The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Pen y Crug



It would appear that Brecon has always been a town of some significance. Today it is probably best known for lending its name to the 'Brecon Beacons National Park', a great east-west mountain escarpment effectively isolating South Wales from Mid, the highest summits of which soar above the town to the south. Topography was clearly the prime factor in assuring Brecon's local primacy, a glance at the map highlighting the confluence of several rivers in the immediate locality, most notably the Usk and Honddu (Brecon is 'Aberhonddu' in the vernacular), as well as the north/south A470 and east/west A40 land routes. Those bleedin' Romans - no mugs, it has to be said - were clearly well aware of this strategic value, siting a fort (Y Gaer) a little to the west, overlooking a ford across the Afon Ysgir near its confluence with the Usk, superseding a hillfort upon Coed Fenni-fach. The Normans, too, erecting a motte nearby, this itself replaced by the stone castle which still stands in the hotel grounds. Another hillfort is sited at Slwch Tump, not to mention several small enclosures upon the great northern ridges of the Brecon Beacons themselves. But it is that upon the great, isolated hilltop of Pen-y-Crug to the north-west that dominates the town.

It is possible to approach Pen-y-Crug on foot from Brecon... however the Mam C and I make our way to the north, via the little village of Cradoc, where parking can be found beside a recycling area. A bridleway, initially very muddy today, leads to the base of the hill before ascending the left hand flank, and hence gaining the ramparts. We're here since a cloudbase of approx 1,000ft has buggered up any plans of adding to yesterday's snow-bound excursion along Craig y Fan Ddu and Graig Fan Las. But any sense of this being 'second best' is immediately and irrecoverably banished upon setting eyes upon this fine fortress. Surely this must be up there with Wales' finest Iron Age creations? To say I wasn't exactly expecting to find a powerful quadrivallate enclosure (although reduced to tri-vallate at the steeper western flank, it has to be said) occupying the summit of this hilltop is an understatement all right. Nice.

Quarrying to the south-east has left its unwelcome legacy to some degree, but nonetheless the ramparts remain relatively well preserved, the views, particularly across the fertile Usk valley to the cloud-wreathed mountain summits, of sufficient quality to no doubt have excited Wordsworth should he have ever come here. Sadly I don't believe he ever did, nor do I possess his poetic genius, but I think I get what the man meant when visiting such landscapes.... The aforementioned low cloud, not content with the likes of Pen-y-Fan, decides to pay our hilltop a visit, engulfing us in evocative, swirling mist before peeling away to leave washes of brilliant sunshine and a rainbow girdling the inner rampart. Hey, it's true. There is treasure at the end of the rainbow! Hang on... where's that 'Ladybird Book of Poetry' again?

The hillfort's relationship to the surrounding landscape is intruiging - in particular with respect to the other two nearby enclosures. Were these contemporary? Surely not hostile? Friendly rivals?It's also interesting that the Roman engineers didn't consider Pen-y-Crug sufficient for their needs. Guess they required a much more aggressively placed site to control local movement. Ditto William the Bastard's lot.

The Mam C's long wanted to experience what the great Wessex hillforts are like. Ha! Pen-y-Crug.
12th March 2011ce
Edited 12th March 2011ce

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