On the main road into the city
when the sun is low.
The traffic thickens, crawls.
It is a sluggish dragon glittering.
I am one of the dragon’s scales.
Suddenly the red sun is
right in the middle of the windscreen
streaming in.
I am transparent
and writing becomes visible
inside me
words in invisible ink
which appear
when the paper is held to the fire!
I know I must get far away
straight through the city and then
further until it is time to go out
and walk far in the forest.
Walk in the footprints of the badger.
It gets dark, difficult to see.
In there on the moss lie stones.
One of the stones is precious.
It can change everything
it can make the darkness shine.
It is a switch for the whole country.
Everything depends on it.
Look at it, touch it…

Further In, Tomas Tranströmer

Mynnd Nefyn
Mynnd Nefyn

Our week on the Lleyn began with a Sunday walk up Mynydd Nefyn on a day when the temperature was higher than on the Mediterranean. The lanes were ablaze with banks of gorse, red campion and bluebells, which grow along the roadsides all across the Lleyn.

A lane on the Lleyn
A lane on the Lleyn

As we gained height wonderful views of Nefyn and Porth Dinllaen in one direction and Cardigan Bay in the other came into view.

At the summit a sparrow-hawk circled above the ruins of the Gwylwyr quarry, established in the 1830s in response to the increasing need for granite setts for durable road surfacing.

By 1835 the quarry was in the hands of Samuel Holland who in 1844 succeeded in bringing together a few quarrying enterprises in the area as the ‘Welsh Granite Company’. The quarried setts were lowered down the steep inclined track which can still be seen, and onto the beach, just under Wern caravan site, where they were loaded onto ships. Activity declined towards the latter end of the 19th century as demand for granite setts for road-working lessened in favour of macadam.

We descended through the dark silence of a pine forest and finished the morning with a delicious pub lunch at Y Bryncynan at the crossroads below the Mynydd, reputedly the site where local hangings were once carried out.

The morning emerges in a counterpoint
of sun and mist;
a day streaming into
their branches.
They stand rooted
into the vertical,
like a Giacometti string quartet
talking things over musically
in a deep shaft filled with light.

– from ‘Pine Trees at Five Ways’ by Andy Brown & John Burnside

On Garn Boduan

Another day we walked to the summit of neighbouring Garn Boduan. The walk opened up spectacular views in all directions: to the north, the dramatic outline of Yr Eifl (The Rivals), the highest point on the Lleyn; to the west, views across Cardigan Bay to Porthmadog and beyond.

At Garn Boduan’s summit is a plateau on which there are the remains of a large Bronze Age settlement. This hill fort covers a very large area and encloses about  170 individual round huts in all. The huts were built in two phases, starting around 300 BC. The stone circles of the huts are clearly visible, making it a dramatic site.

Bronze Age hut circles on Garn Boduan
Bronze Age hut circles on Garn Boduan

The name Boduan translates into English as ‘the abode of Buan’. He is said to have been a grandson of the famous 6th century Bardic poet Llywarch Hen, this would place Buan in the years 600 or 650 A.D. It is quite likely, therefore, that this small summit fort was the actual residence of Buan.

The view from Garn Boduan

Hill forts  like this were the main settlement type in the Bronze and Iron Ages, but later development in the late pre-Roman and Roman periods would have seen a gradual abandonment of  hill forts in favour of more dispersed upland hut groups, holdings and farmsteads.

The first phase of building at Boduan was around 300 BC. Why did these people suddenly find it necessary to spend such considerable energy on constructing these massive forts ? It is thought that all this building was in response to the invasion of the area by Iron Age settlers, probably via the sea. After these hostilities were settled there are a couple of centuries of more or less peaceful co-existence between the two cultures. Around 100 BC. a second wave of Iron Age settlers are thought to have arrived in the area and this sparked off the second phase of stone-walled fort building at Boduan.

Sites like this may not always have been permanently occupied.  They may have been summer settlements, occupied by people looking after livestock brought to the high pastures during the summer months. But the settlement is so extensive that it must have served a more important function than merely a temporary dwelling for shepherds.

There is evidence of cattle husbandry, but as yet archaeologists have found no traces of cereal growing, suggesting that the site was occupied only minimally, with most people in the community preferring to live at lower levels. Some archaeologists speculate that the site became permanently occupied after the Roman invasion and the presence of the army base at Segontium (Caenarfon).  The site may even have been used by the Romans as a reservation area, into which they forced and then confined the local native population.

Mynydd Rhiw

On another day we walked up Mynydd Rhiw, near Aberdaron, now distinctive on the skyline with its radio mast, but 5000 years ago the busy site of a Neolithic stone-axe factory. Here, a type of rock especially suitable for the manufacture of stone axes and other tools was quarried from the hillside. The site was only recognized as an axe factory in 1956, when gorse-burning revealed that the low banks around a row of hollows were largely composed of flakes of fine-grained rock, with occasional roughly shaped axes.

On Mynydd Rhiw

A preliminary excavation in 1958, by the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments of Wales, showed that the hollows were the silted up remains of a quarry. A further excavation was sponsored by the Prehistoric Society in 1959, with the Board of Celtic Studies of the University of Wales, and yielded important information about the site, about the people who had worked there, and about the role of the axe factory in Neolithic cultural pattern.

The separate hollows on the surface today are all that can be seen of what was a more or less continuous opencast working, in all about 100 ft. long by 20 ft. across, following a seam of the desired rock. When one section of the quarry had been exhausted, it was partially filled with debris as the scene of activity moved away, and the resulting hollow was used for shelter by the axe-makers.

The view from Mynydd Rhiw

From the summit there was a superb view of the vast expanse of the sands at  Porth Neigwl (Hell’s Mouth).

4 thoughts on “Lleyn diary 1: hills and forts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.