Category Archives: Walks

Leaflet: Precipice Walk (Dolgellau area)

If you find a dryish day in amongst the November downpours, or just want to keep a few walks in mind for summer, this is a good one.  Plus, you get two who Iron Age hillforts for the price of one, which can’t be bad 🙂  I haven’t done this for years, and cannot find the photos, but if this is a terrific walk, not at all strenuous, in spite of the stunning views that you are rewarded with over Cader Idris, the Mawddach valley and estuary, and the surrounding hills.  Incorporated into the walk is also a lovely lake, actually a reservoir for supplying water to Dolgellau, at the foot of the hill on the carpark side.  Updated info is below the leaftlet, plus a little bit about the hillforts.  You can also download the PDF here.

For those who are using GPS, I’ve noted the postcode on the leaflet above (LL40 2NG).  There’s a good sized carpark.

Ordnance Survey map showing the Precipice Walk

The walk is on private land, so access is at the courtesy of the Nannau Estate, which allows public access via the marked footpaths.  It is a very easy route to follow with easy gradients, mostly level once you get to the main walk, and the route around the hill is a circular one, as the name implies.  It is quite narrow and not recommended for anyone with vertigo.  The return leg takes walkers along the reservoir, Llyn Cynwch.   It takes about an hour an a bit, on average.

The Foel Faner hillfort on the Precipice Walk requires a small diversion from the main route, also accessible via a footpath, and well marked (marked as “camp” on the above leaflet).  This also provides some more great views.  The hillfort is an irregular oval and has a single line of defenses, quite substantially built and easy to identify (unlike some hillforts in Gwynedd).  The entrance is at the northeast, about 12ft wide, and has an additional bank to protect it.  It has very few natural defense, and the main advantage of the hillfort’s position is the visibility over a very wide area.

The second hillfort is on the hill opposite the precipice walk, so you can use the same car park and head over the road and follow a gentle footpath that runs along the base of the hill, Foel Offrwm.  When you reach a wall, turn right and follow it for about half a mile, which takes you to the entrance of the hillfort, but between where the wall ends and the hillfort begins is a steep stretch of open hillside, a much more ambitious walk than the Precipice Walk.  Unlike Foel Faner, the location is strategically good, and the views are probably even better.  There is a single line of drystone defence that is reinforced with an additional line of defence to the southeast.  There is a single in-turned entrance to the east.  Well worth a visit.

 

Leaflet: The Submerged Forest at Borth

I found another batch of leaflets today during a sort-out, and will post some of them in the coming weeks in case they are of interest.  I’ve never seen the submerged forest at Borth, which needs a very low tide to see it properly, but it’s now firmly on my radar.  As well as previewing the leaflet in the images below, you can download it as a PDF by clicking here:  Submerged forest leaflet

A September sunshine swan-song before Autumn: walking across the hill, returning along the the beach

A nice walk over the hill and down the other side on the 25th September, through the Gywddgwion farm on the footpath, dropping down into a (mostly) dry stream bed that doubles up as a footpath in the summer, to collect some blackberries, emerging at Dyffryn Glyn Cul farm.  We strolled down the single track lane to the coast road, crossed over and headed towards the dunes, and from there down on to the beach.  This is my favourite bunch of beach photos to date.  There were a couple of nice days after this, but it was the last of my walking for the time being, as I had to get down to some work.  Adding the photos to this post rather belatedly on October 4th, the difference between those divine last days of September and the onset of October wind and rain is truly amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A first-time walk from Happy Valley towards the Dysynni

I hadn’t seen my friend Caroline for ages, so it was great to do one of our social distancing walks, and one that was new to me, taking in a tiny prehistoric stone circle.  The track is marked on the OS map as a “byway open to all traffic” and follows the line of the Nany Braich-y-rhiw stream, at a higher level.  The views were as spectacular as they always are when you get on to the higher ground in these parts, into the Dyfi valley at the start of the walk, into Happy Valley, and eventually, ahead into the Dysynni valley.  The track is very deep and carved out of the bedrock in places, just like the Aberdovey estuary’s “Roman Road,” which is actually thought to date to the 1820s.  We drove to the point of departure in separate cars, parking on verges, as it is a long hike to reach the start from Aberdovey, and then a long hike in its own right.  On this occasion it was a there-and-back walk rather than a circular one, but just as good because the views are different in each direction.  It was 19th September and the weather was in our favour.

On the map below I’ve marked the starting point in red, and have put blue dot where another path descends into the valley, more or less opposite the Bearded Lake.  Although we carried on along the main track, you can make a lengthy circular walk if you take the path into Happy Valley, and it would probably be easiest to park in the official Happy Valley car park if you are going to do that (which also serves as the car park for those wanting to walk up to the Bearded Lake).

It’s an easy walk if you have good footwear, with a good track and no very steep gradients.  It should also be avoided in wet weather, or at least go in heavy duty footwear.  It had been very dry for the previous week, but we still ended up having to walk off the path in certain places as it was swamped with mud, and was often marshy either side of the path.  There were several points at which we had to ford fairly wide streams, two of which are marked on the map as fords. It was very windy even on a sunny day, so head gear would be a sensible precaution.  The only cloud on the horizon was that at weekends it is used by trial bikers, travelling at speed, with precious little care for any walkers who might be round the next corner.  Thanks to the noisy engines, you can hear them coming and get out of the way, but I recommend that you avoid walking there at weekends.

The stone circle is a little way along the path, up to the right, just a few seconds to reach it from the footpath.


The walk offers beautiful views over Happy Valley and the hills beyond.

Watch out for the Bearded Lake on the other side of the valley to the left, on this occasion glistening in the sun like a silver mirror.  I’ve written about the legends associated with the lake on an earlier post.

We walked past the footpath down into Happy Valley, which would have formed a circular walk, and headed instead for the views ahead, which offer an unexpected sight of the Dysynni valley.

As it descends towards the Dysynni, the track meets the stream, Nant Braich-y-rhiw.

At this point, descending towards the Dysynni valley, we turned back towards the cars, but if you carry on you reach a single-track B-road that crosses the Talyllyn railway at Rhyd-yr-onen and finishes in Bryncrug.  It was an equally beautiful walk on the return leg.  I suppose it was about an hour and half in each direction, pausing to enjoy the views with a picnic.

 

A favourite walk to the Bearded Lake (Llyn Barfog) above the Dyfi estuary

It was supposed to be a hillfort visit, but I was fed up of driving to where I wanted to walk, so two weeks ago I did a route that I could do by leaving the house on foot, taking the Panorama walk to the lake and back again, which takes a route across the ridge.  I had planned to take the longer route via Happy Valley, but was tired after an iffy night, so took the shorter route, which also allowed me to get a look at the rear end of Foel Caethle, a hillfort the lies between Tywyn and Aberdovey, from a slightly higher viewpoint than the peak of Caethle itself.

If you haven’t done it before, it’s super-easy to follow the Panorama on the Ordnance Survey map.  You pass through a number of gates (five in total, I think, but more if you choose not to balance your way across cattle grids) so you will need to take hand gel and/or gloves.  Just walk up Copper Hill Street from Chapel Square, and after about five minutes take the right turn into Mynydd Isaf, which is a development of 1960s bungalows.  Follow this all the way to the top and at the crossroads go left.  Keep an eye out in the verges too, for wild flowers and small butterflies.  The harebells are particularly worth seeing – more prolific in August but with many still left in September.  The tormentil is prolific at this time of year, and the last of the little cornflower-blue Sheep’s-bit are still around.  There were lots of red admiral butterflies around, although none of them were obliging enough to settle to have their portraits taken.

This takes you uphill, and you are instantly in the countryside, passing a farm on your right, with views over Aberdovey to your left.  Just keep walking, not forgetting to turn round and see the gorgeous views over the estuary as you go higher, until you reach a right turn, with the chalet park ahead of you.  It’s about an hour and 15 minutes from here to the fork for Llyn Barfog (and the same on the return leg), with gorgeous views over Happy Valley and the hills to the left, and some views over the glistening estuary to the right, which looks completely different depending on whether the tide is in or out.

The tarmac eventually runs out at the farm, at which point you pass through two gates and onto a deeply incised farm track with a drystone wall on your right and views now mainly over the estuary, with a slope of gorse and heather rising to your left.

You may want to pause and puzzle over Arthur’s Stone, marked with a dignified slate rectangle, a bit like a headstone, inscribed with the words Carn March Arthur (the stone of Arthur’s horse, which in some legends is called Llamrai).  It has a role in the slaying of the story of the monster, called the afanc, that lived in the lake, which I’ve summarized below, and what you’re looking for is the hoof imprint of the horse of King Arthur.  Good luck with that.

Carrying on a short way downhill, with views over the hills ahead, an array of colours as they fade into the distance, you go through an open gate (shown right) and the footpath for Llyn Barfog is just on the left.  It is easily missed – there is a wooden stake marking it (shown immediately below), but no signpost.  It is, however, quite well worn so if you keep an eye open you should be okay.  This takes you round the foot of a small hill rise and leads you directly to the lake, about a 10 minute walk.  I sometimes follow the sheep tracks to the top of the rise instead and then make my own way down, because the view down onto the lake is great, but the going isn’t easy – the sheep tracks are very narrow and the surface all around consists of big, dense clumps of heather that are not easy to walk between.

However you arrive at it, the lake always manages to be a bit of a surprise, so high up and so intensely blue.  Each time I visit, I half expect it to have vanished.  I’ve sadly never managed to catch it when the water lilies and other water flowers are in bloom, but today the lily pads were deeply green against the blue water and gave it a rather exotic feel, and the water glowed and sparkled in the sunlight.  I sat on a handy outcrop of quartzite for a while to enjoy the views and the silence.

The name “bearded” is thought to relate to the vegetation around its edges.  Unlike Arthur’s horse’s stone, one really could imagine this being a source of myth and legend, and indeed, there are at least two.  One concerns the water monster known as the afanc, which is associated with other lakes too, a legend that eventually had an Arthurian spin on it.  Here’s the main thrust of it.  The afanc was the cause of flooding and other damage to good land.  In some versions he lives in a cave and slays three princes a day who come to kill him, but they are resurrected, and the cycle repeats.  In the case of Llyn Barfog, the afanc must be lured from the water by a heroic figure who will finish him off, and this hero eventually becomes Arthur.  Arthur and his horse pull the monster from the lake, finishing it off, and one of the horse’s hooves leaves its imprint in the Carn March Arthur.  See more on the Coflein website, where you can read a Llyn Barfog legend of green-clad fairies, two cows in love and a greedy farmer.

The return trip is just as good.  The wind had got up a bit, so it was nowhere near as hot.  On the entire walk I saw only six people, three separate couples.   That surprised me,because at this time of year it is usually quite popular with walkers.



Walking the Dolgoch Falls – lush green, dappled sun and the lovely sound of bubbling water

I decided that in mid September’s brief spell of stunning weather, the season’s probable last gasp, I would make it into a bit of a holiday and do some walks that I’ve either really wanted to do for the first time, or revisit some that I haven’t done in years.  This falls into the latter category.  I haven’t visited the Dolgoch Falls in over ten years.

Dolgoch on January 2nd 2010

That last Dolgoch visit was certainly a mistake.  On 2nd January 2010 my father and I agreed that we fancied walking the full Dolgoch circuit.  We had woken to find that the garden was covered in a blanket of snow, of which I still have photographs, but there was a beautiful cold winter sun and lovely blue skies.  In spite of the sun I have no idea what we were thinking.  When we arrived at Dolgoch, the car park was completely empty.  Not only was everything smothered in snow but there were random sheets of black ice as well.  We should have turned around at that point, but we didn’t.  It was absolutely hair-raising underfoot, but it was also remarkably beautiful.  Infuriatingly, we had done the entire walk without mishap and were just a minute or so short of the gate to the car park, which was in sight, when my father slipped on wet leaves lying over the path’s slate border and broke his ankle.  I have not been consciously avoiding Dolgoch as a result of that day, but somehow a favourite walk has been neglected for over a decade.

People go to Dolgoch to enjoy the fabulous tall, slender waterfalls, the churning rocky rapids and the fast shallows over water-rounded pebbles, and that’s why I was there too.  It is very accessible in terms of transportation.  There is a bus stop at the car park entrance, a large car park (with a pay and display machine), and the Dolgoch halt of the Tal y Llyn steam railway.  I drove there along the B4405 from Bryncrug, but perhaps the most popular and novel way to get there is on the super Tal y Llyn steam railway, which runs out of Tywyn (timetables and Covid 19 info are on the railway’s website).  The railway viaduct crosses the river at the bottom of the falls, worth a visit in its own right, and the railway stop is just on the other side of the viaduct.  If you’ve never been on the Tal y Llyn railway before, the train ride and the walk are a perfect combination that I’ve done many times over the decades in both rain and shine (I had a less girlie attitude to the rain when I was young).  There’s a café just beyond the car park on the path towards the falls.  If you are driving there’s also the possibility of a beer, a cream tea or lunch at one of the two lakeside hotels at the stunning Tal y Llyn lake, depending on the time of year and whatever Covid 19 measures are in place (turn right out of the Dolgoch car park and drive for about 10 minutes until you see the lake – both hotels are at the Dolgoch end of it).

I was lucky with the weather.  I arrived at 11am in full sunshine, the car park was fairly empty, and it looked as though the day was going to heat up quickly.  I love the heat, so that’s never a problem, but for anyone who prefers a bit of cool, this is the perfect walk on a hot or stuffy day.  The valley is very steep, and its slopes are covered in trees, the sky only properly visible when you get onto the highest reaches of the walk, with hilltops flanking you.  Even on a seriously sunny summer day this means that dappled light trickles through the leaves and does wonderful things to the water, but it remains a very pleasant temperature.  Everything is vibrantly, richly green, apparently a form of heaven for botanists who specialize in plants that thrive on a combination of shade, cool conditions and humidity.  The sound of the falls is ever-present, delicious, sometimes crashing and sometimes burbling.

There are two sets of walks possible.  The first is the short circuit that crosses the lowest and arguably the most dramatic set of the falls and has a number of short side-trails to viewing platforms over them.  The second is the main circuit that takes a couple of hours to complete, and heads near to the top of the hill before descending again to the level of the river, with crossings of various parts of the falls all along. The steep sections of the path are all beautifully done, the surface reinforced with huge bits of stone to form stairways, and stretches of stone pathway and, where needed, paths and steps are supplied with long sets of railings.  With Covid in mind, do take hand gel or wear disposable gloves, because you will need to use the railings to secure your footing (it’s damp and a bit slippery at most times of year), and you really don’t want to take any risks that Covid might be lurking on the hand rails.

For those of you also thinking of revisiting after a long time, there used to be a secondary route that took in some of the Dolgoch slate works on the western side of the river, starting beyond the picnic area, but although the picnic area is still there (and being used with enthusiasm) the path beyond is now sadly closed to the public, with a No Entry sign in place.  The path was quite high and narrow, next to a steep drop, and has presumably become unstable over the years.  The picnic area is a particularly pretty spot, with a run of rushing low falls cascading into a shallow, wider area of river surrounded by wide flat rocks, funneling into a narrower section of stream over small, oval pebbles and gravel, a riot of sounds.

The lower sections of the falls were fairly busy.  The Tal y Llyn steam train had arrived a little time before, and there were a few groups of people taking photos from the viewing platforms, but beyond these I had the long circuit to myself.  I didn’t see another person until I descended once again to the lower levels.  Bliss.  The higher you go, the further you go from the falls, but you can hear them clearly, a delicious sound as you walk through the dense greenery, emerging at treetop level with views across the hilltops.

Descending once again, the sound of the falls comes nearer all the time, and eventually you are back at the level of the river and the rapids.

The clouds had formed themselves into a thin veil when I emerged from the woodland, the sky still quite bright but no longer blue.  I had been planning a swim, but with the clouds hiding the sun the temperature began to drop, so I went for a short stroll along the beach instead.  It’s a remarkable thought, finishing off this post on 3rd October, with the rain slamming down, that this walk was only two weeks ago!  The thought of contemplating a swim now makes my hair stand on end!

Day Trip: The Grade II listed Pont Abermaw (Barmouth Bridge)

After walking up to Castell y Gaer hillfort in mid September, I drove to Morfa Mawddach railway station, a short drive away, and parked up.  This is a favourite route for cyclists of all sorts.  Some go there to do some serious peddling around the Mawddach on a marked out on the Mawddach Trail (following the route of the disused “Dolgelley Branch” of the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway line, which opened in 1869), others had hired bikes in Barmouth.  It’s the same with walkers – some are there to do the trail, others are just walking the bridge.  Fortunately, it was a very quiet day, at least on the bridge itself.  The views on a sunny day are great, and when the wind drops, the high-pitched sound of the oystercatchers is lovely.

The railway viaduct in c. 1869.  Source: Wikipedia

Barmouth Bridge, or viaduct, was built between 1864 and 1867 in  to carry the Aberystwyth and  Welsh Coast Railway, now the Cambrian Railway, across the Mawddach estuary, which it still does.  It cuts off an 18 mile trip around the estuary that would otherwise have had to be taken by the railway between Morfa Mawddach and Barmouth.  Designed by Welsh civil engineer Benjamin Piercy, and English civil engineer and architect Henry Conybearet, it has a span of c.800m, the longest wooden-framed viaduct in Britain.  It was grade II listed in 1988.

Although most have been replaced long ago, timber pile viaducts of the Barmouth bridge type were once common on the Welsh coastal railways.  Conybeare’s decision to choose timber as the main construction material was probably driven by much the same concern to save costs, rather than employing iron,.  Baltic timber could be brought to the site very cheaply by sea, and was a fraction of the cost that an iron viaduct would have been.  Although it was well known that Teredo navalis, a boring worm, could do considerable damage to vessels and sub-surface wooden structures, it was thought not to inhabit the Mawddach estuary, and may not have done when the viaduct was built.

The original design included a rolling drawbridge section that pulled back across the track and  enabled vessels to use the navigation channel into the estuary.  This was replaced by the twin-hogback steel lattice swing bridge in 1899, which, with a span of 41.5m, could swing open to let vessels pass, shown on a vintage postcard to the right.  The swing span was operated in March 1984 and April 1987, but permanent rails indicate that it is unlikely to be opened in the future.

After a number of repairs and renovations, the wooden elements supporting the span are composed of 113 timber pile trestles 5.5 metres apart, which are now encased in concrete sleeves reinforced by glass-fibre.

The viaduct has had quite an exciting life, with a number of challenges to its longevity.  It caught fire in 1892, and it was only thanks to a local boy, who raised the alert, that the fire was swiftly extinguished.  It had a lucky escape in 1946 when a live mine came in on the tide and touched one of the wooden pillars, but fortunately failed to detonate. In 1980, considerable dismay was caused by the discovery that Teredo navalis had eaten into 69 of the supporting pillars.  The bridge had to be closed, and restoration work was carried out over a six month period, during which a rail replacement service was run by the Cambrian Line between Barmouth and Tywyn.  In August 2015, there were real fears that the footbridge would be closed as part of a cost-saving exercise announced by Gwynedd Council.  The bridge had been a toll bridge, with a couple hired to collect small sums from users of the walkway, but with 90,000 visitors a year, these sums added up very nicely and contributed towards £38,000 that Gwynedd Council paid to Network Rail to keep the walkway open.   An online petition was immediately organized by a local resident, collecting over 20,600 names in support of keeping the bridge open.  A £1.00 honesty box system was implemented, but even on my one walk to Barmouth and back, it was amazing how many people didn’t contribute anything.  In October 2016 a fire broke out and the bridge had to be closed again, but only for a fortnight, with a rail replacement service also running between Barmouth and Tywyn.

On its 150th anniversary a celebration was held, and a special train was run from Shrewsbury to Pwllheli, pulling Riviera Trains Mark 1 carriages.  In March 2020 it was announced that the bridge was to receive a £25 million revamp from Network Rail to replace a large number of the timber and metal elements and install a new track along the entire span.

Sources

Barmouth Railway Viaduct. Coflein.  https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/34918/details/barmouth-railway-viaductbarmouth-bridge-cambrian-coast-line

Barmouth Viaduct. Engineering Timelines
https://web.archive.org/web/20141015015046/http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=1340

Closing Barmouth Bridge will have ‘big effect’ on economy warns charity.  North Wales Live.  20th August 2015
https://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/closing-barmouth-bridge-big-effect-9841952

20,000-name petition to keep Barmouth Bridge open to all. 21st August 2015.  BBC.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-34010645

Fire shuts Barmouth Bridge until next week.  North Wales Live. 4th October 2016
https://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/fire-shuts-barmouth-bridge-until-11978355

150th Anniversary of Barmouth Bridge Celebrated with Special Train Service.  Forwarder Magazine. 10th October 2017
https://forwardermagazine.com/150th-anniversary-of-barmouth-bridge-celebrated-with-special-train-service/

Barmouth Bridge £20m plan on its 150th anniversary.  BBC News. 10 October 2017
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-41568248

Barmouth Viaduct to get £25m revamp. BBC News.  26 May 2020
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-52807338

A visit to Castell y Gaer hillfort

Aerial view of Castell y Gaer. Source:  People’s Collection Wales via the RCAHMW

This can hardly be termed a walk, because the B-road runs around 15ft from the ramparts on an unenclosed section of open hillside overlooking the sea.  I certainly had a good walk on and around it, but it was not a walk in its own right, and I went elsewhere to stretch my legs properly afterwards.  For those of you hoping that the endless posts about hillforts will eventually come to an end – five down, four to go, plus a summary post 🙂   If you are wondering about the sunshine, this was actually on the 17th September, but I have a bit of a backlog at the moment.

Of all the hillforts in the series so far, this was by far the easiest to access and observe on the ground.

The approach is from the A493 coast road.  As you close on Llywgril from the south, there is a cemetery on the right, just before you reach the village itself, and a tiny, sharp right-hand turn in front of the cemetery.  The hillfort is about 3 minutes up the single-track road (driving slowly).  It is on private land, and there’s no public footpath, there are barriers to entry and the Heneb website states that the owner currently allows access, which is a generous courtesy.  I parked on the verge opposite.  The banks are liberally covered in gorse, but there are plenty of ways into the fort, including the original entrance at the far right as you look at it form the road.  Sheep tracks show that it is regularly visited by the local livestock, and they break through the gorse at a number of locations around the perimeter.

Castell y Gaer site plan. Source: Bowen and Gresham 1967

Castell-y-Gaer is quite different from most of the hillforts described so far.  Well preserved, it overlooks the sea but is not on the peak of the hill.  Although it seems high from below, which it is at just above the 120m OD contour line, it only has that drop on its western side.  It is on a slight knoll, very slightly tipped towards the sea to the northwest, a slope dropping fairly steeply away beneath it, running into pasture below.  The land around it on three sides, however, is fairly level and it is overlooked by higher ground on the same hill.  If it was not for the defenses, would present no difficulty to anyone attempting to enter it.

It measures c.60m by 30-44m and gives a sense of good amount of internal space.  The overall shape is sub-rectangular, and although the internal space tips to the northwest, the interior is far more level than any of the previous hillforts visited in the area, and it would not be surprising to find the foundations of structures within it.  Although not obvious at first glance, it does incorporate natural scarps above steep natural slopes on the west and north, but it is particularly notable for its artificial defenses, particularly its stone-faced banks, reaching 6m wide, and deep ditches, with counterscarping (second bank and ditch) to the southeast.  The stone appears to have been quarried from the ditches, and possibly from the hillfort interior.  Even though it is not at the summit of the hill, it is very exposed, and on an averagely breezy day was very windy.

Ditch on the eastern side

Stone-faced rampart

Stone-faced rampart to the north

Hillfort interior

Wider view of the hillfort interior

Ramparts along the eastern side

Ramparts looking northeast

The defenses have something in common with Craig yr Aderyn, which has similar wide, sloping rock-faced banks, but the entrance is more complex, the interior more open, and the siting completely different.

Plan of Castell y Gaer. Source: Heneb

The entrance is at the northeast corner, facing east.  On the eastern side of the hillfort the northern end of the outer bank overlaps with the southern end of the scarp, forcing the visitor the visitor to walk in facing north, but they are immediately confronted with more earthworks that force them round in a loop to the south, and this gives access to the entrance.  This dog-leg turn would have impeded access if control over entry was required.

The Coflein website says that the interior of the enclosure shows signs of cultivation and that a rectangular enclosure/platform, c.20m square, to the northeast may be connected.  It also records that there are extensive traces of relict fields occur to the west, although it does not comment on dating, although the close association between the fields and the hillfort makes a direct association possible.  The fields are visible on the photograph below,

Aerial view of Castell y Gaer. Source: Coflein (catalogue C821284)

 
The Afon Gwril runs down the narrow, shallow valley to the north, but is not a major water course, and it is unknowable if it was a reliable source of water in the Iron Age.  The OS map marks a well/spring immediately to the north.  Again, it is impossible to know if this was present in the Iron Age.

The views are all about the coastline.  As well as the sea immediately to the west, the coastline is clearly visible all the way to Barmouth and the mouth of the Mawddach estuary to the north.  Immediately to the north, the inland view is over a nearby hillside, now a pattern of drystone walls.  The Lleyn Peninsula was visible in the far north as a blue silhouette.  Behind the fort, rising to the east and southeast, is lightly sloping hillside.  This drops fairly steeply to the southwest of the fort in a line with the hillside beneath the fort itself.   The slope flattens gradually towards the sea, and both the hill and the fields below are grazed today by sheep at all levels and cattle on the lower levels.  To the south, pastures look out to the sea.

View to the west

Looking west from outside the southern bank of the hillfort.

Looking south across the gently sloping pastures to the sea

Looking north across the hillslope pastures towards Barmouth and the hills beyond

View from the hillfort to the east

View of the hillfort from the east

To the north, the hills behind the Mawddach are visible, at least on a sunny day.  To the west there is just sea.

View towards Barmouth, the Mawddach estuary and Dinas Oleu (approximate location marked with a red arrow)

There are no hillforts in sight to the south or east, just the immediate hillside.  The nearest hillfort to the south, also on a hill overlooking the coast but out of line of sight from Castell y Gaer, is Bwlch on Foel Llynfandigaid, which is around 4km away as the crow flies but a range of higher ground stands between them. A perusal of the Ordnance Survey map produced the site of Dinas Oleu, which sits immediately above Barmouth at SH61711578 and turns out to be the remains of an Iron Age hillfort (approachable via a footpath and there are a few details about it on the Coflein website).  The two sites are around 7km apart as the crow flies, and it would require a very clear day or night for any signals to be visible, not always a foregone conclusion in a coastal/estuary location.  The arrow in the above photograph is a guess, based on trying to match up the photograph with the OS map, and should be treated as extremely approximate.  The lack of a line of sight to the sites to the south does not rule out that Castell y Gaer had an important role linking north and south along the coast.

Although I included this as a possible outlier of the Dysynni and Dyfi hillfort group, I suspect that it is probably part of the Mawddach group, although at the moment, not having seen or read about any of the Mawddach hillforts, that’s just a guess.  This does not mean that it would not have been in communication with hillforts to the south, or that it did not have a potentially pivotal role in communication between north and south along the coast, but its main physical orientation to the north, its views to the north and its distinctive architectural features, suggest that it may be part of a slightly different tradition.

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.

Websites:

Coflein
https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/302716/details/castell-y-gaer

Heneb
http://www.heneb.co.uk/merionethforts/13castellygaer.html

 

Bryncrug Six: a self-guided walk in the Bryncrug area from “Country Walking” magazine

Years ago my parents used to take a magazine called Country Walking, which is still going strong, as a companion and guide to the walks they did all over Britain.  I am currently having a massive sort-out and today went through a large number of leaflets and walks, keeping some and disposing of others, always a horrible job.  This walk, torn out of the January 2004 issue of Country Walking looks excellent.  The introduction says that in 1993 local ramblers launched and won a campaign to save the route, known as Bryncrug Six, as a public right of way.  This is the victory referred to at the top of the article.  I have checked on the OL23 Ordnance Survey map, and the paths are all marked on it.  You can either head out by the Tal y Llyn railway, or park in Bryncrug, from where the walk starts.  Although I haven’t tried all of it yet, being somewhat obsessed with hillforts at the moment, I’ve walked the section between 6 and 7, which is excellent.  The untidy blue and purple annotations are mine, for my own use, as I found the black and white a bit of a jumble, making it a bit difficult to distinguish roads from streams.

A walk up Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock) #2 – the Iron Age hillfort

Looking up at Craig yr Aderyn from the medieval castle Castell y Bere in the Dysynni valley to the west

This walk has been divided into two, partly because I went crazy with the camera and took too many photographs, but also because I had quite a lot to say about the hillfort.  The second post, this one, is about the hillfort and what can be seen from it.  The first one was about the walk itself, how to get to it, where the two different forks take you to, and what views can be seen from parts of the route.

I am currently walking as many of the nine Iron Age hillforts in the local area as I can before winter sets in.  Or at least, I am when it’s not sloshing with rain and there’s no haze or mist to obscure views.  Fortunately there has been some glorious weather recently, after a rather soggy summer.  One of the wonderful things about hillforts is that the views are often terrific, and Craig yr Aderyn is simply the best.  It dominates the Dysynni valley from miles around, catching the light in dramatic ways, but I had never seen it up close.  Approaching it along the lovely road from Llanegryn for the first time, I was somewhat staggered when I rounded a corner and suddenly found it looming over me.  Drifting happily down the road, I had no idea that I had arrived so near to it.

Craig yr Aderyn is a highly visible local landmark in the Dysynni valley (SH643068), and is approached by small B-roads from Bryncrug or Abergynolwyn.  For full details of reaching Craig yr Aderyn and the route up, see my other post, about the walk rather than the hillfort.

A distinctly soggy part of the Dysynni floodplain.

Craig yr Aderyn, which translates as Rock of Birds, or more usually Bird Rock, is a major local landmark, abutting the of the Foel Wyllt hill ridge overlooking the Dysynni valley from the south. The course and character of the river Dysynni have changed over time.  Before the 18th century the estuary reached almost to the foot of Craig yr Aderyn, but the river silted up and is no longer navigable.  The land has been drained since the 1700s to create better quality land for farming, although standing looking down from the summit, it is quite clear that the land to the west still has some very boggy patches marked by beds of spiny rush (Juncus acutus), which is found in all freshwater flats, bogs and marshes herabouts.  It is not known what it looked like in prehistory, but the presence of a glacial valley with Cadair Idris at its back indicates that a melt-water river certainly passed Craig yr Aderyn on its way to the sea, and this will have established a valley route into which later hill drainage descended.  It would be useful to know what it was like during the Iron Age.

According to a Snowdonia Active publication (2018) the crag is made of rhyolitic tuff, rock formed from volcanic ash laid down after a major eruption through the Bala fault line c.800 million years ago.  It is separated from the hillside behind it by a saddle or col 100ft below the peak.  Its distinctive shape is immediately recognizable from miles around, almost always visible in the Dysynni area.  Its gaze always seems to follow you around.  Its summit is at 230m OD (700ft).  The hillfort is lower, at about 180 OD, 10m higher than the 170m OD Tal y Garreg, the next highest hillfort in the area.  Although the north face of the crag is very steep, the home of nesting birds and a route for rock climbers, there is a much more gradual approach to the rear.

Craig yr Aderyn is one of a small number of hillforts that were built near the Dysynni valley.  I’ve already posted about the two small hillforts at the mouth of the Dysynni, Tal y Garreg and Llechlwyd on Mynydd Garreg above Tonfanau, some 8km away to the west of Craig yr Aderyn.  Nearer to Craig yr Aderyn is Castell Mawr, c.5.5km to the west as the crow flies, about which I have also posted.  See the map at the end of the post.

At Craig yr Aderyn all of the hillfort construction work took place on a natural shelf beneath the rocky peak, which the hillfort incorporates.  Its man-made defenses consist of two phases of earthen and stone banks.  Today the fort’s ramparts are covered in grass, but most of them are still clearly visible, although it took me some time to trace them against the site plan on the ground.  Thankfully they are covered mainly with short turf rather than bracken or long grass, which makes the job much easier than at places like Castell Mawr.  The ramparts are impressive, and served to cut off the only realistic line of human access to the hillfort, as the other side is a sheer drop into the valley beyond from the summit of Craig yr Aderyn, some 270m below.  The combination of natural and stone-faced sloping man-made defenses makes this one of the most ostentations structures of this type in the area.  The site is thought to have been built in two phases.

This site plan shows how the ramparts are built into the rocks of the crag behind a natural shelf, using the existing topography as part of the design of the hillfort. The earlier phase is on the left, divided by a bank and ditch with a slightly inturned entrance. The second phase is on the right with a much deeper inturned entrance that forms a short passageway.  Source:  Bowen and Gresham 1967

The most obvious features of the first phase are the two sets of ditches and eroded banks, which once formed ramparts that were stone-faced.  This is sometimes called the upper fort.  There was an in-turned entrance at the southeast side through a gap in the rampart.  The enclosed area encloses approximately 0.8 hectares (just under 2 acres), and measures roughly 100 by 55m (c.330 x 180ft).  the shape formed against the line of the natural topography is a triangle.

Detail of the second phase entrance, with the inturned entrance forming something of a corridor into the second phase enclosure. Source: Bowen and Gresham 1967

In the second phase an additional line of banks and ditches were built on the eastern side to enclose a larger area of approximately 1.6 hectares, measuring 119 by 170m (390 x 560ft) on the east side, which was most vulnerable to attack. This included a substantial stone wall, much more impressive than the first phase.  Unfortunately, this has now collapsed, but its original line is still clearly visible.  Secondary improvements were a wall on the south side and two new banks to the east.  These were accompanied by another in-turned entrance, this a lot more prominent and well built than in phase 1.  Unlike the first entrance it could only be approached via a steep slope.  This is the entrance that the public footpath uses today, but even if you approach the hillfort at a tangent and follow a sheep track into the interior, the entrance is unmistakable from the interior.

The early excavations at Craig yr Aderyn, such as they were, produced very little in the way of dateable artefacts, and although a pottery sherd was identified at the time as Romano British, I have not seen any modern opinion on the subject of its date, and have no idea where the sherd itself is located today.  Even if this tenuous evidence was validated, it is not enough to tie in in with the other hillforts in the area, as none of those have been excavated and the architecture itself is only suggests very approximate dating.

View to the northwest from the summit

The location of the site is commanding.  It is c.9 km inland and therefore although the sea is visible, it has no view over the comings and goings of anything that was travelling along the coast.  If it was in league with any or all of the Tal y Garreg, Llechlwyd or Castell Mawr hillforts, that may not have been important.  What it did have, and still does, is  remarkable views over the Dysynni valley to the west and east from the summit, and good views towards the hill slopes to the north and south.   It is lower than many of the surrounding hills to north and south, but difficult to reach except via the saddle connecting it to the main hillside to its north.

View to the west

View to the east

Stone-fronted ramparts

The function of this hillfort remains unknown.  Even at 180m OD (590ft), Craig yr Aderyn cannot be completely ruled out as a settlement, but it it was very small, and would certainly be extremely inconvenient for permanent living, just like the other hillforts so far visited.  Although there are level surfaces that might have been suitable for settlement huts and storage, the only signs of settlement that have been found to date are an indeterminate feature found in 1874, and two possible and unconfirmed platforms in the south-east corner found in the 1921.   Whilst it might have been used as a seasonal settlement for taking sheep herds into the hills, it seems far too elaborate for this sort of role, particularly given the human resources required to build the impressive stone facing of the ramparts.

The entrance to the phase 2 extension to the hillfort

The stone-faced ramparts and entrance are themselves interesting, unique in the Dysynni area, and suggest that the site was particularly important to its builders.  In his overview of the Iron Age, Timothy Darvill in his overview of mentions that after c.400BC a number of sites were provided with sloping stone-faced ramparts, which he suggests were as much for ostentation as defense.  In a more recent discussion, focused on the Ceredigion hillforts, Toby Driver points to these as a recurring theme in that area, and he too suggests that they may have been intended to give the appearance of strength, a deterrent rather than being strictly defensive.  Although they would have required substantial investment in effort to build them, they would have been relatively easy to maintain, as their survival today demonstrates.

Upper (phase 1) and lower (phase 2) ramparts, both stone-faced

If there was insufficient stone for the facing from digging out the ditches, there was plenty of loose stone available for the ramparts.  Nearby rockfalls from the hill behind Craig yr Aderyn would have done the trick, and it is quite likely that those prominent today were the result of glacial activity.  The rocks in the immediate area were much bigger than any of those used for the stone facing, so they were probably broken up.  Interestingly, much of that rock is quartzite, some of it quite massive, but none of that was used in the rampart facing.  This suggests that the builders had a very specific vision, and it didn’t include quartzite.

The hillfort coming into view along the col (or saddle).

One slight oddity if the hillfort was to impress, is that it is not visible from a distance.  It is only when one is almost upon it that the impressive stonework comes into view.  Its appearance is defensive, because the ramparts are large and stone-faced, and the entrance well built, but the approach is not particularly challenging.  I paused twice for a breather on my way up, but I’m in my mid 50s and not at optimal fitness.  For a fit person it would present no difficulties at all, and for a hypothetical raiding party accustomed to such tasks it would have been all in a day’s work.  The approach is out of direct line of sight of the hillfort itself, and partly obscured even from the summit.  If its role was primarily defensive, lookouts would have to be stationed in the area to ensure that any threat was detected early.  its potential as a defensible retreat was tried and tested during the 10th Century AD when, according to a publication by Snowdownia Active, Tywyn was attacked and burned by Norsemen.  When they approached from the sea a warning beacon was lit on the coast, and Tywyn residents retreated to Craig yr Aderyn.  There are related theories for use.  One  are that the site might have been used as a refuge for local farming families or the most important of the local elite if there was conflict over land, or it could have been used as a secure communal store for important raw materials, food and craft products, including livestock.  There is really nothing to help narrow down a precise role.

Map showing the known hillforts in the area (my annotations in yellow). Source of map: Archwilio

From Craig yr Aderyn there is a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape.  From the hillfort it is a very short walk to the summit where there is an excellent, uninterrupted line of sight west to Mynydd Garreg and the sea in the distance, along the Dysynni valley.  Although I couldn’t make out the trig point or ramparts on Tal y Garreg hillfort through my telephoto lens, the ramparts are certainly in the line of sight.  The promontory on which Llechlwyd sits was easy to make out and I could see where Castell Mawr was located.  Bwlch too, which I haven’t yet visited, was easily visible, with its unmistakable trig point.  These lines of sight would have been no use at all for seeing what people were up to, because the other hillforts were simply too far away, but would be invaluable if the occupants were signalling to one other about any threats from outside the area, including from the sea.  There are no known hillforts nearer to Craig yr Aderyn.

The ridge at the left of the photograph, at the end of the Dysynni valley is Mynydd Garreg. Llechlwyd and Tal y Garreg hillforts are at the coastal end, and Castell Mawr at the opposite end of the ridge. Bwlch is also visible at far right. Views from Craig yr Aderyn

Bwlch hillfort from Craig yr Aderyn

Phase 2 ramparts, incorporating an enclosure that may be later in date

The second phase of the hillfort argues a renewed interest in securing the space, extending it over a larger area and adding further stone-faced ramparts.   Two distinct phases of hillfort construction have been identified at many sites elsewhere in Britain.  Although it is unknown whether the two phases at Craig yr Aderyn conform to this pattern, it seems worth giving a brief outline of the general framework.  The first British phase of hillfort building occurs, at the transition between the Late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age at c.800BC, gaining momentum after c.600BC.   These were generally single rampart-and-ditch (univallate) structures.  The addition of more defenses and additional banks and ditches then came substantially later, at a time when some other hillforts were abandoned at around 400BC.

Craig yr Aderyn from the hillfort Castell Mawr

Some hillforts in the south of England continued to be used into the Roman period.  It would not be surprising if those in  west Wales, became overtly defensive during and after the Roman invasion of Wales in AD74.  If the identification of Romano-British pottery was accurate, this might have coincided with a new anxiety about protecting the community from the threat of Roman incursion, or the threat of raiders coming to secure products to accumulate resources that would help negotiations with Roman traders or native traders securing goods to sell to the Romans.  According to Roman sources Britain was a good source of slaves, and rural areas were likely targets.

If it emerges that the local hillforts were contemporary at the time of their original construction,  I am leaning towards a completely speculative model of fortified sites being used to enable people to stay in touch and share early warnings about potential threats from further afield.  More about the role and function of local hillforts will be discussed on a future post, once I have finished visiting all nine hillforts (four down, five to go).

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.

Cunliffe, B. 1995.  Iron Age Britain.  Batsford

Driver, T. 2013.  Architecture, Regional Identity and Power in the Iron Age Landscapes of Mid Wales.  The Hillforts of North Ceredigion.  BAR British Series 583.

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

RCMHCW 1921.  Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments and Constructions in Wales and Monmouthshire.  An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire.  Volume IV: The County of Merioneth.

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

Snowdonia Active 2018. Craig yr Aderyn. Site Guides for Recreation.  Protected Landscapes of Wales.

Websites:

Archaeology Data Service
https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk

Coflein
https://coflein.gov.uk/en/archive/6512930/details/504
https://coflein.gov.uk/en/archive/6512928/details/504
https://coflein.gov.uk/en/archive/6512929/details/504

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

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (no date).  Hillforts in Dwyfor and Merioneth http://www.heneb.co.uk/merionethforts/9craigyraderyn.html