In the wild and lonely hills of Arenig Fawr it difficult to imagine how many people lived up there once upon a time .
The Arenig Fawr uplands archaeological survey was undertaken in 2010 by the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments in Wales .
The survey covered approximately 32 square kilometres of the mountainous region to the west of Bala and Brynn Celyn, including a detached area of common land on the north side of the town of Bala
The landscape is characterised by steep craggy slopes and open moorland and
lies almost entirely between the 230m and 850m contours. The survey was conducted
by walking regular 30m transepts and aimed to identify archaeological sites of all
A total of 935 sites were recorded. A few are classified as prehistoric and more of that period may yet be discovered . The formation of peat in the later prehistoric period may account for the lower numbers of recognisable sites prior to the early medieval period
We do know from the archaeological remains that there is a ‘cairnfield’ near Amnodd Wen
The burial cairn Moel yr Eglwys – the bare summit of the church must once have been very impressive before it was robbed of it’s stones for a modern shelter . The believe was – and still is in many areas that these mounds are the home of the old people and the fairies and should never be disturbed.
There were very few prehistoric sites. A large cairn on the summit of Arenig Fawr has
been considerably mutilated, and the cairn material has spread beyond its original
circumference (nprn 43852) (fig 3). It was built on the highest point of the ridge of hills,
and has a near panoramic view of surrounding lowlands, blocked only on the southwest
side. Summit cairns are common in Merionethshire and it has been suggested that
they were reserved for high-status burials, on sites chosen because they are
conspicuous from a distance (Smith 2003, 115-16). The cairn has a drystone shelter
built on to its summit, as well as a memorial to an air crew that crashed on the
mountain in 1944, and a modern concrete triangulation pillar. Its names, Eglwys
Glominog and Moel yr Eglwys, are not readily explicable. A tradition that a hermit’s cell
was built on the summit of Arenig Fawr was current in the early modern period, and
was well known enough for an engraving of it to appear in a posthumous edition of
William Stukeley’s Itinerarium Curiosum (1776), although it is almost certain that
Stukeley never visited the site (RCAHMW 1921, 147). Such stories may have derived
from the presence of stone shelters on the summit, one of which may have been
misinterpreted as the ruins of a chapel. The ‘chapel’ has remained part of the local
There is a report of their findings at this link http://www.rcahmw.gov.uk/media/312.pdf
There is a cairn at Cefn Coch (nprn 303153), a summit cairn on a low ridge below
The wild isolation of the place has given rise to much folklore and it’s easy to see how the imagination can run wild up here in the land of the Tylwyth Teg anything can happen …The following story by J. H. Roberts written in Welsh in Edwards’ Cymru for 1897, p. 190: tells us that the belief in the fair folk who lived on the hills was still strong in the Nineteenth century
‘In the western end of the Arennig Fawr there is a cave: in fact there are several caves there, and some of them are very large too; but there is one to which the finger of tradition points as an ancient abode of theTylwyth Teg. About two generations ago, the shepherds of that country used to be enchanted by one of them called Mary, who was remarkable for her beauty. Many an effort was made to catch her or to meet her face to face, but without success, as she was too quick on her feet. She used to show herself day after day, and she might be seen, with her little harp, climbing the bare slopes of the mountain. In misty weather when the days were longest in summer, the music she made used to be wafted by the breeze to the ears of the love-sick shepherds. Many a time had the boys of the Filltir Gerrig heard sweet singing when passing the cave in the full light of day, but they were subject to some spell, so that they never ventured to enter. But the shepherd of Boch y Rhaiadr had a better view of the fairies one Allhallows night (ryw noson Galangaeaf) when returning home from a merry-making at Amnodd. On the sward in front of the cave what should he see but scores of the Tylwyth Teg singing and dancing! He never saw another assembly in his life so fair, and great was the trouble he had to resist being drawn into their circles.’
Another story which may echo the memory of hoards which were a feature of the Bronze and Iron ages was mentioned in the ‘The Welsh Fairy Book’ by W. Jenkyn Thomas (1908) which can be read at Sacred Texts http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/wfb/index.htm
There is no end of treasure hidden in the mountains of Wales, but if you are not the person for whom it is intended, you will probably not find it. Even if you do find it, you will not be able to secure it, unless it is destined for you.
There is a store of gold in a hillock near Arenig Lake, and Silvanus Lewis one day took his pickaxe and shovel to find it. No sooner had he commenced to dig in earnest than he heard a terrible, unearthly noise under his feet. The hillock began to rock like a cradle, and the sun clouded over until it became pitch dark. Lightning flashes began to shoot their forked streaks around him and pealing thunders to roar over his head. He dropped his pickaxe and hurried helter-skelter homewards to Cnythog. Before he reached there everything was beautifully calm and serene. But he was so frightened that he never returned to fetch his tools. Many another man has been prevented in the same way from continuing his search.
Similar stories are found over Wales . It’s said that a woman guards the gold treasure which stil lies hidden on Moel Arthur in the Clwydian Range . Woe betide any antiquarian who she catches trying to dig her treasure up ..and quite right too .
The theme of the burial mound as the dwelling of the Old People is something we will be looking at in much greater depth as we travel around the Dee Valley and North Wales collecting our images and stories
Did you know ? During what we call the Neolithic in Wales the bones from cremations may have been distributed and interred around many locations on the landscape as a claim to the land in a world of interconnected relations between groups, ancestral places that we don’t understand ..
Power, knowledge, control , social relationships we can guess at . Who their gods were , what their rituals really meant we haven’t really a clue . Archaeologists can only interpret what excavation reports tell us . We can connect with monuments and landscapes and form our own conclusions but the truth is we really don’t know very much about the social, political and personal lives of people who who have left their mark upon the land we now call Wales .
What I do believe is that they were highly intelligent gifted people much like us and that they constructed monuments which have endured for around 6000 years . I can’t imagine many of our modern structures lasting for as long. The ‘houses for the dead’ as they are called dominate the landscape in some areas whilst the houses of the living are long since disappeared
We need to research the area of the Dee Valley , to record the monuments and sites we can see on the ground but to also undertake a thorough literature review on all available sources for sites which have disappeared .
Unlike areas like Anglesey which I have highlighted here in the illustrations unfortunately we haven’t received the same acknowledgement and research attention , due I think to the area falling outside the interests of academic institutions and departments .
My own feeling is that we have a ‘ritual’ landscape equal to anywhere in Britain . There’s mention of a lost cursus monument near Corwen which indicates some important ritual activity going on – my own guess is that the River was closely connected to the underlying thought processes that promoted the construction of many of the monuments here through out the Neolithic and Bronze Age . If we try to look at the possible relationships between what we do have some evidence for – such as neolithic chambered tombs ie Tan y Coed, Brans Uchaf and Gwerglas in relationship to the wider landscape I think we have a challenging but fascinating project for the future .