Mathrafal Castle has a wonderful and chequered history. Once the administrative centre of Wales, this example of a Motte and Bailey Castle has drawn a lot of interest over the years. The three mature Oak trees stand together on top of the old Castle mound, a shrine to the 9th Century Seat of Kings and Princes of Wales. Beneath the mound runs the river Banwy, which gushes over boulders and down into a deep pool that lies in the shadow of the ancient site. If you are lucky, as I once was, you may see an river Otter gliding through the water.
It is a magical place to be and the sense of history is strong. The site has changed dramatically over centuries and in recent times a small collection of agricultural barns sat beneath of the old mound. In late Spring farmers from the area would bring their sheep to the barns for dipping, the natural sluice in the river down to the deep pool was perfect to 'throw' the sheep down for cleaning. The sheep would slide down the sluice and then swim out through the pool and scrabble up the sides to the field beyond. A frowned upon practice in this day and age.
Just over five years ago the old barns beneath Mathrafal Castle were bought with the idea of developing the site for domestic use. Jamie worked closely with the conservation team during the planning stages to ensure that the conversion of the barns would be sympathetic to the site and Castle. Once the planning application was approved an archaeological watching brief was carried out to ensure that any findings were properly recorded and collected. It was an interesting process and the outcome were some useful discoveries, such as a piece of Medieval pottery.
Stone used to back-fill the (very) old ditch
Five years on, and in the present day, we have been granted planning permission for the erection of a small stable outbuilding in the field next to the converted barn complex and Mathrafal Castle. As a condition to the planning permission it was required to have an archaeologist present whilst the foundations were being dug.
We were sceptical that any archaeological findings would be discovered in the field as it is outside the immediate area of the Scheduled Monument. Therefore, it was with excitement that today the archaeologist discovered what looks like a ditch, approximately two metres and more wide, that at some point in time has been back-filled with stone from the river. All sorts of theories are being bandied around, each as interesting as the other. Was it a defensive ditch to the Castle? Why did it get covered up? How big and where did it go?
The archaeologist was also looking for specks of charcoal, that would have been carried with the smoke from fireplaces in the homes of people living within the Castle walls. These specks in theory would land on the mound of earth created in the digging of a ditch, and then when the earth was re-instated, would lie beneath the ground. It was exciting to then actually see evidence of charcoal streaks and specks in the sub-soil, and brought history to life as I conjured up images of peoples lives in the Medieval times. Of course these are speculations at the moment...
I am looking forward to reading the archaeologists report and will write more soon!
Written by Rebecca Cook