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The Historia Brittonum tells us how Vortigern fled from St Germanus into Wales, and into Gwrtheyrnion:
Historia Brittonum, Chapter 47
Was there a Caer Guorthigirn in Gwrthernion as well? There is one near the Wye, which is also the best candidate for his demise, which is Little Doward at Ganarew, Herefordshire. But in a guest-article at this site, Michael Veprauskas identified this particular part of the flight with a royal center in Gwrtheyrnion with Caer Beris, after David Nash Ford's identification of Caer Guorthigirn from the list of Civitates in the Historia Brittonum. However, another identification (by J.E. Lloyd after William Camden) was made in favour of Rhaeadr Gwy/Rhayader in Gwrtheyrnion (modern spelling Gwerthrynion) in Powys.
Here in Rhaeadr Gwy was a Castell Gwerthrynion, which belonged to Roger Mortimer in 1202. Of the castle, the mound only remains, but there are no visible traces except ditches.
It was William Camden, who in 1607 identified the remains of the medieval castle with that of Vortigern's stronghold:
Camden, Britannia, Radnor-Shire:
A modern comment on the site: "Rhayader Castle exploits a strong natural crag overlooking the Wye, and is defended on the north and east by rock-cut ditches with a causeway on the north-east which still provides access today. The northern ditch is the most readily visible, from the riverside path below, while that on the east is partly followed by a footpath. The summit of the site is undulating, and may contain the remains of buildings; a slight bank on the side away from the river may be part of a rampart above the eastern ditch. Any trace of a bailey has been lost below housing.
The castle was built by the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth in 1177, at the fringes of his kingdom, and was rebuilt by him in 1194. This later work may have been reinforcement in the face of a threat, since shortly afterwards the castle fell to Maelgwn and Hywel, sons of Cadwallon ap Madog of Maelienydd, the adjoining kingdom to the east. They almost immediately lost it to English Mortimer forces, but it was soon regained by the Lord Rhys. "The castle of Gwrtheyrnion" (the Rhayader area) was again regained by the Welsh in 1202, although it is not clear how they had lost it. The site was probably disused by the early 14th century; by the 16th Leland was unaware of any castle here.
There is another motte among the houses at Llansantffraed across the river, although the relationship between the two sites is unknown. They lay in separate administrative areas and may not have been in use at the same time" (Text by Helen Burnham).
Rhayader or Rhaeadr Gwy - Welsh for 'Waterfall on the Wye' - is situated in the heart of mid-Wales, at the cross-roads between the main east to west route - A44 from England to Cardigan Bay and the south to north A470. It is a busy Radnorshire livestock market town, with a population of 2,000, surrounded on all sides by the finest scenery: dramatic wooded valleys with swift mountain streams and waterfalls giving way to heather-topped hills and open moorland, contoured by glaciation alternating with natural lakes and rock formation, ancient oak woods rich in bird and wildlife, and the dams and reservoirs of the Elan and Claerwen valleys, draining into the beautiful River Wye.
Was Rhaedr Gwy the site of a Caer Guorthegirn? I would not dare to say no, though it is at least less likely that it is the one meant in chapter 47. Rhaeadr is very close to a Roman road, and Roman camps show on the map both to the east and west of the town, which shows its importance. Another one is a few miles to the north at St Harmon, which name (Harmon is the Welsh derivate of Germanus) strengthens the identification with Caer Guorthegirn. However, Little Doward is far more known, and it lies on top of the Wye as well. But, Ganarew is not in Gwerthrynion proper, which might mean that Rhaeadr Gwy is not such a bad candidate after all.
(I would like to thank mr. Collard of Rhayader for his support in providing me with several images and the text of William Camden.)
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