Historic Landscape Characterisation

Llŷn - Area 12 The northern mountains from Yr Eifl to Garn Boduan PRN 33498

Tre'r Ceiri

Pistyll and Bodeilias


Nant Gwrtheyrn



Historic background

These upland landscapes have seen settlement and ritual activity over thousands of years. Unassociated scatters of flint tools are not always diagnostic. Find-spots are known on the high peaks of Yr Eifl. Neolithic stone axes are recorded on the coastal plain at Trefor at 50m OD (PRN 2203) and an Early Bronze Age axe hammer, flat axe and flint arrowhead close to the hillfort at Tre’r Ceiri on the southernmost peak of Yr Eifl. A second arrowhead has been recorded at Caergribin, a continuation of the shoulder on which Tre’r Ceiri stands.

Early Bronze Age cairns are visible on each of the three peaks of Yr Eifl at 430m, 560m and 480m respectively. Another mountaintop cairn is clearly visible on the adjacent peak, to the south, at Carnguwch at 350m OD. Both Tre’r Ceiri and Carnguwch have good evidence for vertical or slightly battered, revetments for these funerary memorials.

Both Tre’r Ceiri and Garn Boduan have impressive and extensive fortifications on their respective mountain tops. Tre’r Ceiri has been described as one of the best preserved stone-walled hillforts in the British Isles, it is also one of the highest at around 480m. The main rampart is continuous along the elongated ridge of the peak, enclosing two hectares within a stone rampart which reaches 3.5m in height and 2.3 to 3m thick. An additional wall on the north-west side strengthens the enclosure defences. No additional walling is required on the east and south-eastern sides. Original entrances are still visible. The main entrance on the north-western side takes an oblique route through the outer and inner ramparts at which point the wall is thickened and the approach walled so that entry is effected along a 15m passageway. There are several hut circles within the interior. Some larger, and earlier huts have been compartmentalised with the insertion of interior cross walls to create irregular smaller rooms. It is very probable that the occupation of Tre’r Ceiri began in later prehistory and continued to be occupied during the Romano-British period and, perhaps, later still.

The northern hills include the three peaks of Yr Eifl, Mynydd Carnguwch, Moel Gwynus, Moel Ty Gwyn, Gwylwyr, Carreglefan, Mynydd Nefyn and Garn Boduan. The components of this character area have much in common in that extensive Parliamentary Inclosures were effected over much of this area, their landscape characteristics are similar and their land use, predominantly pasturing, and later stone quarrying, are common to each. The southern limit of this area is bounded on the south-eastern side by the low ground of Llwyndyrus and Boduan; on the north by Trefor and on the south by Nefyn and the southern slopes of Garn Boduan.

Garn Boduan is a very prominent hill overlooking the medieval borough of Nefyn, 1km distant and a coastal promontory fort at Porth Dinllaen, some 4km distant. During the Age of the Princes Garn Boduan lay within the bond township of Boduan.

Garn Boduan’s summit is a plateau at about 250m OD, enclosed by a now ruinous stone rampart over an area of about 10ha. On the western side a boss of rock rises above the plateau to 270m OD. About 170 stone-walled foundations of round houses have been recorded, some quite large at about 8m diameter. A third and quite different phase of construction is represented on the craggy boss on the east side of the hill. A strong ‘citadel’ was constructed to enclose a small area of 60m by 30m, with walls 3.5 thick, well built and battered externally. It is a plausible suggestion that the ‘citadel’ represents a significantly later period of occupation and fortification, perhaps during the early middle ages. The sequence and layout bears comparison with the summit fort on Carn Fadryn.

There are round house settlements on the lower slopes of Garn Boduan, on the eastern and southern sides. At Cerniog, to the north-east, there are several clusters of hut circles, on the south-eastern slopes of Mynydd Nefyn at around 160m OD; on the south-east flank of Moel Ty Gwyn overlooking the valley and headwaters of the Rhyd-hir at the beginning of its long journey to the sea at Pwllheli; on the southern shoulder of Moel Gwynus and in the saddle between Moel Cerniog and Carreglefain (PRNs 447, 448, 449, 3441, 1264, 1265, 1266, 1269, 1272, 1273, 1337, 2228, 2229, 4398). Most of these settlements are farmsteads of the late prehistoric and Romano-British periods comprising several houses. The south-eastern aspect and moderate altitude between 125m OD and 190m (Carreg Cefain at 210m), overlooking the sloping ground to the low plateau of Boduan would seem to be very favourable for agricultural settlement.

Enclosures and circular features have also been recognised on north-westerly facing slopes down towards the coastline at Pistyll and on the south-west flank of Carreg y Llam. A small hillfort occupied the northern end of a rocky ridge, overlooking the sea at Carreg y Llam but has now been destroyed by quarrying. More hut circles are known near Bwlch, in the gap occupied by the present road from Lithfaen to Pistyll (PRNs 909, 911, 1267, 2215, 2218, 2220, 1274, 1537, 2223, 2224, 2225). Many of these are single huts, but a significant proportion are nucleated groups, again, representing farmsteads.

There is an important group of settlements of this same period at Nant Gwrtheyrn with nucleated groups on the higher ground above the quarries and on the western slopes of Yr Eifl and in the valley itself (PRNs 612, 619, 2242, 620, 2221).

A nucleated hut circle settlement is recorded at Gallt y Ceiliog on the north-eastern slopes of Yr Eifl at around 160m OD and a string of nucleated settlements on the east and south-eastern flank of Mynydd Carnguwch at between 120m OD and 190m OD (PRNs 602, 1279, 1280, 1282, 1283).

Medieval and post-medieval platform houses and so-called ‘long-huts’ are recorded in much the same locations as the settlements of the late-prehistoric and Romano-British periods. Several are known from the sea-facing slopes between Pistyll and Carreg y Llam (PRNs 1268, 914, 907, 905, 1270, 2216, 2217, 910, 912). Others have been recorded at Gallt y Bwlch, south of Nant Gwrtheyrn (PRNs 6738, 2222).

During the Age of the Princes and after the conquest of Gwynedd, this character area was touched by three townships and the hamlets of two others. Garn Boduan lay within the tir cyfrif bond township of Boduan and there were demesne lands of the prince in that township. It is probable that the slopes and the summit of Garn Boduan provided pasturing for the prince’s beasts but this is not certain. By the early nineteenth century extensive tree planting had taken place on the hill. There was, however, in the middle ages, an obligation of the bond tenants of the commote of Dinllaen to carry the prince’s victuals ‘to the Mountain’, an obligation referred to as Gwaith Tai Mynydd. But, as these carrying works are accounted for under the hamlet of Bodeilias, to the north-east of Nefyn, it is probable that the hills of Mynydd Nefyn and Gwylwyr are intended.

Gwynus was a medieval township. Moel Gwynus, and the farm of that name, lies between Pistyll and Llithfaen. In the fourteenth century the township was in the hand of Thomas Missenden, who leased it to the men of St. John the Baptist, ‘in Welsh, Ysbyty’, that is, hospitallers. There were five hafodydd in Gwynus and a further three at Hafod Bleiddiog nearby. These had been the princes’ cattle ranch in this commote, a valuable resource on land more suitable to pasture than arable farming. After the conquest many of these hafodtiroedd and ffriddoedd in the princes’ hand in Gwynedd were leased to favourites and petitioners of the English Crown. In that way Thomas Brereley had a lease on pasture lands in the hamlet of Rhoswyniasa (Rhos = moor), a little to the east of Gwynus.

Mynydd Carnguwch
In the north-eastern part of this character area lie the high peaks of Yr Eifl and, south across the saddle which carries the road from Llanaelhaearn to Nefyn, stands Mynydd Carnguwch. Carnguwch was a township with defined boundaries but occupied by kindred groups, stemming from a common patrimonial ancestor with interests in several townships, the length and breadth of the cantref of Llyn. For example, the gwely, or kinship group, of Cen’ ap Cenythlin had landed interests in the townships of Carnguwch, Bodfel and Llangian. Others of the same patrimony also had interests in Carnguwch but, more widely, settling in Ystradgeirch too, and others in Cilan and Bryn Celyn. These patterns of association and extensive territorial reach are indicative of a freeholding dynastic maenol, the powerbase of lordship in an earlier age.

The domed-shaped hill of Carnguwch, rising to 350m at its summit, is intractable ground, rough, elevated and rocky. The only boundaries above the 200m contour are those of the Parliamentary Inclosure walls. The higher ground would, however, provide upland pasture and, if the township boundary was coterminous with the ecclesiastical parish boundary, then the township reached to the highest peak of Yr Eifl, extending the resource of pasture to all but the highest and steepest slopes. The church of Carnguwch was in the hand of the abbot of Clynnog in the middle ages. The church, described by Hyde Hall as a cruciform building ‘in a condition utterly disgraceful to a Christian community’, was entirely rebuilt by Henry Kennedy, the well-known Bangor architect, in 1882. The old church was in place, at least by the middle of the thirteenth century and valued at 20d., together with Botwnnog, the two poorest churches in the deanery of Llyn. Nevertheless, Carnguwch had a water mill, at least in the later period, a little to the south-east, at the boundary of Gwyniasa.

Yr Eifl
The most part of Yr Eifl was in the cantref of Arfon in the middle ages and occupied a large part of the township of Elernion. The township was free and had possession of two mills. Certain lands had, in 1352, escheated to the Crown however, perhaps a consequence of the Black Death. One parcel of land had certainly reverted to the king through lack of tenants. This was Tyddyn Newydd, as identified in the account roll, but also known as Ffriddfawr, a parcel of the king’s demesne. The circumstance is suggestive of cattle pastures on the slopes of Yr Eifl and would certainly be consistent with the prevailing land use in this area at an earlier time.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century much of these uplands were regarded to be common land and intakes had been made and fuel was regularly taken from the common. In 1812 a Parliamentary Act of Inclosure was passed with the intention of enclosing commons at Mynydd Nefyn, Gwylwyr, Rhos Commyns, Mynydd Carnguwch, Yr Eifl at Llithfaen and Bwlch Mawr. In total, over 600ha were enclosed in the early nineteenth century between Llanaelhaearn and Nefyn.

Encroachments had been made at Mynydd Nefyn on the boundaries of the common at Pen y Graig and Pen y Garnedd; at Cerniog Uchaf and at Llain Hir and Fron Dirion. At Gwylwyr encroachment had been made at Fron Deg and near Ty’n y Mynydd and Llwyn Ysgaw. The issues regarding encroachment and ancient enclosure and access to turbaries and other resources had to be resolved or brushed aside. When the Act was passed, provision was made for fuel grounds and access to stone quarries. Similarly, at Carnguwch, accommodation was made in respect of existing practices and the division of the mountain with ruler-straight dry-stone walling reflected the pasturing requirements of the farms that occupied the lower slopes (see historical introduction for the process of enclosure).

Bodeilias, Pistyll, Nant Gwrtheyrn and Llithfaen
The coastal villages and communities of Bodeilias, Pistyll, Nant Gwrtheyrn and Llithfaen, all have ancient origins. Bodeilias, immediately to the north of Nefyn, was a hamlet of the clas, or quasi-monastic, community of Llannor in the same commote. It came into the orbit of Llannor after the hamlet was declared escheat through the felony of a certain Cocyn Annon. Both Bodeilias and Pistyll, as hamlets of Llannor, were ultimately within the tenure of Clynnog in the cantref of Arfon. The name Bodeilias now survives as a property on the coastal shelf below the quarries of Gwylwyr, 850m west of the present village of Pistyll and 1.2km from Pistyll church.

St. Beuno’s church at Pistyll overlooks a deeply cut ravine on a sloping shelf above steep, eroding, sea cliffs and this was the probable location of the focus of the medieval hamlet. Pistyll had its own mill in the hamlet. The present village of Pistyll lies 500m to the south west, above the small harbour of Porth Bodeilias which suggests that the stream which enters the sea at that place marks the boundary between medieval Bodeilias and Pistyll.

The church at Pistyll may be of twelfth-century origin although the surviving original fabric cannot confirm this. There is an early font with ring-chain decoration, which is thought to be twelfth century but could, conceivably, be earlier. The roof trusses are collar-beam type with arched braces and may be fifteenth century and there is a very vernacular fifteenth-century west door. The walls are of local rubble.

There was very little in the way of a village at either Bodeilias or Pistyll before the middle of the nineteenth century. There are scattered farms at Lon Cae Newydd, Ty Mawr, Minfordd (‘Roadside’), Tyddyn Pantwr, Pistyll farm and Bwlch y Gwynt. During the second half of the nineteenth century, however, a quarry was opened at Foel Gwyn. A tramway was run down from the mountain to a pier on the shore and a terrace of houses (Pistyll Terrace) was built on the roadside. Bethania, a Calvanistic Methodist chapel, was built, complete with chapel house across the road.

Nant Gwrtheyrn and Llithfaen were both hamlets of the township of Trefgoed. Both are recorded in 1281 in respect of a grant of land in those hamlets by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince. The location of medieval Llithfaen can be judged, not so much by the roadside village but by the extent of the older Llithfaen holdings of Llithfaen Fawr, Llithfaen Isaf and Llithfaen Uchaf. By the 1840s a village had begun to grow along the Llanaelhaearn to Nefyn road at the southern end of the recent Parliamentary Inclosure of Bwlch Fawr.

There had been encroachments at the northern end of the common, towards Trefor, at Cae’r Fotty, Llwyd y Brig and Nant y Cwm at about 160m. There had also been intakes at the southern end and it was at the southern end that settlement developed, on the allotments laid out within the Parliamentary Inclosure. Llithfaen Bach may have been an ancient encroachment on the common from the parent hamlet as this is the name initially applied to the roadside row of cottages. Other plots adjacent bear field names like: ‘Cae’r Mynydd’, ‘allotment on Rivals’ and ‘one patch’ and the tenements are called ‘Ty’n y Mynydd’ (probably an encroachment holding), Mynydd Reifl and Cottage. The village grew, predominantly alongside the road with some expansion either side of it and, particularly, on the plots assigned by the Inclosure Act. By 1890 there were around 90 houses in Llithfaen, a hotel, three chapels and an Anglican church. By the end of the twentieth century there were about 140 houses. The stone quarry at Nant Gwrtheyrn, to the north was the major reason for Llithfaen’s development during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Nant Gwrtheyrn (Vortigern’s valley) takes its name from the steep-sided stream which falls from the Craig Ddu rocks on Yr Eifl to the shore at Porth y Nant. A cluster of rectangular foundations and paddocks suggest a settlement of medieval or late medieval date, high above the stream and 400m to the south of it the valley opens out a little as the stream approaches the sea, albeit constrained by the westernmost peak of Yr Eifl on the north and Bwlch to the south. The small farms of Ty Canol, Ty Uchaf and Ty Hên, superseded, at some time removed, the nucleated clusters of an earlier period.

The granite quarries at Port y Nant worked the slopes of Gallt y Bwlch in six bonciau, or quarrying levels, shaping the granite setts during the nineteenth century and exporting crushed stone in the early twentieth century. An inclined tramway moved the product down to a timber pier on the shore. Quarrymen’s barracks arranged around two sides of a rectangular courtyard, a shop and bake-house provided facilities and quarry manager’s house, Plas, stood at the southern end. The workings were deserted by the 1950s and extensive conifer planting took place in the 1970s, in a corridor along the stream sides from the summit of Gallt y Bwlch at around 280m OD to 20m above the shoreline. In 1978 the quarrymens’ barracks were renovated and the buildings became the home of the Nant Gwrtheyrn Welsh Language and Heritage Centre.

Yr Eifl Quarry occupies the north slopes of the northernmost of Yr Eifl’s peaks, Garn For. The quarry opened in 1850, making setts for road paving, as did Gwylwyr at Nefyn in 1835 and Porth y Nant around 1860. Together these and other small quarries in the Trefor area were constituted as the Welsh Granite Company. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the demand for setts had been replaced by crushed stone for road-stone, as a component of tarmacadam and as an aggregate for concrete.

A tramway took the material from the levels. In 1870 a quay was built and narrow gauge steam locomotives were introduced to work the lower section of the tramway to the pier.

In the late nineteenth century there were almost 100 houses in a tight nucleation of terraced rows at the foot of the quarry incline near the quarry workshops. The village included three non-Conformist chapels and one Anglican Church, built by the chief engineer of the Welsh Granite Company for the benefit of its employees. By the late twentieth century, the building stock had more than doubled, with expansion along the two principal roads into Trefor from the A499 from Clynnog to Llanaelhaearn. The southernmost of these roads was the original point of entry; the northern road was built to facilitate quarry access.

The core of the village lay on the banks of a stream which drained the saddle between Moel Penllechog and Moelfre at Llanaelhaearn. It has been suggested that the quarries created Trefor. Nevertheless, it was still possible, in the nineteenth century, to identify the components of an earlier landscape. The stream which ran through the village of Trefor once powered a water corn mill at Melin Penllechog, to the south-east, and a woollen factory, closer to the village. The same stream runs past the farm of Elernion which still retains the ancient name of the medieval township. The property, Lleiniau Hirion, is a reminder of the importance of arable agriculture and the long acres of the medieval arable sharelands. On the slopes of Yr Eifl the smallholdings of Cae’r Fotty, Uwch y Fotty and Hendre Gawr are again indicators of an earlier farming regime and the importance of exploiting a cross-section of the landscape.

Key historic landscape characteristic

•A striking physical landscape, picturesque and romantic in the nineteenth century sense.

•An important area of animal pasturing and cattle ranching in the Middle Ages.

•An area comprising several blocks of Parliamentary Inclosure of common land which have left their mark on the landscape.

•A density of relict archaeology, including several areas of hut circle settlement, hillforts and platform houses.

•Four major areas of granite quarrying which transformed the coastline and was the catalyst for the emergence of several nucleated communities.

The most striking component of this landscape is the physical landscape, picturesque and romantic in the nineteenth-century sense. There is a dramatic force in the profile of the high peaks of Yr Eifl, falling directly into the sea from 564m OD. Beyond Yr Eifl are the lower hills of Gwynus, Gwylfa and Moel Ty Gwyn cascading down to Gwylwyr, Carreg Lefain and Mynydd Nefyn, rocky and rising again to 250m. Garn Boduan, forested on its northern flank but otherwise bare with numerous outcrops, dominates the southern end of the character area. The coastline is a series of indented bays from Trwyn y Gorlech on the west flank of Yr Eifl to Penrhyn Bodeilas. Between the rocky promontories of Trwyn y Gorlech and Penrhyn Glas lies Porth y Nant and between Penrhyn Glas and Penrhyn Bodeilias lies Porth Pistyll and Porth Bodeilias. These bays are eroding badly. At Nant Gwrtheyn the coastal shelf at the quarry barracks plunges 40m to the shore; at Porth Pystyll the drop is 50m. At both locations streams from the higher ground have cut deep ravines on their path to the sea.

A less obvious but no less important landscape characteristic, consistent across the whole area is the historic landscape theme of upland pasturing. The inclusion of Garn Boduan, totally unsuitable for arable agriculture, in the Prince’s demesne lands of Boduan is likely to have been valued as a resource for upland pasture. Similarly, the documentary evidence of fourteenth-century ministers’ returns refer to the work rent of Gwaith Tai Mynydd (= works in respect of the houses on the mountain) which probably relates to fetching and carrying victuals to the herdsmen of the hills around Nefyn. These would be Mynydd Nefyn, Carreglefain and Gwylwyr, lands which are later documented as common pasture lands. Mynydd Carnguwch and Bwlch Ddu, Yr Eifl are also documented as commons, a valuable resource of grazing in a context unsuited for ploughing.

Moel Gwynus, south-west of Llithfaen, was never a common. On the contrary, this domed hill, rising to 230m was, in the Middle Ages, a component of the township of Gwynus, in the Prince’s hand, and together with part of the hamlets of Bleiddiog and Castell Mawr, operating as a cattle ranch, comprising at least eight hafodydd. After the conquest these hafodydd were in the hand of Sir Thomas Missenden. Sir Thomas Brereley, in 1351, held a lease on grazing in the adjacent hamlet of Rhoswyniasa.

A third component of the historic landscape character of the area is the movement towards the enclosure of common land by Act of Parliament, ostensibly for the improvement and increased efficiency of its land use. The commons enclosed by this Act include Mynydd Nefyn, Gwylwyr, Rhoscommins, Mynydd Carnguwch and Bwlch Ddu. At Carnguwch some accommodation was made to the needs of at least some of the farmers of this parish, whose properties encircled the foothills of the upland common. Stone walls partitioned the hill and allotments were made in respect of each farm. Hafod, in the north-west, was allocated 27 acres on the mountain; Carnguwch Mawr, on the east side a farm of 226 acres, was allocated 34 acres on the mountain; Cefn ‘Rhafod received 40 acres and Blaena Issa was allocated 55 acres. Twenty-seven acres were set aside for fuel ground.

The Parliamentary enclosures are recognisable, not so much by the limiting boundaries of the Inclosure but by the small rectilinear stone-wall boundaries of the Inclosure allotments and, in some instances, the less regular boundaries of encroachment intakes. The encroachment plots can still be identified at the north end of the Bwlch Ddu Inclosure and several of the Inclosure plots at the south end, at Llithfaen.

The ruler-straight, dry-stone walls which transect the previously open Mynydd Carnguwch are in stark contrast to the, mostly irregular, fields and paddocks of the farms at the foot of the hill, alongside the relict foundations of hut circle settlements and platform houses. At Mynydd Nefyn the rectilinear Parliamentary allotments cluster densely on the west side of the former common, close to Nefyn. The long, straight, internal divisions of the Inclosure are in marked contrast to the fields of Cerniog and Castell Mawr to the south-east.

A key theme runs through the entire landscape: the wealth of relict archaeology. As much of the character area has an upland quality and by consequence and also by design had in the past developed an agricultural regime which placed emphasis on the pastoral economy, many components of earlier prehistoric and early historic landscapes have survived. These include later prehistoric hut circle settlements, dispersed and nucleated in smallholdings and the evidence of medieval and post-medieval ‘long-huts’ and platform houses. The locations where certain of these features cluster are described in the historical description of this character area. In particular the character area includes two major, multi-phase, stone-walled fortifications on the summit of one of the peaks of Yr Eifl, Tre’r Ceiri, and on the summit of Garn Boduan.

Along the coastline, where the hard granite outcropped, quarries were established. Some were very small, others were large and successful, particularly from the middle of the nineteenth century, when the local quarries came together as the Welsh granite Company. Gwylwyr, Moel Ty Gwyn at Pistyll , Carreg y Llam, Porth y Nant and Yr Eifl at Trefor were the largest and generated communities and the houses and barracks to support them, creating an industrial character and a scarred landscape along the coast from Trefor to Nefyn.

The cultural associations of a particular landscape in this character area refer to the creation of communities wherein one particular occupation is predominant. Here the culture of quarry communities and the visible presence of the quarry industry come together in influencing the character of the landscape.

The re-use of the quarrymen’s barracks at Porth-y-Nant, Nant Gwrtheyrn in the creation of a Welsh Language and Heritage Centre is considered to be a cultural component of the landscape history of that valley.

In that same valley we meet with a legendary association which, nevertheless, has found a resonance more widely in Wales. The early medieval legend relates to the confrontation between Emrys Wledig, (Ambrosius Overlord) and Gwrtheyrn (Vortigern). Vortigern intended to build a fortification of the hill which was later to be known as Dinas Emrys. He was thwarted, however, by the prophetic powers of Emrys and was forced to leave Dinas Emrys and re-locate in a place called Caer Gwrtheyrn, in the ninth century document which relates these events. The association of Caer Gwrtheyrn with Nant Gwtheyrn may by onomastic but it is of interest that Caer Gwrtheyrn was to be found in the territory of Gwynessi – quite probably the historically documented Gwynus, or Gwyniasa, the Prince’s cattle ranch and pasture in the comomote of Dinllaen in the thirteenth century. The story is of further interest in that it relates the first documented instance of the red dragon as being a symbol of Wales.


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