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Bangor to Conwy (Gerald’s Journey Through Wales 1188)

The River Conwy, the Welsh castle of Deganwy, the Cistercian monastery of Aberconwy, and Rhuddlan


This is a series about the journey that Archbishop Baldwin and Gerald of Wales took in 1188 to preach the crusade throughout Wales. Gerald kept a detailed account of the journey and their surroundings, which he later published. The series began with some background posts about Gerald. If you want to read the series from the beginning, go here.

Following their recruiting efforts on Anglesey, the group crossed back over the Menai Strait and stayed the night in Bangor. In Bangor they were shown the tomb of Prince Owain Gwynedd, which was a mistake.Owain Gwynedd coat of arms

Owain Gwynedd was excommunicated by the great saint Thomas Beckett, and Archbishop Baldwin was very angry to find him buried in hallowed ground. He ordered Bishop Gwion to move the corpse immediately. This put Bishop Gwion in a pinch because of popular opinion about Owain Gwynedd. It is said that he moved the corpse later by tunnelling secretly into the tomb.

Leaving Bishop Gwion to puzzle over moving the body, the party left Bangor, moving east along the coast road. Across the sea to the north they could see Priestholm, now known as Puffin Island. Gerald wrote about the pious hermit-monks who lived there. No women were ever allowed on the island, but it was infested with ‘tiny little mice’, probably voles. If the hermit quarrelled amongst themselves, God would punish them and bring them to their senses by having the voles eat all their provisions.

Bangor to Conwy

The coast road skirted the Carneddau Mountains and came to the River Conwy. The river was wide and a strong line of defence, cutting across the coast road and blocking the invasion route from England. A century later, Edward I built Conwy Castle on the west bank of the river to consolidate his conquest. In Gerald’s time the estuary was dominated by the Welsh castle of Deganwy and the Cistercian monastery of Aberconwy.

The party crossed the river by boat and were welcomed by Prince Dafydd and entertained royally in his castle at Rhuddlan. The remains of this castle are the enormous sixty-foot high mound (now known as Twthill) beside the later Conwy Castle.

Before leaving Rhuddlan the next morning they preached their last recorded sermon on Welsh soil and recruited many crusaders. It was now the Wednesday before Easter, and the travellers were anxious to reach Chester by Good Friday.

[adapted from A Mirror of Medieval Wales by Charles Kightly]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at