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10 and 11. MOEL OFFRWM UPPER AND LOWER FORTS, LLANFACHRETH
SH750210

MOEL OFFRWM UPPER FORT

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This encloses about half a hectare (1.25 acres). The steep sided hill provides a very good defensive position and the fort itself was defended by a single stone wall with the addition of an outer rampart on the south side which is less steep. The entrance is on the east side through the outer and inner ramparts. There were probably guard chambers on either side of the inner entrance but these have been obscured by the building of a sheepfold. The main wall is almost entirely collapsed down the steep slopes, the best preserved parts being on the south side. On the summit is a modern rectangular tower cairn which probably lies on top of a possibly prehistoric round burial cairn. From the summit another, smaller fort can be seen on the lower hill to the south-west, Moel Faner.

Although the fort was in a very high and isolated position the fort was certainly well- occupied because within it are platforms for about 40 roundhouses. On the south side there is also a subsidiary enclosure somewhat larger in area than the main for itself. It lies on a slight promontory there and was defended by a single bank and ditch. This enclosure has no house platforms and so was perhaps designed to corral and protect cattle or sheep.

MOEL OFFRWM LOWER FORT

This fort is quite different to the Upper Fort. It is small, of only 0.2 hectare (0.5 acre) internal area and is built on a small but very prominent rocky knoll which provided little room for settlement but is surrounded by sheer, easily defendable cliffs. In addition to the natural defences, which were sufficient in themselves there is a massively built wall, mainly around the south side. Traces of internal and external facing can be seen and the wall must have been of a considerable height. The original entrance was probably narrower than the present gap suggests. Much of the interior is taken up by a natural outcrop. The only level area is a small ledge at the west side, where there was a single roundhouse about 6m diameter. Some excavations were carried out at the fort in 1926-8. A bronze finger ring was found in the rubble of the rampart wall and some pieces of pottery within the fort that were thought to be of Roman-British date.

The difference between these two forts is significant. The upper fort is a classic Iron Age type, being a defended communal settlement. The lower fort was defensively very strong but could never have accommodated more than a handful of people and is similar to early forms of castle such as those of the Welsh Princes and of the Normans. Similar small fortified areas, sometimes called ‘citadels’ seem to have been built within a number of Iron Age hillforts sometime after the end of the Roman period. This is taken to indicate the development of new centres of authority, dependent on individual leadership but still focussed on the earlier hillforts and their associated communities.

These two forts can be visited together as they both lie on the hill of Moel Offrwm and are only about half a kilometre apart although one is on the summit at about 400m OD, while the other is on a lower spur at about 300m OD.

Park at the Precipice Walk car park, which is halfway between Dolgellau and Llanfachreth. From the car park cross to the east side of the road and follow the farm track there for 200m. Just before a gate an old track in the trees on the right hand side leads gently up the hill. This track can be followed around the foot of the hill until it meets a wall that leads steeply up the hill. Follow the wall directly up the hillside until just before the summit is reached the entrance to the upper fort will be seen on the right. After visiting the upper fort return to the wall and follow it down the hill to the south until below all the rocky scarps. A path then leads off on a lower terrace around the contour and the lower fort will soon be seen on a prominent rocky knoll. After visiting the lower fort keep on the same terrace where a path leads along the contour back to the north side of the hill, where a fairly steep descent on a grassy slope will take you back to the same track back to the car park. All this land belongs to the Nannau Estate. Until recently, when it became Access land, it had been little visited and there are no established footpaths. Care must be taken not to disturb grazing animals and dogs should not be taken.

Distance: Round trip 4km (3 miles).
Difficulty: Steep climb of 300m (1000ft) up the main hill. Rough ground, in places obstructed by bracken in summer. There are some steep scarps so it is important to keep to the recommended route.
Time: 3 hours

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