The western entrance into the hillfort approaching from outside
The southern side of Moel Fenlli

This morning, in perfect weather, I made the short but steep ascent up Moel Fenlli, a hill in the Clwydian Range reaching 511m and encircled by a hillfort of late prehistoric, Roman and (possibly) post-Roman date.

The extra challenge of the ascent, exploration and (particularly) the descent was that I took my three younger offspring with me up the steep hillside. However, it all went without a hitch (to my surprise) despite the predictable comments of walkers noting that ‘I had my hands full’.

Views from Moel Fenlli towards Moel Famau – i.e. north along the Clwydian range

On the heather-covered hill, we got to explore some of the earthworks and met with a sparrowhawk, ravens, beetles and numerous species of brown butterflies. Meanwhile, on the lower slopes were copious sheep and in the pond by the car park we met tadpoles, pondskaters and dragonflies.

The monumental prehistoric earthworks on the north-east side of the hill
Earthworks on the eastern side near the summit
The more sleight defences on the south-west

We know about the site’s multiple phases of activity from its surviving earthworks, antiquarian discoveries, early 20th-century excavations and more recent survey. Details about the site can be found on the AONB website for the Clwydian Range here. First noted by Camden, this striking multivallate hillfort with a single western entrance contains around 61 hut platforms. Excavations found evidence of Roman occupation and a 1,500-coin hoard of Roman date is also known from the hillfort.

On the highest point of the hilltop is a low mound, now surmounted by a modern cairn, which might be a Bronze Age burial mound. Within the hillfort as well as the hut platforms there is also a natural spring.

Of particular interest to me, the question remains as to whether this was also an early medieval site with some function. If not a fortification, it might be the site of a beacon or watch tower. From here, you can see the Irish Sea, the Dee estuary and every other hill-top from Snowdonia into Cheshire.

The place-name has a legendary interpretation which regards the hillfort  to the stronghold of a fifth-century tyrant ‘Benlli’. I haven’t researched this legend but it sounds like hogwash to me.

There is no real heritage interpretation on site,  but the website and walkers’ leaflets give ample information about the archaeology and heritage of the Clwydian range.

In summary, a fabulous short visit and a rare case where I take the twins out into the wider landscape. Hopefully this summer will afford more opportunities for walking in the Clwydians and elsewhere in North-East Wales.

The summit cairn (modern) overlying a possible prehistoric cairn, views north behind. To the right one can see the Dee estuary, to the left the Irish Sea.
The older monument underneath the modern cairn can clearly be seen in this shot
The summit
Descent on the south with views over the Vale of Clwyd
Ascent on the north side
Talitha had a lift on the way down