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Pen-y-bannau Hillfort

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Map ReferenceSN76NW
Grid ReferenceSN7419066890
Unitary (Local) AuthorityCeredigion
Old CountyCardiganshire
CommunityYstrad Fflur
PeriodIron Age
1. 'Pen y Bannau hillfort crowns a high outcrop overlooking the lowlands of Cors Caron/Tregaron Bog. It has one of the most distinctive and impressive defensive facades in the whole of mid and west Wales. Three steep, stocky banks flank the main gate at the narrow north-east end of the fort. However, these strongly-built defences enclose only a tiny portion of the entire outcrop. The remainder is defended by a low footing wall, probably a foundation for a timber palisade or even ? in places ? a light fence.

Pen y Bannau occupies a supremely strong position in the regional landscape, its highest point reaching 352m above sea level. The views from the hillfort are extensive, yet the impressive triple facade does not command a wide vista; the full view of the defences is only glimpsed by travellers descending from the high mountain to the north-east from the area around the Teifi Pools. As with other forts in the hill fringe in north Ceredigion, including Caer Lletty-lwyd near Talybont or Tan-y-ffordd in the Rheidol Valley, it is hard not to conclude that the defences faced east to greet visitors arriving over the high ground of the Cambrian Mountains, from distant lands like Montgomeryshire and the Welsh Borders.

Pen y Bannau measures overall c.180m north-east/south-west, but is only 60m wide. The fort is divided roughly in two by the summit of the crag, topped by a concrete triangulation pillar. It is a small hillfort, only enclosing 1.1 hectares, but it makes up for this limited enclosed size with a defended gateway facade which mimics ? on a restricted `budget? ? multivallate fortresses like Old Oswestry or Gaer Fawr near Welshpool. Such distant hillforts may well have influenced chieftains, elders or architects when seen on eastward journeys, who wished to emulate the effect of multivallation but with a more limited labour force available on Cardigan Bay (from Driver, 2016).'

2. Pen y Bannau is a strongly sited hillfort whose rocky summit reaches 352m O.D. It occupies a precipitous crag aligned NE/SW at the western end of an upland plateau, commanding extensive views over Cors Caron/Tregaron Bog, to the west and south, and across the uplands bordering the Teifi Pools to the east and north.

The hillfort measures overall c.180m NE/SW by 60m and is divided roughly in two by the summit of the crag, now occupied by a triangulation pillar. To the south of the crag the hillfort interior encloses a pronounced slope, and the enclosing low wall appears never to have been a significant barrier and may, indeed, have originally functioned as the footings for a timber palisade. The southern end of the fort is completed by steep rocky cliffs. Mid-way along the west side of this southern half of the fort is an entrance giving access from below up a fairly steep track. There are the sites of possibly two house platforms in the eastern part of this enclosure, together with a small rectangular structure which is probably later.

The most impressive defences of the hillfort occupy the northern part of the crag. Here, a concavity at the northern end of the crag is enclosed by substantial stone walls and there is the suggestion of up to five house platforms sited around the perimeter. At the northern terminal of the crag, the ramparts turn in to form the main gateway to the hillfort, protected by two further ramparts below. The appearance given by this impressive defensive facade, when viewed from approaches to the north-east, is of a very strong multivallate hillfort.

The ramparts of this facade still stand 3-4m tall. One enters around the eastern terminal of the lowest rampart and climbs uphill along a pathway, passing the eastern terminal of the middle rampart and reaching the main inner gateway. Massive stonework protruding through the turf, particularly on the western terminal of the main gate where a boulder just over 1m long rests on another large stone, suggests that the gate structure was originally completed in stone. The deep passage which presently exists between the high rampart terminals further suggests the original existence of a crossing bridge over a gateway passage, as excavated at Pen Dinas, Aberystwyth.

The distinctive architecture at Pen y Bannau shares many common features with other hillforts bordering Cors Caron. The fundamentals of the Cors Caron facade scheme are that the complex facade of the hillfort is sited at the narrow apex of the ridge, outcrop or promontory, essentially restricting the area for potential display. The long sides of the forts usually lack extensive artificial ramparts as they are formed along topographically steep landscape features. The second chief characteristic is the use of steep-faced, at time free-standing, ramparts to form the blocking facade. Entry to the hillfort is oblique in nature, around the terminals of the blocking facade ramparts. However, the final position of the main gate varies; Pen y Bannau features a highly visible gateway, centrally placed in the apex of the ridge. At both Castell, Tregaron, and Tre-Coll, a different strategy to the approach is employed, namely an invisible inner gateway, entirely obscured by the outworks. The ultimate position of the gate is by no means obvious, and it must be sought behind, or alongside, the terminals of the outworks.

Main visit date. 31st August 1999.

From: Driver, T. (2005) The Hillforts of North Ceredigion: Architecture, Landscape Setting and Cultural Contexts, PhD thesis, The University of Wales, Lampeter, unpublished.


Davies, J. L. and Hogg, A. H. A., 1994. The Iron Age. In: Davies, J. L. and Kirby, D. P. eds., Cardiganshire County History. Volume 1, From the earliest times to the coming of the Normans. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 219-233

Driver, T. 2008. Hillforts and Human Movement: Unlocking the Iron Age Landscapes of Mid Wales. In Fleming, A. & Hingley, R. (eds). Prehistoric and Roman Landscapes, Landscape History after Hoskins, Volume I. Bollington: Windgather Press, 83-100.

Driver, T. 2013. Architecture, Regional Identity and Power in the Iron Age Landscapes of Mid Wales: The Hillforts of North Ceredigion. British Archaeological Report (BAR) 583, Archaeopress: Oxford.

Driver, T. 2016. Hillforts of Cardigan Bay. Logaston Press

Hughes, I.T. 1926. A Regional Survey of North Cardiganshire Prehistoric Earthworks, Transactions of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, IV, 22-56.

Hughes, I. T. 1933. Some Observations on Hill-top Camps. Transactions of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, Vol. IX, 12-25.
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