Penycloddiau Hillfort is the largest in the Clwydians and one of the largest in Wales. At 21 hectares in area, it is enormous and wholly impractical as a defensible enclosure. It is, in fact a mountain, over 440 metres above sea level, and unusually for a hillfort, but perhaps not so for a site the size of Penycloddiau, it has its own source of water within the enclosure, a spring, and ponds which might well have been employed as reservoirs for those within the palisade. It shows clear evidence of re-use from an earlier age, with a Bronze Age barrow in the north east of the site which was clearly respected by the Iron Age peoples for it to have survived to the present. How important the Penycloddiau site was to the Bronze Age peoples is predictably difficult to know.
The multivallate north west ramparts
It is a multivallate site, at least for much of its circumference, with impressive and considerable ramparts, especially to the north and north west. Like Caer Drewyn, it has two original inturned entrances in the south and east sections of embankment, which suggest an effort to present a formidable deterrent to attack, or at least carefully control the flow of traffic into the enclosure. In terms of area, it is over twice as large as the next biggest hillfort in the area, Moel Fenlli. From a military standpoint, the size of Penycloddiau is hugely impressive, but therein lies the problem for an easy definition as to the reason for its building.
A view from the entrance to the south west, the Jubilee Tower of Moel Famu in the distance.
The manpower alone required to man the palisade would have made it impossible to hold against an attack, an attack that itself would have required thousands to successfully prosecute. And if the palisade was actually built for defence, why were most of the roundhouses thus discovered so far built directly beneath it, hindering any attempt to defend the place? And yet, the embankments, the inturned entrances, the suggestions of guard chambers, even the existence of a water source within the enclosure would point to a considerable military purpose. It would clearly have had a hugely intimidating appearance, to those coming through the Vale of Clwyd, perhaps along the old track ways along which the Romans later built their road from Varis to Ruthin and Penrhos, perhaps controlling, along with the other hillforts in the Clwydians, trade and travel.
As for the roundhouses discovered, excavations and geophysical assessments have shown in excess of 43 platforms, which clearly suggests that as a settlement only a small area was actually used for habitation. Curiously, in the centre of the site, two roundhouses were found. What was the purpose of these two fairly isolated huts? Were they the homes of the ruling elite of the hillfort? Perhaps they had a ceremonial purpose, long lost to the heather and soil.
During the summer of 2008, while CPAT were undertaking an archaeological dig within the enclosure, close to the Bronze Age burial mound, an inscribed rock was found. Rather surprisingly, the inscription was from the early 20th century and read thus,
‘Carlyle D.Chamberlain, Canadian Army, Prospect, Kentucky, USA’.
The CPAT appealed for information, and after reading of the find, a Canadian journalist contacted Chamberlain’s grandson, who was able to provide the background to the inscription.
Carlyle Chamberlain was an American who enlisted in the Canadian Army during the First World War and served with them during the conflict. He was stationed at Kinmel Park Camp, Bodelwyddan, alongside thousands of other Canadians, and was present during the riots that broke out at the end in 1919. He was an avid amateur historian, and used to hike throughout the Clwydians, including Penycloddiau. Carlyle Chamberlain later became a policeman in his native Kentucky and became the curator of Louisville Museum of Natural History.
The mysteries of Penycloddiau continue to attract archaeologists to the place, and for the last few years, Liverpool University has conducted digs on the site, in collaboration with Denbighshire County Council and CADW.
The Bronze Age barrow shows how important the site was to the people of the area many years before the hillfort was built.