Ruthin is situated in the Vale of Clwyd in the county of Denbighshire, North Wales.
It is approximately 27 miles from Chester, 18 miles from the North Wales coast, and approx. 15 miles from the Snowdonia National Park. Its location makes it ideal for touring North East Wales and the North Wales Borders.
For such a small town with a population of some 5000 Ruthin has more than its fair share of history. On arriving in Ruthin you will find that wherever you park your car all you need do to find St Peter's square, the town square, is walk up the hill.
The town is built on the top of a red sandstone hill and has delightful views of the Clwydian Hills from the town square.
St Peter's Square: Ruthin has more listed buildings than any other market town in North Wales, and there are several delightful old buildings in St Peter's Square. The Square is the focal point of the town and is home to the Clock Tower erected in 1885. There are seats in the square where you can sit and watch the world go by, or simply enjoy the delightful views of the Welsh countryside, and if ever they have the courage to ban cars from the square it will be even more pleasant!
Ruthin's first gaol is thought to have been located in the Old Court House of the Lordship of Ruthin on St Peter's Square. This handsome half-timbered building, now the NatWest Bank, was built about 1404 following Owain Glyndwr's attack on the town that left very few houses standing. Most executions at Ruthin were carried out on St Peter's Square and part of the timber gibbet can be seen on the north-west wall of the Court House.
The locals are proud of their history and will be happy to point out the remains of the gibbet. It is thought the last person executed was a Catholic Priest, who was hung, drawn and quartered in 1679.
Across the Square, behind the magnificent 18th century wrought-iron gates you will find St. Peter's Church, founded in 1284.
Myths and Legends
Maen Huail: On the west side of the square in front of Exmewe House (now a Bank) is Maen Huail, a large stone, on which, according to legend, Huail, son of Caw and brother of Gildas the historian, was beheaded for crossing King Arthur in love. It is said that moss only grows where the blood of Huail has trickled!
Elsewhere in the square you will find examples of houses proposed in the Bible where "learned men with the opportunity of leisure receive wisdom, and they that had little business became wise" [Ecclesiastes] …also known as Pubs or Inns, Public Houses, or Hostelries. There are two fine examples next to each other in the square: the 16th century Myddleton Arms, also known as the "Seven Eyes of Ruthin" because of it's unusual Dutch style roof with seven dormer windows; and the Georgian, Castle Hotel, formerly known as the White Lion a very old coaching stop between Chester and Holyhead.
Ruthin Castle: The castle was built under the direction of King Edward I of England in 1277, as a buffer against the Welsh. Construction of the castle was begun by Dafydd, the brother of the Welsh prince, Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, but he forfeited the castle when he joined Llewellyn's rebellion against the English King. Llewellyn was killed in 1282 and a year later Dafydd was defeated, he was hung, drawn and quartered and his head sent to the Tower of London.
The defeat of Llewellyn effectively ended the principality of North Wales, and the Marcher Lord, Reginald de Grey, Justiciar of Chester, was given the administrative area of the Vale of Clwyd, and his family ran the area for the next 226 years.
In 1400, over a hundred years after the building of the castle, and another Welsh Rebellion had a tragic effect on the town of Ruthin. The third Baron de Grey was in dispute with one Owain Glyndwr over Glyndwr's Dee estates. This was the trigger for the Welsh Rebellion, led by Glyndwr, which began on St Matthew's Day 1400.
Lord Grey controlled Ruthin Castle, and thus the castle and Ruthin became Glyndwr's first target. The attack surprised all and Glyndwr burned Ruthin to the ground, reputedly leaving only the castle and a few other buildings standing. Lord Grey evaded capture and the castle held out, but Glyndwr was not to be done out of his vengeance. Two years later, he defeated an English army and captured Lord Grey, only releasing him on payment of a ransom.
Ruthin Castle saw service again during the English Civil War when it resisted attack by Parliamentary forces. However, after a further eleven-week siege in 1646 the Royalist garrison surrendered and the castle was slighted by order of Parliament.
The castle had consisted of two wards and five round towers guarding the inner ward. All that remains are three towers and the ruined double-towered gatehouse. The castle was much rebuilt in the 19th century as a country house, and is now a luxury hotel. The Ruthin Castle Hotel holds Mediaeval Banquets accompanied by traditional music.
Ruthin Gaol: The first House of Correction, or Bridewell, was built at the bottom of Clwyd Street in 1654, to replace the Old Court House, where "able-bodied idlers and the unemployed" were sent to do work. In January 1775, work began to build a new model prison in Ruthin on the site of the old Bridewell. By 1865, The Prisons Act set new standards again for the design of prisons and plans were drawn up for a new four-storey wing. The new prison, accommodating up to 100 prisoners, was built in the style of London's Pentonville Prison at a cost of £12,000. As far as is known, only one person was ever executed in the prison, William Hughes of Denbigh, aged 42, who was hanged on 17 February 1903 for the murder of his wife, his plea of insanity having failed.
Ruthin Gaol ceased to be a prison in 1916 when the prisoners and guards were transferred to Shrewsbury. During the Second World War, the prison buildings were used as a munitions factory, before being handed back to the County Council and reinvented as the headquarters of the Denbighshire Library Service. In 2002 the Gaol was extensively renovated and reopened as a museum as it is today. It is a grand building and is well worth a visit. The courtyard, along with the traditional Town Crier, is used for Farmers' Markets and Craft Fairs.
Walks, Cycle Trails and Other Activities
Walks: There are many delightful walks in the Ruthin area, many villages are within easy walking distance, many with an historic church, and a pub for refreshment. Choose the level ground of the Vale of Clwyd walk, the Clwydian Trail, or give old Shanks's Pony more of a run out and take the winding country lanes to the rolling hills of the Clwydian Range some two to three miles to the east. Long distance walkers will appreciate the “Offa's Dyke Path,” the first section of which, from Prestatyn through the Clwyd Hills, passes within three miles of Ruthin.
Mountain Bike Trails: Being close to the Clwyd Hills Ruthin is an ideal base for mountain bike holidays. There are several excellent trails in the hills nearby. The Ruthin Loop De Loop Mountain Bike Trail comprises of 5 interlinked loops and really has the potential to test even the most hardened rider. The full route is 33miles, 53.5Km approx. and a ride time of 6hrs with total height climbed of 1570m. The start point is the Car Park opposite the craft centre in Ruthin.
The Over the Top Mountain Bike Trail is a superb intermediate ride that takes you to the highest permissive point for mountain bikes on the Clwyd Range of Hills. The total distance is 22 miles, 34Km with a ride time of 3.5hrs, and total height climbed of 545m. The views are breathtaking, so too are some of the climbs. From the peaceful trails of Clwyd forest to fantastic grassy descents within the Moel Famau Country Park this route really is not to be missed. Again the start point is the Car Park opposite craft centre in Ruthin.
The Llyn Brenig Mountain Bike Trail as its name suggests is an easy route that allows you to circumnavigate Llyn (Lake) Brenig, a large man made reservoir. With its start point at the visitor centre cups of tea and cakes are never too far away. The route over the dam wall and around the shoreline provides that wilderness feeling, whilst not having to endure the long climbs and difficult terrain to get there. Certainly, a trail for all the family and with only one noticeable climb. The Start Point is at the main Car Park at Llyn Brenig Visitor Centre some 10 miles from Ruthin.
Castles and Forts
Ruthin Castle: The castle was built under the direction of King Edward I of England in 1277, as a buffer against the Welsh. Construction of the castle was begun by Dafydd, the brother of the Welsh prince, Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, but he forfeited the castle when he joined Llewellyn's rebellion against the English King. Llewellyn was killed in 1282 and a year later Dafydd was defeated, he was hung, drawn and quartered and his head sent to the Tower of London. See more Ruthin Castle information listed under history above.
The Ruthin Craft Centre: Described as a “dynamic zinc and cast stone building with undulating roofs to echo the surrounding Clwydian hills.” It has three galleries, six artist studios, retail gallery, education and residency workshops, tourist information gateway and café with courtyard terrace.
Personally, I do not think the roof “echoes the surrounding Clwydian hills” at all, and the roof looks horrible. The roof does not “undulate,” it zig zags in straight lines. What is wrong with Welsh slate or Ruabon tiles If carefully done both slate or tiles could have been used to truly reflect the undulating Clwydian Hills.
Llyn Brenig: The lake of Llyn Brenig some 10 miles to the west is a local attraction with plenty to offer for those who like activity holidays. With fishing, walking, and mountain bike trails around the lake to name just a few of the activities available.
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Llangollen: The famous Llangollen Canal (10 miles as the crow flies) and the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (a World Heritage site), the Llangollen Railway, and opportunities for many activities including rafting, canoeing, kayaking, climbing, abseiling, and gorge walking.
Erddig Hall: Slightly further afield (13 miles as the crow flies) you find the late 17th century house, Erddig Hall. Erddig is one of the best examples of 'life below stairs' in Britain. It offers a fascinating insight into the daily life of provincial gentry, and the entire population of servants, skivvies, and estate workers. A range of outbuildings includes a kitchen, laundry, bake house, stables, sawmill, smithy and joiners shop, while staterooms display most of the original 18th and 19th century furniture. The large walled garden has been restored to its 18th century formal design and the surrounding Country Park offers much of historic interest including a Saxon earthwork known as Wat's Dyke and the remains of a Norman castle mound.
Accommodation and Services
Car Parking is available at the bottom of the town hill, adjacent to the Craft Centre.
Ruthin has accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets, from camping and caravanning to luxury hotels and self-catering properties set in wonderful locations. Ruthin has excellent specialised shopping.