Picturesque on its perch above the Teifi Gorge, Cilgerran Castle is so dramatic that it was sought out by the celebrated artists Wilson and Turner to preserve its image for posterity.
Although its origins are somewhat obscure, it is believed to have been built by the Normans in the 12th century and has had a chequered history. Some historians say it was built by Roger de Montgomery, others that Gilbert, Earl of Clare, was the builder and others that it was the work of Gerald of Windsor.
Together with Cardigan Castle it was captured in 1165 by the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth, lost to William Marshall, the First Earl of Pembroke, in 1204, recaptured by Prince Llywellyn the Great in 1215, and finally, with Cardigan, was repossessed by William Marshall 11 in 1223. Its history is a chronical of siege, destruction and repair. It was attacked on numerous occasions and repulsed two sieges, one in 1166 when the Lord Rhys resisted a combined force of Normans and Flemings.
Its strategic position and strong defensive properties evidently made it a very desirable fortress. Pevsner states that the present castle is mainly of 13th century construction, its renovation the work of three successive Marshal brothers, William, Gilbert and Walter, and was regarded both architecturally and politically as an adjunct of their mighty castle at Pembroke.
Pembroke-born Henry Tudor, after his victory at Bosworth, rewarded the Merioneth nobleman William Vaughan for his support in defeating Richard 111 in 1485, by making him custodian of Cilgerran. His grandson, Rhys Vaughan, built a mansion a mile south of the castle, called Glandyfan.
Between its massive round towers, the curtain wall survives almost to its original height, but slate quarrying in the 1860s caused the collapse into the gorge of part of the outer ward curtain wall. The base of an old limekiln survives just inside the inner gatehouse. Was the lime used as a weapon to be dropped into the eyes of invading enemies?
The gorge beneath the castle walls has become quite a tourist attraction in recent years with coracle annual races, the contestants manouevering their rudimentary boats, hand-made with willow laths covered with canvas and waterproofed with pitch. There is great rivalry between the Towy coraclemen of Carmarthen, and the Teifi coraclemen of Cardigan and Cenarth . Just over a mile to the north-west of Cilgerran is a modern visitor attraction, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales’s Welsh Wildlife Centre with its iconic curved, glass-roofed education and wildlife information building overlooking the Teifi Marshes. Nature trails take visitors on guided tours of the reserve, seeing the marsh birds and water buffalo, introduced to help maintain the marshes by grazing, and possibly catching a glimpse of the otters that thrive there. There is a large wicker sculpture, a willow maze and adventure playground for the children and, attached to the Centre building an elevated wooden tower, The Osprey Platform, commanding a birds-eye view of the marshes.