The British, I think it's fair to say, are fond of lists. Consider the seemingly limitless supply of cheap (funny that) TV shows featuring an inexorable count down to the 'Most Embarrassing Celebrity Moment Ever', albeit mostly monopolised by Justin Bieber nowadays... or the annual Christmas opportunity to marvel at 'Bing and Bowie's' sheer festive joie de vivre at being in each other's company.... and pretty much everything else in between. Including the categorisation of the prehistoric monuments of these Isles according to relative merit. Well, apparently some weirdos do it. Clearly a 'niche' activity, one never likely to scale the heights of intellectual discourse inherent in debates about Shaky's awesome jumper, or Agnetha Fältskog's equally magnificent backside. Nevertheless experience has shown it can generate heated discussion, controversy even. Steady now. To illustrate the point, where would you place Garn Boduan within the rich canon of North Walian hill forts? Exactly. What's the name again?
To be fair I had noted Garn Boduan quite a number of years back, sandwiched between the exquisite profile of Carn Fadryn to the south-west and the impossibly enigmatic 'Town of Giants' to north-east. No wonder it assumed the 'middle ground' within both my consciousness and visit list alike. Consequently it required an extended sojourn upon the great Bronze Age stone pile upon Mynydd Carnguwch in 2012 to prompt a subsequent search of Coflein's database, whereby a reference to 'titanic enclosure' raised the ante somewhat. Having said that it's still a drag to leave the embrace of the high mountains - even if Eryri's bosom is clammy and somewhat claustrophobic today - and venture to the coast through the narrow defile of Drws-y-Coed, the upland cairns of Eifionydd lost to the seemingly metaphysical world within the cloud mantle. And so to Nefyn, a small town trading upon the allure of the nearby sandy beaches, the latter sheltered by the fortified headland of Trwyn Porth Dinllaen to the west. For me, as with all such gregarious seaside settlements, an air of apparent melancholy is prevalent out of season. Although of course I could just be a miserable muppet. Whatever the truth, the sight of the great rocky lump that is Garn Boduan rising to the south is a memorable one for an antiquarian. No doubt it can be ascended from town.... however, forever contrary, I decide to approach from the south-east, taking the A497 and hence B4354 to park up near Gorphwysfa.
Here a public footpath (a precious commodity as it turns out) follows the line of the road to the east, before doubling back to ascend the afforested hillside rising above. Sadly it would appear that the woods are managed by a private company for the morally debatable pleasure of 'hunters', signs warning of the deployment of apparently legal 'vermin' traps in the area. So please watch the kids if you decide to come. My assumption is these traps are designed for creatures looking for a meal of grouse the natural way... and not those armed with guns. Guess the latter option wouldn't make good business sense. Anyway, with Carn Fadryn gracing the left hand horizon, the track makes its serpentine way eventually up to the enclosure. A massive, collapsed dry stone rampart is immediately apparent girdling the summit crags, although the eastern flank is so sheer the natural defences would've probably sufficed. Clambering up to the north, past the ethereal remains of several skeletal trees, the true nature of the site slowly begins to sink in. Yeah, this is a very, very substantial hill fort indeed.
The highest (eastern) sector is occupied by the remains of a powerful, thick walled 'citadel', for want of a better term. One might also be tempted to call it a dry stone proto-'keep', although maybe that's an exercise in interpreting archaeology to fit an existing presumption. Nevertheless I wouldn't be at all surprised if Garn Boduan was re-occupied and 'adjusted a bit' during the Anglo-Norman campaigns in Wales. The substantial nature of this upper enclosure's defences is more than matched by the superb views afforded the visitor, particularly toward the coast to north-east (Yr Eifl sweeping to the sea with Tre'r Ceiri perched upon the landward summit) and east (Mynydd Carnguwch crowned by its gigantic cairn). Carn Fadryn holds sway to the south-west, whilst Y Rhinogydd provide the horizon beyond Tremadog Bay to south-east. Hey, I even reckon I can make out Criccieth Castle, as well as the shapely crag of Moel y Gest overlooking Portmadog. Needless to say the inclement Welsh weather stakes a considerable bid for attention in the form of a brutal, freezing wind which sends numerous poorly clad punters, arriving from the north-east, back whence they came in very short order indeed. Also striving for attention, to judge by some graffiti daubed in Welsh, are the local pseudo-political activists. Images of Wolfie Smith flash into my mind. Well, guess everyone has to start somewhere.
Moving on after a rather cold lunch, I descend northwards to follow the line of what appear bi-vallate defences. These are impressive, too, albeit becoming progressively more overgrown until the north-western arc is found to be more or less completely reclaimed by Nature. Great views across Nefyn out to sea are adequate compensation for the unforeseen effort demanded from me. Veering south to check out the western flank - after what seems an age, such is the size of the enclosure - I slowly become aware of the remains of numerous hut circles occupying the interior of the south-western corner, overlooked by the 'citadel' above to my left. In time these become more well defined, then substantial. It's difficult to make sense of the overall layout, however, so I withdraw to higher ground for an overview. From here, with Carn Fadryn resplendent upon the far horizon, the impression of ancient upland defended settlement is arguably as good as any I've seen to date.
A weather front appears from the direction of Abersoch - or thereabouts - making rapid progress inland. Very rapid progress. In a few minutes it falls upon Garn Boduan, fiendishly strong winds lashing rain against hillside with an unbridled ferocity that makes completion of the circuit back to the summit a matter of some perseverance. Worth the effort though since, as seen upon first arrival, this south-eastern arc of ramparts is perhaps the finest of what has been revealed to be surely one of the finest hill forts in all Wales. Why it isn't generally regarded as such - well, in my experience anyway - may, as suggested earlier, be simply a matter of geography, of Garn Boduan being located between two sites employing the landscape equivalent of Max Clifford as publicist. Nevertheless, although Garn Boduan may not grab the attention from afar, I'd suggest it is a 'slow burner'. Yeah, if we were in Aberdeenshire it would be 'Barmekin Hill' to Tre'r Ceiri's 'Mither Tap'. Pretty good, then.
Coflein has this to say about this overwhelmingly massive Lleyn hill fort:
"Garn Boduan is a titanic hill-top enclosure, about 512m from north to south by 384m, defined by two successive and somewhat divergent stone-walled rampart circuits. Within are about 170 circular stone walled structures, generally in the region of 5.2-7.3m in diameter. Upon the highest, eastern edge, of the site is a small stone-ramparted enclosure, about 70m from north to south by 30m. Both the greater and smaller enclosures have two gates, one of each being anciently blocked. A single sherd of pottery indicates second century AD occupation." [RCAHMW, August 2011].
The siting is not as enigmatic as that enjoyed by Tre'r Ceiri across the way, despite proving a magnificent viewpoint for the whole of Lleyn; nevertheless the defences - and in situ hut circles - stand comparison with ease.
The northern environs of Garn Boduan's upper fort - the equivalent of a medieval keep, if you like - are occupied by a large stone pile which Heneb interpret as a massive, disturbed Bronze Age cairn. Probably unopened, thanks to the protective Iron Age works superimposed.
Once again we have clear evidence of Iron Age peoples incorporating an earlier funerary monument within their planning regardless of the obvious spacial impact. The assumption must be that they viewed these monuments as being highly important.