The tiny village of Gwespyr has become synonymous with the remarkable sandstone, long quarried in the area. Famous for its fine grain and beautiful colour, as well as its ease of cutting and shaping, it was used in some of the most famous landmarks in north east Wales. Evidence of its usage can be found in Roman buildings, such as the Prestatyn bathhouse, and the 10th century Scandinavian Maen Achwyfan Cross at nearby Whitford. The stone can be also be found at St Winefride’s Well in Holywell, in carvings at Rhuddlan and Denbigh castles as well as at Basingwerk Abbey and St Asaph Cathedral. Its reach went much further in later centuries, as it was exported throughout the world from the ports on the Dee and Mersey rivers.
Though the name of the village seems, on the face of it, quite Welsh, it is in fact, of Saxon origin and reflects its Mercian past. The name translates, as best rendered, to, ‘West Fort’, and represents what was probably the site of a watchtower, taking advantage of its prominent position overlooking the Irish Sea and the approaches to the Dee Estuary. And that suggests the watchtower was not built to warn of Welsh attacks, as might be believed if later history was indicative, but rather against the incursions of the Norse, approaching from the Isle of Man and their Dublin heartland. There was a substantial Norse presence in North West England, especially on the Wirral, and one has only to visit the Maen Achwyfan Cross and look upon its distinctive Scandinavian double ring-knot, interlaced loops to see their influence, whether that influence was through the sword or trade. Indeed, there remains an ongoing debate as to whether a Norse settlement was founded in this corner of north east Wales. At Rhuddlan a Mercian camp was built, likely with Welsh blessing, in order to protect against Norse attack, reflecting the belief that the Norse Vikings were the greater threat. The site of the watchtower has never been found, and will, likely as not, never be found, since it would probably have been built in wood and dismantled before the arrival of the Normans.
Today, Gwespyr is a quiet little settlement on the North Wales coast, its quarries largely gone, but remembered in its stone.