British Folklore
Fairy Lore & Prehistoric Sites in Britain

Castell Dinas Bran

Castell Dinas Bran

This site is not only an Iron Age Hillfort but the remains of a medieval castle are also built over it as well.  Castell Dinas Brân translates into English literally as Castle of the City of Crows, so the simple explanation for the name of the castle is as a place where crows live. However, Dinas is a name associated with several ancient hillforts in Wales and England (i.e. Dinas Emrys, Dinas Powys, Pen Dinas and Castle-an-Dinas in Cornwall) and so can be taken to mean fort or stronghold. The origins of the name Brân are more uncertain. There is a legend which says that Brân was a Cornish prince, the son of the Duke of Cornwall, another suggests Brân could be named for King Bran Fendigaid (the Blessed) also called Bendigeidfran, a Celtic God who appears in both Welsh and Irish mythology.

The castle first literary appearance is in a 12th-century historical document entitled "Fouke le Fitz Waryn," or "The Romance of Fulk Fitzwarine." In this tale the castle, named "Chastiel Bran," is referred to as a ruin during the early years of the Norman Conquest. The tale continues to tell of an arrogant Norman knight, Payn Peveril, who hears that no one has had courage enough to stay overnight inside the castle ruins, for fear of evil spirits. Payn and 15 'knightly followers' determine to stay the night. A storm blows up and an evil, mace-wielding giant called Gogmagog, appears. Payn defends his men against the attacks of the giant with his shield and cross, then stabs Gogmagog with his sword. As the giant is dying he tells of the earlier bravery of King Bran who had built the castle to try to defeat the giant. Despite King Bran's attempts against Gogmagog the King had been forced to flee and since then the giant had terrorised all the land around for many years. The giant also tells of a great treasury of idols buried at Dinas Bran which includes swans, peacocks, horses and a huge golden ox but dies without revealing its location

There has been a long tradition of fairies atop the hill. From the Folklore Journal, issue 1 volume, 3: 

Fairies under Trees.-- One of our readers has forwarded us an old document, dated Nov. 30th, 1817, containing a quaint description of a walnut tree of extraordinary dimensions. It grew on a rock of limestone at Llanddyn Farm, near Llangollen; its height was about twenty-five yards, and its boughs covered a space of ground about thirty yards diameter. According to a story in the neighbourhood, this tree was very old. A man 95 years of age said that he remembered a bough of it being broken by the snow when he was a child, and that his grandfather used to tell the family that, in olden times, fairies used in the dead of night to celebrate their marriages under this walnut tree.

Llandyn Farm is on the south-east slope of the hill. Just down the side of the hill where Castell Dinas Bran resides, there is a hollow called Nant yr Ellyllon [hollow of the goblins]. It obtained its name, according to tradition, in this wise: 

A young man, called Tudur ap Einion Gloff, used in old times to pasture his master's sheep in that hollow. One summer's night, when Tudur was preparing to return to the lowlands with his woolly charge, there suddenly appeared, perched upon a stone near him, 'a little man in moss breeches with a fiddle under his arm. He was the tiniest wee specimen of humanity imaginable. His coat was made of birch leaves, and he wore upon his head a helmet which consisted of a gorse flower, while his feet were encased in pumps made of beetle's wings. He ran his fingers over his instrument, and the music made Tudur's hair stand on end. " Nos da'ch', nos da'ch'," said the little man, which means "Good-night, good-night to you," in English. " Ac i chwithau," replied Tudur; which again, in English, means " The same to you." Then continued the little man, " You are fond of dancing, Tudur; and if you but tarry awhile you shall behold some of the best dancers in Wales, and I am the musician." Quoth Tudur, "Then where is your harp? A Welshman even cannot dance without a harp." " Oh," said the little man, "I can discourse better dance music upon my fiddle." "Is it a fiddle you call that stringed wooden spoon in your hand?" asked Tudur, for he had never seen such an instrument before. 

And now Tudur beheld through the dusk hundreds of pretty little sprites converging towards the spot where they stood, from all parts of the mountain. Some were dressed in white, and some in blue, and some in pink, and some carried glow-worms in their hands for torches. And so lightly did they tread that not a blade nor a flower was crushed beneath their weight, and every one made a curtsey or a bow to Tudur as they passed, and Tudur doffed his cap and moved to them in return. Presently the little minstrel drew his bow across the strings of his instrument, and the music produced was so enchanting that Tudur stood transfixed to the spot.' At the sound of the sweet melody, the Tylwyth Teg ranged themselves in groups, and began to dance. Now of all the dancing Tudur had ever seen, none was to be compared to that he saw at this moment going on. He could not help keeping time with his hands and feet to the merry music, but he dared not join in the dance, 'for he thought within himself that to dance on a mountain at night in strange company, to perhaps the devil's fiddle, might not be the most direct route to heaven.' But at last he found there was no resisting this bewitching strain, joined to the sight of the capering Ellyllon. 

'" Now for it, then," screamed Tudur, as he pitched his cap into the air under the excitement of delight. "Play away, old devil; brimstone and water, if you like!" No sooner were the words uttered than everything underwent a change. The gorse-blossom cap vanished from the minstrel's head, and a pair of goat's horns branched out instead. His face turned as black as soot; a long tail grew Out of his leafy coat, while cloven feet replaced the beetle-wing pumps. Tudur's heart was heavy, but his heels were light. Horror was in his bosom, but the impetus of motion was in his feet. The fairies changed into a variety of forms. Some became goats, and some became dogs, some assumed the shape of foxes, and others that of cats. It was the strangest crew that ever surrounded a human being. 

The dance became at last so furious that Tudur could not distinctly make out the forms of the dancers. They reeled around him with such rapidity that they almost resembled a wheel of fire. Still Tudur danced on. He could not stop, the devil's fiddle was too much for him, as the figure with the goat's horns kept pouring it out with unceasing vigour, and Tudur kept reeling around in spite of himself. 

Next day Tudur's master ascended the mountain in search of the lost shepherd and his sheep. He found the sheep all right at the foot of the Fron, but fancy his astonishment when, ascending higher. he saw Tudur spinning like mad in the middle of the basin now known as Nant yr Ellyllon.' Some pious words of the master broke the charm, and restored Tudur to his home in Llangollen, where he told his adventures with great gusto for many years afterwards.