Twt Hill is the impressive remains of the motte and bailey castle built on the orders of Robert of Rhuddlan in 1073 to consolidate Norman gains in North East Wales. Rhuddlan was a site of supreme strategic importance to the Normans, commanding the lowest fording point of the River Clwyd and thus the perfect platform for further expansion towards Gwynedd, the heartland of Welsh rule.
Rhuddlan’s history is an ancient one, largely due to its position at the head of the valley to the south and skirting the northern reaches of the Clwydians. Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great is thought to have sanctioned the build of a burh here, Cledemutha, as a means of preventing Viking incursions into Mercia, possibly with the co-operation of the kings of Gwynedd. The signs of an impressively large Anglo-Saxon burh are thought to have been found to the south and east of the town. Yet, the Saxons rarely built fortresses, rather fortified settlements, and it is possible instead that the site of Twt Hill was originally the court, or llys of Llewelyn ab Seisyll, the King of Gwynedd, Powys and Deheubarth in 1015.
Any co-operation with the Saxon English had long since died by 1063, when Harold Godwineson and his brother Tostig coordinated a series of attacks by land and sea on Llewelyn’s son, Gruffydd and drove him from his base at Rhuddlan. Gruffydd was hunted through North Wales, and was eventually killed by his own men to end the Godwinesons rampage.
It was not until the Normans arrived in Chester, that Rhuddlan reappears into recorded history. The motte and bailey was thrown up (a term which emphasises the speed with which these fortresses were built) and Robert, a cousin of Hugh d’Avranches of Chester, became the de facto warlord of North Wales. The castle became the centre of a Norman settlement that included a church located a few metres north of the motte and bailey in the grounds of what is now Ysgol y Castell.
Robert of Rhuddlan was, as Normans were wont to be, extremely ambitious. It is possible that he was a squire to Edward the Confessor before the conquest of 1066 and might have known the area well. Sometime in the early 1080s, Robert marshalled his troops at Rhuddlan and fought his way west to Deganwy, building there an early stone castle. It was from Deganwy that Robert rode out against Welsh pirates and was killed.
Twt Hill was in Welsh hands during the Anarchy of 1135-53, effectively an English Civil War, and remained so until 1241, and was captured from the Anglo-Normans by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1256. The rise of Edward I to the throne changed everything, and in 1277 Rhuddlan was back in the hands of the English. In preparation for the start of building work on nearby Rhuddlan Castle, Edward moved his base from Flint to Rhuddlan, suggesting that the motte and bailey was still in a serviceable condition. It was not long however, before Twt Hill became redundant and work on maintaining the old castle ceased.
The view from atop Twt Hill down towards the River Clwyd, gives a hint as to how commanding the fortress would have been.
The motte itself is of some considerable size, and given its rather sandy composition, it is clear that it would have been considerably bigger but for natural, and unnatural erosion suffered in the centuries since. Indeed, mottes which are still visible today do little to suggest just how enormous some would have been. A hint of how intimidating these fortresses would have been is afforded by standing atop Twt Hill and looking down to the River Clwyd below.
Archaeological findings of masonry would suggest that stone buildings were present upon the motte, and goes some way to explain why Edward was still able to utilise the castle in 1277, some 200 years after its first being erected. The bailey is still visible in earthworks about the motte, but it is clear that the Norman borough would have been substantially smaller than the Saxon burh.
Some years ago, it used to be possible to walk directly from Rhuddlan Castle to Twt Hill over the causeway, or Friary Gate, but the path has now been closed off. Instead, leave the Castle and turn right down Lon Hylas, before another right down a lane which leads you into the bailey of the castle. Continuing along the lane will eventually bring you out at Abbey Farm, site of the Dominican Priory, and the presumed destination of the gliding Ghost Monks, witnessed in 1953.