Moel Arthur is one of the smaller hillforts in the Clwydians. Though only 2 hectares in area, the hillfort boasts some of the most impressive banks and ditches of all the hillforts of North East Wales, especially to the north of the site. Here the ramparts are very impressive, with an inturned and intimidating entranceway. Perhaps this reflects the belief that threats would come from the coastal areas to the north, rather than elsewhere. It would also raise the question of its relationship with Penycloddiau, which its impressive ramparts directly face.
It seems to have been built in two distinct phases, with the outer embankment being constructed before the inner ring. There is very little evidence of habitation, with a suggestion of two or three roundhouse platforms by the inturned entranceway. Again, as elsewhere, this begs the question as to why these impressive structures were raised. If so few people were actually within the enclosure, what was the point of these impressive defences? The likely answer is that they were gathering points for a wider community when needed, either for defence, ceremonial rituals, trade and the like. Other than perhaps a ruling elite that lived off the proceeds of the farming, trading class, people lived elsewhere. There is for example, no evidence of a reliable source of water within the enclosure, and evidence of ancient ridge and furrow farming in the Vale of Clwyd below.
It is not unusual to find that the history of a hillfort can be traced back to at least the Bronze Age. As at Moel y Gaer Llanbedr, there is evidence of Bronze Age activity at Moel Arthur. During a severe rainstorm in 1962, much soil was washed away and three copper Bronze Age axes were found within the later enclosure. During excavations in 1849, Wynne-Ffoulkes claims to have found, as at Moel y Gaer, Roman pottery and even flint arrowheads. It has been suggested that there is a Bronze Age barrow in the enclosure, although many are unconvinced. If it is indeed a barrow, and it would not be that unusual, it would suggest that it was respected, perhaps even revered by later peoples.
During the 19th century, the find of a gold nugget on the slopes of Moel Arthur got an awful lot of people hot and bothered and began what became known as the ‘Cilcain Gold Rush’. Everyone with a chisel and a bucket turned up for a while, but it was short lived. Evidence of this wishful thinking can still be seen on the slopes of the hillfort.
And what of the hillfort's name? What connection does it have with Arthur? Some believe that Arthur is buried at the hillfort, but a much more persistent tradition states that Arthur's treasures are beneath the ground somewhere on Moel Arthur, including Caledfwlch, otherwise known as Excalibur. The site of this treasure was said to be illuminated by a beam of moonlight at midnight. Many have tried to find the treasure, roaming the hillfort at night, waiting for the moonlight to make them rich. Some even claimed they nearly, so very nearly found the spot, but as they rushed towards the illuminated spot, the light would disappear and however much they dug where they believed the beam had fallen, nothing could be found. It was believed that anyone who came near to the treasure would be driven away by storms that would suddenly roil across the Clwydians, as if from nothing. There are stories that the treasure had been found, but that it could not be carried away, for it is thought to be protected...
A Grey Lady is said to wander the hillfort after dark, with eyes that would scare to death those that looked upon her . She did, however, have a softer side it seems, since one evening, a poor local man, returning home from Ruthin, had stumbled onto the slopes of Moel Arthur in the dark. Lost and despairing, fearful of the Grey Lady who he knew to wander the hillfort, he blindly sought a way off the hill. He saw her then, the Grey Lady, gliding noiselessly towards him, her face hidden within a cowl.
'Why do wander here? What do you look for? Let the dead sleep, for they shall awake soon enough.' And she raised her hands to her hood, preparing to push it back, to reveal her eyes...
The poor man cowered from the woman, 'I did not mean to be here...I am lost, I have nothing...I am lost...' And he threw himself to the ground.
The Grey Lady paused...and lowered her hands. 'Hold out your hand'
This man did this hesitantly, but as he did, the Lady dropped three peas into his hand.
'Now leave, and never return after dark, for I will not be so generous again...' she declared sternly, and melted away into the gloom.
Peas or not, the man knew he had got off lightly and fled, holding the peas so tightly the nails of his hand drew blood from his palms. Only when he had managed to find his hovel, did he rest and open his hand...to find that he was, in fact holding three gold pieces.