Tomen y Rhodwydd is extraordinary. It is perhaps the most well-known of the native Welsh timber castles, if only for the very dramatic aerial photographs that are often used in illustrating motte and bailey castles. Because, from the air, it looks the very ideal of a motte and bailey, with the still dramatic mound attached to the extremely clear outline of a bailey. Often enough the baileys disappear under the plough, but at Tomen y Rhoddwydd it remains, with its circular defensive bank about it. While aerial views show this most clearly, a walk about the site at ground level affords reward, showing the extent of the bailey in relation to the motte.
Tomen y Rhodwydd was likely built in or around 1149 by Owain Gwynedd (Owain ap Gruffydd ap Cynan). Owain had taken advantage of a civil war in England to push the border of Gwynedd east, taking Mold Castle and Ystrad Alun in 1146, and Tegeingl in 1149 from the native Madog ap Maredudd of Powys. Owain continued his expansion by capturing the commote of Ial, probably as a means of securing his earlier gains. Tomen y Rhodwydd was built with a mind to controlling the flow of traffic into the Vale of Clwyd through what is now the Nant y Garth Pass.
For all this success, Tomen y Rhodwydd was attacked and successfully destroyed by Iorwerth Goch ap Mareudd, the brother of Madog, in 1157. What happen to the castle after this date is unclear, although it is believed that King John occupied the site for a time in 1212, during his efforts against Llywelyn the Great. There has been some confusion with the site and nearby Tomen y Faerdre at Llanarmon-yn-Ial, some three miles up the road from Llandegla.
John Leland wrote of the site in his, ‘Itinerary of Wales’ (1536-39), describing it as,
‘vestigia of a castel of Owen Glindour (as it is saide) caullid Keuen De, i.e. the bakke of the Blake Hille, wher now shepardes kepe shepe.’
Apart from the error of attaching the castle to Glyndwr (such was his continued reputation), anyone who has visited the site will attest to his accuracy in describing it as sheepfold.