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CASTELL RHYFEL

Site Details

© Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey licence number 0100022206

NPRN 303624

Map Reference SN75NW

Grid Reference SN73205987

Unitary (Local) Authority Ceredigion

Old County Cardiganshire

Community Tregaron

Type of Site HILLFORT

Broad Class DEFENCE

Period Iron Age

Site Description Castell Rhyfel is a hilltop enclosure crowning a rounded summit of a ridge, set in an exceptionally exposed, marginal position in hills commanding the headwaters of the Groes Fawr valley to the south. Its summit reaches the 500m contour and there are extensive views on all sides except across the higher summits immediately to the north.

The enclosure is roughly pear-shaped, with overall measurements of 133.0m west-southwest to east-southeast by 110m transversely (dimensions from NAR). The defences, such as they are, comprise a low earth and stone bank up to 4.0m in width, and varying between 0.5m and 1m in height externally. The most coherent sections of the defence are found on the south-east side. The rampart has been formed by quarrying of material from behind, with the earth and stone dumped forward often on the edge of the slope. This process has left a series of irregular, intermittent and often shallow quarry scoops just inside the perimeter. Some of these are very damp and partly water-filled in the southern half of the enclosure. At the eastern angle of the enclosure is an additional external outwork defending a ridge beyond the main rampart. This shows up particularly well under light snow on RCAHMW aerial photographs taken on 4th February 2015.

The original entrance on the south-southeast tip suggested by the OS survey in 1978 is not tenable, and the rampart appears continuous at this point. Rather, the most likely original gateway appears to be at the eastern tip where there is a clear break in the defences with the low rampart ending in terminals, the southern terminal slightly inturned showing some defensive or stylistic consideration. This may be the same entrance as noted by the Cadw warden (Rees) in 1985 `on the NE, where there is a slight break, and a track passing obliquely up the mountain side.'. This entrance is certainly at one of the few comfortable approaches to the fort which is otherwise bordered by precipitous slopes, except where the ridge continues across a slight saddle of lower ground on the north side.

The form of the rampart is irregular and of such coarse work that one could propose that this fort was unfinished. That said, the `rampart' was probably only ever intended as a low footing for a palisade and severe weathering on this worn summit may have led to erosion and slumping of the low dumped rampart over the millennia. One very interesting feature is the natural chevaux-de-frise on the south-east side, first noted by the Cadw warden (Burnham) in 1988. Indeed, it is surprising that this feature was not remarked upon before. Several ribs of shale outcrop in distinctive lines in a broadly north-west/south-east direction beneath the summit, and become exposed to the south of the main gateway. Here, on the steep slopes the outcrops are visible as clearly-demarcated lines of upright pointed slates, seeming to form rows of artificially set slabs. It could be conjectured that part of the reason for selecting this exceptionally barren summit of all those in the immediate vicinity was for the occurrence of this special feature.

The interior is featureless, and no artificial features of note can be identified. A boggy area is present in the centre, between two spurs of higher ground west of the summit, which produces two marked lines of run-off to the south (particularly visible on aerial photographs). This may have provided a water-source, or may even have had a ritual focus, but there is no sign of artificial work around it. Given the very exposed nature of the domed interior, the most likely position for any huts would be within the quarry scoops set behind the defences as noted by previous visitors to the fort.

This remote site on a high, domed summit with little monumentality to the ramparts shares similarities to Lluest y Trafle fort (NPRN 419101) to the north near Bontgoch, and both may be interpreted as Late Bronze Age settlements or ceremonial focii.


Visit date: 18th July 2002
Updated T. Driver, RCAHMW, 2016

References.

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

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

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

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