I’m ashamed to say that one of the many sites I’ve failed to visit in my time living in NE Wales is a small but strategically located (in terms of controlling lead and silver resources, viewsheds and relationships with multiple land routes) hillfort on Halkyn Mountain with phemonenal views in all directions: Moel-y-Gaer. Situated north of Rhosesmor and south of Halkyn, it commands amazing vistas over the Alyn valley and the Clwydian Range to the SW, and NE out over the Nant-y-Fflint valley and the Dee Estuary, Wirral and the Lancashire coast.
Everywhere I go, I see it on the horizon, from Hope Mountain, from Moel Fenlli, from Moel Arthur and from Penycloddiau, even from Wirral. Now, finally, I got to see the wider landscape from this location!
a sub-oval hilltop enclosure, about 190m north-south by 130-170m, generally defined by a bank, ditch and counterscarp, but with some variation, notably about the east-facing entrance
Excavations ahead of the construction of the reservoir in the centre of the hillfort revealed an Iron Age sequence of occupation.
I rectified my personal and professional to visit recently on a walk through this deep-time lead-mining landscape up to the hillfort. To celebrate the event, I wore my newest shades and my brand-new Archaeosoup t-shirt: ‘Pleistocene Park’.
Archwilo defines Moel-y-Gaer as ‘mutlivallate’, but I noticed one principal bank and ditch with counterscarp bank. as per the Coflein description above. The in-turned entrance described is indeed present.
There was also a presumed Bronze Age mound within the hillfort on the northern side, 15-17m in diameter and 1.3m high. A timber post possible funerary monument was also found during excavations by Alex Gibson (CPAT 70263). However, as Archwilio records, the visible mound might equally be a Roman signal station or a later watchtower/beacon.
Another feature found during the 1972 excavations was a Napoleonic beacon on the top of the hill: indeed given its strategic location the idea that this might have been a beacon site for earlier periods, including the Mercian frontiers of Wat’s Dyke and Offa’s Dyke, must be seriously entertained. Both the actual course of Wat’s Dyke to the NE, and the speculated northern continuation of Offa’s Dyke (as ventured recently by Professor Keith Ray) could have readily utilised this spot to communicate over long distances as well as along the dykes themselves. Therefore, while characterised as an ‘Iron Age’ monument, Moel-y-Gaer might have potentially had a far more complex intermittent history of use and reuse, including potential Roman, early medieval and modern phases of activity.
In summary, Moel-y-Gaer is yet another Welsh monument coded ‘Iron Age’ but clearly with a more complex multi-phased story to tell in relation to its wider landscape. From an early medieval perspective, I cannot imagine either Offa’s Dyke or Wat’s Dyke operating without Moel-y-Gaer being implicated in their system of surveillance and landscape control in the 8th/early 9th centuries, if not before.