The fascinating ages of Din Lligwy- Megalithic, Roman and Mediaeval.
Anglesey, as most people know, is a place rich in the remains of prehistory. But even on an island famed for its evocative ancient sites, Din Lligwy is something special.
It's a walled settlement, standing on an eminence a little way outside the popular tourist village of Moelfre, on the north east coast of the island. It sits within a mature grove of Sycamore, Ash and Hawthorn trees, which allow the light to gently dapple the bright white limestone blocks making up the remains.
Din Lligwy was excavated in 1905-7 by Edward Neil Baynes- in those days, excavation techniques were slightly clumsier than they are today, with subsequent technological and cultural advances in the science. But nevertheless, significant quanties of Roman material were recovered, mostly of the late third-fourth century AD. The remains here have been consolidated for public display- at the time we visited, (March 2019) some of the found artefacts were on display at the excellent Oriel Ynys Mon at Llangefni.
However, Neolithic flints have been found here, although we don't know at what horizon within the excavations they were located. But the presence of another feature nearby, the Din Lligwy burial chamber, makes it more than likely that this site was in some kind of use then.
The interpretation board at the site suggests that the village may have been in use during the later roman period, explaining the outer wall- the Roman influence was waning and chaos was beginning to descend on the land. We can't be certain. What we do know was that there were settlements here before Roman times that may have been consolidated...more remains lie outside the perimeter including a hut and stones which may be the remains of enclosures. This would suggest that the site was a locus for agricultural activity and fits in with the idea that this place was associated with a person of power and wealth, not a Roman. While the round huts would have gone out of fashion by 4AD, it may be that they were a return to the old pre-Roman ways. One hut base is larger, this is at the top of the enclosure and would have been the high-status dwelling. Excavations in this hut found Roman coins, pottery and a glass jug, as well as a silver ingot.
Other (square) huts were used as workshops- here large amounts of metallic slag, as well as remains of several hearths with charcoal formed from oak were found. It was evidently a workshop for the smelting and working of iron. The original entrance to the fortified compound was through a gap next to the external building.
The unanswered question here for me is: where did the ore that they were smelting come from? The nearest iron deposit was at Llandyfrydog Quarry, Llanerchymedd on Anglesey at SH451861, and there are other iron mines on Anglesey as well. Of course, this site is relatively close to the sea- perhaps ore was brought by boat, along with other high value items- in which case the ore could have come from Europe. We don't know for sure, but it is a fascinating thought.
The Burial Chamber
Not far from the settlement is the Neolithic burial chamber of Din Lligwy, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. This is an impressive reminder of the determination and capability of the Neolithic peoples, since the capstone is thought to weigh 25 tons!
This site was also excavated in 1908, when the remains of 15-30 people were found. Along with them were pieces of beaker and grooved ware pottery that provide evidence for the age of this tomb. It is from the end of the Neolithic period and so was among the last of these types of tombs in use.
The interpretation board reminds us that this tomb was covered over with stones and earth- I wonder where all that went to? Taken by farmers for rubble, perhaps. The sides of the gigantic capstone are marked with lines where the stone was hewn. It's not clear, of course, where the stone could have come from, but it was quarried and shaped. A little awe-inspiring to think that these tooling marks were made by men from such a long time ago- that really brought home to me the significance of this place.
The chambered tomb is nowadays surrounded by railings, the gate is locked but doesn't seem to preclude visits from sheep. The railings do spoil the atmosphere for photographers a little.
Hen Capel Lligwy
Nearby, to the north east of the settlement is a ruined chapel. This, perhaps, offers some clues as to the prosperity and population of the area in prehistory. Originally, this would have been a wooden church, but it is thought that in the middle of the C12 AD, (with the raids on Anglesey by Vikings becoming rare), many places of worship were rebuilt in stone.
We know that this chapel was first built in stone in the 12th century, but the upper parts of the walls were reconstructed in the 14th century. A small chapel, with a crypt underneath, was added in the 16th century. There is a small "borrow pit" nearby where stone was quarried to build the church. It's also possible to make out from the walls where repairs have taken place, as different types of limestone have been used.
The interesting point here is that the settlements that surrounded the church were probably made from wood- the area was likely to have been much busier than today, but most traces of the hut dwellers have gone. Populations moved away, and the wood from their dwellings was burnt as fuel by those who remained.
Locating the sites- and parking.
Din Lligwy Settlement is at Map Ref: SH4970286134
Burial Chamber- Map Ref: SH50138604
Both are Landranger Map Number: 114
The site is signed from the roundabout on the A5108 at Llanalgo. Coming from Moelfre, it is a right turn. Turning along this road, the Burial Chamber is seen first on the left- a small lay by offers parking for one car here. A quarter of a mile further on and there is parking for three/four cars at a layby - the chapel can be seen clearly, and the settlement is in the woods to the south east.
I am indebted to my friend Dave Linton for pointing out to me that iron ore could have come from Anglesey- and for his diligence generally!
Lynch, F. 1995. Gwynedd: A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales, Cardiff: Cadw
Yates, M. J. and Longley, D. 2001. Anglesey: A Guide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle of Anglesey, Cardiff: Cadw. P30.
We were out on the Llŷn recently -and we were lost. For those not familiar with Wales, the Llŷn is that bit on the map which looks as if it's an arm, pointing towards Ireland. A peninsula, and perhaps because of this, there's a particular quality which sets it apart from the rest of Wales. Maritime weather, low hedges and small fields, ancient, stunted stone hedges, even older hill-forts- and big skies. In some ways, Cornwall and extreme south west Scotland also have these traits, as does western Brittany. Bocage country.
Anyway, as I say, we were lost. But you don't stay lost for long here- as the Llŷn isn't exactly massive. More often than not, you just end up back where you started, but unable to find the place you are looking for. I noticed that we'd passed a couple of fine avenues of trees, going off into the fields. We kept passing avenues like this- or perhaps the same one... Then I spotted a place to park at the side of the road near one of these avenues, and we decided to explore.
There was a fine footpath board which informed us that this was the Lôn Goed, and that the path was supported by the active lifestyles fund. So we walked along in the early spring sunshine, enjoying the peace. The only sounds were the beautiful birdsong and the faint breathing of the wind in the branches overhead.
I looked up, aware of the fluctuating light as the oak and beech branches sparkled, making a lacework canopy above. I could almost feel the returning life in the trees after a winter of waiting. The green fuse, and all that.
We came to a bench, carved with some lines of poetry in Welsh..it seems that the Lôn Goed is prominent in the Welsh cultural consciousness through a resonant couplet by the Dyffryn Nantlle poet Robert Williams Parry: "A llonydd gorffenedig/Yw llonydd y Lon Goed," he wrote. "A perfected, accomplished quiet/Is the quiet of Lon Goed." (the words are from the poem "Eifionydd")
We dawdled along for a couple of miles, enjoying what felt like a healing quiet. You could hear stuff going on, sure- but as if in the distance. A tractor, a cow voicing a grievance. The inevitable transatlantic jet, high above. I imagine in summer, those noises will be muted by leaves. We turned back, deciding to come back again in summer and see.
So what was Y Lôn Goed? Apparently, a road made between 1819 and 1828 by John Maughan, steward of the Talhenbont/Plas Hen Estate, to facilitate the transport of lime and peat. The reasoning behind the trees was that they would help drain the land, making it easier for the farmers of the estate to carry lime from the kiln at Afonwen to the different farms and therefore improving the pasture. Y Lôn Goed runs for about five miles, winding in a northerly direction from Afonwen to Hendre Cennin. If you look on the old maps, it's possible to see a couple of tributary roads leading off, similarly flanked by trees. It is also referred to locally as "Lôn Môn," a corruption of the name Maughan. Y Lôn Goed means something like "wood lane" in english.
Parking is something of a problem at either end of the Lôn Goed. I suggest parking near the middle where we did, at SH 45910 43269. There is a very small length of the Lôn Goed which has been adopted by the highways department here, with space to park a couple of cars if done considerately.
Landranger 123 Lleyn Peninsula Map
Explorer 253 Lleyn Peninsula West
Explorer 254 Lleyn Peninsula East
You can purchase a poster with the poem and an illustration of Y Lôn Goed from Graffeg here
Carn Bentrych and Pen y Gaer, a tale of two ancient hill forts
It may seem shocking to readers of this blog, but I am quite partial to a bit of "ancient" history. The 19th century is a fascinating one for me, but like many folk, I am intrigued by the feint handwriting in the landscape of our forebears. Armed with an OS map, it is still relatively easy to encounter prehistoric features- despite the best attempts of farmers and developers to destroy them.
We had a couple of expeditions recently to two fine examples of hillforts, one on the Llŷn Peninsula and one nearer the fleshpots of the north coast of Wales at Llanbedr y Cennin.
Not an easy fort to find, especially since one of the charms of the Llŷn Peninsula is its winding, hedged lanes and the feeling that all roads lead to nowhere. An absence of useful road signs means that a map is essential! The grid reference is SH423416 / Sheet: 123.
We meandered towards the hill on a beautiful February day and arrived in the hamlet of Llangybi, parking outside the church. The whole place is rather quaint, but in an unselfconscious way. We walked south west along the main street and turned right along the road out towards Lon Las until we spied a footpath sign.
This leads to St Cybi's well, a delightful little spot nestling in the crook of the hill. There's much on the web about this place, suffice here to say people, in earlier times, came to the well to be cured or to get relief from a number of rheumatic ailments. The path followed a stream emanating from the well, which soon came into sight. A spring rises into a square structure to the rear and runs next door into another (nominally) square room which has alcoves for the bathers to put their belongings, or perhaps even to sit within. The pool is a square-ish feature in the middle. The roof appears to have been built up in the manner of a bee-hive above. The building to the right is much more modern, Victorian probably, and was no doubt used as a resting place for the bathers. It did strangely remind me of Bath, except that I suspect the water would taste better here...
I suppose I am a philistine, but I was keen to get going through the woods behind the spring. These were just wonderful, a mixture of elderly beech and oak. On the lower slopes, the sheepwreckers have been kept out and there has been some regeneration of the woods with other species such as hazel and birch. Further up, the lower storeys of the woods are unfenced, the ground closely cropped and the trees are not regenerating. They are still a fabulous sight- and while I do love the woolly girls, I wish they could be kept out of the woodland...there's plenty of pasture elsewhere on this site. We spent some time taking photos of the mossy rocks and trunks here. Despite the early part of the year, there were many butterflies out in the unseasonal sunshine, some Painted Ladies and the usual Red Admirals. A thrush was practicing some phrases, his song slightly rusty from the winter...probably feeling selfconscious as a couple of Robins were bugling away very professionally nearby.
Once out of the woods, we climbed quickly up to the fort. It was a surprise, much more intact than I would have expected. On the way up we followed a massive wall, probably constructed in the early C19 when Wales was carved up by landowners. Most conventional agricultural walls in Britain date to the 18th and 19th centuries, when huge areas of land began to be enclosed, that is, given private ownership and therefore requiring a boundary. The "Inclosure Acts" (notably the General Inclosure Act of 1845) resulted in huge poverty and crippling restrictions for the poor and the working classes. These acts of parliament meant that traditional rights to graze livestock on common land were suddenly ended. That caused a massive de-population of the countryside, with the poor folk heading toward urban areas, desperate for employment. Some stayed to become tenant farmers, but they were often left without rights and suffered much hardship. The severely distressed folk found themselves employed building walls, often alongside Napoleonic prisoners of war.
The wall that strides across the fort here, then does a strange arc off to the north, is one such "inclosure" wall, and is undoubtedly built with stones taken from the fortifications. But surprisingly, it doesn't detract too much from the place. I would have liked to have seen the place before though...
The ancient fortress consists of what would appear to be a smallish earthwork with two banks, augmented by a larger, less well fortified enclosure to the approx north-west.... the latter might have been for general living and the protection of animals. The innermost defence line looks almost too large, a massive, collapsed dry stone wall which was probably once much more substantial still, given the stone that must have been robbed from it by the "inclosure" wall.
Coflein quotes Frances Lynch (A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales Gwynedd p197 -1995. CADW) as stating that:
"The triple defences are probably of different dates. The innermost ring with its thick, high stone wall may be early medieval; the other two lines consist of walls and banks and are probably prehistoric with later alterations and additions".
Perhaps the place was built by prehistoric folk (there are a few feint marks in the ground indicating the presence of ring-huts), then possibly the place was repurposed in mediaeval times to serve as a local robber Baron's headquarters.
Needless to say, the views- and the sense of history- are wonderful
Pen y Gaer Hillfort
A very impressive site, and a little easier to find than Garn Bentrych! The map ref is SH750693, Landranger Map Number: 115
We drove up the narrow road, a familiar one as it is also the route to the Bwlch y Ddeufaen, with it's standing stones and slate quarries. Near the hill of Pen y Gaer you will see a turning to the left signposted for the fort- this is new and isn't on Google street view. Carry on up this until a small car park is reached.
We visited on another beautiful day. It would have been idyllic but for the farmers burning gorse. There are conflicting views on this, some sources maintaining that leaving the gorse and heather increases the risk of larger fires fuelled by the oils and dry matter in the plants. I wonder about the pollution, something very evident on our visit as the particulates hung in the air over an area of twenty miles.
We set off along the track but were soon sidelined by what appeared to be a ditch of some antiquity...later we found a toppled marker post, revealing that it was a buried electricity line- that was embarrassing! We spotted a lovely set of steps in an "inclosure" wall taking the footpath over. It was an easy scramble to the top.
To paraphrase the excellent interpretative sign board, the site was occupied in the iron age, between about 2300-1900 years ago (3000 BC to 100AD). Within the walls were 19 roundhouses, visible today as platforms cut into the slope. Excavations made here in 1906 uncovered a stone spindle whorl (for spinning wool), sling stones and evidence of iron working.
The Celtic tribe thought to occupy this fort were called the Ordovices and Pen y Gaer would have been an important power centre, probably a tribal boundary. The fort was probably attacked and destroyed by the Romans in the first century AD during their conquest of Wales- their fort at Caerhun, Canovium, was built in the valley below
The very notable feature here are the areas of stones, up ended so as to stick out from the ground and deter/hinder attackers. These are known as "Cheveaux de Frise" and can still be made out, an incredible survival.
This is a really impressive site and well-worth a visit- we will be returning when there is less smoke in the air!
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