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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, built in the later years of the castle’s life. This was the most secure part of the castle, with steep slopes all round. The deep ditch between the tower and the bailey was cut into the rock by hand; you can still see the pick marks.
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
Clearing the scrubFriends of Nevern CastleScrub clearance at Nevern Castle28 Nov 2023On a sunny and cool morning in November 2023, nine volunteers and a very enthusiastic spaniel helped PCNPA ranger Richard Vaughan and community archaeologist Tomos Jones to hack at brambles and saplings near the paths at Nevern Castle.
Several came from different parts of Pembrokeshire to lend a hand, and stories were exchanged of digs and clearances on all sides. Lunch was very pleasant at the picnic tables, and we went home well exercised and, if not exactly sun-tanned, nevertheless having enjoyed time in the fresh air.
Nevern Show 2023Friends of Nevern CastleNevern Show 20239 Aug 2023Once again, Friends of Nevern Castle took a stand at Nevern Show, to promote knowledge of the castle and connect with visitors and local residents who might not know of it. Gaynor, Mick, Kath and Alan chatted to people who'd turned out on a very pleasant day to enjoy the competitions, crafts, and exhibitors at the lively Show.
We talked to lots of people! Of the 35 conversations we made a note of:
Castles come to WalesFriends of Nevern Castle24 Jul 2023A devastating innovation
The castle was an important tool of conquest. Initially built quickly in wood, it served as a base for the invading soldiers, a place to protect their equipment and provisions, and a place to defend from counter-attacks.
AGMFriends of Nevern CastleThrone and motte15 Jul 2023The first Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Nevern Castle was held at the Trewern Arms on 12th July.
During the past year, we have:
Making sense of the fragmentsFriends of Nevern Castle15 Jul 2023Dr Chris Caple, the archaeologist who led the digs at Nevern Castle for ten years, gave a popular and fascinating talk at the Trewern Arms on Wednesday 12/7/2023.
Since its destruction in 1196, ploughing and weathering have obscured what remains of the castle. Only fragments remain - and the task of the archaeologist is to piece them together, to reveal the dramatic events of the time, and the life that people led.
PCNPA tourFriends of Nevern Castle27 Apr 2023Tomos Jones, PCNPA Community Archaeologist, led a group on a tour of Newport Castle, St Brynach's Church, and Nevern Castle.
Early Purple Orchid seen at the Castle today
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!
Images © Dr Chris Caple except where noted otherwise.
[PCNPA]: © Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority