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  • Michael Smith, printmaker, Mythical Britain

Castell Dinas Bran - a snowy linocut print

An evocative Welsh ruin

Castell Dinas Bran is surely one of the most evocative ruins in the whole of Wales, certainly in so far as the castles of the native Welsh princes are concerned.

Located high on its hill above the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen in Denbighshire, its instantly recognisable twin-arched hall is an invitation for all visitors down below to make the ascent to the summit and see the wondrous views.

I have been both fascinated and inspired by Dinas Bran for many years and have climbed to the summit on at least two occasions. Although relatively little remains, a visit will always repay the effort for those interested in native Welsh castles, containing as it does some fascinating features and also creating a real feeling of what it must have been like to have been a Welsh prince in those distant times.

Creating the print

Inspired by the ruins - and also by their isolated location - I decided to create this linocut print of Dinas Bran on a bitter winter's day. Having studied a number of angles, I plumped for a print showing the castle's most distinctive features - the remains of the apsidal tower and the twin windows of the castle's once great hall.

I always begin with the master plate (which will ultimately form the key block for the print) as this helps me define the composition and then get a feel for what I wish to emphasise and how I then need to negotiate the tricky issue of colour blending.

In this instance, I decided on a three colour approach - key block and two secondary blocks - with the idea that the two secondary blocks should be a shade of blue and the master block being a very dark blue-black tint. The reason for this is because I wanted the finished print to create the idea of seeing somewhere at night, when all colours are subdued by the darkness. By setting the scene in a snowy environment, I was then able to "add" a fourth colour, white (the paper itself) to cromplete the composition.

As with all my work, I like to print "wet on wet", allowing the inks to blend with each other to create colour merges. This can be high risk on occasions but here I was delighted with the finished result - an edition of 12 prints, original signed editions are available to purchase on this site should you wish.

History of Dinas Bran

Castell Dinas Bran almost certainly has its origins in the Iron Age, surrounded at it is by a large ditch similar to many hilltop settlements across the British Isles. Apart from this, much of what remains today dates probably from the thirteenth century.

The castle is referred to in the mediaeval story of Fouke Fitz Waryn (Fulk Fitzwarren) which dates from around 1330 and is today in the British Library in London. The story, in typical florid style, links the castle to ancient Britons (descended of course from Brutus) and says that after a battle between Coryneus and Geogmagog, the place was a ruin until it was rebuilt by King Bran fitz Donwal.

What can be gleaned from the suriving ruins is somewhat more prosaic. The castle is in many ways typical of those built by the Welsh being of an irregular plan, crude construction and located prominently in the landscape. Yet it also contains a number of interesting features including a strongly-constructed square keep, the remains of a hall and apsidal tower and an unusual twin-towered gatehouse - dimunutive yet sophisticated.

Richard Avent (Castles of the Princes of Gwynedd / Cestyll Tywysogion Gwynedd, 1982) tells us that the castle was probably built by the lords of Powys Fadog in the 1260s. In Colvin's History of the King's Works, we learn that Dinas Bran was burned down and abandoned to the English in 1277 at the beginning of the Welsh wars. It is not entirely clear whether the castle was finished before its destruction occurred.

The castle is now managed by Denbighshire County Council and Cadw.

Find out more about Castell Dinas Bran

The following links tell you a little more about Castell Dinas Bran:

Castles of Wales site - Castell Dinas Bran (great photographs of the site)

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