Longtown Castle, Herefordshire


The keep
Keep and bailey walls

Small Norman castle consisting of a circular keep above substantial bailey walls, on a hill near the River Monnow, facing the east side of the Black Mountains
The village of Longtown, 10 miles north of Abergavenny; HR2 0LE
Photo Tour (16 images)
The late Norman castle at Longtown, in west Herefordshire near the border with Monmouthshire in Wales, is relatively small and not often visited, but is still quite impressive, consisting of a sturdy, three story round keep atop an artificial hill, adjoining a walled bailey, and entered through the remains of a gatehouse on the south side. Originally known as Ewais Lacey Castle on account of its owners the de Lacy family, the keep was built around 1220, on the site of an earlier fortification, and the castle was in use for at least the next 300 years. A village was established nearby, extending for some distance along the road, and later became known as Longtown; it flourished for a time but then decreased in size, probably due to the Black Death, and has remained small ever since.

The castle and the settlement are part of an extensive, gently hilly, rather remote region accessed only by minor roads, between the valley of the River Dore to the east and a long, high, narrow ridge to the west, this the edge of the Black Mountains, most of which are part of Brecon Beacons National Park. There are no facilities at the castle apart from a small parking area along the access road, and some information panels; all the ruins can be seen in less than half an hour.


Longtown is reached from the south by an undesignated road that forks off the A465 at Pandy, follows the River Monnow northwards, and arrives at the village after 4.7 miles. The castle sits on top of a low ridge on the west side of the river - a strategically important site, overlooking a tributary (Olchon Brook) to the west, and close to the confluence with another drainage, Escley Brook on the other side. More narrow, winding country roads access the village from the north and the east.

The Castle

A short path runs between a house and a public garden to the castle entrance, in a gap in the wall of the outer bailey, most of which is now just a grassy enclosure, lined by trees on three sides. The north edge is bounded by a straight stone wall, part of the fortification of the inner bailey, entered through the remains of the gatehouse, which includes grooves from a portcullis. The inner bailey is approximately triangular in shape, with the elevated keep at the far corner, on a motte (mound) 30 feet high. The motte and the bailey are brightened by yellow daffodils and variably-coloured primrose flowers in the spring. Most of the keep retains its full height but part of the walls are missing all the way to ground level. A few steps lead to the interior, where various details can be seen including windows, a fireplace, corbels (projections that once supported floor beams) and the remains of a latrine. Originally, the lower floor was a basement, entered by steps down from the first floor, while the uppermost level was accessed via a spiral staircase. The walls of the keep are up to five feet thick at the base.


There is no evidence for Roman occupation of the castle site, though this is considered likely; instead the first confirmed use was during the Saxon times and then, after the Norman conquest, the place became owned by the de Lacy family who built the motte, topped originally by a timber fort. This was replaced by the stone keep at the start of the 13th century, then, a little later, the bailey walls were added. Ownership changed several times soon after, and the place became largely disused. The castle was repaired in 1403 by Henry IV, for use in defending against Welsh insurgencies led by Owain Glyndwr, but these did not last long and the castle was finally abandoned a few decades later. The keep may have been involved in the Civil War, since the damage visible today - the full height breach in the walls - is characteristic of the slighting carried out on many castles after the war to prevent any further use in such conflicts.