The ruins of Dinas Bran stand atop a high hill, overlooking the vale of Llangollen. Originally the site of an Iron Age hill fort, there is some speculation that a later timber fortification may have existed here - possibly Norman in origin - but no substantial evidence exists to support this theory. The ruins visible today date from the medieval period.
Dinas Bran is believed to date from the 1260s, when it was built by Gruffydd Maelor II, son of Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor I - Madog being the founder of the nearby abbey at Vale Crucis. Some suggest that it was Madog who built Dinas Bran, which would date it to around the 1230s. Whoever built it, the castle was only occupied for a brief time. In 1276AD, war broke out between England and Wales, and King Edward's armies were quick to invade. Henry de Lacy arrived in Oswestry with an army to capture Dinas Bran, but learned that it had been put to the torch and abandoned.
De Lacy recommended that King Edward repair the castle and use it to garrison English troops, but his advice was never acted upon. Nevertheless, troops were stationed in the shell of Dinas Bran up until 1277AD, and some minor repair work may have been undertaken.
The site retained its strategic value, and the Welsh occupied it again during 1282AD, when Edward was conducting his second campaign in Wales. In 1402AD, tradition holds that Owain Glyndwr also recognised the potential of the site, and attempted in vain to capture it from occupying English forces. No records exist beyond this of any military use for the site, and by Tudor times, the castle had fallen entirely into ruin.
Viewing Dinas Bran today, it's easy to understand the military significance of the site. It towers above Llangollen, dominating the surrounding countryside from an impressive height. Any invading army approaching the castle would have faced an arduous task in launching an assault up its steep approaches.
Although little remains of the castle, the surviving walls offer a dramatic image, their craggy ruins crowning the hill with a brooding, melancholy presence. The most remarkable experience is to be had from the top of the hill however, where the views offer absolutely breathtaking panoramas across this stunning part of Wales. Dinas Bran is highly recommended to the potential visitor, and although the climb can be challenging for the less fit, the rewards certainly justify the exertion.