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7. BRYN Y CASTELL, LLAN FFESTINIOG
SH 728429

This small defended hilltop was completely excavated from 1979-85 and the rampart and stone buildings in the interior have been partially reconstructed. The site produced remarkable evidence of iron-working carried out both within the fort and in a round hut later built outside on the northern slope.

The defences are relatively simple consisting of a stone rampart encircling the very top of the hill but the entrance must always have been rather awkward for bringing in heavy or bulky industrial materials. The original 2m-wide gate was near the north-east corner, but that was blocked early in the history of the occupation and a new one made 9m further west. The position of the gate-posts is now indicated by stones standing vertically in their post-holes.

The interior was crowded with buildings of varied construction. The most unexpected discoveries were two stake-wall round houses in the central area (indicated now by cobbling and the porch post-holes). Wooden houses of this type had not previously been recognised in Welsh hillforts, where stone huts were considered the norm. However, more careful excavation (for the stake-holes are extremely difficult to recognise) is likely to produce evidence of others.

The stone building in the north corner was originally a conventional round hut with a doorway facing south-east. Later the south wall was moved to create the unusual snail-like plan. This provided a draught for ventilation, and shade for smithing hearths along the east wall. The interior was full of smithing debris. A hut of this shape may be seen at Garn Boduan hillfort (Llŷn) and is also probably a smithy. Concentrations of iron-working debris and the remains of smelting furnaces were found at the south end of the fort and just outside the entrance, in the lee of the rampart.

Iron-working, both smelting And smithing, seems to have been the chief activity of the inhabitants at Bryn y Castell. They used bog-ores from the nearby peat-bogs and cut trees for charcoal to fuel their furnaces on a very large scale.

Radiocarbon and archaeo-magnetic dating show that the settlement was occupied from the late Iron Age until the coming of the Romans. The industry was re-established probably after a withdrawal of the local garrison in the 2nd century AD, but the hillfort was no longer occupied. Activity was centred instead at a building just outside. This was filled with slag and surrounded by dumps (including, on the west, a large stone anvil with smithing slag on its surface), suggesting intensive production, but perhaps over short period.

From Llan Ffestiniog take B4391 towards Bala, at left turn immediately after passing under the railway bridge. After 2km (1.2 m) turn left at minor cross-road into gated lane. Leave car beyond waterworks at junction of tracks. Take track bearing right for 0.5km (1/3 m). Bryn y Castell is the small hill on the left and can be approached from the north side. This is all Access land.

Distance: Return trip 1km (0.65 mile)
Difficulty: Medium.
Time: 1 hour

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