Moel Arthur – view of the bivallate ramparts on the north-east, west of the main entrance

I’m slowly getting my way through the local hillforts! This morning I visited Moel Arthur with mother-in-law and the famous five-strong sprog army.

We left the car park to its south, where there is a bilingual heritage board informing the visitor about the archaeology and wildlife on the hill. We took on the steep upwards and anticlockwise ascent of the hill in light rain. We made the final approach through the prehistoric ramparts on the hill’s north-eastern side, using its original and only entrance to reach the summit when the rain grew intense. The views were outstanding if obscured by the screen of rain, including panoramas over the Vale of Clwyd, north towards Penycloddiau, south towards Moel Famau and east to Chester and beyond into England.

The heritage board

After a snack, we descended in heavy rain across the ramparts on the northern side and before switching back to descend back to the car. We saw no other walkers, only bilberries, gorse and heather, a few sheep and bees. A striking monolith told us we were on the Offa’s Dyke path (although nowhere near the linear earthworks).

Panorama of the defences and Pencloddiau

The archaeology of Moel Arthur is summarised on the AONB website here. A leaflet for visitors can be downloaded here.

There is supposed to be a possible Bronze Age burial mound on the summit Moel Arthur, but I confess I wasn’t wholly convinced. Three copper flat axes were found in 1962 on the hill. Excavations in 2013 revealed a Bronze Age trackway to the north of the hillfort.

Panorama of the ramparts at the north-east entrance

The hillfort of Moel Arthur itself is an impressive structure for its modest 2ha, with double bank-and-ditch on its northern and eastern (less steep) slopes with a single north-eastern in-turned entrance. Wynn Ffoulkes dug on the hill in the mid-19th century and confirmed its composition involved (in part) drystone walling. He also found arrowheads, red pottery and corroded iron artefacts. Forde-Johnson identified guard chambers inside the entrance. It remains disputed whether the outer or inner earthwork on the northern and eastern sides is the oldest. We know nothing of the precise dating of the hillfort, its sequence of use and reuse. As with Foel Fenlli, was this site used and reused through the Roman and early medieval periods?

Quarrying on the hill’s southern side was probably post-medieval and for stone. Quarrying within the interior doesn’t appear to receive a mention in the HER or AONB websites, so I wonder what is the prevailing interpretation is of the striking scoops into the northern side of the hillfort’s interior? Are these steep cuttings natural, medieval/post-medieval quarrying, or excavations to create platforms for prehistoric habitation and create material for the ramparts? Some might, in part, relate to a legendary, short-lived and fruitless Cilcain goldrush. There is a small modern cairn of stones left by walkers on the summit.

Sadly, there were no ‘archaeodeath’ themes on this particular trip: and it seems I disappointingly didn’t notice the possible Bronze Age burial mound. I will need to go back when I am not busy navigating the feeding and walking of kids maybe, or perhaps it is really obscure.

Modern cairn, possibly overlying a prehistoric mound

A final comment must be given to the Arthurian place-name. This is intriguing since it is isolated in the broader spectrum of ancient monuments attributed to Arthur across Wales. The connections with megaliths are known from Herefordshire as discussed here, and from the Gower (Arthur’s Stone). Meanwhile, the medieval literature situating Arthur at Caerleon are well known as discussed here.

This is the only hillfort in Wales to be attributed to the legendary king and there is no evidence archaeological, historical or literary explanation why this might be. As a small, distinctive and prominent hill with dramatic ancient earthworks, it makes a far more distilled place to attribute the actions of a legendary king than perhaps other, larger, hillforts afforded. Honestly, these characteristics also find paralllels with hillforts demonstrably known to be reused in the Early Middle Ages. Beyond that, I haven’t any clue and invite readers’ comments.