Perhaps the most compelling character in Cilgerran’s long history is the famously beautiful Welsh princess called Nest. Except that in those days Cilgerran didn’t actually exist.
Nest was the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, once the ruler of southern Wales. She was quite a catch for her Norman husband Gerald of Windsor, who built a splendid castle called Cenarth Bychan to keep her safe. Historians suspect this was the original stronghold on the site that became known as Cilgerran.
In 1109 Nest was abducted, perhaps not entirely reluctantly, by her second-cousin Owain ap Cadwgan, who stormed the castle walls with a company of 14 men and set fire to the wooden buildings. Her husband Gerald had to make a rather humiliating escape via the privy.
This wasn’t Nest’s only amorous adventure. She became mistress to a number of powerful men including King Henry I, earning herself the nickname ‘Helen of Wales’ after the femme fatale of Homer’s Iliad, Helen of Troy.
Cilgerran suffered heavy damage over centuries of conflict between the Normans and the Welsh princes. By the end of the 18th century it was a Romantic ruin painted by the likes of JMW Turner and Richard Wilson. But there was nothing romantic about its continued decline. Not too many artists were still around by 1909 when it was being used as a public toilet and hen-roost.
Now you can once again experience the grandeur of Cilgerran’s setting high above the River Teifi – and imagine what life might have been like for a Welsh princess 900 years ago.