Nevern Castle motte
Nevern Castle motte

Otherwise known as Castell Nanhyfer, Nevern Castle is a  motte and bailey castle sited within an Iron Age promontory fort, on a steep hillside above an attractive village. The large triangular bailey is much overgrown, but the castle mound is easily viewed. The castle was originally Welsh, then Norman, then was recaptured by the Welsh.


We do not know much about the origins of Nevern Castle; it was probably built in the early 12th century, around 1108, by Robert FitzMartin, the Norman lord of Cemais. That first castle was centred on a timber tower.

The castle was seized by Rhys ap Gruffudd from his Anglo-Norman son-in-law. Rhys is credited with building a strong tower in stone within the earlier fortifications. The Welsh tower was built with pieces of slate bonded with clay. This Welsh building style was made necessary by the lack of limestone in Pembrokeshire.

He might have regretted doing so, as he was later imprisoned within the castle by his own sons, either in the tower atop the motte or in a small inner castle defended by a rock-cut ditch at the opposite side of the castle enclosure. Rhys was rescued from captivity by another of his sons, Hywel Sais.

Climbing the castle motte
Climbing the castle motte

It may have been Hywel who destroyed Nevern Castle in 1195 to prevent it falling into Anglo-Norman hands once more.

As for Rhys ap Gruffudd, he died in 1197 and you can see his effigy in St Davids Cathedral.

The site measures almost 100 metres in diameter, in a rough oval, with natural steep slopes acting as an extra defence. There are three rings of banks and ditches to the north and west. The castle motte is located to the north-west side of the enclosure.

It is quite a decent size, measuring about 32 metres across. There was a circular stone keep about 6 metres wide, atop the motte, while to the east is a court enclosure defined by stone walls and defended on one side by sheer cliffs.

What to See

As you climb to the castle from Nevern Church, you first come to the inner castle, separated from the rest of the enclosure by a rock-cut ditch. There is a stair set into the earthwork bank so you can climb to the small, level top. There is a low foundation wall exposed by modern archaeologists. It is possible that Rhys ap Gruffudd may have been imprisoned by his sons in this small stone tower.

You can follow a path along the top of the outer earthworks, around the whole enclosure to the castle motte. Recent excavations have exposed several feet of Rhys ap Gruffudd's foundation walls where you can clearly see the 12th-century Welsh stonework.

Looking into the circular stone tower
Looking into the circular stone tower

One thing that is very striking about Nevern Castle is a sheer size of the castle enclosure. The space inside the earthworks is simply huge.

A short stroll downhill leads you to the historic parish church, where you can find the Nevern Cross, one of the finest carved Celtic crosses in Wales.

Getting There

Nevern is located on the B4582, about 2 miles east of Newport. Park at the church and take the footpath that leads along the stream, parallel to the churchyard. You cross a small stone footbridge and follow the trail as it leads uphill to the base of the castle earthworks. Alternatively, you can walk up the minor road just before the church and follow it uphill. The castle will be on your right.