‘For such is the wonderfull workmanship of nature that the tops of these mountaines resemble in fashion the battlements of walles. Among which the highest is Moilenlly, on the top whereof I saw a warlicke fense with trench and rampier, also a little fountaine of cleere water.’
William Camden, Britannia (1607)
As hillforts go, Moel Fenlli is big. At nearly 10 hectares in area, it is far bigger than all other hillforts in the Clwydians but Penycloddiau. What is unusual about Fenlli is the evidence here of habitation. With the discovery of at least 61 roundhouse platforms, Moel Fenlli would appear to be an extremely busy place, far more so than any other hillfort in North East Wales, including Penycloddiau.
Why is this the case? Is it that archaeologists have simply been fortunate in their efforts? Perhaps, unfortunate in their excavations of other hillforts? This is unlikely, especially given the immense disparity between the numbers of roundhouses at Fenlli and the next most ‘populous’ hillfort in this range, Penycloddiau with roughly half that figure. Was it perhaps that Fenlli, like Penycloddiau had a reliable source of water available within the enclosure? Did the availability of water change the purpose of the hillforts that owned them? The majority of the roundhouses have been found clustered around this spring. Did these people live in the hillfort all year round? Questions, questions, and only hypotheticals to answer them with.
Fenlli boasts impressive ramparts, a huge double bank and ditch to the east and north, with an inturned entranceway to the west which suggests military planning. Of all the hillforts in the Clwydians, Moel Fenlli does seem to have had the numbers and the structure to have served as an all-year base of operations, whatever those operations were.
The impressive double bank and ditch made Moel Fenlli a formidable fortification.
In 1816 a hoard of Roman coins was discovered at Moel Fenlli, which excited a response from W. Ffoulkes, who in 1847 excavated Fenlli and three further hillforts in the Clwydians, and discovered more coins at Fenlli and pottery elsewhere. At Fenlli he also discovered a, ‘remarkable knife’. It has been recorded that these finds were kept at Ruthin Castle and viewed by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1920s, but have subsequently been lost. Some of these Roman finds were dated from as late as the 4th century, and thus begs the question what Fenlli was being used for during the Roman occupation. There is also a Bronze Age barrow situated to the centre of the hillfort, which as far as we can tell has been well preserved, suggesting a respect if not a reverence for the past by the Iron Age peoples that inhabited and used Moel Fenlli.