Castell Henllys is something of a paradox. Although the structures on the site are centuries younger than Pembrokeshire’s many Norman castles, the site itself is at least 1,000 years older.
The answer? The structures are replica Iron Age roundhouses built in the last 30 years on the foundations of the original circular dwellings of a 2,000 years old hill fort settlement between Newport and Eglwyswrw.
It is unique in that it is the only Iron Age Fort in Britain where replica roundhouses have been built on the original foundations, and it started out as an experimental educational resource, the brainchild of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority. A Scheduled Ancient Monument, the site had been extensively excavated and studied by university archaeologists and students and has become a much-visited living museum for schools throughout Wales and holidaymakers in Pembrokeshire. Visitors can sit in the flickering firelight in the roundhouses, savouring the atmosphere of Stone and Iron Age living in authentic surroundings and listening to tales of Celtic life two millennia ago. The site is owned and managed by the National Park Authority, and, as well as taking a tour of the compound, visitors can browse in the award-winning Education Centre, watch live images from the fort or view a film exploring North Pembrokeshire. Stepping over the threshold of a roundhouse is like being whisked back through time, learning that the occupants of these fascinating pyramid-shaped thatched homes were far more sophisticated and civilised than might be imagined. The woodsmoke curling up from the central fireplace to exit through the hole in the roof is far less intrusive than the smoke you find in houses a thousand years younger in the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans. And the dwellings are much warmer than one would expect.
School trips are constant and the children return with a useful grasp of what life was like in ancient times.
Numerous special events take place at Castell Henllys (It means Old Court Castle). Prehistoric Extravaganza Days are arranged when the crafts and techniques used by our ancestors are demonstrated and there are activities which include storytelling, ancient games and refreshments. Visitors can also enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience with Karl Lee, one of the only professional flint-knappers in the UK, demonstrating the techniques used by Neolithic man to make their stone tools and weapons, such as arrowheads, spears and hand axes. Booking is essential as Karl is usually only at Castell Henllys for a day at a time in April, May and August. Weaponry and warfare are also demonstrated at certain times by Will Llawerch, showing how our Celtic ancestors survived by their skill in hunting and in battle, while wood-turning on a pole-lathe, felt-making and metalworking can also be seen in progress. During a day at the site visitors have the opportunity to meet some of the Iron Age ‘residents’ and learn about their everyday lives, their warrior training, hunting and feasting.