Of all the hillforts discussed within these pages, Moel y Gaer, 1600ft up in the Llantysilio Mountains is by far the smallest, perhaps even the most simple. At just under a hectare in size, and with its univalate embankment and single entranceway, you may be forgiven for thinking that there is little here to interest us. But you would be wrong. There are mysteries here.
Often cited as a favourite of many hillfort aficionados, Moel y Gaer is to be found at the end of a bracing walk in which you will likely cross through all manner of weather. It is entirely worth your effort. Though views to the west and east are blocked by higher peaks (Moel Gamelin and Moel Morfydd), interesting in itself, the views to the north and south across to Llangollen are utterly astonishing - unless you find yourself in a maelstrom of a blizzard, of course. Excavations have been rare, but the Heather and Hillforts initiative have done much to remedy a general lack of information regarding the site, and things are slowly becoming clearer.
Topographical and later geophysical surveys have identified upwards of 20 roundhouses within the surrounding embankment - a staggering number, in fact, when one considers the lack of such finds in the larger, sometimes much larger hillforts further north in the Clwydians. Further interest lay in the possible network of pathways between the roundhouses - something of a rarity in hillforts. But most startling of all, is the apparent existence of rectangular structures within the site - an extremely rare discovery (there are examples at Dinas Emrys in Caernarfonshire and Degannwy in Conwy). These have been tentatively attributed to later, Medieval reoccupation, and almost inevitably fuel the ongoing debate as to the nature and use of hillforts throughout their lifetimes.
These recent studies have given us an Iron Age date for the roundhouses (c. mid 4th - 3rd century BC), but it was evident from the surveys that there were earlier phases of occupation, probably dating to the Bronze Age. There was evidence that heather was used as flooring, fuel and possibly as a roofing material. A wander about the mountains here will leave you entirely unsurprised by its use. There is no well or spring within the confines of the hillfort, though there is a spring on the slopes to the south east. There is some speculation that the evident roundhouses had drip gullies which may have collected rainwater for the use of the households. Speculative, but interesting.
To the near north east of the entrance is the scarred raw site of an air crash tragedy, discussed elsewhere. The site has suffered, not just from the thousands of years of natural erosion, but also from the idiotic, knuckle dragging antics of illegal off roading which has worn rough a pathway through the western embankment, and continue to damage the environment.
Visiting Moel y Gaer in the Llantysilio Mountains is immensely moving. There’s a fear that the hillfort will fail to live up to its promise at the end of your climb. Pish tosh. Pop up to Moel Gamelin and look back on yourself, over towards Moel y Gaer - and be overthrown by its beauty.
I. Brooks & K. Laws, Moel-y-Gaer, Llantysilio Geophysical Survey, EAS Client Report, 2009/10
Heather and Hillforts of the Clwydian Range and Llantysilio Mountains, Heather and Hillforts Partnership Board 2011, Denbighshire County Council (2011)
Erin Lloyd Jones, Connections between the hillforts of the Clwydian Range and the wider landscape, PHD Thesis, Bangor University, 2019
Royal Commision on the Ancient and Historical Monuments Denbighshire, London, 1912