Like Dinefwr, four miles east, Dryslwyn is a 13th century castle in Carmarthenshire overlooking the River Towy, built on a small but steep-sided and commandingly-positioned hill, rising just 150 feet above the flat surroundings but high enough for far-reaching views up and down the valley, to the hills north and south, and across to the higher peaks of the Brecon Beacons in the east.
The hill is largely formed of Mydrim Limestone; an isolated, rocky island surrounded by alluvial plains, and so was a natural site for a defensive position, though it seems there were no more ancient installations here prior to the construction of the castle, probably in the 1220s by a member of the ruling family of Deheubarth, the exact person unknown.
Unlike Dinefwr, not so much remains, the majority having been deliberately destroyed early in the 15th century, but two sections of wall survive to near their full height, and much of the structure is clearly evident from foundations. The castle was relatively important in its time, and is notable for the intricate design; the only castle built by a Welsh native to have three wards - outer, middle and inner - together occupying all of the flattish land on the narrow, slightly elongated hilltop, which extends about 300 feet, from the outer gatehouse in the northeast to the great hall and accommodation block in the southwest, closest to the river.
The site is managed by Cadw, is free to enter, open all year, and reached by an easy walk of 0.2 miles uphill, to the northeast entrance.
Dryslwyn Castle was probably built by one of the three sons of Rhys ap Gruffydd, Lord of Deheubarth, and is first mentioned in a chronicle of 1246. Similarities in structure and layout imply it to be contemporaneous with Dinefwr, and designed by the same people. Later in the 13th century Dryslwyn was enlarged, over a period of several decades, finished shortly before the English capture of Wales, which was completed by 1283. The then owner, Rhys ap Maredudd (great-grandson of Rhys ap Gruffydd), was allowed to retain the castle due to his compliant behaviour, but this changed in 1287 when he instigated a minor revolt, resulting in capture of fortification after a three week siege by an 11,000 strong army under the command of Edward I. The castle remained under English control for over a century, until 1403, when it was seized during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, the last native Prince of Wales, but then swiftly retaken, and partially slighted to prevent future military use - including blocking the entrance routes and removing some of the defensive elements. All the wooden components were burned a few years later, probably deliberately, followed by removal of most of the remaining masonry, and the ruins are little changed today, after nearly 600 years.
The castle has a designated parking place, along the B4297 just north of the bridge over the River Towy - near Dryslwyn village, about half way between Llandeilo and Carmarthen. The bridge is relatively recent, constructed in the late 19th century; prior to this, crossing was via a footbridge, and a ford, the road then routed a little way east of its current location. The path to the castle starts on the far side of the road, rising through a belt of trees then up a grassy slope on the west side of the ruins before bending to the east and approaching the outer gatehouse.
The northernmost part of the castle, the outer gatehouse, is reduced to a pair of crumbling walls and a recess, this a popular sheltering place for the sheep who graze the site. A large tree grows right beside it. Low, earthen embankments show where the linked curtain wall once enclosed the outer ward, the last of the three sections to be completed, late in the 13th century. Similar scant masonry survives from the middle gate, which guarded the triangular-shaped middle ward, added in the mid-13th century, and just a few other stone remnants indicate the position of its walls, which incorporated a small area of higher ground, to the southeast. Excavations have revealed several inner walls in the middle ward, from rooms of unknown purpose.
By far the majority of the masonry at Dryslwyn Castle is from the inner ward, and about half of the visible structures are from the first building phase, early in the 13th century, the remainder from the enlargement in the mid 1200s. From the middle ward, a gateway leads to a corridor, past a pair of small rooms to the base of the round tower, or keep, the centrepiece of the original castle, and then to the open section of the ward, beyond which was the east hall, connected to the south tower, incorporating a chapel on its upper level, four of the windows still evident. Adjacent to the east hall is the basement of the great hall, and rooms from the apartment block, including a kitchen. The tall surviving sections are the south wall of the apartment block, including three large windows, and the south wall of the south tower; these are the two components that form the distinctive profile of the castle when seen from afar.