Historic Landscape Characterisation

Ardudwy - 33 Fieldscape - upper mountain slopes (PRN 18266)


© Crown copyright. All rights reserved, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, 100017916, 2005

Historic background

This area, as with area 25 and some others, comprises a large extent of upland which contains a vast wealth of relict archaeological remains. This area is located (principally) between the wooded hill slopes and valleys of area 29 and the rugged mountains of area 27. There is a range of evidence of early and middle bronze age funerary and ritual monuments in the area, focussed at either end of the area (the southern end includes some of the standing stones and cairn circles near Moel Goedog discussed under area 25, while at the north end is another concentration around Bryn Cader Faner). It may be significant that both areas adjoin major natural routes (which may even be linked), one from the coast and the other across the mountains.

There is no known settlement evidence for this early period, but in the later prehistoric period the main focus of occupation was on the fringes of the upland, on the better- drained, west-facing hill slopes with numerous settlements of various forms surviving where modern agriculture has not been too intensive. Again, these sites are concentrated in the south of the area (focussed on the hillfort on Moel Goedog) and in the north (concentrated between Moel-glo and Coetty-mawr, with outlying single huts at higher altitudes around Bryn Cader Faner).

The settlement at Maes-y-caerau (see photograph) is a form of the concentric enclosed round house that is not unique to Ardudwy but is locally typical. There is some evidence that this settlement style continued from bronze age styles. It evolved into more complex groups of structures, incorporating strongly built stone-walled buildings of different shapes and sizes for different purposes. The main later style of settlement was of more nucleated groups of houses in compact enclosed or unenclosed homesteads (of which there are examples near Moel Goedog in the south and at Moel y Glo and Coetty-mawr in the north).

The nucleated enclosed and unenclosed hut settlements are to be found all along the west-facing margins of the upland of Ardudwy and here they are distinctly concentrated in the irregular fields on the lower worth-west slopes of Moel y Geifr. Interestingly, though, these sites do not appear to be associated with strongly terraced field systems that exist further south (for example in area 25).

There are a number of relict sites which demonstrate occupation in the later, medieval period, again mainly within the irregular fields around Bryn-melyn and Coety-mawr, but the evidence for later occupation is scarce. The are just four post-medieval farms in the area (again on the north-west facing slopes of Moel y Geifr) which are between 17th and 19th century in date. The fields around these farms may represent 16th century encroachment on to the upland fringes, which had earlier, abandoned (prehistoric) occupation.

Key historic landscape characteristics

Relict prehistoric sites, fieldscapes

This upland area lies in one of the least agriculturally-favourable parts of Ardudwy, and partly for this reason a wealth of upstanding relict archaeology survives, particularly around the hillfort of Moel Goedog in the south and on the slopes of Moel y Geifr in the north. Most of the relict archaeology that it is particularly characteristic of this area has been described in the above section. There is a concentration of standing stones and ring cairns in the south, and a group of cairns in the north.

Particularly characteristic features in the landscape here are the nucleated groups of houses in compact enclosed or unenclosed homesteads, many of them retaining a mainly curvilinear shape that can be seen as developed from an original circular layout. There are in addition many, less- substantial relict features (many of which still await recording) which are an important part of the history and the landscape of the area. The central part of the area is surprisingly ‘empty’ of archaeological sites, but this may simply reflect a lack of fieldwork.

The irregular field pattern around the farms in the northern area, north-west of Moel y Geifr, probably has its origins in the prehistoric period (most of the prehistoric homestead sites area), but in their later phase may represent 16th century or later encroachment on to the upland fringes. This is a particular characteristic of upland fringes not only in Ardudwy, but also further north in Caernarfonshire (for example around Nantlle). Away from here, the whole area is divided up into large, irregular enclosures by substantial drystone walls (probably 19th century in date), although the pattern is less regular than elsewhere on the Ardudwy upland (area 02, for example).

There is a small number of stone-built, upland farms on the steep, sea-facing slopes of Moel y Geifr. There are no roads in the area and the farms are reached only by steep trackways that come up through area 22. There is no modern development here.

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