Historic Landscape Characterisation

Dolgellau - Area 6 Lower Mawddach corridor (PRN 19185)



Historic background

This area is dominated by two principal archaeological monuments, Cymer Abbey (founded by the Cistercians in 1198 and granted a charter by Llywelyn in 1209) and Llanelltyd bridge. A detailed description of the lands and properties held by Cymer, along with a map showing a number of interesting field names, is included in Williams (1990, 41-3): a brief summary has been supplied in section 6.5 above. Proximity to the estuary of the Afon Mawddach, close to its bridging point, was a considerable advantage to the monks of Cymer. They had access by sea to their properties in Llyn, whilst more locally they had important fishing rights, the 'water of Cymmer' stretching as far as Llyn Penmon (Penmaenpool today) (Lewis and Davies, 1954). The abbot laid claim (in the mid fourteenth century) to 'fishing in all his rivers, ponds, and waters, and in the haven and shores of the sea with nets and other instruments' (Ellis, 1838). The significance of water to the abbey was perhaps underlined when one of the monks was accidentally drowned (Williams-Jones, 1957).

In addition to the abbey and home grange (most of which appears to have been on the opposite side of the river, in character areas 07, 08, 09 and 10, and which was probably farmed for cattle), the monks also controlled water and fulling mills, and an iron forge nearby, as well as granges at Abereiddon, Esgaireiddon, Hafod Newydd and Brynbedwyn. They also had land further away (Williams, 1990, 41-3), in Trawsfynydd and Brithdir, for example.

Llywelyn had granted Cymer the right to recover its own cargoes lost in storm and shipwreck (ibid.), and its possession of boats is also alluded to in the field name Cae Llong (near the modern Pentre farm). One commentator has suggested that another field name, Dôl-y-stabal (running along both sides of the river between the abbey and the bridge), is to be interpreted as 'the field of the staple', indicating the participation of the abbey in the wool trade (Ellis, 1928). In 1536 Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries earning less than £200 per annum: Cymer Abbey was earning just £51 and thus fell victim. The land belonging to the abbey was taken into Llanelltyd parish, and was bought by the Nannau estate (which had begun renting property from the abbot early in the 16th-century). The estate continued to develop this land over the next centuries (although the land to the west of the river was probably retained as cattle walks).

The 1901 OS map shows the area, with the exception of the new road to the west of the river and the highly visible and intrusive caravan site adjacent to the abbey, much as it is today. The only other settlements here are the farms of Dolfawr and Dôl-y-clochydd.

Key historic landscape characteristics

Cymer Abbey, Llanelltyd bridge, floodplain

This area comprises the floodplain of the lower Afon Mawddach, just above the point where it broadens out and is joined by the Afon Wnion to form the Mawddach estuary. In addition to the two major monuments and farmhouses mentioned above, there are just a number of modern field boundaries (post and wire fences) here.

The early 13th-century church is simple in plan (an indication that the monks here were never well-off): the tower was added at the west end a century or so later. The position of the cloister (its east end lying beyond the line of the east wall of the church) shows that the usual transepts and choir were never built (Ralegh Radford, 1965). The farmhouse at Y Fanner, next to the abbey, is the earliest building in the area and was probably originally the abbot’s house. There are two other farmhouses on the flat floodplain of the river, which is dominated by steep hillsides on both sides.

The ‘old’ bridge here (see photograph) is probably 18th-century or earlier in date, but there are references to a bridge being in existence near the abbey in 1400, and the crossing would have been important not only for the monks but for trade in general.

Aber Mawddach (Mawddach estuary) has been designated a SSSI covering 1340.6 ha, most of which lies outside this character area. However, the river itself as it runs through this area is part of the designation (CCW SSSI ref. ‘Mawddach estuary/Afon Mawddach’ 31WVS). The overall management objective for the SSSI is to retain the habitat- and species-related interest of the area, which includes several BAP species.


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