There’s not much to see now of the castle at Nevern. But for almost a century, a complex and dramatic story of treachery, prosperity, family feuds and celebrations was played out on this promontory in north Pembrokeshire.
1108: Norman colonists built banks and motte with wooden palisades and tower
Turmhügelburg. – Photo: Wy / Wikipedia
Forty years after the 1066 conquest of England, the Normans were still trying to subjugate Wales. Norman King Henry I authorized Robert FitzMartin to take control of Cemaes, the north of what is now Pembrokeshire. FitzMartin chose Nevern at which to build a stronghold for his forces.
It became an important hub with impressive stone buildings, battled over by Welsh and Normans
Conquering the Welsh wasn’t easy. After Henry I died, the Normans were distracted by a long feud over the English crown. At the Battle of Crug Mawr in 1136, the Welsh decisively took back control, and occupied the castles at Cardigan and Nevern. Gruffydd, and later his son Rhys, were prominent leaders.
1196: Burned to the ground after ninety years. Has been farm land ever since
Eventually the Normans returned. An uneasy truce was established when William FitzMartin married Rhys’ daughter Angharad. But as soon as William went off to fight in the crusades, Rhys re-occupied Nevern. He and his sons then fought between themselves, finally destroying the castle.
1980: Nevern Community Council bought the site for the benefit of the community
Together with Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, and Cadw (the Welsh Government’s historic environment service) Nevern Community Council has worked hard to look after the site and open it up for all to enjoy.
Join the Friends of Nevern Castle to help conserve and manage the site.
2008-2018: Archaeological digs uncover the varied history and changing structure of the castle
Dr Chris Caple of Durham University led the excavations. Many artefacts were discovered, providing a fascinating glimpse of life in the castle. The findings also showed the development of the buildings and walls and their construction by Norman and Welsh techniques.
Now a space of peace and tranquillity
A few people have lived and farmed here over the centuries. Now it is home to walkers and wildlife. Little can be seen of the castle except for the banks, ditches, and the motte. Trees grow where there were once fine halls and commanding views over the countryside. Come and enjoy the peace; and remember our history!
What you can see today
The Square Tower
On a rocky outcrop at the eastern side of the castle, you can see the remains of a square stone tower. This was the most securely defended part of the castle, with steep slopes all round. But it was only built in the later years of the castle’s life.
Protected by banks and walls on two sides, and steep slopes on the other two, the castle’s bailey – the flat area watched over by the towers – was where the daily life of the castle took place.
Halls, houses, stables, and workshops occupied this space. At first they were made of wood, but later more strongly built in stone.
Banks and ditches
The first part of the castle to be built was the motte, a mound of earth with a lookout tower on top. Defensive banks and ditches surrounded the motte and the bailey. Later in the castle’s life, this round tower was rebuilt in stone and used also as living quarters.
Now only the base of the tower can be seen.
Latest news and articles
Pilgrimage conferenceFriends of Nevern Castle19 Mar 2023Alan represented Friends of Nevern Castle at the Pilgrimage Today conference in Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford in March 2023. The gathering celebrated the opening of the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way from Ferns in SE Ireland across the sea to St Davids. The meeting, sponsored by the Ancient Connections project and British Pilgrimage Trust, was attended by about 80 people including artists, businesses and places of interest along the route, officers of Visit Pembrokeshire and Fáilte Ireland, together with academics studying tourism and pilgrimage.
Alan was also there for his part as a software developer in Pererin Wyf, a project sponsored by Ancient Connections which links people of the Irish and Welsh diasporas worldwide.
School visitFriends of Nevern CastleSchool children being shown a drawing of the tower atop the motte6 Dec 2022Friends of Nevern Castle conducted a tour of the Castle for a group of 9-10 year olds from St Dogmaels Primary School on 14th November 2022.
While walking around the site, we looked at mock-up pictures, talked about the characters of the time, and had great fun role-playing the coming and goings between Norman and Welsh control. And of course we talked about archaeology.
Wexford visit to CastleFriends of Nevern CastleSpeaking to a party of visitors in the bailey23 Oct 2022Friends of Nevern Castle showed round a group of visitors from Ireland on Sunday 23/10/2022.
The visit was a first trial of a guided tour round the castle. We told the story of the main characters in its 90-year history, while explaining the visible remains and showing artists' impressions of what it looked like at the time.
BBQ Aug 29thFriends of Nevern CastlePeople picnicing at the barbecue August 202215 Aug 2022We had a great time at the barbecue in the castle bailey on bank holiday Monday.
Good company in lovely surroundings, and delicious barbie food!
Nevern ShowFriends of Nevern CastleFriends speaking to people at Nevern Show 202211 Aug 2022Friends of Nevern Castle had a stand in the craft tent at Nevern Show on 10th August. Gaynor, Mike, Kath and Alan chatted to show goers about the castle.
The aim was to raise awareness of the existence of the site and the importance of the castle in the 12th century. We told visitors how the castle's history, with its alternation between Norman and Welsh control, encapsulated that pivotal period in the history of Wales.
Trail guide updateFriends of Nevern CastleMap/aerial photo of Nevern for updated trail guide leaflet 20228 Jul 2022Nevern Trail Guide leaflet was published in 2016 by Nevern Community Council and Pembrokeshire National Park Authority. It's now due for a reprint, and so there's an opportunity for updates and improvements.
Friends of Nevern Castle recently had a meeting with other residents of Nevern to discuss changes to the leaflet. We've also had discussions with representatives of St Brynach's Church, the Village Hall, and the Trewern Arms.
Nevern’s Apotropaic SlatesChris Caple11 Apr 2022by Dr Chris Caple
In 2011, we unearthed a series of slates forming a threshold in the gateway of the southern entrance to the castle. A number of these slates contained faint scratched designs. As the slates were bedded on their edges, these designs could not be seen by the people passing over the threshold; only by supernatural forces. The designs were almost certainly incised into the slates by the workmen building the gateway (constructed circa 1170-1191).
Friends’ Meeting – Trewern 30/3/2022Nevern Community CouncilBarbecue 20211 Apr 2022Inaugural meeting of the Friends of Nevern Castle
Enthusiasts for Nevern Castle met on Wednesday 30/3/2022, kindly hosted by the Trewern Arms. We created a formal association, with a constitution and the usual officers. We’ll be able to open a bank account, apply for grants, etc.
The Great HallRob AnthonyGreat Hall in Stokesay Castle4 Mar 2022The brief life and times of the Great Hall, Nevern Castle
Fig 1 Artist’s impression of Nevern Castle:
My Dig MemoriesGaynor Bussell6 Feb 2022Gaynor Bussell, Volunteer at Nevern Dig 2009-2018
After working over 30 years in London, in June 2008 I decided to give it all up. I was not sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life; I was not quite 50! But I had developed hiraeth for the lands from where my family had come and where many of my relatives still lived.
Images © Dr Chris Caple except where noted otherwise.
[PCNPA]: © Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority