Category Archives: Vistas

A walk to Llechlwyd Iron Age hillfort, Tonfanau

The location of the two hillforts above Tonfanau, with Llechlwyd on the promontory, right.

Llechlwyd (sometimes referred to as Llechrwyd) hillfort is located on a long, narrow promontory that extends out from the hill above Tonfanau, Mynydd Garreg (Garreg hill), a short distance from Tywyn.  Llechlwyd means “grey (lwyd) stone (llech).”  At a height of 70m OD it is considerably lower than nearby Tal y Garreg hillfort (170m OD).  If you have not read my post about Tal y Garreg hillfort I suggest you read that first, because this post makes frequent reference to it.  Like Tal y Garreg, Llechlwyd has not been excavated, but it conforms to the basic design of an Iron Age hillfort, and is generally accepted to be of that period.  Llechlwyd is only a short walk from Tal y Garreg, but is a rather more difficult hillfort to reach.  The relative positions of the two hillfort are shown in the aerial photograph on the above left. The dark shadows to the left of both hillforts highlight parts of the Tonfanau stone quarry, which has cut away bits of both.

My route up and down Mynydd Garreg, above Tonfanau.  The shading in purple shows Tal y Garreg at the top and Llechlwyd below.  Source: Archwilio, with my route drawn in.

The routes up and down the hill that I took can by seen at the end of the post.  Apologies for the legend “style” instead of “stile” in the photographs above and left, but I only realized after I had posted this piece.  I parked by the Tonfanau bridge, on the Tywyn side, and walked to the bridle path, up the hill, over the stile, and back along the ridge towards the easily visible hillfort of Tal y Garreg, which makes excellent use of a natural rise in the topography.  Then, instead of going through the fence to Tal y Garreg, I turned left and walked along the fence, passing Tal y Garreg on my right.  This fence leads directly into Llechlwyd. On the aeriel photograph above it looks like a straightforward walk along the ridge, but in fact there’s a rather steep drop from the ridge to the promontory below, with a 100ft difference between the heights of the two hillorts. This can be seen clearly in the picture at the top of the post.  The route down is along very indistinct sheep tracks through coarse gorse – very rough on the lower legs if you are wearing shorts!  There’s no way through the fence, which is topped with barbed wire, and it splits the hillfort in two, so you have to retrace your footsteps towards Tal y Garreg when you want to return to the valley.  I returned via the quarry track that leads down into the old quarry yard, which itself is part of a footpath that skirts the northern base of the hill.

The date range for Llechlwyd is unknown because the site has not been excavated.  It has features typical of an Iron Age hillfort, but as the the Iron Age spans the period c.800/600BC – AD43, overlapping with the Roman occupation (AD43-c.410) that doesn’t narrow it down a great deal.  Unfortunately the structural remains alone are not sufficient to establish a narrower time frame.

Aerial view of Llechlwyd, annotated. Source of photograph: Coflein

Llechlwyd is something of a curiosity.  Although it has excellent views over the Dysynni valley and the coast to the north and south, it is in a very low position relative to the line of the hill above and behind it, with absolutely no visibility of anyone approaching along the ridge.  Although there are two banks and ditches across the promontory, it would be incredibly difficult to defend if the promontory was approached from the rear.  This would argue that either it was used in conjunction with Tal y Garreg hillfort, or that its purpose was not defensive.  Tal y Garreg today is often hidden within low cloud, not an ideal feature for a site presumably located at least partially for its views over the surrounding landscape.  In the Iron Age the temperature fluctuated, but was generally far more wet and cloudy than in the preceding Bronze Age.  This might be a good reason for establishing a secondary, lower fort to maintain clear visibility even in bad weather.  Unfortunately, it is not known whether Llechlwyd and Tal y Garreg were actually contemporary.

Another view of Llechlwyd. Source: Apple Maps

The quarry has removed part of the site, but the remaining banks and ditches are still visible and the aerial photographs above and left show where the large banks and entrance are located along the promontory. The big inner rampart, 3.6m high, consists primarily of stone.  The outer rampart is 3.2m high and the ditch 1.9m deep. The entrance, at the west end, is in-turned and sits on a steep slope of the hill. The steep sides provided enough protection on three sides, and the banks and ditches were used to secure the access to the ridge.  No excavation or geophysical survey have taken place, and the aerial photographs reveal nothing about what may lie beneath the surface of the hillfort, so we remain ignorant of any possible hut circles or storage structures.

The hillfort has lines of sight to Bwlch hillfort on Foel Llanfendigaid, c.2km to the north, and Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock), c.8km to the east.   Its main views are over the Dysynni valley immediately at its foot, as far as Craig yr Aderyn, and along the coast to the north and south.  The modern quarry makes the lines of sight between Llechlwyd and Tal y Garreg difficult to assess.  It is possible that the occupants of Llechlwyd would have been able to see a stretch of the ramparts of Tal y Garreg, and by the same token the occupants may have been able to see into Llechlwyd, but it is also possible that the topography blocked the line of sight completely.  It is a marvellous spot for a look-out over the lowlands, but, as mentioned above, to its rear it is overlooked by a steep slope that links the promontory with the rest of Mynydd Garreg.

Looking down over Llechlwyd promontory hillfort, with the Dysynni and the sea beyond

View over the Dysynni Broadwater. The valley will have had a different look to it during the Iron Age, but will have had a similar value for subsistence strategies

View across the broadwater towards Tywyn and over Cardigan Bay

View to the east

A very murky view of Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock), upon which another hillfort was built, to the east of Llechlwyd and Tal y Garret

A view to Bwlch hillfort to the north, with the Llyn Peninsula visible on the horizon.

There are no signs of Iron Age domestic structures hereabouts, but they will have been somewhere in the valley, visible from the hillfort, distributed at a similar frequency to modern farmsteads.  Livestock herding was probably the most practical subsistence activity, just as it is today.

At the other end of Mynydd Garreg, about 1.5km away, shown on the map above, is the hillfort Castell Mawr.  It is not visible from Tal y Garreg or Llechlwyd,  Castell Mawr has a secondary enclosure attached to it, which may have been used for corralling livestock.  If the area’s hillforts were related and friendly, it may be that Castell Mawr was used as a local livestock trading point, or as the gathering point for moving livestock further afield.  Without excavation such musings are pure speculation, particularly in view of the fact that it is not known if they were contemporary, but these are the sort of question that excavation might help to answer.  Excavation could provide insight into construction methods and artefacts, both of which could give an idea of the date of construction and the usage of the site, and would help to establish the chronological relationship between neighbouring hillforts and between these and the hillforts of other areas.

Sources:

Bowen, E.G. and Gresham, C.A. 1967.  History of Merioneth, volume 1.  From the earliest times to the Age of the Native Princes.  The Merioneth Historical and Record Society.

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2009.  A visitor guide to the main Iron Age hill forts of Meirionnydd.  Project No. G1770. Report No. 839

Sjöberg, K.S. 2014.  Hidden possibilities.  Possible uses of hillforts in southern Gwynedd, north-west Wales. Unpublished Masters thesis, Uppsala University, Department of archaeology and ancient history. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A799381&dswid=8151

Websites:

Archwilio
https://www.archwilio.org.uk/her/chi1/arch.html?county=Gwynedd&lang=eng

Coflein
https://www.coflein.gov.uk/

White horses and honeycomb reefs at low tide – the beach at Sandilands (Tywyn)

After a walk along the Dysynni last week, I did a three point turn by the footbridge and drove back along the line of the railway.  Instead of turning left to head back towards Tywyn I decided to turn right over the level crossing and park up to see if I could reproduce the picture from the Cardigan Bay Visitor that I posted last week.    Unfortunately for that plan I had reckoned without the addition of a caravan park since the original illustration was drawn, and both the railway track and the village were completely hidden behind it.  On the other hand, the beach at low tide was a complete revelation.

This part of Tywyn is apparently called Sandilands, but is something of a misnomer.  There is certainly sand on the beach, but mostly it is a mixture of fine and coarse gravel, surprisingly harsh on the feet, with some swathes of pebbles around, all divided by wooden breakers.  I had never seen it at low tide, and was amazed to see that the sloping beach ended in huge green-topped rocks and lovely weed-filled rock pools with sand between them, with an enormous stretch of wide open sea on the other side.  The sea was splendid, with lovely white-topped waves chasing each other in, crashing on the rocks and pebbles and sounding just what a seaside should sound like.

There were quite a few people around, most large family/friend groups, but not so many that social distancing was a problem, and it was all terribly civilized.  I had really enjoyed having the Tonfanau beach all to myself, but it was also splendid to see people of all ages launching themselves into the waves and having a really great time.  The caravan park overlooking the beach takes the edge off the beauty of the place, but keep your eyes facing seawards and there is nothing to disappoint.

I was intrigued by what looked like huge boulders made of coral.  When I stooped to touch one, it was clear that these rock-like structures were made of sand, and consisted of fine walls dividing thousands of tiny tunnels. The beach is full of them, and they are really very lovely.  After a rumble round the web I found that they are Honeycomb worm (Sabellaria alveolata) colonies.  The reef structures resemble honeycomb.  The colonies form on hard substrates and they need sand and shell fragments for tube-building activities.  They manufacture the tubes from mucus to glue the tiny pieces together.  When the tide is out the worms retreat deep into the tunnels, but when the tide covers their reefs their heads protrude and they feed on micro-organisms in the water, including plankton.

Because there are rock pools, it is possible to see various seaweeds in their natural habitat floating freely in the clear water, a lovely kaleidoscope of colour.  In the pools themselves there were lots of tiny fish, which can be seen in the video.  On the actual rocks (rather than the honecomb worm reefs) there were limpets, barnacles and various sea snails, none of which we have in Aberdovey due to the lack of rocks.   Of course there are none of the shells that Aberdovey’s beach has in such profusion, because they get broken up on the rocks and pebbles but, together with the pebble beach at Tonfanau, it’s super that there are three such contrasting beaches such a short distance apart.

I had a lovely long paddle, and would have loved to have had a swim, but even if I had gone in with my denim shorts and t-shirt, I had no way of drying myself off.  Next time for sure, and I’ll start to keep a towel in the car!

Looking to the north, beyond the caravan park and the breakers, the beach was quite, quite empty. That too is a walk for another day, but it must be a really peaceful way of walking up to the Dysynni.

The video below captures some of the contrasts of the beach – people swimming and enjoying the waves, lovely coloured seaweeds in rock pools, sections of empty sea with waves chasing each other onto the beach, and that fascinating honeycomb reef.

A short walk along the Dysynni broadwater, August 2020

Last week I had already walked along Tonfanau beach, but was nowhere near ready to go home on such an unexpectedly sunny day.  The BBC weather website, which I checked just before I left the house, was promising storms so I had cancelled my plans to go hillfort hunting.  Although my walk started out with most of the surrounding hilltops sitting under large clouds, they eventually cleared and the sunshine was glorious.  So instead of going back to my car, parked by the Tonfanau footbridge, I turned along the footpath that wends its way along the southern banks of the broadwater and the river Dysynni, and I am so glad I did.  By the footbridge there were a couple of families with kayaks, all having a good, peaceful time, and a little further on there was a lady with two small boys swimming between the shore and a sandbank.  One of her sons announced with great satisfaction that that the water was “as hot as a bath.”  But the further I walked, the emptier it became, and eventually it was just me and the birds.  And what a lot of birds there were!

 

Newspaper illustration of Tywyn and the railway in June 1894

On the same page in The Cardigan Bay Visitor as the Aberdovey advertising feature that I posted about the other day, was this super illustration of Tywyn showing the steam train, 30 years after the railway opened, and boats pulled up on the beach. To get a better look, click the image to enlarge it, because the details cannot be seen clearly on the small image above.

Thanks to John Pughe for letting me know that the road in the picture is Pier Road.

It is sometimes easy to lose sight of the great surrounding views when in Tywyn itself, but as the illustration shows, Tywyn is nested at the base of some very fine hills, and it really is in a super location.  A road now follows the railway on its far side, leading to the railway and foot bridges across the river Dysynni with great views over the hillsides.  Much of the  area just beyond the railway was eventually taken to build the RAF camp and airfield (that later became known as the Morfa camp), much of which still stands, although part of it was replaced with a solar energy farm.

The Cardigan Bay Visitor, 30th July 1894, courtesy of Welsh Newspapers online: https://newspapers.library.wales/view/3824070/3824072/7/

A mellow walk where the river Dysynni meets the sea – with oystercatchers

My walk last Tuesday, the only sunny day last week, took me back to Tonfanau.  Tonfanau railway station was added to the Cambrian Line to service the Tonfanau Army Camp, which opened in 1938 and was finally closed in 1973 after a 6 month stint as a refugee camp, before being demolished sometime in the 1980s or 90s.  The camp extended both sides of the railway line, reaching the beach to the west and spreading part way up a slight slope to the east.  I have posted about the camp here.  When Tonfanau was at its height as an anti-aircraft training facility, with emplacements of enormous guns along the field at the top of the beach, it would have been anything but a peaceful place to go for a stroll.  Today, however, it is probably the most quiet stretch of seaside in the Aberdovey and Tywyn areas.

The reason for the lack of human presence, other than fishermen some way out at sea in waders, is certainly because the beach is uncompromisingly uncomfortable to walk, sit or lie on.  Apart from a few isolated islands of sand or gravel, it is a pebble beach running down a shallow slope into a rocky foreshore.   Footwear is required.  This, together with the complete absence of gift shops, public toilets and ice-cream stalls, makes it undesirable for most families, and there is rarely any more than a handful of people there even at the height of the tourist season.  This makes it a very good retreat for sea birds, which line the water’s edge at a very safe distance from anyone who might be walking along the stony beach or investigating the rock pools.  Oystercatchers, terns and various types of seagull are all in evidence at this time of year.

The views along the beach are splendid.  After the recent heavy rain the Dysynni charges at high speed through a surprisingly narrow mouth into the sea, fascinating to watch, and you can see it and hear its roar on the video at the end of the post.  This understated but impressive meeting of the Dysynni with the sea is marked as Aber Dysynni (mouth of the Dysynni) on the Ordnance Survey map.  The sea itself makes a lovely sound on the rocky foreshore and gravel, drawing the gravel back as it retreats, and colliding with the rocks as it advances.  Above the sound of the sea and wind are the musical voices of sea birds.  As you walk along it, the beach curves around a long corner promising more of the same untroubled vistas over an empty beach, rolling white horses and, in the distance, the Llyn peninsula.  Behind the beach, looking east, are views of the major summits of Tonfanau and Foel Llanfendigaid, as well as the smooth green slopes of the hills between them

I started out walking along the top of the small “cliff” that runs along the top of the beach.  It is only a couple of feet wide, drops only about eight foot or so above the beach below and stops where the publicly accessible land meets the fence of a farmer’s field after about 10 minutes of walking.  It offers a terrific view down onto the beach, there are always some interesting wild flowers, and it is well worth doing if you are sure of your footing.

I then executed a controlled skid down a bit of the “cliff” that had collapsed into a sloping mound of earth, a quick way down onto the beach, and headed for the rocks.  The lush green seaweed  is glossy and lustrous, a great contrast to the darkness of the rocks in the bright sun.  The overall effect was delightful.  Water trickles through the multiple channels formed by the rocks, crossing the glistening gravel in a way that is quite unlike the sea flowing through channels in the sand at Aberdovey.

Someone has been having fun making pebble patterns in the sand and fields. Like most abstract compositions, it gives a curious sensation of something clearly created in the present taking on the character of something completely timeless.

Yellow Horned-Poppy (Glaucium flavum)

Small-spotted catshark eggcase (Scyliorhinus canicula), one of the smallest of all the mermaid’s purses.  There were two of them, one right at the top of the beach and the other in the field behind the beach.  They are so lightweight when empty that they travel on the wind.  For details on the subject of eggcases and the Shark Trust, see my earlier post.  The photos of the two eggcases have been uploaded to the Shark Trust Great Eggcase Hunt page.

I walked out onto a spur of sand to watch the oystercatchers, getting as near as I dared.  Unlike the video that I posted the other day, when what they were mainly concerned with was preening, today they were actually hunting for food and treating shells to merciless beak treatment.  Trying to get a little closer I scared them into flight, and they congregated a little distance off on a few rocks, looking very striking.

Oystercatchers at work

I’ve pulled a muscle in my shoulder, so the following video is not quite as steady as it might have been, but don’t miss out on the oystercatchers.  They are sublime.  The fast-moving water coming out of the Dysynni and churning into the sea is also truly impressive.  The Dysynni originates in Tal y Llyn lake, makes an abrupt turn northwest at Abergynolwyn and then resumes a parallel course to the Tal y Llyn valley in the neighbouring valley.  It passes the Ynysymaengwyn estate, finding its way through extensive reed beds, and emerges into the Broadwater, making its way around the low sandbanks before being funneled into the narrow channel into the sea.

A walk to the top of Tonfanau to explore the Tal y Garreg Iron Age hillfort

Tonfanau from the southwest. Tal y Garreg is immediately above the quarry

Ordnance Survey map showing the route taken up the hill, and the location of the two hillforts, marked by red dots. These two sites are also marked on an aerial photograph below.

I have wanted to see the Tal y Garreg Iron Age hillfort at the top of Tonfanau quarry, on Mynydd Garreg (rock hill), for some time, so on Sunday (9th August) I packed my rucksack and went along the route I had scoped out on Saturday, which had been made so enjoyable by the verges filled with wild flowers.  I parked the car on the road leading up to the Tonfanau footbridge, as before and followed exactly the same route, but this time instead of stopping at the gate into the field at the end of the bridlepath, I followed the faint track of the footpath up the hill.  The route is marked in dark green on the map to the left.  There are two hillforts on Tonfanau, both of which are marked with red dots, Tal y Garreg at the summit overlooking the quarry, and Llechlwyd on a lower promontory to the east of the quarry.   On this post I will talk about Tal y Garreg, but I covered Llechlwyd on another post, and the map above and an aerial shot below show the geographical relationship between the two.  The walk up the side of the hill is very beautiful, and the views from all around the top of the hill are breathtaking.  I should, however, make a couple of health and safety notes about this walk before I recommend it as a great one to do

First, the track starts to climb fairly easily, as in the photo on the right, but as you near the top, where the bracken gives way to open ground, it becomes steep.  When you turn around to admire the view, the ground seems to drop sharply away beneath you, and falling would result in an unimpeded roll downhill.  I am very sure-footed, but instead of tacking to reduce the effort, I went straight up, leaning forward, to reduce the risk of tripping.  The views are stunning, just be careful. There are other public footpath approaches marked on the map, which might be easier.  Second, the hillfort of Tal y Gareg sits above the quarry.  Indeed, the quarry has removed a big part of the hillfort.  When you climb to the brick monument on the summit of the hillfort you are getting near to the edge of the quarry, and at the edge there is almost nothing to prevent you falling the steep drop into the quarry should you lose your footing – just fence poles with a single run of wire to mark the edge.   Perfectly okay if you’re aware of it, but do not let children loose up there.

Access over two sets of steps to the ridge at the top of the hill

The top of the hill is a ridge that extends 1.5km to the northeast, with terrific views either side.  The ridge is enclosed today by a long, winding drystone wall that extends as far as the eye can see.  A short wooden ladder on either side of the wall allows you to cross the wall easily, but take care – two of the steps on the ridge side are rotten, one completely broken.  The inside of this drystone perimeter is divided up into separate enclosures by more drystone walling, but all of them have gates or are open so you can wander freely across the top.  To the southwest is the river Dysynni, at the eastern end are views over the hills flanking the valley, including Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock).

I was up there partly for the views, but mainly because I am on a hillfort mission at the moment and wanted to check out what was left of one of two small Iron Age hillforts.  In the area between the Mawddach estury and the Dyfi estuary are fifteen known hillforts.  These fall into two distinct geographical groupings, a northern and southern group.  Eight of the fifteen are in the southern group and I am hoping to walk all of those that are accessible by public footpath.

When the first hillforts were excavated during the late 19th Century, it was assumed that all hillforts were defensive, and some southern hillforts certainly were, but it is by no means clear if all hillforts were built as a response to conflict.  Because so few hillforts have been excavated in northwest and mid Wales, it is impossible to establish exactly what they were designed to do, and most of them probably had multiple functions.  I’ll be talking more about the roles of hillforts in this area on a future post.

It is almost impossible to photograph a hillfort sensibly at ground level, although some banks and ditches can usually be captured.  Aerial photographs and excavation plans are the best ways of of visualizing individual hillforts.

 

Another view of the quarry. Source: Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

In fact, Tal y Garreg hillfort was very easy to spot from the ground, as the builders made use of a rise in the local topography and natural escarpments that face north.  Tal y Garreg means “end of the rock/cliff” and probably refers to the rocky ridge on which it is built. It lies at the southwest end of a 1.5km ridge at c.170m OD.   The natural lift in the land, shown on the above photograph at far right makes the hillfort highly visible from the ridge behind it.  The composite image above (click to enlarge if required) shows Tal y Garreg hillfort from the air with the 1967 site plan (upside down in terms of the photograph – Bowen and Gresham 1967) and a view of it from the middle of the ridge.  Another plan to the left offers a different view.  Today, massive piles of rock from the quarrying activity are left lying around, so it is not immediately easy to see the structural features and it helps to have the plan to hand to locate them.  There are two sets of banks and ditches, referred to as bivallate on the northeastern and southwestern sides.  The banks, or ramparts, were probably pallisaded to make it even more impressive from a distance, and to make it easier to protect if needed.  These ramparts contain an area around 45m long by 22m wide, small in hillfort terms.  Still, it was clear that although the space it contained wasn’t large, it had been built on an impressive scale.  The entrance was simple, inturned, and cut through the scarp to the north, facing the ridge.  It’s worth walking along the the edge of the drystone wall that runs behind the fort so that you can get a feel for the banks and ditches shown on the far left in the aerial photo, but be careful how near you get to the quarry edge.  One of the banks and ditches, cut into bedrock, is shown below, with the sea in the background.  Tal y Garreg overlooks the Dysynni valley rather than establishing a good line of sight with hills to the east or the coast to the north, although a short walk along the ridge on an averagely clear day provides those views.  The views have been radically changed by quarrying, but there were clearly good lines of sight across the sea, down into the Dysynni valley and back along the ridge.

Ditch at Tal y Garreg, excavated through the bedrock. Ramparts on the bank at this point would have given views over the Dysynni valley and Cardigan Bay.

The site has never been excavated, so any thoughts on its date or the number of phases involved in its construction are purely speculative.  On both plans a 10m diameter “tower” is marked, and this was a circular structure, in front of which is a rock-cut ditch now full of stone, which may be the remains of the tower, suggesting that it was quite a substantial feature.  One proposal is that the small primary bivallate hillfort may have been overlain by a smaller and later fort that made use of the earlier features, and that the tower may have been part of this later re-use, dating to a Roman or post-Roman/Early Medieval re-occupation.  In fact, there is so little evidence of Roman presence in the area that it seems rather unlikely that a Roman fort was located here, so it is more likely that any second phase was post-Roman.

The Tal y Garreg hillfort is so small that I am not sure that it really qualifies for the title “hillfort,” when compared with more massive and impressive examples, that contained a number of other structures within their ramparts.  It does, however, feature typical hillfort characteristics. It took advantage of strong strategic position that could be partially barricaded with banks and ditches on vulnerable sides, using steep sides to provide natural barriers to attack.  Like most hillforts, although not all, it is on high ground overlooking good farming land or pasture.  Although there are no known settlements in the area, farmsteads were almost certainly dotted around the landscape much as they are today, and the hillforts probably overlooked some of these in the valley.  The ridge itself may have been used for grazing livestock, just as it is today. In the photograph below, the sheep were on top of the ridge and the horses were just outside the drystone wall at the top of the approach to the ridge.

The hillfort had no water supply other than rainfall.  This small defended enclosure could not have sheltered large numbers of people against hostilities, and could not have been reached in a hurry from the valley below, so it was either designed to shelter a privileged few;  to store important resources in a relatively inaccessible location;  to segregate certain centralized activities in a single location;  to be a visible symbol of territorial tenure – or a mixture of various roles.

Located both on the edge of the Dysynni valley and on the coastal plain, lines of communication could have extended both on a north-south axis and along the Dysynni valley, past Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock) hillfort, and into the Tal y Llyn valley heading northwest towards the hillforts near Corwen and Ruthin.  The ridge itself would have provided a high-level route alongside the Dysynni valley for c.1.5km.  At the other end of the ridge is another hillfort, Castell Mawr, which appears to have had a large annex that could have been used as a livestock corral.

Tal y Garreg is only a short walk from Llechlwyd hillfort, which also sits on the side of Tonfanau quarry, and I will be posting about in the future.  Both are poorly understood, and it is not known if they were related to each other or were chronologically separate.  They could have been contemporary but they may have been separated by anything from years or decades to one or more centuries. Until they are excavated this relationship will not be clarified.

I wanted to see if there was a clear line of sight from Tal y Garreg to the hillforts of Llechlwyd, also at the southwestern end of the ridge at the top of Tonfanau, Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock) c.8km to the east and Bwlch hillfort on the next hilltop, 2km to the north, Foel Llanfendigaid.  As none of these sites have been excavated it is not known whether they were contemporary, but in the event that they were, having a clear line of sight might have had many benefits, irrespective of whether the occupants of the hillforts were friends or enemies. The nearest hillfort, Llechlwyd, is visible from Tal y Garreg, which has a view down into the much lower promontory fort.   Craig yr Aderyn is visible from Tal y Garreg, although in the distance.  If required, it would have been easy enough to set up a signal on a clear day.  Bwlch is very easily visible, and looks like the perfect location for a hillfort.  Between the two, a near-flat piece of coastal plain is divided today into fields and used for pasture.

Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock) c.8km from Tal y Garreg

View from Tal y Garreg to Foel Llanfendigaid, on top of which is the hillfort Bwlch

It was useful to see what could be viewed when outside the hillfort, but still along the ridge, and it was impressive how many broad views were available from the ridge beyond the hillfort, some of which are below, all overlooking good quality pasture, currently being grazed by sheep and cattle, and far into the distance in all directions including the sea.  It was a hazy day so the views weren’t quite as spectacular as they might have been, but they showed enough to indicate that Tal y Garreg was a good site for watching movements for many miles around.

View from one side of the ridge to the other, taken from the stile.

Dysynni valley, looking east

A final though on the views available from the hillfort and visibility from below is that a couple of days later I went to walk along the Dysynni from Tonfanau bridge to Ynysymaengwyn, skirting the broadwater, and found that the entire of the top of Tonfanau was under a cloud, just where Tal y Garreg was built.  It was impossible to see its location, and it would be impossible to see anything at all from the hillfort down into the valley.  This could have been a distinct disadvantage in its location!  The second hillfort, Llechlwyd, which is on the lower promontory at 70m OD, was not shrouded in cloud, so although it had no visibility of the ridge behind it, it did have the advantage of being less prone to cloud cover.

There’s a modern structure on top of the hill at this point, which is an Ordnance Survey trig pillar.  There are also the foundations of an old shipping signal.  Ordnance Survey trig pillars (or points) are part of the history of mapping in the UK.  Trig is shorthand for triangulation, and in 1936 the first of c.6500 trig pillars were built as part of the project to retriangulate Britain.  Most of them made of concrete but the Tal y Garreg trig pillar was made  of local stone, and is shown on the right.  The OS is still responsible for maintaining the pillars, of which around 6000 remain at similar locations. The project was designed to improve the accuracy of mapping, and although it has been surpassed by modern techniques and technologies, it revolutionized map-making in Britain.  Here’s an excerpt from the Ordnance Survey page on the subject of the trig pillars:

Triangulation works by determining the location of a point by measuring angles to it from known points at either end of a fixed baseline and in this case, those known points were the 6,500 + trig pillars erected across the country. In practice, a theodolite would have been secured to the top mounting plate and made level. It would then be directly over the brass bolt underneath the pillar. Angles were then measured from the pillar to other surrounding points. For the highest accuracy primary points in the retriangulation, many rounds of angles would have been measured with the observations taking several hours.

I was expecting to have the hill to myself, but there was a group of around 10 people up there enjoying the view.  We exchanged cheerful greetings, and when they left I noticed that they took the  wide quarry track that runs on a shallow incline alongside the quarry scar.  Out of curiosity I took the same route down, and it runs into the quarry yard, which is the same as the access point to the Wales Coast Path.  A farm gate opens out onto the B-road.  The quarry track is not a public footpath, but it is not barred in any way, is safe, and as the quarry is out of use it seems okay to use it.  It’s a much easier, much shallower incline than the steep path that I took up.  Although not as attractive, it gives remarkable and safe views over the quarry itself.

The quarry track

When you reach the quarry yard, you’ll find that it is a piece of industrial archaeology in its own right, with an abandoned control panel in a small building, and various bits of abandoned heavy-duty hardware lying around, plus various shallow concrete water holders, presumably for filtration purposes.  One of them had a healthy population of bullrushes growing out of it.  Gwynedd Archaeological Trust reports that the quarry was first used for extracting granite, which is unusual in this area:

The ridge has been quarried since at least the nineteenth century. A narrow-gauge link to the Cambrian Railways was put in c. 1898, superseded by a standard-gauge siding in 1906, around the time it was taken over directly by John Corbett of Ynysymaengwyn, working as Tonfanau Granite Quarries. In 1965 this became a subsidiary of Penmaenmawr and Welsh Granite Co., and operated as Kingston Minerals from 1965 to 1981. It was thereafter worked by Mr G.C. Evans of Aberllefenni.

The report goes on to say that latterly the quarry was used to exploit a sill of coarse dolerite and gabbro that is suitable for use as road surfacing material.  Here are a few snaps of the quarry as I was on my way out, but I will be going back to explore in more depth.

Sources:

Bowen, E.G. and Gresham, C.A. 1967.  History of Merioneth, volume 1.  From the earliest times to the Age of the Native Princes.  The Merioneth Historical and Record Society.

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2009.  A visitor guide to the main Iron Age hill forts of Meirionnydd.  Project No. G1770. Report No. 839

Sjöberg, K.S. 2014.  Hidden possibilities.  Possible uses of hillforts in southern Gwynedd, north-west Wales. Unpublished Masters thesis, Uppsala University, Department of archaeology and ancient history. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A799381&dswid=8151

Websites:

Coflein
https://www.coflein.gov.uk/

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (no date).  Historic Landscape Characterisation: The Dysynni
http://www.heneb.co.uk/hlc/dysynni/dysynni2.html

Mad weather, but still very beautiful

So much for my plans for another long walk today.  Had a late swim in the sea last night after most of the beach-dwellers had gone home for the evening, and it was still very warm when I returned to the house.  I had been planning another hill walk today, but the weather forecast wasn’t promising, and it’s just as well I didn’t venture out early because by mid-morning thunder was rumbling and there were flashes of lightning and by the afternoon the sky had turned charcoal, and when the rain came it wasn’t messing around!  Even so, the view was amazingly striking.  Aberdovey and Ynyslas still look fabulous even under looming blue-black clouds!  The photos below show the sequence, over 16 minutes from 1502 this afternoon, from mildly intimidating to fully apocalyptic 🙂

On the next one, see if you can spot the bandstand on Pen Y Bryn!

 

Watersports, the golf course, wild mushrooms, and a superbly moody sky

Often when I walk on the beach in the summer, looking north to Tywyn there is a big blue sky with little fluffy white clouds and when I turn round to look back at Cerdigion it looks like the coming of Armageddon, with dark clouds gathering in an unbroken, uncompromising line.  It was just like that yesterday, and it made for some  dramatic colour and light contrasts.

I came down Gwelfor Road, emerging on the coast road by the Post Office, thereby bypassing what I always think of as the family section of the beach, the stretch leading away from the lifeboat station, handily close to all the facilities.  It tends to be fairly jam-packed at this time of year.  I usually like to wend my way through the melee to enjoy people having fun, but given the ongoing risks I thought I’d give it a miss.  I headed straight into the sand dunes, which were only being used by others as a thoroughfare to cross from the road to the beach.

There was a stiff and slightly chilly breeze that occasionally developed into a fairly strong wind.  Although most people were in shorts, as I was myself, most also wore jackets and fleeces, and on the beach there were a lot of colourful windbreaks erected.

A giant inflatable pink swim-ring making its way apparently under its own steam across the dunes, one of the more surreal things that have caught my eye this year.  Eventually the owner became visible as he and his swim-ring, still held aloft, proceeded down the beach towards the water’s edge.  I assume that a child was following on somewhere behind.

There wasn’t much in the way of wild flowers and I eventually walked down to the beach and along the water’s edge.  The sea was fairly turbulent for the time of the year, and the combination of a good wind and waves seemed to be ideal for some watersports.

Watching one sailborder wading with his kit into the sea, it seemed to me that one needed a fairly impressive amount of strength just to get it out beyond the shallows, never mind to climb on board, stay on board and direct the thing.  Very skillful, and so much more rewarding than thundering around on a jet ski.

 

When I reached the Second World War pillbox (about which I have previously written here), I crossed the dunes to take photos of the Trefeddian Hotel for yesterday’s post about the hotel’s  architectural changes.  It was looking quite dramatic in the full sunshine against the dark hillside.

There were a few people using the golf course, but not very many, so I wandered back along one of the water courses that wend their way through the course.  I know nothing about golf, but in spite of the blatant artifice I have always found the undulating landscape and the manicured greens of a golf course rather soothing.  Or at least, when not at risk of being hit in the head by a golf ball.  The water courses are thriving ecosystems in their own right, with incredibly clear water and a remarkable variety of plant life.  They appear from and disappear into underground conduits.  There must be a direction of flow, but no current was visible today.  Most of the plant life likes shallow, slow-moving water, like the great swathes of water cress, and full sunshine, like the patches of duck weed and blanket weed.  There were several  red damsel flies darting around, only occasionally settling.

One of a number of rich patches of watercress (above and below), just where the stream disappears again.  Not to be eaten without treatment due to the high risk of liver fluke.

Amphibious bistort, above and below (Persicaria amphibium).  Sorry about the fuzzy image of the flower above – it was seriously windy and it simply wouldn’t sit still for long enough for me to get a clear shot.  It did, however, show the leaves clearly.  Between that and the one below, which shows the flower a little more clearly, but not much of the leaves, I think you can get the idea.  It’s a perennial and flowers in slow-moving water from June to September.

Water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis) and blanketweed (Spyrogyra)

A beautiful orange weed, that probably does the stream no good at all.  It lies on the bed of the stream, but this was floating slightly clear of it.  I’ve tried to find out what it is to no avail.

A very poor photo of a damselfly, right at the limit of my lens’s reach

Nearby in a hedge, was a curtain of purple, which turned out to be tufted vetch (Vicia cracca).
Patches of Ccommon centaury (Centaruium erythraea) were on the edges of the sand dunes and the golf course.  Centaury is named for the centaur Chiron who used it to cure wounds inflicted by the multi-headed Greek Hydra, but it has been used as an improbable cure-all for all sorts of diverse conditions.

Walking back along the golf course, I was lucky enough to find both a puffball and, the absolute highlight of my nascent foraging activities, two enormous parasol toadstools!  They were both about 10 inches tall and around 6 inches across.  Absolute beauties.  The nearby fennel has now gone to seed, but I picked some of that too, as it makes a great base for a stock.

Parasol mushrooms, a puffball and wild fennel, with my iPhone in the background for scale

Wild fennel.  A few weeks ago it was covered with feathery green leaves, but now it has gone to seed.  The stems and seeds are still wonderful in stock, and the seeds can be dried out and ground into and over all sorts of things, imparting a delicious, slightly aniseed flavour.  Where I group up in Spain it was known locally simply as “anis.”

And here is one of the parasol tops sitting on a handy diffuser, ready for the frying pan.  The stalks are too tough to eat, but I put it in a bag in the freezer for making a stock for a beef dish on another day.

I had the puffball sliced and fried in a little butter with a sprinkling of parsley on a side dish as a starter.  I saved one of the parasol mushrooms for my father and served the other fried almost the same way in butter, parsley and a little garlic, with streaky bacon and a poached egg on top.  It looks a bit like very flat burger in the picture, but that’s just the colouring from the butter and bacon.  Dividing the two mushrooms into two dishes allowed each one to be appreciated for its own particular virtues. Wonderful.  God I was stuffed!

A busy beach, but the hills are still empty as lockdown relaxes still further

Another lovely walk on Saturday, along the beach, paddling in the sea, turning up into the hills past the cemetery, and along lovely footpaths until we emerged just above Aberdovey.  I was particularly tired after a restless night, so it was super just to drift along enjoying the sights and sounds.  There was an intensity to the light that reflected off the water, the dominating colour silver rather than blue, and anything in front of it was silhouetted.  How the weather changed on Monday!

This is the first time I’ve seen the beach with more than a couple of people on it.  It was something of a visual shock, although it is great that people are able to enjoy themselves.  A lot of second home owners are back too.  The ice cream shops were a bit chaotic, with very little distance between people in the queues, but I expect that that will be sorted soon.  Further along the beach, several people were swimming, which was a bit brave as the water was frankly very chilly.

Not just a sand castle, but an entire neighbourhood of sand castles.

 

 

Normally the jellyfish that wash up on the beach are Barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulma) but today there were none.  Instead, there were several Compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella), common in the south and west during the summer, where they feed on small fish and crustaceans.  The name derives from the dark brown markings that radiate from the centre.  These jellyfish are venomous, with stinging cells all along their tentacles.

 

 

The beetle Rhagonycha fulva, common all over the UK from May to August.

Swallow (Hirundo rustica).  A terrible photograph, shooting into the sun.  I was convinced that this was a swift, because the forked tails didn’t look long enough, but the swift doesn’t have the big white breast. They are migrating birds, spending winter in southern Africa and returning to the north to breed.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) produces a beautiful perfume, particularly in the evenings to attract pollinating moths.  It climbs up and over hedges and shrubs and flowers from June to October, with petals that ivory coloured until pollinated by bees or moths, when they turn yellow.  The produce red berries following the flowering, during the autumn.

Another first for the year:  the beach at Ynyslas is covered in cars.

 

A late afternoon stroll in the hills behind Aberdovey, with wildflowers

Monday at 4pm was looking dicey.  I started out in a light rain coat, because it was spitting fairly firmly and the sky looked ominous, but thankfully it stopped.  I rolled up my coat and put it in my rucksack, the sun came out, and we had no rain for the rest of the two and a half hour walk.  The combination of sun and cloud in the late afternoon made for some very nice contrasts in the scenery, and the wild flowers were splendid.  The foxgloves, which have been rampant for weeks, have truly come into their own in the hills behind Aberdovey, and were really rather spectacular.  Another terrific walk without another person in sight.  There were a lot of sheep and lambs around, the lambs now fairly stocky.  On the other side of the valley, cattle were grazing on the hillside.  We saw several tiny frogs in a narrow stretch of water where there had been tadpoles earlier in the year, and a couple of rabbits on the return leg of the journey at the top of the hill, and could here the larks singing.  Apart from the glorious views, the main source of interest was the wildflower population.

The foxgloves dotted around in the new green bracken provide lovely splashes of colour at the moment.

This is not in flower yet, but looks from its leaves and its spikes like wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia).  It should flower between July and September, producing creamy-yellow lipped flowers.  It is a member of the mint family.  It is drought tolerant, and is often found in coastal areas including sand dunes.

English stonecrop (Sedum anglicum)
A succulent acid-loving 5-petalled perennial, flowering from May to August.  Retaining water in its waxy leaves allows it to tolerate dry environments and poor soil and to survive drought conditions.  The leaves may turn red if it is exposed to a great deal of sun, a protective chemical response to sunlight, which can damage green chlorophyll.  To protect itself from wind-scorch, it grows very low to the ground.

Sheep’s-bit (Jasione montana)
Sometimes called Sheep’s-bit scabious, this is actually a perennial member of the campanula family, even though it has no obvious resemblance to the usual bell-flowered character of campanulaceae and at first glace looks much more like a true scabious.  Unlike scabious, it has small, alternate hairy leaves. and tiny narrow petals.  According to the Wildlife Trusts website, pollinating insects, which see a different light spectrum to humans, find it highly visible under ultraviolet (UV) light, and use the patterns and colours on the petals to guide them to the nectar and pollen.  It usually starts flowering in July, but thanks to the remarkably warm spring, a lot of species are flowering early.  It likes a wide variety of environments, including dry grassland, and is often found in coastal areas.  It is an excellent pollinator.

Rosebay willowherb (Chamerion/Epilobium angustifolium).
Also known as “fireweed” because it colonized burned and scorched sites, and “bombweed” due to its expansion on World war I and II bomb sites.  Heat from this type of site assists with the germination process.  It has rhizomes, so a single large patch can be one plant. Its seeds also establish themselves freely, each fitted with cotton-like ‘parachutes’ that carry them over long distances. The Latin “angustifolium” simply means narrow-leaved.  It is a biennial that flowers from June to September.  Its leaves are edible and have a wide range of uses.  For more on the multiple uses, see the Wikipedia page dedicated to Rosebay willowherb.

Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)
One of my books says that the dark violet flowers have a hooked upper lip that in the 16th century was supposed to look like a sickle, so according to the doctrine of signatures, it was believed to men wounds from sickles and billhooks.  Although there were one or two isolated examples in verges, this perennial has creeping roots and in open grassland and on heaths usually grows in patches from June to November.  The Latin “vulgaris” means common.  They are pollinated by long-tongued bees.

A tiny frog, about 3cm long, in a very small stream where we had seen tadpoles earlier in the year.  There were several of these little amphibians, and they would have been completely invisible if they hadn’t hopped around, their damp skin catching the light.  It’s a lousy photograph, because I was trying to hold back some grass with one hand and steady the camera and focus it with the other, but you can just about make it out.

Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre)
Like most thistles, this has spiny protection both around its clusters of flowers and along its stem, and even has spiny leaves.  It looks fairly lethal to unprotected hands and judging by its proliferation, it is a good defense against being eaten by sheep, cattle and rabbits.  It was spread all over the hillsides, and it is easy to identify from a distance due to its distinctive form.  As its name indicates (“palustris” means of marshes), it prefers damp conditions and meadows, but seems to be doing well at the moment, even after the recent drought conditions.  It is biennial, pollinated by bees and butterflies, and usually flowers between July and September.

Occasional white examples of the purple marsh thistle were dotted around.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Foxgloves are going mad at the moment, in verges, in amongst the bracken or as here, on disturbed ground.  They began flowering in early May, although they don’t usually appear until June, and flower until September.  The foliage is poisonous, which is probably why in Wales it is known as elves’ fingers or gloves, and in Ireland it is called fairy thimbles.

Bittersweet or woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)
All parts of the plant are poisonous but in humans usually cause only upset stomachs.  The latin species name “dulcamara” means sweet-bitter, which describes the bitter taste, followed by a sweet after-taste.  In Germany physicians used it as a cure for rheumatism and it was hung around the necks of cattle to ward off evil.   It flowers from June to September and is happy in hedgerows and woods.  After flowering it produces egg-shaped berries that start off green, as above, and slowly become a bright, shiny red.

This is tiny, just a few millimeters across.  I still haven’t tracked it down but will update this page when I do.

White foxglove (Digitalis)
The hills are covered in the distinctive purple spikes of Digitalis purpurea (“purpurea” means purple) at the moment, so the appearance of a single, pure white foxglove, near the stream in Happy Valley, was something of a novelty.

Afon Dyffryn Gwyn in Happy Valley.  Afon means river, but it’s more like a big stream. Dyffryn means valley, and Gwyn can mean white, fair or blessed.  The water is always beautifully clear.  In the shallow stretches by the ford, where the plunging track meets the valley floor, well-camouflaged fish can be spotted maintaining position in line with the flow, as below.  Most of them were about an inch long, but this one was about four inches.

The stream was being visited by cows and their calves, all calling to each other in loud, low, resonating voices.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)
Beautifully-scented, honeysuckle has evolved to attract pollinating moths.  When the flowers go over, clusters of red berries replace them.  They flower from June to October.  This was was growing in a hedge by the side of the road leading up to the Panorama.  Lonicera is named for the German botanist Adam Lontzer (1528 -1586), and periclymenum is the term for honesuckle, derived from Greek.

Dog rose (Rosa canina)
Although similar in appearance to the bramble flower, the distinctive heart-shaped petals of the dog rose make it easily distinguishable.  It climbs through hedges and bushes, lending colour to otherwise unremarkable shrubs.  The white petals are often tinged with pale pink, as in this example.  After flowering a red rosehip is produced, and as well as being eaten by animals and birdds can be used to make rose-hip syrup, which has high quantities of vitamin C, and can be used to produce wine and liqueur.  It flowers from June to July.

The Afon Leri and the 5000 year old Cors Fochno peatland with the hills of Cerdigion rising behind.  A shame about the disfiguring wind farm on the otherwise undisturbed hillsides, but you can’t have everything!

View from the top of the hill across to the cliffs of Ceredigion, looking very beautiful under the gathering clouds

Wildflower information sources used in this post:

The Wildlife Trusts – Wildflowers
https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/wildflowers

Grey-Wilson, G. Wild 1994. Flowers of Britain and Northwest Europe.  Dorling Kindersley

Fletcher, N. 2004. Pocket Nature Wild Flowers.  Dorling Kindersley

Spencer-Jones, R. and Cuttle, S. 2005.  Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland.  Kyle Books