great trip through both past and present. I can see how the weather plays a big part in the decay of the Welsh buidlings. I remember Wales being really green, although I think we managed to luck out and get sunshine during our visit many years ago. I'd love to return one day.
 
Shelley, most of Britain is very green from what I've seen so far.

Though if the summers here keep getting so rainy Germany will soon be a competition for greenness. :)
 
A great write-up Gabriele. It seems you learned more about Aberystwyth in your short visit than I've found out in nine years!
 
Thank you, James. I did a bit research. ;)

And it's always your own town you don't know much about; I should be better informed about Göttingen than I am, but there's always time to do it some day .... ;)
 
Having been a student at Aber for three years, it's lovely to see some pictures of it again (even though I only officially left in June...) Aberystwyth is one of those towns that you never stop being fond of. And it is a great place to be a student, especially when the sun is out; but I can certainly testify to the power of the sea against stone. On at least one occasion after a storm some slabs from the sea wall had been torn out.
 
Hi Rich, welcome to my blog.

I had the traveller's luck; the days was warm and hazy, and you could feel the presence of the sun. :)
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, the Baltic Countries, and central Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.


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I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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Along the Coast of Norway - North of the Polar Circle

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Dog Sledding With Huskies
Eagles and Gulls in the Trollfjord


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A Baltic Sea Cruise

The Curonian Spit in Lithuania
Beaches at the Curonian Spit
Geology of the Curonian Spit



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Mediaeval History

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Mediaeval Art
The Choir Screen in the Cathedral of Mainz
The Gospels of Heinrich the Lion
The Hunting Frieze in Königslutter Cathedral
Mediaeval Monster Carvings
The Viking Treasure of Hiddensee

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Mediaeval Weapons
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The Privilege of the deditio
A Note on handgenginn maðr

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Towns of the Hanseatic League
Riga
Stralsund
Tallinn / Reval

The Order of the Teutonic Knights

Wars and Battles
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The Siege of Vilnius 1390

The Vikings

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Some historical events are linked under more than one country / subtitle due to the overarching nature of history.


History by Country

Germany

Geneaology

List of Mediaeval German Emperors

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Anglo-German Marriage Connections
Heinrich the Lion's Ancestors

Kings and Emperors

The Salian Dynasty
King Heinrich IV

House Welf and House Staufen
Emperor Otto IV, Introduction

Princes and Lords

Princes
Otto the Quarrelsome of Braunschweig-Göttingen
The Dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
Duke Otto of Northeim
The Ludowing Landgraves of Thuringia
Albrecht II and Friedrich I of Thuringia
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus

Counts and Local Lords
The Marshals of Ebersburg
The Counts of Everstein
The Counts of Hohnstein
The Lords of Plesse
The Counts of Reichenbach
The Counts of Winzenburg

Feuds and Rebellions

Royal Troubles
Otto IV and Bishop Adalbert II of Magdeburg

Local Feuds
The Lüneburg Succession War
The Thuringian Succession War
The Star Wars


England

Kings of England

King Henry IV
King Henry's Lithuanian Crusade

Normans, Britons, Angevins

Great Noble Houses
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The Earls of Richmond

Contested Borders

Northumbria
King Stephen's Troubles with King David of Scots


Scotland

Kings of Scots

House Dunkeld
Malcolm III and Northumbria
Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
King David and the Civil War, Part 1
King David and the Civil War, Part 2

Houses Bruce and Stewart
The Early Stewart Kings

Local Troubles

Clan Feuds
MacLeans and MacDonalds
A Scottish Wedding

Scotland and England

The Wars of Independence
Alexander of Argyll
The Fight for Stirling Castle


Wales

Welsh Princes

The Princes of Gwynedd
The Rise of House Aberffraw

Wales and England

A History of Rebellion
Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


Denmark

Kings of Denmark

House of Knýtlinga
Harald Bluetooth's Flight to Pomerania

Danish Rule in the Baltic Sea

The Duchy of Estonia
Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


Norway

Kings of Norway

Foreign Relations
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages
King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

Feuds and Rebellions

Rebels
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Sweden

Troubles and Alliances

Scandinavian Unity
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union


Livonia
(Latvia and Estonia)

Livonian Towns

Riga
The History of Mediaeval Riga

Tallinn
The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


Lithuania

Lithuanian Princes

The Geminid Dynasty
Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas

The Northern Crusades

The Wars in Lithuania
The Siege of Vilnius 1390


Poland

Royal Dynasties

The Jagiełłonian Kings
Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union

The Northern Crusades

The Conquest of Pomerania / Prussia
The Conquest of Danzig


Bohemia

Royal Dynasties

The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
King Sigismund and the Hussite Wars


Roman History

The Romans at War

Forts and Fortifications

The German Limes
The Cavalry Fort Aalen
Limes Fort Osterburken
Limes Fort Saalburg

The Hadrian's Wall
Introduction
The Fort at Segedunum / Wallsend

Border Life
Exercise Halls
Mile Castles and Watch Towers
Soldiers' Living Quarters
Cavalry Barracks

Campaigns and Battles

Maps
The Romans in Germania

The Pre-Varus Invasion in Germania
Roman Camp Hedemünden
New Finds in 2008

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Museum Park at Kalkriese

The Battle at the Harzhorn
Introduction

The Batavian Rebellion
A Short Introduction

Miscellaneous Events

The Legend of Alaric's Burial

Roman Militaria

Armour
Early Imperial Helmets
Late Roman Helmets
The Negau B Helmet

Weapons
Weapon Finds at Hedemünden
The pilum
Daggers
Swords

Other Equipment
Roman Saddles


Roman Life and Religion

Religion and Public Life

Religion
Curse Tablets and Good Luck Charms
Isis Worship
Memorial Stones
The Mithras Cult

Public Life
Roman Transport: Barges
Roman Transport: Amphorae and Barrels
Roman Water Supply

Architecture
Roman Public Baths

Domestic Life

Roman villae
Villa Urbana Longuich
Villa Rustica Wachenheim

Everyday Life
Bathing Habits
Children's Toys
Face Pots


Other Times

Neolithicum to Iron Age

Germany

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
The Hutewald Project in the Solling
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

Neolithic Remains
Stone Burials of the Funnelbeaker Culture
The Necropolis of Oldendorf

Bronze Age / Iron Age
The Nydam Ship

Scotland

Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Their Function in Iron Age Society

Scandinavia

Bronze / Iron Age
The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd / Gotland


Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)


Miscellanea

History in Literature and Music

History and Literature

The Weimar Classicism
The Weimar Classicism - Introduction

Theodor Fontane
Short Biography of Theodor Fontane
Fontane Ballads, translated by me
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Romans
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Other
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances


Geology

Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs
Sandstone Formations: Daneil's Cave
Sandstone Formations: Devil's Wall
Sandstone Formations: The Klus Rock

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations
Salt Springs at the Werra

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite


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