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  • Wales History, Geography, Facts, & Points of Interest

  • The tranquillity of Bryn Euryn hill, feet above sea level, belies a dramatic yet little known past. Iron and Dark Age strongholds, the medieval castle of a notable Welshman and a later fortified mansion have all been built here, and a Roman expeditionary force disappeared nearby. The ancient fortresses stood on its summit and the ruins of the fortified mansion are on its seaward slope.

    Historical records hint that Ednyfed had a castle here but where was it? The search for Ednyfed's Castle was prompted by a visit to a bookshop during a trip to Colwyn Bay on a rainy Easter weekend. The second hand bookshop in the town centre always has a good supply of interesting old books and I found myself looking through them as I sheltered from the rain. The Roman Connection While looking for books on local history an old school textbook fell into my hand, one that we had used during our Primary School education in the 's.

    Within its covers was a reference to the Iron Age hillfort of Bryn Euryn and a description of how life was probably lived there at the time when the Roman Legions invaded North Wales. This reminded me of the history lessons we had at around the age of 10 that told us how of Roman invaders had apparently been slaughtered near Bryn Euryn.

    A Roman historian recorded the disappearance of a Roman expeditionary force led by Sempronius somewhere near the North Wales coast. The story was that the Roman column had been ambushed while it passed through a narrow valley formed between Bryn Euryn and the high ground just to the east.

    Consequently, we had visions of terrifying woad-painted Celtic warriors screaming as they rushed down through the woods to annihilate the Romans with their slingshots, spears and swords. Bryn Euryn looking across Nant Sempyr, possibly the scene of a successful attack on the Romans by the native Celtic tribe of the Deceangli.

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    Ednyfed's Manor Another old book caught my eye. It was a guidebook of the Colwyn Bay area dating back to the time when it was a fashionable Edwardian seaside resort. Ednyfed Fychan was a descendent of the tribal rulers of the area and is a fairly well known character in Welsh history, but his castle is a mystery having seemingly disappeared without trace. Ednyfed rose to become the chief advisor of Prince Llewelyn Ap Iorwerth and as such he was the second most powerful man in Wales during the early part of the thirteenth century.

    He bought the land of Rhos Fychan 'Little Moor' from Llewelyn and established his manor there around the year Rhos has now been largely built over and is a suburb of Colwyn Bay but Bryn Euryn springs above the land just as it did in Ednyfed's day. Ednyfed is known to have had a private chapel at the foot of Bryn Euryn, part of which still exists as the north wall in the local church of St Trillo, and his manor was said to be close by. At that time in Wales manors were not the large country houses that now grace the land.

    They had to be defensible against hostile neighbours and so they were often small castles, as can be seen at the later manorial site of Owain Glyndwr at Sycharth. The Search Begins I know the area around Bryn Euryn well after growing up locally but had previously been unaware of a castle site, therefore a search for the lost castle was irresistible.

    Armed with a camera and in the company of my 12 year old son, I drove to a small car park on the seaward edge of the hill from where the search could begin. The car park sits within an old limestone quarry and footpaths lead off from it in various directions. Cadw, the custodians of Welsh historical monuments, had thoughtfully provided a notice board at the car park and it gave some information about the earthwork fort crowning the hill and also the ruined mansion nearby.

    Both the fort and the mansion had been recently excavated but no mention was made of Ednyfed's castle. We strolled up one of the paths for about a quarter of a mile until we reached the old mansion, winding up through dense woodland and over a low limestone crest as we went.

    The ruin soon came into view through the trees. Llys has a subtlety different meaning to plas, or palace, and would have been applied to the fortified court of a local ruler in the early medieval Dark Age periodso could there be an older building below the present one? Looking across the kitchen range towards the west hall and the southwestern corner turret.

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    The base of the northern turret is in the foreground. A reconstruction drawing of Llys Euryn from the Cadw information board at the site, showing how it probably looked in the 15th century.

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    The hall was built in the mid 15th century and had turrets containing latrines, a full range of domestic rooms including two halls and a small central courtyard.

    A contemporary bardic poem described '3 fair stories' and the building had a slate roof pegged in place by oak nails. The windows of the three feet thick external walls were all narrow defensible slits but those looking inwards were bigger for greater comfort.

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    The site of the new west hall with a domestic range and the kitchen door beyond. The good preservation of the fireplace and chimney is the result of rebuilding in the 19th century. The three levels of floor and the arrow slits can be clearly seen in this picture. The remains visible today are of the fortified manor house built for Robin, eldest son of Gruffyd Goch who led the old Welsh tribal division of Rhos.

    It was a large and very well appointed building for its time and was fortified because of the invasions of North Wales that occurred during the Wars of the Roses. The hall was improved during its peaceful first hundred years but the family fortunes declined and it was sold to pay off debts. By it was probably derelict, robbed of any useful material until it became a mere shell.

    The south wall of the mansion has accumulated a thick layer of earth against its outer face over the last five hundred years. The original ground level can be seen within the building at the right of the picture. The failure of the Puritans both to complete establishment of a presbyterian system during the Westminster Assembly in and to continue a looser arrangement of independent churches under Cromwell opened the way in to an episcopal restoration in the Church of England.

    The varied coastline of Wales measures about miles km. The country stretches some miles km from north to south, and its east-west width varies, reaching 90 miles km across in the north, narrowing to about 40 miles 65 km in the centre, and widening again to more than miles km across the southern portion.

    Relief Glaciers during the Pleistocene Epoch about 2, to 11, years ago carved much of the Welsh landscape into deeply dissected mountains, plateaus, and hills, including the north-south—trending Cambrian Mountains, a region of plateaus and hills that are themselves fragmented by rivers.

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    Protruding from that backbone are two main mountain areas—the Brecon Beacons in the south, rising to 2, feet metres at Pen y Fan, and Snowdonia in the northwest, reaching 3, feet 1, metres at Snowdonthe highest mountain in Wales. The uplands are girdled on the seaward side by a series of steep-sided coastal plateaus ranging in elevation from about to feet 30 to metres. Many of them have been pounded by the sea into spectacular steplike cliffs. Other plateaus give way to coastal flats that are estuarine in origin.

    Gdr Wales consists of six traditional regions—the rugged central heartland, the North Wales lowlands and Isle of Anglesey county, the Cardigan coast Ceredigion countythe southwestern lowlands, industrial South Wales, and the Welsh borderland. The heartland, which coincides partly with the counties PowysDenbighshireand Gwyneddextends from the Brecon Beacons in the south to Snowdonia in the north and includes the two national parks based on those mountain areas.

    To the west of the heartland, and coinciding with the county of Ceredigionlies the coastline of Cardigan Bay, with numerous cliffs and coves and pebble- and sand-filled beaches.

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    Southwest of the heartland are the counties of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. There the land rises eastward from St.

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    South Wales stretches south of the heartland on an immense but largely exhausted coalfield. To the east of the heartland, the Welsh border region with England is largely agricultural and is characterized by rolling countryside and occasional wooded hills and mountainous moorland. Rowan Drainage The main watershed of Wales runs approximately north-south along the central highlands.

    The larger river valleys all originate there and broaden westward near the sea or eastward as they merge into lowland plains along the English border. The main river in northern Wales is the Deewhich empties into Liverpool Bay. Among the lesser rivers and estuaries are the Clwyd and Conwy in the northeast, the Tywi in the south, and the Rheidol in the west, draining into Cardigan Bay Bae Ceredigion.

    Several reservoirs in the central uplands supply water to South Wales and to Merseyside and the Midlands in England. However, glaciers during the Pleistocene blanketed most of the landscape with till boulder clayscraped up and carried along by the underside of the great ice sheets, so that few soils can now be directly related to their parent rock.

    Acidic, leached podzol soils and brown earths predominate throughout Wales. Climate Wales has a maritime climate dominated by highly unpredictable shifts in Atlantic air masses, which, combined with the diverse range of elevations, often cause local conditions to vary considerably from day to day.

    Precipitation is frequent and often more than adequate, with annual totals averaging 55 inches 1, mm for the country as a whole.

    Wales History, Geography, Facts, & Points of Interest

    There is no markedly wet or dry season; roughly 4 inches 88 mm of precipitation are recorded in April, whereas 6 inches mm are typical in January. Winter snowfall can be significant in the uplands, where snow or sleet falls some 10 days of each year.

    Plant and animal life The combination of physical conditions and centuries of human activity in Wales has brought about a predominance of grasslands, varying from mountain grasses and heather to lowland pastures of bent grass Agrostis and ryegrass. Planted woodlands are also common, including mixed parkland, boundary woods, and commercial plantations. The remoter parts of Wales shelter some mammals and birds that are extinct or rarely found elsewhere in Britain, including European polecats and pine martensred kitesand choughs crowlike birds that breed inland as well as at some coastal sites.

    Seabirds and shorebirds occur in large numbersand bottlenose dolphins inhabit Cardigan Bay. Snowdonia National Park, Wales. Additional waves of settlers arrived from continental Europe and lowland Britain during the Neolithic Period New Stone Age and Bronze Ageand iron-wielding Celtic peoples invaded after bce.

    The basic culture of these peoples survived the Roman occupation and was later strengthened and broadened by Celtic immigrations from other parts of Britain. Their language, a Brythonic branch of Celtic speech, formed the basis of modern Welshwhile their heroic poetrydating from the 6th century ce, became the basis of one of the oldest literary traditions of Europe. There were limited Norse incursions during the early Middle Ages, commemorated today mainly in place-names along the coastal fringes.

    Large Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman groups subsequently entered Wales from the English border and began to dominate the ethnic and linguistic makeup of the country.

    Welsh and English are the two major linguistic and ethnic traditions in Wales. The Welsh border region, known historically as the Marches a patrolled frontier regionin particular is characterized by an amalgam of the Welsh and English cultures. Welsh was still spoken by about half of the population inbut its use thereafter began steadily to decline, and its survival became one of the main cultural and political themes in national life.

    The proportion is much diminished in South Wales, falling below one-tenth in the extreme southeast. The Welsh Language Act of placed it on the same legal standing as English. Some of the duties of the board, upon its dissolution inwere taken up by the newly created position of Welsh Language Commissioner. Religion The people of Wales have become increasingly secular in outlook, but many are at least nominally adherents to Protestant and Nonconformist churches, Calvinistic Methodism being perhaps the most widespread denomination, especially in Welsh-speaking areas.

    The Church in Waleswhich is widely and evenly distributed throughout the country, has maintained an autonomous clerical hierarchyincluding its own archbishop, since being disestablished from the Anglican church in Roman Catholicism accounts for a small but growing minority, notably in the northeast.

    Settlement patterns The people of Wales are unevenly distributed in a largely concentric settlement pattern: Although the central heartland region has lost considerable population, it retains much of its traditional culture and serves as a hearth for the Welsh language. Rural settlement The Welsh tribal economy, of seminomadic pastoral origin, produced mainly dispersed isolated farmsteads, with only limited nucleation clustering of buildings on some of the larger tribal domains.

    Missionaries known as the Celtic saints established individual monastic or cell habitations in rural areas following the collapse of the Roman Empire, and some of their dwellings attracted additional settlers because of their favourable sites or positioning.

    The Anglo-Norman manorial system was introduced into Wales after the conquest ofbut nucleated villages became significant only in the eastern and southern peripheries of the country, where physical and political conditions favoured their development. As a result, large numbers of isolated, whitewashed stone cottages and farm buildings still dot the rural landscape, forming a strong underlying element within the Welsh social fabric.

    Urban settlement Some four-fifths of the Welsh population live in urban areas; two-thirds of the total reside in the South Wales industrial zone, and many others live in the northeast. Prior to the Norman Conquest there was scarcely any urban development in Wales, but the Normans introduced castle towns walled towns that still dominate the contemporary urban landscape—at least in number if not in size.

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    These towns remain and serve commercial, administrative, and social functions; however, their physical appearance often betrays their military and colonial origins. Superimposed on this earlier urban pattern was that generated by the Industrial Revolution —notably in the south and northeast, where unplanned, overcrowded urban settlements sprang up in zones where coal deposits were being rapidly exploited.

    The coalfields of South Wales were developed in the 19th century as one of the premier mining regions of Britain, and such urban settlements as Rhonddawith tightly packed rows of terraced housing strung out along narrow valleys, are perhaps among the most widely known characteristics of Wales.

    The region declined markedly during the Great Depression of the s and with the collapse of the coal and steel industries in the late 20th century.

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    However, South Wales remains the most densely populated and industrialized region in Wales.