Historic Landscape Characterisation - Ardudwy Historical Themes

Historical Themes


The area which forms the focus of this work encompasses the whole of the area of Ardudwy which has been identified on the Register of Landscapes of Outstanding Historic Interest in Wales by Cadw, CCW and ICOMOS, HLW(Gw) 2, (Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, 1995, p 74).

The study area is situated in the modern county of Gwynedd, and the historic county of Meirionnydd. It stretches from the vale of Ffestiniog (Afon Dwyryd) in the north to near Barmouth in the south, and from the tops of the Rhinogau mountains in the east down to the coast in the west. It includes a variety of different terrains and habitats, and of different historic landscape types, such as open mountain tops, heavily-wooded valley sides, low-grade agricultural land, small villages and beaches. It is particularly noted for its wealth of extensive relict archaeological remains, mainly dating from the late prehistoric period and for its World Heritage Site (Harlech).

There are few large towns within the area: the major settlements are Harlech, Dyffryn Ardudwy, Tal y Bont, Llanaber and Talsarnau, all of which are located on the area's main north-south, coastal axis, the A496. Inland, the area rises, sharply in places, to the tops of the Rhinogau range at 500m plus. There are few significant industrial archaeological landscapes in the area, the main exception being the Hafotty Mines above Llanaber. The area also contains two registered parks and gardens, Cors y Gedol and Glyn-Cywarch.

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map


In the medieval period, the cantref of Ardudwy was sub-divided into the commotes of Uwch Artro and Is Artro along the line of the eponymous river. The maerdref for Ardudwy, which was considered part of Gwynedd, was at Ystumgwern (area 15). The project area falls entirely within this region. Originally, before the Edwardian conquest and the subsequent formation of the county of Merioneth, the name 'Meirionnydd' applied to the cantref to the south of the Mawddach.

Following Edward I’s conquest of north Wales in 1284, the three new counties were surveyed. The extent of Merioneth being carried out by John de Havering, the justice of north Wales, and Richard Abingdon, the chamberlain. It was probably drawn up between March 1284 and November 1285. It is arranged under commotes but there is only a summary entry for each one, with few separate entries for the individual townships.

The purpose of the Extent was to record the rent, dues and services due a lord from his tenants, and Edward wanted to ascertain what had been owed to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd by his tenants in the post-1277 principality which would now accrue to him. Although they do not yield any information about the ‘gwely’ and the ‘gafael’ of individual townships, the section relating to the commote of Ardudwy records an annual payment of fourpence from each one of 80 tenements which are called ‘gafaelion’.

By 1352, when new extents of Ardudwy and Caernarfonshire were drawn up, Merioneth had been granted to Walter de Mauny and was not re-surveyed. As new extent of the county, however, was made in 1419-20 and this, too, contains details of ‘gwelyau’ and ‘gafaelion’. Demesne lands appear to have been more dispersed here than in other parts of Gwynedd, in Ardudwy at Ystumgwern, for example.

Thomas (1967b) has chronicled the extent of 16th-century (Tudor) enclosures of wasteland in Merioneth, most of which were intakes from the waste. He points out that the areal distribution of the encroachments reveals a heavy concentration in the rugged uplands of Ardudwy (as well as Penllyn). Here lay the greater number of the more extensive parcels, together with a liberal scattering of small plots reclaimed from barren patches in already long-settled lowland margins and valleys which penetrate the moorland (most notably the areas around Tyddyn Felin (ironically on the cusp between areas 15, 25 and 26) above Cwm Bychan; the sea-facing hillslopes between Afon Cwmnantcol and Afon Ysgethin (mainly areas 1 and 7); and on Mynydd Llanbedr (area 16 between Afon Cwmnantcol and Afon Artro).

Activity on the edges of coastal and riverine marsh is clearly revealed by the appearance of large intakes on Morfa Dyffryn in particular (areas 10 and 11, and part of 14). Competition for upland grazing resulting from the expansion of freehold properties, with all its costly litigation concerning appurtenant rights of pasture on the commons, may have motivated many tenants to cast their eyes in the direction of these marshes in order to obtain unspectacular but profitable gains of land in a less controversial area. With the most favourable pastures and potential arable soils already occupied (roughly, areas 1 and 15, along the lower hill slopes) expansion from the medieval bases could have proceeded in either of these directions (uplands or marsh) and it is abundantly clear that available techniques were too unsophisticated to permit large-scale marsh reclamation.

Where documentary evidence is available, it is clear that colonization of the moorland fringe was directed from existing farm holdings (see also below), whose limits were extended in an irregular manner on to the commons, thus providing a marked contrast with geometrical field patterns associated with the implementation of 19th century Parliamentary Enclosure Awards (upland areas 2 and 16 for example). A typical example can be seen on the lower slopes of Mynydd Llanbedr, at SH 620274 around Cae’r Cynog (area 16, but they exist in patches right down the area.

Unfortunately we do not have any data for the relative percentages of tenanted farms in Ardudwy in 1592, but elsewhere in Merioneth (particularly in Ystumanner) it is clear that where the percentage of tenanted land was high, the average size of encroachment plots increased (see also below).

At the same time there was a certain amount of dispersion of settlement and definite indications that some new homesteads were being built on recently-enclosed commons, (see Cae’r Cynog above). However, recorded examples of squatter settlement of this period are remarkably few and their distribution quite haphazard.

Early medieval settlement had been concentrated on the small scattered areas of well-drained soils on the lower slopes (see above and below) and subsequent expansion of township communities radiated from these zones. The product of this activity was a new moorland edge, a ‘crenellated margin of occupation’ (Thomas, 1967b) whose precise course and position depended on a whole complex of interacting factors. These included the tenurial history of encroachable land (since properties associated with Crown Leases attracted more prominent feeholders eager to carve out large enclosures), soil quality and vegetation and the role of altitude.

The only substantial estates in post-medieval period were at Maes-y-neuadd, Glyn Cywarch and Corsygedol (for example, Griffith Vaughan of Corsygedol purchased 20 parcels of ‘ffridd’ amounting to 533 acres in 1595, land which had passed through various hands since being granted by the Crown 20 years earlier).

During the Napoleonic Wars, demand for increased productivity led to a re-assessment of agricultural resources, particularly of the common lands, many of which had been eaten away over several centuries by private Acts of Parliament and illegal encroachments (Thomas, 1967). At the same time, in 1801, the Merioneth Agricultural Society founded.

The visible results of the partition of common lands among private owners in both lowlands and uplands was dramatic, since the long stone walls which seamed the ffriddoedd and the drainage channels which enlightened land-owners caused to be cut in embanked marshes, produced a network of large rectilinear fields which contrasted sharply with the irregular patchwork of the small older enclosures. Common land enclosed at the beginning of the 19th century included Llanfihangel-y-traethu (1806), Llandanwg (1806), Llanfair (1810), Llanbedr (1810), Llanenddwyn (1810), Llanddwywe (1810) and Llanaber 1810)

The enclosure and draining of part of Morfa Harlech (area 30) in 1789 by the Glyn Cywarch estate (area 31) meant that the burgesses of the town (Harlech, area 18) lost rights of common there. As an inevitable concomitant to these measures, rents increased rapidly and Kay (1794) observed that they doubled or even trebled.

The beneficiaries of improved techniques, enclosure, rising rents and prices were evidently not the smallholders and tenants who formed the bulk of the population, but the magnates who were enabled to entrench their position of wealth and political power. Much of the newly enclosed land was unimprovable under technological conditions then operative and in general the new farms created were out-numbered by extensions of hafodau and other pre-existing nuclei on the ffriddoedd, or of units which formed part of the pre-enclosure web of settlement. Encroachments of long standing were indeed recognised by the Commissioners as being legal, but the expansion of the agricultural area offered few possibilities for relieving population pressure, because the price and rent mechanisms operated in the interests of the large producers and great landlords against the peasantry, whose clamour for new holdings and leases made the situation worse.

At the other extreme there were those who were prepared to bear the insecurity of fluctuating agricultural prices, mortgages, leasehold problems and bad harvests. Often these families deliberately flaunted the law and set up house as squatters beyond the moorland edge, believing perhaps quite sincerely the ‘ty un nos’ tradition gave them protection when in dire need. To the many hafodau and lluestau which now became permanently occupied farmsteads were thus added a new settlement element, very similar in form and derived from similar causes, the isolated cabins with one or two small fields or gardens, cut off from the rest of the community in more senses than one.

Such epidemic outbursts of squatting and the more overt prodding of field boundaries into the commons gave the moorland edge a very sinuous and ragged outline by the 1840s and from many a Tithe map one can mentally reconstruct the emergence of the landscape by a study of settlement and field patterns along the margins of surviving areas of common.

As an example of the size of farms in 1840s, in Llanddwywe 27 were between 1-24 acres in size, 25 between 25-49, 20 between 50-99, 9 between 100-199 and 19 were larger than 200 acres.

One of the consequences of encroachment onto the commons and Crown lands in the sixteenth century was the growth of large farms as part of the estates rather than among other freeholders, and it was the landlords who gained most from Parliamentary Enclosure in the early nineteenth century, so that it is generally true that farms on the greater estates in the 1840s tended to be larger than those owned by lesser freeholders or smaller estates.

Thomas (ibid) has argued that in those parts of Ardudwy which had a particularly complex tenurial history since the medieval gafaelion were created, especially on the lowland margins of the vast moorland blocks, the resistance of lesser freeholders to estate building had been more effective and that these localities were still areas where smallholdings predominated.

The tithe schedules represent a source of information which is post-enclosure and pre-railway in many areas of the Highland Zone, the effect of wartime conditions of artificially high grain prices is still much in evidence right up to the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Nevertheless, some farms on reclaimed marsh show very distinctive field patterns and hence farm boundaries which might lead one to describe them as a new morphological type within that group of holdings where pasture was the over-riding feature of land use.

The whole structure, economy and related social attitudes of the estate system had become deeply ingrained not only in the minds of the people, but also in the landscape, and one is constantly aware of looking at farmsteads that are usually at least a hundred and seventy years old, and at field boundaries that derive basically from the sixteenth century, if not earlier.

In 1840s, according to the Tithe Estate maps the largest farm in the county comprised the 1,425 acres of Graig isaf, Graig uchaf and Graig Fforchog in Cwm Nantcol (area 17 but extending into area 16) leased by William Ormsby-Gore to Morris Jones & Robert Owen. This is an example of another feature of compact gentry estates; the demesne was kept on hand, while other farmsteads were let to individual tenants and, occasionally, even the demesne was tenanted, as at Corsygedol.

From the 13th century onwards there is evidence of hendrefi and hafodydd not only as kinds of dwellings but as particular places with specific names. By the 16th century, hendre and hafod names occur frequently in records; hafod names occur much more frequently than hendre names, which is to be expected because the latter, being well established holdings, were less prone to be subjects of litigation than were hafodydd which were evolving as holdings on the edge of open moorland, and not apparently without aggression and strife. It seems fairly clear from instances noted above that by this time, if not before, the places bearing hafod names are, like the hendre, distinct places which are owned and let, and it may be that some were already separate from the hendrefi.

Edward Llwyd in his Parochialia (1699) notes several hendrefi and hafodydd in Meirionnydd, listing for example ‘Hendre’ in Llanfihangel-y-traethau, as being among ‘Y Tai Kyvrivol’ or ‘The Chief Houses’ in the county, and ‘Hafod y wern’ in Llanfihangel-y-traethau amongst ‘other houses’. It is clear that the hafodydd named by him were separate properties and not the upland appendages of lower-lying farms. In short, in many cases the hafod had become a separate farm, although not in all cases.

While it would seem that some hafodydd were already distinctive holdings even in the 13th century, and that the process was well forward by the 16th century, it is clear that other hafodydd continued to be used as centres to tend the use of the upland pastures in summer until the early part of the 19th century; several of the travellers in Wales refer to it. The fullest and best-known description is that given by Thomas Pennant and relates to the Snowdon massif. He recorded also (1773) how the owner of Cwm Bychan ‘distributes his hinds among the Hafotys, or summer dairy houses, for the conveniency of attending his herds and flocks'.

It is clear that the practice of maintaining a hafod and migrating to it for the summer grazing came to an end at different times in different areas, and also that the evolution of some of the hafodydd into separate, and eventually independent, farms proceeded at different rates from, at the latest, the 16th century onwards and probably from an earlier date. It is clear also that not all hafodydd became separate farms and it is more than likely that many hafodydd, when they became separate holdings, dropped the name hafod or hafoty and took other names.

The vertical distribution of hendre and hafod/hafoty names in the area is significant. The hendre/hendy names lie, in general, below 180m (Hendre-waelod in Cwm Nantcol is perhaps the highest), while the hafod/hafoty and ffridd names lie predominantly above 200m. Another occurrence which is worth noting briefly is that of the name Meifod. This could mean ‘May dwelling’ or it could mean ‘middle dwelling’ between a hendre and a hafod. There is a pair of farms so named – Meifod-ucha (72 acres) and Meifod-isa (73 acres) just north of Cors-y-gedol on the middle hill slopes. Their location is consistent with their being an early summer, or middle, station between winter and summer dwellings but the evidence is very scanty.

A particularly significant characteristic of the upland agricultural landscapes of Ardudwy is the detached field barn, or beudy, which appears in considerable numbers in association with later post-medieval upland farms such as Gilfach Goch (area 15), as well as with others of identical form at a greater distance (e.g. near Rhydgaled isaf (SH590313). Typically they are built end-on to the hill slope, and the lower part, accessed by a doorway at the lower end, was used to over-winter cattle, while hay and fodder was stored on an upper level access from the opposite gable end. Although these have not been studied or closely-dated they would appear to be late 18th or early 19th century in date (at the earliest) and although some remain in use many of them are now in a ruinous condition, particularly in the more remote locations. This use of outfield barns is particularly characteristic of the Meirionydd area in general, and contrasts with many similar upland areas in Caernarfonshire.

The area has very characteristic ‘traditional’ field walls, most of which are of some form of dry-stone construction. In some areas (for example, 13 and 25) much of the current field pattern is probably prehistoric in origin. Many of the field boundaries appear as low rubble banks, now slightly spread, and are in assocation with enclosed hut group settlements. Many of these have later stone walls built on top and are still in use, around Bron-y-foel (area 7) and Byrllysg (area 13) for example, while others are relict features. Many of these ‘prehistoric’ boundaries are of orthostatic construction in the foundation, at least in part and particularly distinctive of the mid-upland, sea-facing hill slopes. Thir distribution does seem to mirror that of the hut group and curvilinear settlements and none so far observed are in areas away from such sites.

There are very few earthen banks in the area, and no cloddiau in the Llyn tradition, and those there are are to be found in lowland settings, although many of the earlier boundaries are now quite overgrown and do have this appearance. Due to their continued use over centuries many appear now as terraces or lynchets, with the ground surface on the upper slope side often 2-3 feet above the ground level on the lower side. These boundaries have a distinctive curlinear pattern in plan, which often follow the grain of the land, which readily marks them out from later boundaries which are principally straight, often paying little or no heed to their landscape setting (for example area 02). They are still recorded as ‘wandering walls’ following Bowen and Gresham’s description (1967).

Later (post-medieval) boundaries are again typically dry-stone in construction, and are to be found in a bewildering variety of local styles across the landscape, probably marking both chronological development and local vernacular traditions. They vary from the almost-white, straight walls dividing the green fields of the lowland coastal strip (area 03) to the harsh, somewhat incongruous lines which run across the remote uplands (area2). In between, distinctive styles of construction (particularly the use of coping stones) and technique, and their physical location (some are built to run down slopes which are almost vertical) make these later stone walls possibly the most distinctive historic landcape feature of Ardudwy.

A regional survey of agriculture in Wales conducted in the early 1940s (Ashby and Evans, 1944) came up with a number of interesting statistics: these included the fact that the average size of holdings in Merioneth as a whole was 46.3 acres, over 56% of the land was rough grazing (the second highest county in Wales), and that 29% of the land was under cultivation (but that only 8.8% of cultivated land was used for growing crops). The uplands of Merioneth had the lowest percentage of cultivated land and the highest proportion of sheep in Wales. Also, north-west Wales in general was the area where large landowners were most prevalent and where there was a significant number of small holdings.

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map


Non-nucleated settlements

Buildings (with the exception of churches) begin to register in the history of the area from the sub-medieval period (especially the later 16th century) onwards. The area is comparatively rich in sub-medieval houses, including substantial gentry estates (including Cors y Gedol (1576 - area 9) and Egryn (area 1 – recently dated 1496, the earliest dated house in Ardudwy (Smith, 2001, 424)), as well as more modestly sized farm-houses (Uwchlaw’r coed, Cwm Bychan - area 28) and Lasynys-fach (area 30). This chronology reflects late medieval and Tudor social changes associated with the formation of small estates, and the establishment of a class of tenants holding land on long leases.

By the accession of Elizabeth I the open hall (such as that at Egryn) was beginning to lose favour amongst the middle ranks of Merioneth society and a plan form appears in the 16th century that is difficult to relate to the locally-common types of medieval hall houses. This was the two-unit, end-chimney, direct-entry house where the gound floor consists of a large room heated by a fireplace and separate from a parlour and store-room by a cross-passage, with two chambers on the first floor. This is by far the commenest sub-medieval type in western Merioneth (Smith, 2001, 432), and the earliest known example (dated by inscription) is Uwchlaw’r-coed – area 28): there are many other undated examples such as Brynrodyn. These houses are relatively small, and for this reason they are often found incorporated in what has been described as the ‘unit system’ where a second complete house has been added to the first.

Many of the relict archaeological remains (long huts and platform sites particularly) which survive in marginal, upland areas (areas 6, 7 and 26 for example) are probably the sites of contemporary, poorer dwellings.

The known homes of the 'Patrons of the Bards' in the post-medieval period also give a flavour of which were the houses of the relatively well-off. From north to south these have been identified (Bowen, 1971) as Plas (probably Llandecwyn), Maesyneuadd, Glyn (Cywarch), Cwmbychan, Gerddibluog, Tyddynfelin, Cae-nest, Talwrn, Maesygarnedd, Taltreuddyn, Corsygedol, Hendrefechan, Egryn and Llwyn-du.

Preliminary impressions suggest that most farmsteads were established early on, as there is a high preponderance of early (pre 19th century in this context) buildings including farm-buildings. Amongst these are Caerwch (SH636369), Cefnfilltir (SH 586337) and Hendre Fechan, Tal-y-bont (SH595212). Llandwywe farm, with its complex of well-preserved agricultural buildings (including barn, cart shed, beudy and potato clamp, next to the church on the main road (area 14) is a remarkable survival. There is also an important series of later, 18th and early 19th century, medium-sized and even large farms (see above), many of which may be either re-builds or later established farmsteads (e.g. at less-favoured locations). A particularly striking example of a 17th/18th century farm which is architecturally distinct with no obvious parallels is Penrallt (area 15, just east of Llanbedr): it has a huge and imposing stableyard approached through a grand gateway

These larger farms, by and large, are set in lowland contexts, on lower hill slopes facing the sea or in secluded valleys. In addition, the area is rich in well-preserved small farms of a distinctive 'upland' character, many of which have been listed. Some of the finest examples include Argoed (a small unit-type farmstead with a fine collection of outbuildings set around an irregular yard - area 25), Drws-yr-ymlid (dated 1735 onwards, again with a small collection of outbuildings including pigsty, brewhouse and fowl house - area 25 again), Merthyr (originally a single-storey farmhouse with end-on extensions and a small, informal yard - also area 25), Foel (a simple, small farmhouse with windows only in the front and no outbuildings) and Nant Pasgan mawr and bach (two 18th or 19th century small isolated farmsteads in the top of area 22).

There are some exceptions to the idea of early-established farms: for example, there is a series of 19th century farmsteads set out along the road on Morfa Harlech (Pen-y-waen, Ty'n-yr-acrau, Ty'n-y-morfa, Ty-canol and so on) which demonstrate late settlement of improved coastal lands. There are also several 'model estate' farms dating from the same century, again on the lower, more fertile land, purpose-built with large houses and usually set around some form of courtyard: Felinrhyd-fawr on the roadside in area 5 and particularly Plas y Bryn, just outside Llanbedr (area 14) are good examples. The latter, a part of the Cors y Gedol estate, still has an impressive range of agricultural buildings including a circular dove-cot, cowhouses and a barn with magnificent cast iron pillars.

There are very few small-holdings in the area: a rare example is the listed farm Gilfach goch (SH587326), which dates from the 17th century onwards, just above Llanfair (area 15). There are, in addition a small number of wayside cottages, but the growth of several villages in the second half of the 19th century (see below) could to some extent represent the replacement of earlier, poorer dwellings (a shift from scattered settlement to villages being a well-known 19th century pattern).

In the 19th century the emphasis on building appears to have shifted in favour of, first, a village-based followed by a coastal/leisure economy, still largely based around the 19th century village nuclei (see next section). This pattern is still very much in evidence today.

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map

Nucleated settlements

Although, as we have seen, much of the area is characterised by the scattered settlement of farming, nucleated settlements are also a distinctive element of the historic landscape. Almost without exception, all the nucleated settlements lie on the lower, sea-facing slopes alongside the main (modern A496) north-south road. The one exception is the small settlement of Pentre Gwynfryn, east of Llanbedr and partway along the road to Cwm Nantcol and Cwm Bychan, for which a 'medieval origin' is claimed in the Atlas Meirionnydd (Bowen, 1971).

Original (and presumably early) 'Celtic' church dedications are to be found associated with Llandecwyn (now an isolated church in area 22), Llandanwg (now surrounded by a 19th and 20th century 'holiday' settlement - area 4), Llanenddwyn (now almost isolated below Dyffryn Ardudwy - area 14) and Llanddwywe (also almost isolated below Cors y Gedol in area 8). Other medieval dedications include Llanfihangel-y-traethu (on the former island of Ynys, area 19) and Llanbedr (still a substantial nucleated settlement, but with no medieval domestic buildings - area 18). With the exception of Llandecwyn, all of these are on the low-lying coastal strip, within easy access of the sea. Llandecwyn probably lies on an early trackway which led up from the sea (Traeth Bach, at the mouth of the Afon Dwyryd) and across the mountains to Trawsfynydd (or earlier, possibly, to Tomen y Mur).

The single, truly nucleated medieval settlement in Ardudwy was Harlech (area 24, see below): however, even here the ancient origins of the town have left no real trace beyond the castle walls, although Speed's drawing of 1610 suggests the original town was probably laid out along Stryd Fawr and up Pen Dref. While there are some 18th century buildings here, the vast majority are 19th and 20th century in date, and the layout of the town and its building stock clearly reflect both the precipitous location of the town on a steep slope, and the expansion of the town following the coming of the railways and road improvements in the mid-19th century.

The only other settlement which appears to have a pre-19th century core is Llanfair (area 23). Here, the church (13th century in origin but heavily restored in 1857) is surrounded by an irregular cluster of probable 18th century buildings, while the 19th and 20th century additions straggle out across the hillside above to the north.

All the other nucleated settlements, from small groupings of buildings, often no more than extended farmsteads such as Glan-y-wern near Glyn Cywarch, through sizeable villages such as Ynys, Talsarnau, Llanfair and Tal-y-bont to the largest villages (Llanbedr and Dyffryn Ardudwy/Coed Ystumgwern) appear to have grown up along the main road (but interestingly not the railway) during the nineteenth century. As has already been noted, this reflects the shift in emphasis at this time in favour of, first, a village-based followed by a coastal/leisure economy, still largely based around the nineteenth century village nuclei.

All these settlements have a mixed artisan/holiday architectural character, reflected in the incidence of chapels and of terraced houses as evidence of the former (for instance in Dyffryn Ardudwy on the eastern side of the road - area 12), and taller terraces and bungalows for the latter (parts of Harlech and Llandanwg/Llanfair - areas 24 and 4). The development of the 'holiday' economy and it associated buildings can be charted through several distinct phases and types (e.g. private villas, seaside holidays, retirement bungalows and caravans).

Other nucleations are smaller clusters, perhaps established around isolated rural chapels. The smallest nucleations are the ‘unit system’ farmsteads, which are a significant component of this area: several examples have already been documented (e.g. Argoed, Tyddyn y felin and Llanfair Isaf).

A strong arts and crafts tradition in the early 20th century continued an impressive formulation of an architecture of stone: this is seen at its best in the series of houses on the southern edge of Harlech (area 24) associated with a cosmopolitan group of artists centred on the figure of A. Davidson, whose home subsequently became the nucleus of Coleg Harlech.

Finally, the new nucleated settlements of the late 20th century are in all-to-conspicuous evidence all along the coastline from Tal-y-bont down to Llanaber in the form of vast, regulated static caravan sites (area 3). These make few concessions to local landscape character and have led to some extremely odd juxtapositions of traditional (field walls and stone farm buildings) and modern (caravans, fish and chip shops and entertainment complexes).

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map

Building types and material

There is a distinctive agricultural economy evident in the pattern of building in Ardudwy. In the upland areas, many farms (e.g. Argoed and Drws yr Ymlid, both area 15; Cefnfilltir, area 7), are characterised by an informal grouping of buildings in proximity to the house (e.g. Llecheiddor Isaf, area 7) and sometimes, though not often, in-line with it (e.g. Tyddyn Sion Wyn (area 25), Caerwch (area 22) and Llidiart Garw (area 25). Often, a little further away, there is a detached field beudy (Gilfach Goch (area 15) with others of identical form at a greater distance (e.g. near Rhydgaled isaf (SH590313), although many of these are now in a ruinous condition, particularly in the more remote locations.

Ruined structures (e.g. at SH647317 in Cwm Bychan) may be traces of an earlier agricultural economy involving the hafod system of seasonal transhumance. The general upper altitudinal limit for farms today is around 200m, and there are none beyond 300m. However, there are recorded deserted rural settlement sites at heights of up to 400m (for example on the lower slopes of ) which have been interpreted as seasonal dwellings (Kelly, 1982).

There are some tighter groupings of farm-buildings in both upland and lowland settings. Buildings for stock, and especially the field cow-house, predominate (see above), but the incidence of threshing barns traces a mixed agriculture. Open-sided hay-barns are also characteristic, mainly in the lower lying areas (for example Felinrhyd fawr - area 5; and Plas y Bryn - area 14) and associated with 19th century improved agriculture.

Although there is ‘archaeological’ evidence for a prior tradition of framing (e.g. the early building at Egryn (area 1), a cruck-framed barn at Coed mawr (area 15), and the high standards of internal carpentry in sub-medieval houses generally), the dominant character of the area is given by the use of stone. Nuances in its use are to be seen especially in the farm buildings, which vary from dry-stone wall construction (mainly upland farms such as Nant Pasgan-mawr), to mortared walls (lowland farms such as Freedman Dolmygliw - near Llanbedr, area 15): this variety is partly connected with the chronology, but also relates to socio-economic factors. There is considerable variety within each, relating primarily to the quality and character of the locally-available stone.

Amongst the dwellings, the early development of a compact storeyed house stands out (dating from the second half of 16th century onwards), although there are some examples of ground floor open halls (e.g. Egryn - area 1). Typically, the ope hall was superseded by the storeyed end-chiney house, typical of the Snowdonia area (Smith 1985). The earliest dated example of the prevalent 2-unit storeyed house is Uwchlawr coed (1585 - area 7). Others include Bron y foel isaf (also area 7), Cwm Bychan (area 28), Penarth (area 15), Coed mawr (also area 15), Plas Llandecwyn (area 22), Crafnant (area 28) and Llwyn Hwlcyn (which also has an impressive array of outbuildings which includes a threshing barn, cowhouse, stable and cartshed - area 15). These ‘gentry-type’ houses appear in a surprisingly wide range of geographical locations (upland and lowland) suggesting small estates in scattered locations in the post-medieval period: this might be supported by the relative absence of small holdings on the upland fringes (a landscape which is very different, again, from parts of Caernarfonshire). It has been suggested (by Smith, 2001) that the relatively small size of this house type may be connected with the numbers of unit-system dwellings in this area (see below). This house type readily assimilated the simplified Georgian form characteristic of much of the 19th century, perhaps the most noticeable development being a tendency towards a more compact plan.

The introduction of the Georgian traditional to the regional vernacular tradition from the late 18th century onwards (see above) had considerable impact on the appearance of the buildings. This is probably most easily recognised in the size and type of windows which vary, again according partly to chronology, but partly to location. For example, late 18th or early 19th century lowland farms such as Caerwych (area 22) are two-storeyed, have substantial 'Georgian' sash windows and are of two or even three bays. Upland farms, on the other hand (again probably 19th century in the main) are often single-story, sometimes with projecting first floor dormer windows (such as Nant Pasgan-mawr, further up area 22) or alternatively small windows (such as Llecheiddor Isaf (area 7).

Roofs are generally of slate, but there is a distinction between graded, random and often bedded slate roofs, and the more regular machine-cut slates. Many farm-buildings are now roofed in tin sheet (presumably replacing slate or thatch) and its red colour is a distinctive element in the landscape, especially amongst the smaller, upland farmsteads (e.g. Argoed).

One point of interest is the almost complete lack of the use of brick as a building material: with the exception of a few houses in Harlech and Llanbedr (including the present youth hostel), all of the building stock of the area is built of stone, although some of the 19th-century farm buildings on Morfa Harlech for instance (e.g. Tyn' y acrau - area 30) may be of brick-build underneath their render. There is no use of brick in the upland parts of the area, and no use has been made of the usually-ubiquitous Victorian yellow-brick associated with the coming of the railways outside Llanbedr.

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map

Relict archaeology

The coastal plain

Much of Ardudwy consists of upland (above c. 240m), or hill slopes marginal to the upland. The lowland area comprises only the coastal plain, narrow at the south (area 3) but broadening to the north in Morfa Dyffryn (area 10 and 11) and Morfa Harlech (areas 30 and 32). These coastal plains are very low-lying and level and the lowest parts have a peat cover. They represent the fringe of a coastline drowned by rising sea-levels during the post-glacial period. The peat cover, with tree stumps of a ‘drowned forest’ and an underlying salt-marsh clay are exposed occasionally in the intertidal zone of the eroding coast edge. The clay has produced red deer antler and deer and cattle bones that are as yet undated (Kelly 1982) but they can be compared finds from similar deposits studied in some detail at Ynyslas and Borth, further to the south of Cardigan Bay. There, intertidal peats are exposed for some 5km along the shore. They appear as outcrops on the beach from beneath the adjoining Borth raised bog, under which they must extend, and consist of fen, alder carr and forest beds overlying salt marsh clay (Heyworth and Kidson 1982, 102). Radiocarbon dates give a date of c. 6000 BP for the underlying salt marsh and dates of c. 5400 BP to 3900 BP, at its lowest, for the forest bed (ibid.). A number of casual archaeological finds have been made from these peats, including a mesolithic flint pick, flint flakes, an antler tool and a hearth which produced a date of c. 4000 BP from the surrounding peat (Sambrook and Williams 1996, 26) as well as bones of red deer and bos primigenius (wild cattle).

In Ardudwy, the only humanly worked artefact found is a perforated antler hammer from Mochras Island (Guilbert 1981), but its exact findspot is unknown. A timber trackway in the intertidal area at Llanaber has been investigated and this produced radiocarbon dates in the 12th to 14th centuries AD. A nearby tree stump, however, produced a date within the Roman period (Musson et al 1989). The inundation of the coast created a marshland environment and this would have been little used before large scale drainage in the 18th and 19th centuries. Taking into account the finds from the peat exposed in the intertidal fringe here and by comparison with those from wetland environments from elsewhere in Wales and England, such as the south Glamorgan and Somerset levels, the peat cover in Ardudwy is likely to preserve an important buried archaeological landscape, covering several millennia. This will include organic items rarely preserved elsewhere inland, such as animal remains and timber jetties, platforms and trackways.

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map

The inland zone

Finds of flint and stone tools provide a useful pointer to areas of earlier prehistoric activity during the mesolithic and neolithic periods. Flint occurs occasionally in fluvio-glacial clay but is most accessible where it is eroded out of such deposits at the coast edge. Such deposits are directly exposed in Ardudwy from Mochras to Llandanwg, but there are some sea-deposited gravel deposits along much of the coast. Despite the availability of raw material, flint finds are very few in Ardudwy, with the only sizeable collection (now lost) reported from Mochras Island (Ffoulkes 1852, 103) and a single find from Llanaber (GAT SMR). To some extent this is due to the lack of cultivated land in the area, so that exposures are few, and partly due to the loss of the early prehistoric coast edge, where the majority of activity would have been, because of rising sea-levels.

Stray finds of neolithic stone axes can also help to show wider exploitation of the inland areas but there are only two from Ardudwy, one from Talsarnau and one from Llanbedr (GAT SMR). The evidence for use of the upland interior before, or even after, the establishment of the first farming communities takes the form of a few flint tools and a radiocarbon date deriving from activity found beneath structures of a settlement of the second half of the first millennium BC at Moel y Gerddi, Harlech (Kelly 1988 - area 26). Pollen studies of valley peats near to Moel y Gerddi also hinted at some mesolithic activity but more certainly of wider human interference in the form of woodland decline and the presence of plants of pasture during the Neolithic period, from c. 5140bp (about 4000BC, calibrated) (Chambers and Price 1988).

Ardudwy has a remarkable and well-preserved group of chambered tombs of the early neolithic period, all within an area of some eight miles in extent, suggesting a single population group, made up of several related local communities. These seem to be focussed on rivers and perhaps originally on harbour inlets, now lost to coastal erosion or silting. One outlying tomb, at Gwern Einion to the north, is likely to be focussed on the Afon Artro. To the south are five tombs, around the Afon Ysgethin. Despite the proximity of these tombs they vary considerably in style. Excavations at Dyffryn Ardudwy demonstrated changes in style of building and a long period of use, continuing into the second millennium BC (Powell 1963). There is evidence that the earliest occupation was influenced by western, Atlantic culture with similarities to tombs on the Llyˆn peninsula, Anglesey and Ireland, while there were later influences from mainland Britain (Lynch 1969, 124-5).

No settlement remains of this period have yet been found but the immediate vicinity of the tombs has generally been obscured by later cultivation. However, these areas often retain much potential, particularly around the tomb at Dyffryn Ardudwy where deep cultivation terraces are likely to mask neolithic cultivation or settlement remains and around the Carneddau Hengwm, in an uncultivated area where survival may be more extensive, and research is currently under way (Johnson and Roberts 2001 - area 2).

In contrast to the neolithic period, there is a much greater range of evidence of occupation during the second millennium BC, the early and middle bronze age, with numerous funerary and ritual monuments, including 42 burial mounds of a variety of styles, 19 standing stones and 4 stone circles. Some of the burial mounds are very large cairns on prominent isolated summits. The remainder fall into two geographical groups. The first is in the upland around Moel Goedog (principally area 25), the second in upland around Mynydd Egryn (principally area 2). Both areas have very intense relict archaeology with a variety of funerary monuments as well as areas of settlement and fields. It seems significant that both areas adjoin major natural routes and it may be that both are specialised funerary centres somewhat distant from the main areas of population.

The Moel Goedog group appears to be deliberately approached along a track defined by standing stones, possibly originally an ‘avenue’ which leads between two ring cairns, one of which has produced evidence of much ceremonial as well as funerary activity and a range of dates between about 2000-1750BC (Lynch 1984). The Mynydd Egryn group is traversed by a trackway, alongside which are several monuments that seem closely related to the track, including two large embanked stone circles, a small stone circle, Cerrig Arthur, and a ring cairn or robbed cairn or ring cairn at the shoulder of the pass over to Dyffryn Mawddach, where it has a very obvious relation to the trackway. Neither of these areas is in the most agriculturally favourable parts of Ardudwy and for this reason an unparalleled wealth of upstanding relict archaeology survives.

Environmental study has shown that these uplands had seen a significant phase of woodland clearance during the second millennium BC (Chambers and Price 1988). The woodland soils would have been initially quite fertile and the clearance can be inferred to mean quite intensive use of the uplands for pasture. Numerous scattered, unenclosed stone-walled round house settlements, or isolated round houses survive in these uplands, none excavated, and some may be of bronze age date. Excavations of later settlements have suggested that houses in this phase would probably have been of timber construction and therefore their remains would be difficult to identify (Kelly 1988).

The bronze age clearance of the uplands continued into the middle of the first millennium BC, when a deteriorating climate or simply unsustainable agriculture on thin soils led to the development of blanket peat as demonstrated at the settlements of Erw-wen and Moel y Gerddi (Kelly 1988). These upland settlements seem to have been mainly pastoral but with some evidence of cultivation. However, there were other economic considerations for use of the uplands at this time, as shown by the production of iron from bog ore at the scattered settlement of Crawcwellt in the upland at Trawsfynydd not far to the east (Crew 1998).

The main focus of settlement in this later period 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. Population was dense enough to have some considerable social organisation, focussed on several small hill forts at Moel Goedog, Clogwyn Arllef, Byrllysg, Craig y Dinas, Pen y Dinas, Castell and Dinas Oleu (Bowen and Gresham 1967). These all overlook lower slopes, well-used for agriculture and in which are numerous remains of round house settlement. The settlements at Erw Wen and Moel y Gerddi were single, concentric enclosed round houses and there are also remains of a range of sub-circular settlements that are not unique to Ardudwy but are locally typical. Some are quite substantially banked and in semi-defensive positions, as at Erw Wen, Llandanwg and Ceunant Egryn, Llanaber. 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 some 25 surviving in Ardudwy. The majority of them still retain a mainly curvilinear shape that can be seen as developed from an original circular layout, for instance at Moel y Glo, Llandecwyn and Muriau Gwyddelod, Llanfair.

The nucleated enclosed and unenclosed hut settlements are to be found all along the west-facing margins of the upland of Ardudwy (concentrated, but not exclusively, in areas 7, 25 and 26). Close to many of them are remains of strongly terraced field systems that indicate intensive arable cultivation, and which give the current landscape much of its distinctive local character. Two of the best preserved areas of such fields are around Cors-y-gedol, Dyffryn Ardudwy (area 9), where one of the associated settlements has been excavated and shown to be of the Romano-British period (Griffiths 1958) and Mynydd Egryn, Llanaber (De Lewandowicz 1981- area 2). This, and comparison with similar excavated examples in north-west Wales shows that the bulk of the relict archaeological landscape represented by these settlements and fields is of the Romano-British period with underlying earlier elements. The same settlement areas were also often re-used in the medieval period but generally retained the outlines of the Romano-British enclosures or field patterns.

Most of upland Ardudwy, over c. 240m OD had no enclosed round house settlements in the Romano-British period although there are remains of 15 groups of unenclosed round houses and some 20 examples of isolated round houses (Smith 1999), without evidence of cultivation. These can be expected to have been mainly pastoral settlements exploiting what by now were impoverished moorland, much as today. Woodland appears to have recovered to some extent in the later first millennium BC following abandonment of the settlement at Moel y Gerddi, although it declined again in the Romano-British period (Chambers and Price 1988, 99). Some of these settlements may have been seasonally occupied in association with grazing patterns, and these upland round houses are noticeably smaller than those of the lowland settlements. This, and the evidence of earlier phases of timber-built houses demonstrated by excavation at Moel y Gerddi, shows that the relict archaeology of Ardudwy, represented visually mainly by stone-built structures such as cairns, houses and fields is just the hard outline of a much more intensively occupied landscape.

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map

Parks and gardens

There are only two parks and gardens of particular note in the study area, but both are of similar age and associated with the major families of the area. Cors-y-Gedol is a Vaughan, later Mostyn, house of the 16th century with a 17th-century gatehouse, situated near the junction of cultivated land with the open hillside; it retains large areas of ancient woodland and the remnants of a probably contemporary garden, overlaid by later features. Glyn Cywarch to the north is a 17th-century house built by the Wynn family, whose descendant, Lord Harlech, is the present owner; it too has a gatehouse and the garden areas close to the house probably largely reflect the original layout.

Both gardens are included in the Cadw/ICOMOS Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales Part 1: Parks and Gardens, Glyn Cywarch at grade II* and Cors-y-Gedol at grade II. The latter grade reflects the state of preservation rather than the importance of the site, which is certainly at least equal with Glyn Cywarch.

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map


Ardudwy has remarkably little in the way of an industrial archaeological heritage. There has been very little industrial activity in the past which has left a mark on the landscape. Probably the most significant in landscape terms are the Hafoty manganese mines (area 2), but there are also fairly extensive workings around Llyn Eiddew-mawr (area 33 and picture) and further north, on the east slopes of Y Gyrn. There are also the remains of shafts and levels above Coed Crafnant (area 28), and on the lower, northern slopes of Moelfre (area 16) where there are the relatively extensive remains of Moelfre mine along the contour near the modern road (SH615255) and one or two other places.

There are several slate quarries at the bottom of the sea-facing cliffs inland south of Llanfair, including Llanfair, Coed y Llechau, Pantgwyn, Byrllysg and Byrdir, while further inland are the remains of Graig Uchaf quarry. Llanfair was a moderate-sized, almost totally underground working opened in the 1860s. It closed after a few years, re-opened early in the 20th century and finally closed during World War I. It was used as an explosives store in World War II, and opened as a visitor centre in the 1960s. Coed y Llechau, east of Llanbedr, is a hillside quarry on two levels with an incline leading down to a mill: it has been mush disturbed by later stone quarrying, though the mill is in good condition. Pantgwyn and Byrdir were small underground workings, while Graig Uchaf was a tiny pit.

There are three further small, slate quarries in the south of the area, on the western fringes of Is Mynydd (area 2), Ffridd Olchfa and Egryn (small hillside workings) and Hendre Eirian (a small pit which produced green slate).

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map


The main communication routes in the area are the A496 trunk road and the Cambrian Coastal Railway which run more or less in parallel down the entire length of the Ardudwy coastal plain. So, little has changed since Gerald of Wales travelled northwards through Ardudwy following much the same route in 1188. Other travellers who have visited and described the area include Fenton, Thomas Pennant, who was entertained 'for some days, in the style of an ancient baron' at Cors y Gedol, and who described some of the 'British antiquities' in the area and was beaten by 'the horror' of passing through Drws Ardudwy (1771, 121ff), and George Borrow.

The sea-facing hill slopes are associated with one of the principal drovers' routes, which led from the coast across the mountains to Dolgellau (and ultimately to the borders and the English markets). Traditionally cattle were gathered near Llanfair (where the Pugh family, long associated with droving, lived), and from here the herds were taken inland, heading for Bron-y-foel, and then either over Pont Scethin (there are the remains of an old inn, Ty-newydd, incongruously nearby on the lower slopes of Moelfre) and across the mountain ridge following the old coach road; or over Pont Fadog and across the mountain side and over Bwlch y Rhiwgyr (Pass of the Drovers - top of area 2), before coming down to Bontddu on the Mawddach.
The Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway was authorised in 1861-2, begun in 1863 and extended from Barmouth to Porthmadog and Pwllheli in 1867 when it was renamed the Cambrian Railway. Stations were built either then or subsequently at (from south to north) Llanaber (just outside the project area), below Llanddwywe, Llanenddwyn, two stations below Llanbedr (one south of the Artro and one on the north side), Llandanwg, Harlech, below Glan-y-wern, below Talsarnau and finally Llandecwyn

Back to Ardudwy Landscape map



Visit our social network sites
Ymwelwch a'n safleoedd rhwydwaith cymdeithasol