High in the Berwyn Mountains, overlooking the Pennant Valley and Llandrillo, lies the densest grouping of deserted medieval settlements in North East Wales. In this sometimes harsh environment, in an area around 10km², some 44 sites have been recorded, and recent field work would suggest there are more to be found. Much is thought to be hidden beneath forestry plantation.
It was not until aerial reconnaissance was undertaken long the Berwyns in 1982 that these medieval field systems were discovered. Snow fell heavily in 1986 and showed the associated earthworks more clearly, the impressive extent of the settlements then became apparent. The first settlements to be found were the Ffrith Camden longhouse and the Ffrith yr Eglwys hut, but what is becoming increasingly clear is the enormous scale of the settlement, in what can be an unforgiving, if beautiful environment.
Given the tremendous volume of prehistoric monuments within the Pennant Valley and on the Berwyns themselves, the discovery of these settlements caused some controversy. Given that no modern farm operates at the heights at which these settlements were discovered, over 350 metres, there was some confusion. However, the systematic and organised land clearance suggested that what was found was evidence of medieval settlement, rather than earlier. There are clear similarities with the Berwyn settlements and those found on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, which have been definitively dated as medieval.
In this sometimes harsh landscape people made a living from the land. These settlements are structured around strip fields, within which there are to be found the traces of stone rectangular long houses and huts. The area of Ffrith Camden displays quite a dense amount of occupation, and it is thought this shows a family grouping working the area. Most of these families were likely to have lived on the site, rather than travel up to the fields from the alley floor.
What is shown is the tremendous capacity of our ancestors to make a living from the land, to change and adapt to the environment. Why did these medieval settlements empty and become neglected? It was probably a mixture of economic factors, luck and better prospects elsewhere. Today, they exist as a ghost of former times.