Strange Tales of Castell Dinas Brân in Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales

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High above a small town in northern Wales, Castell Dinas Brân presents a fascinating blend of history and legend. It is now in ruins, but parts have stood there for centuries. Castell Dinas Brân has seen its share of battles and intrigue. Beyond the history, strange tales surround the site, stories of giants and even an ancient artifact.

Where is Castell Dinas Brân?

If you don't know where Wales is located, let's start with that.

Google Map showing the location of Wales in the western part of the island of Great Britain, part of the United Kingdom. It borders England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south. Wales lies to the east of Ireland, across the Irish Sea, and to the northwest of France, across the English Channel.

Wales has a long history of human-ish inhabitants. Neanderthals were there around 230,000 years ago, and modern humans arrived by 31,000 BC. People have lived there continuously since about 9000 BC, after the last ice age. Many ancient sites are from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Ages. During the Iron Age, the region became Celtic, speaking the Brittonic language. The Romans started their conquest in AD 43, fully controlling Wales by AD 79. They left in the 5th century, leading to Anglo-Saxon settlements and the formation of different Welsh kingdoms.

Cymru ([ˈkəm. rɨ]) is the Welsh language name for Wales. Here's the pronunciation of Cymru by native Welsh speakers.

Jumping ahead on the Welsh timeline, Wales joined the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 and the United Kingdom in 1801. The Welsh retained their language and culture despite English dominance and in the face of the English tendency to stomp out everything that wasn't English.

Over the centuries, due to the range of inhabitants and cultures, you can find all sorts of things scattered across the Welsh countryside. There are stone structures built by Neolithic tribes, Iron Age hillforts, signs of the Roman occupation, and more than 600 castles.

In northeastern Wales, you'll find the county of Denbighshire (the name means "the shire or county of the fortified hill"). It was established in 1284 after the Edwardian conquest of Wales. Within Denbighshire, on the banks of the River Dee, is the small picturesque town of Llangollen. If you don't speak Welsh, you should check out how to pronounce Llangollen because all those "L" s don't sound like you might guess.

View Llangollen town across the River Dee, featuring red brick buildings, greenery, and a historic train station.
The town of Llangollen by the River Dee.

Llangollen's history as a settlement dates back to around the 7th century when it was founded by Saint Collen, who established a church there. In the 19th century, with the development of the canal and railway, the town became an important center for trade and tourism.

Scenic view of a church and colorful houses along the River Dee in Llangollen, surrounded by trees and rolling hills.
Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales.

Castell Dinas Brân is situated 1,200 feet (365 meters) above Llangollen. The ruins are accessible by a steep, well-marked footpath.

Google Map showing Castell Dinas Brân's location near Llangollen in Denbighshire, Wales. It sits atop a hill overlooking the Dee Valley, southwest of Wrexham and south of Chester, England.
Castell Dinas Bran is about a 45-minute walk from Llangollen.
Ruins of Castell Dinas Brân at sunset with vibrant pink and orange skies over the Dee Valley in Llangollen, Wales.
Sunset at the ruins of Castell Dinas Brân.

Strange Tales of Castell Dinas Brân

The whole area around Castell Dinas Brân has an odd assortment of stories, which makes the place pretty intriguing. Here are a few of the strange tales of Castell Dinas Brân.

Castell Dinas Brân translates to "Castle of the City of Crows" in Welsh, with "Dinas" meaning "city" or "fortress" and "Brân" meaning "crow." The name reflects the castle's imposing position high on a hill, reminiscent of a fortress for crows.

There is a legend of a giant called Gogmagog, which some say still stalks the hilltop where Castell Dinas Brân stands. Before the structure was built, Gogmagog terrorized locals and claimed the hill as his own. A knight eventually confronted and defeated Gogmagog in a fierce battle and discovered that the giant was hiding a treasure there. The name Gogmagog is associated with Welsh legends and English mythology, and several versions of stories deal with the giant. Looking back through folklore there are quite a few legends of ancient giants, all of which seem horrific to us non-giants.

Close-up of a stone archway among the ruins of Castell Dinas Brân, offering a glimpse of the lush green hills beyond.
Historic stone archway at Castell Dinas Brân.

Other stories of Castell Dinas Brân claim that magical walnut trees rapidly grow during full moons, only to disappear at dawn. In the same area, fairies and, apparently, some kind of devilish spirit like to play music that works like a siren's song and draws in humans to dance until they drop or until the music stops. Related, down the hill from Castell Dinas Brân is a place called "Nant yr Ellyllon"—meaning "hollow of the goblins." One story about the "hollow of the goblins" is about a shepherd who stumbles across a tiny man playing a fiddle and hundreds of sprites dancing. The shepherd joins in, only to find that he can't stop dancing.

Daytime view of the ruins of Castell Dinas Brân, showing stone archways and remnants of the castle walls on a grassy hilltop.
Ruins of Castell Dinas Brân.

There's also a medieval romance story titled "Fouke le Fitz Waryn". It's said to be a mixture of accurate historical information and fanciful imagination. In it, knights fight a giant called Gogmagog that's been terrorizing the locals. They defeat the giant and discover that there might be a treasure hoard there. It sounds suspiciously like the aforementioned stories about the giant, right? The similarities are so strong that it does make one wonder which came first. 🤔

Aerial view of the hilltop where Castell Dinas Brân stands, surrounded by the lush, green landscape of the Dee Valley at sunrise.
Castell Dinas Brân and the Dee Valley.

Some visitors to Castell Dinas Brân have reported supernatural encounters, such as ghostly apparitions, eerie lights, and unexplained sounds. The apparitions are supposed to be dressed in medieval attire, some appearing as medieval soldiers. A few stories claim that the temperature suddenly dropped before seeing an apparition. Others say that simply being there is an eerie experience due to an overwhelming sense of being watched the entire time.

In addition to murderous giants and supernatural encounters, there's also a legend that Castell Dinas Brân is the location of the Holy Grail. Some people believe that the Knights Templar brought it there to hide it from falling into the wrong hands. This one sort of fits with the legend of some kind of treasure hoard at Castell Dinas Brân (which may have been protected by a giant). Tied into this story, Castell Dinas Brân is linked with a giant and king named Bran the Blessed from Welsh mythology. Bran the Blessed was said to own a magic cauldron that could bring the dead back to life and that, perhaps, the magic cauldron is buried beneath the ruins of Castell Dinas Brân.

Places like Castell Dinas Brân, with so many odd stories, including supernatural ones, can get your mind working on the possibility that all of them are somehow connected. But what is it about these types of places that cause that? Was it someone's overactive imagination from centuries ago? Or is there something a bit more tangible to it? Is there something buried there?

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