As you may have noticed if you’ve ever visited Wales they bloody love dragons, it’s on the national flag there’s keyring of it, stuffed dragons everywhere in souvenir shops, lots of places have dragon related names. You get the idea. Incidentally the Welsh for dragon is ‘Draig’.
I’d heard about Dinas Emrys a few times and I think initially I’d assumed that it would be a bit of a drive to get to it, but one day I got a map out to plan a mountain day and there it was, about a fifteen minute drive from the front door and as I’m still recovering from foot and knee issues and just trying to get my ass out the door during a long miserable January I managed to drag my carcass out from under the black dog and out of addictive laziness and head out of the door in the early afternoon. Being winter getting out of here at 2:30 might sounds like it gives me plenty of time but with the sun setting fully at 4:30 that didn’t give me much time at all to get myself onto Dinas Emrys in time for what photographers call the ‘golden hour’ which is the time photographers take advantage of the almost magical effect of the almost set sun softening and giving a warm glow and atmosphere to photographs. And considering the myths and history of Dinas Emrys this seemed like a perfect time to take a few photographs of the spot. And also the perfect excuse for me not to really bother moving until later afternoon apparently.
Who hasn’t heard the legends surrounding King Arthur and of course Merlin the magician, growing up I definitely had and as a nation I think it’s probably our most famous legend. There are many sites across the UK that have a pagan history and I’ve visited a few already, but now living in Snowdonia the area is steeped in Arthurian folklore. Dinas Emrys mean’s ‘fortress of ambrosias’ which is assumed to Ofer directly to Merlin himself and this is how the story goes. It is said that Vortigern, an English warlord fled here from England and chose the site as where to build his fort. His men attempted building the tower many times for it to just fall down again every night. Vortigern was advised by wise men (who may well have been druids) to sacrifice a child without a father to prevent this happening, and they found Emrys (Merlin). Druids were said to often offer human sacrifice when an undertaking was not successful and it’s probably good we don’t view that as an option now. Though I have met a few people that make me occasionally wish it still was. Not got the job? Human sacrifice. Bad day at work? Human sacrifice. Standard pagan fix all.
Merlin was said to have warned that the under the hilltop there were two dragons, living in a hidden lake one white and one red and were constantly fighting after being awoken by the attempts of Vortigens men to build the fort, which made the walls tumble down. Obviously considering this very fortunate information (at least for Merlin) sacrificing him wasn’t going to help. On Merlins advice Vortigern had his men dig into the hill to drain the lake and release the dragons. Following this the red dragon was said to have killed the white dragon and then returned to its underhand home. The red dragon was said to be the symbol of Wales and still is, the Welsh flag represeting this. And apparently the red dragon is still there, just having a chill as you do. Now the white dragon was dead and the red now peaceful the men were then able to build the hill fort without the disturbance of any more subterranean dragon cage fighting. Why were there dragons there at all though? The dragons were meant to have originally been buried by Lludd in the ‘city of Pharan’ which became known as Dinas Emrys.
So how do you get to see this place? The spot exists not far from the Craflwyn National Trust property and takes you through ancient woodland and past amazing waterfalls. I start my hike and pass a magic looking waterfall along the way, the sort you could imagine mythical creatures playing around.
Then it’s through some ancient looking woodland which in this cold winter looks about as gnarled and haunted as you could possibly get. Before coming upon an even more impressive waterfall.
As the cold winter light begins to fade I start to climb the rocky outcrop on which Dinas Emrys sits, and the trees seem to get even older, battered by who knows how long of unpredictable welsh weather but still not giving up. At this point its looking so much like the haunted woods i’m expecting to be kidnapped by fairies at any moment.
You can see why as you ascend the hill why this would have been so useful strategically, the views in all directions command an excellent and breathtaking view of the valley below and the close by mountains, at the moment looking sugar coated with their dustings of snow.
It doesn’t really fit into the description of a castle, maybe it never really was. There are the remans of a rectangular stone tower at the crest of the volcanic outcrop it occupies. . Looking down from here into a small group of bent and gnarled trees there’s a medieval cistern which looks like a small pond. The whole structure has shown evidence for being occupied during the Iron age, roman period and medieval times. Theres hardly anything left of what was meant to be the keep but it is amazing up here lack of ruins or not.
There’s something special just in the way this place feels, I’m not sure if it’s something deeper and unexplainable or just the way this hill fort overlooks the spectacular scenery of a large part of Snowdonia, the Glasyn river valley. It does easily resemble something you’d see in a televised fairy tale, which the gnarled old trees, the mountains in the background and the small pond reflecting the nearby trees like a perfect mirror in it’s currently still surface, looking like a possible portal into other world.