Nevern Castle (or Castell Nanhyfer in Welsh) is a Norman motte and bailey castle dating from the early 12th Century. In the 12th Century it served as the administrative centre for the region. Today it is the subject of ongoing archaeological research and is freely accessible to the public.
The castle at Nevern was built on an easily defensible site. It sits at the northern end of the valley carved by the River Nyfer and the castle and its watchtower would have had a good view down the valley. The castle itself sits above a steep gorge on a tributary of the Nyfer and is defended on its other sides by steep rock banks.
Nevern Castle was constructed by Robert fitz Martin, Lord of Cemais, sometime around 1108. He had participated in the Norman invasion of Wales and was rewarded with the cantref of Cemais.
Robert decided to make Castell Nanhyfer the centre of his administration. The castle was probably built on top of an existing Iron Age fortification. There is evidence that it had been occupied by Cuhelyn, the ousted local Welsh lord.
Robert fitz Martin built a wooden motte and bailey castle here. There is evidence that it was a fair-sized site with a watchtower on top of the motte and a number of wooden buildings inside the northern and western ramparts.
In 1136 there was a Welsh uprising against Norman control. Forces from Gwynedd and Deheubarth seized Ceredigion and forced the Normans out of south Wales. Nevern Castle came back under the control of the Welsh.
By the 1170s Nevern was in the hands of Lord Rhys. Robert's son William fitz Martin married Lord Rhys's daughter and was thus back in control at Nevern.
It is unclear whether it was Rhys or William who built the stone castle here. The tower was replaced with stone keep made from Welsh slate held together with clay. At the other end of the compound there was a stone square tower which was separated from the castle by a deep ditch.
After the death of Henry II in 1189 Wales was in turmoil. Lord Rhys and his sons Maelgwn and Hywel fought for control of the region and Nevern changes hands a few times in the struggle.
Lord Rhys himself was held prisoner here in 1194 by his sons, though Hywel eventually let his father go.
In 1195 it is recorded that Hywel dismantled Nevern to prevent it falling into Norman hands. When the Normans regained their power in the region they didn't rebuild Nevern and instead moved the base of power to nearby Newport Castle.
Today Nevern Castle is in the care of Nevern Community Council. In partnership with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority they aim to look after the site, research its history and open it up to the public.
The castle is the site of ongoing archaeological research. The first digs started in 2008 and the work continues to this day. Full details of the excavations and their discoveries are available on the Nevern Castle website.
Facilities available at the castle include waymarked paths and information panels and laminated trail leaflets to guide you round. There are no toilets at the castle however there are public toilets just a short walk away in the village. There are free guided tours around the archaeological digs. Tours for groups and schools can be arranged by contacting the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority on 0845 345 7275.
The motte at Nevern Castle
The motte for the Square Tower at Nevern Castle