Denbighshire has an ancient history, with some hominid bones found there dating back hundreds of thousands of years. The sites on our list do not date back that far, but they are still wonderful reminders of the medieval past of the region. Sites like Valle Crucis Abbey have their roots before the English conquest of Wales, while places like Denbigh and Rhuddlan Castle demonstrate the ruthless march forward of King Edward I.
Here are 7 of the best historic sites in Denbighshire.
1. Castell Dinas Bran
The ruined medieval fortification has its origins in the 13th century. The location has been the site of an older iron age castle (600 BC). It is not 100% clear who constructed the currently visible structure, but the most likely candidate is Gruffydd II ap Madoga, a local Welsh ruler. The castle fell into disrepair following the English conquest of Wales in the late 13th century, when it was given to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey.
Nowadays the site offers spectacular views over the northern Welsh countryside. Castell Dinas Bran can be explored freely by anyone visiting the region.
2. Plas Newydd – Llangollen
The dwelling at Plas Newydd was originally a 14th century 5-room stone cottage but became a notable home in 1790 when 2 upper-class Anglo-Irish women bought the house in North Wales. The couple, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, had left County Kilkenny together in April 1778 to escape the conventions of heterosexual marriage.
Today, Plas Newydd looks largely as it did when the Ladies of Llangollen resided there and the museum is open to the public. Visitors are welcomed by impressive topiary in front of the black and white house with the hills looking over its shoulder. Within the house there are plenty of pictures, artefacts and informative displays to read as you learn the story of the Ladies of Llangollen.
3. Valle Crucis Abbey
Valle Crucis Abbey was founded in 1201 by the Welsh prince Madog ap Gruffydd. It became an important centre of the county, while being famous for their lavish feasts. The abbey, like so many others, was disbanded with the arrival of Protestantism to the British Isles.
4. Ruthin Gaol
Construction of this historic prison was completed in 1654 and it operated as a containment facility in the town of Ruthin until 1916. However it was completely rebuilt in the 19th century along the revolutionary Pentonville style. It is the only purpose-built Pentonville style prison that is open to the public in the United Kingdom. Visitors can explore the cells and some of the people who were kept at Ruthin Gaol.
5. Llangollen Bridge
Considered to be one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Wales’, Llangollen Bridge is a beautiful 16th/17th century stone bridge crossing the river Dee at Llangollen. The structure has been enlarged on multiple occasions and it is still is use to this day.
6. Rhuddlan Castle
Completed in 1282 at the cost of £9,613, Rhuddlan became the symbol of English rule in Wales. The castle’s completion preceded the Statute of Rhuddlan following the defeat of Welsh Prince, Llewellyn the Last, which laid down English law in Wales for 250 years until Henry VIII’s Act of Union in 1536. Edward then made his son Prince of Wales, much to the insult of the Welsh chieftains, in 1301.
Today, you can visit the magnificent castle at Rhuddlan for free. Walk within the still imposing remaining walls of this 13th century fortress, sharing the views of its former inhabitants out across the surrounding countryside to the River Clwyd.
7. Denbigh Castle
Constructed in around 1282, Denbigh Castle is one of the ‘iron ring’ of fortifications built by King Edward I to establish his dominance over Wales. Edward invaded Wales in 1277, defeating Prince of Wales Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn the Last), and proceeded to encircle it with a striking physical reminder of his authority.
Today, Denbigh Castle is managed by Cadw and is open to the public, with its ruins a picturesque sight. Despite being in a more ruined state than its counterparts of Edward I’s campaign – namely Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris and Harlech – Denbigh Castle is an important reminder of the conflicts witnessed in both the medieval and early modern periods.