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Bryn Dychwelch

The Hill of Retreat

Not far to the west of Hen Blas, the probable location of the lost Basingwerk Castle,  and part of the Gadlys Conservation site, is a site labelled on OS maps of 1878 as the supposed site of Bryn Dychwelch, the Hill of Retreat.  The site is actually two fields, named on the 1843 Tithe Map as Coitia Mawr in the township of Bagillt Fechan.  Local tradition suggests that this was where Owain Gwynedd retreated to after the Battle of Coleshill in 1157. On the face of things, this retreat is a curious thing in itself, since as everyone knows, Coleshill was a stunning victory for the forces of Gwynedd against the English Crown - why would Owain be the one retreating?  It was, however, an example of how winning a battle is not quite the same as winning a war.  Henry II of England, having survived the maelstrom in the Wood of Hawarden through a mixture of luck, his own bravery and that of others, cut his way back to the main body of his force, which remained superior in numbers to the Welsh forces, necessitating a retreat, a retirement in truth by Owain and the bulk of his forces stationed at Basingwerk Castle.


As retreats go, a stone’s throw from the original position does not seem much of a retirement, so there is undoubtedly something else involved here.  Further tradition suggests that a small wood at nearby Bryn Madyn Hall, is in fact a burial ground of those that were killed in the Battle of Coleshill in 1157.  The current owners of the Hall, who have been resident there for generations, are laudably loathe to disturb the site in respect for the bodies believed to be buried there.  There is also the tradition that the wood and Hall, situated on land overlooking Bryn Dychwelch, was the location of further Welsh forces.  It is probably to Bryn Madyn that Thomas Pennant is referring to when, in discussing the Gadlys Smelting Works, he claims that,


‘Near the works stood a large mount, on which might have been a castlelet, the residence of some of our princes’.

Thomas Pennant, ‘The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell’ (1796)


While there is a continuing debate as to whether Hen Blas is the site of the lost Basingwerk Castle, it is rather more certain that the area around Bagillt was the location of the llys and associated maerdref of Coleshill - one of the three commotes of Tegeingl.


We are left with a variety of potential scenarios.  It is possible that the area around Bryn Dychwelch and Bryn Madyn was the meeting point of the main body of Owain’s retreating army and that of his sons, Dafydd and Cynan, the victors of Coleshill.  If this was indeed the case, it’s probable that the combined force would have been reorganised into a single unit, the dead buried and preparations made to retire across the Conwy, surrendering the road to Rhuddlan to Henry II.


Bryn Dychwelch is an example of how it is often the case that events are remembered in the landscape, long after they are forgotten by the peoples who live there.  A reassuring thought.

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