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Exploring prehistoric marvels of North Wales and Cheshire

Moel Fenlli

“The mountains are calling and I must go”. These words come from John Muir, an ecologist, naturalist and conservationist in the USA.

Though it’s been nearly a century since Muir died, these sentiments are alive and compelling for many. Myself included.

In 2009 I spent time in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina (also known as The Smokies and part of the Appalachian range). That’s where I picked up the t-shirt which spoke to me with the opening quote on it. Mountains have called to me for a long time, and it’s North Wales where it first happened.

As you’re belting westward along the A55 North Wales coast road, having ascended from Chester onwards for a number of miles, the road begins to drop. A cut through opens up just past the exit for Rhuallt and Tremeirchion and the Vale of Clwyd opens beneath you.

A vista which never ceases to impress. In the distant west Snowdonia beckons and once down in the Vale, near Bodelwyddan and the Marble Church, the Clywdian Range stretches from the backright, to the distant back left in the south.

All these mountains have been calling to humans since humans have been moving around the landscape. The distant outline of Snowdonia has tombs, standing stones and megalithic circles going back to the Bronze Age and Neolithic period. A mere five thousand years ago. However it’s the more relatively modern Iron Age encampments along the Clwydian Range with which we’ll concern ourselves.

Throughout the first millennium BC a number of defended hill top settlements were formed along the Clwydian range. Typically the communities were on the highest peaks (notable exception of Moel Famau, which is felt may well have been a sacred place) with at least one ditch, one rampart, a palisade fence encircling and gated entrances.

From above Corwen in the south, the hillforts are Caer Drewyn, Moel Fenlli, Moel y Gaer, Penycloddiau (the largest), Moel Arthur and Moel Hiraddug above Dyserth in the north. Except Moel y Gaer, there is open access on the forts, making for a good walk layered with over two millennia of history. The views are stunning, imparting a welcome medicine into the spirit.

The forts formed a chain of communities, intervisible from most of the summits, and would have given ease of communication by means of beacons. In 2011 the ‘Hillfort Glow’ project demonstrated that people with torches from these ancient places could flash to each other - up and down the Clwydian Range and across to Burton Point on The Wirral, Beeston Castle,

Helsby and Frodsham hills too. The mountains offered protection long before the Romans came trading and conquering.

The roads either side of the range are arguably ancient routes too, creating a ladder effect when picturing the parallel north to south routes either side and the connecting rungs through passes and ridgeways, the way of easiest passage. The pass of Bwlch Pen Barras is well supervised by towering presence of Moel Fenlli, the ascent of which is considerably easier than the first ‘oh my goodness’ glance up from the car park!

If the mountains call upon you to go, these prehistoric marvels stretching the spine of the Clwydians will give ample reward.

More can be heard from Erin Robinson, Heather and Hillforts, Community Participation Officer, here and at a free weekend of ancient prehistory themed talks and walks on 28th and 29th July in The Peak District courtesy of The Megalithic Portal. For more see here.

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