We still had sorrows to lighten,
One could not always be glad,
And lads knew trouble at Knighton,
When I was a Knighton lad.
A.E. Houseman: A Shropshire Lad
A town that straddles King Offa’s eighth-century border as well as the modern
Wales-England divide, Knighton (Tref-y-clawdd, “the town on the dyke”), twenty miles northeast of Llandrindod, has come into its own as the most obvious centre for those walking the Offa’s Dyke Path. Located almost exactly halfway along the route, Knighton, although without many specific sights, is a lively, attractive place that easily warrants a stopoff.
Knighton is the only original settlement on Offa’s Dyke, and today there is still a distinctly medieval look to the town, which clings to the side of a steep hill above the River Teme. St Edward’s Church sits at the bottom of the hill, and the main road climbs past a 19th century clock tower set in the middle of the bustling marketplace. From here it’s a long haul up the traffic-free ‘Narrows’, now lined with small shops, to the summit, where a Norman castle once stood.
In Norman times, Knighton was a walled town and had two castles. Bryn-y-Castell, the earlier one, was to the east of the town and was probably only a superior motte and bailey affair, for an earth mound is all that remains. The later castle was of stone and was built by William de Braose in the 12th century. The site he chose was high over the town at the top of The Narrows. Eventually the castle was acquired by those mightiest of border barons, the Mortimers. This was an honour Knighton could have well forsworn since the name of Mortimer seems to have been synonymous with battles; battles to seize properties and battles to retain them. Their history was long and bloody and in 1260 when, true to form, they were hotly engaged in a war with Llewellyn the Last, Knighton was attacked by the Welsh, and Castle and town were burned. Nearly a century and a half later, in 1402, Owain Glyndwr was ravaging the country and Knighton castle was again burned and Edmund Mortimer defeated in a great battle at nearby Pilleth.