Although the calendar said we were in the merry month of May, it was very difficult to believe this as it was so cold as we set off on our journey. Despite this, 15 intrepid members of the History Group were ready for a day’s foraging in the depths of wild Meirionethshire.
Our first aim was to meet our friend Steffan ab Owain at the Oakley Arms near Tanybwlch – for a cuppa!
Whilst there we chatted with a group of visitors from Tregaron who were on a walking holiday in the area. It was very hard to entice the group out into the cold again but needs must and we followed Steffan towards the renowned A470. This area was new territory for several members of the party and they had a bit of a shock when they were told that the large building in the distance was a nuclear power station. One of the Group reminded us that Sir Basil Spence of Coventry Cathedral fame, was also the architect of the power station building. Before reaching the power station, however, we had to take a left turn along a narrow lane and under a very low bridge – what’s the height of the minibus? It was certainly too cold to go around in an open topped bus! By this time Steffan had disappeared and we had to catch up with him.
Tomen y Mur is a Roman Fort complex believed to have been constructed in AD 78 during the campaigns of governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola in the area. It was abandoned around AD 140. A millennium later, in the Norman period, the site was reoccupied and refortified with a motte within the old walls. It is possible that it was constructed by William II (Rufus) to counter the Welsh insurgency of 1095. The name Tomen y Mur refers to this feature; translated, it means “Mound within the walls”. It is now a scheduled monument in the care of Snowdonia National Park Authority. Steffan had obtained the farmer’s permission to cross his land. It was bitterly cold as we made our way to the site, but being the first to arrive at the ruins of Tomen y Mur Farmhouse, Steffan had assured himself of a sheltered corner to tell us about the site.
A number of interesting Roman remains can be seen, including a small amphitheatre, a bath house and a mansio which was a resting place for travellers. Traces of the old Roman road Sarn Helen can also be seen in the area. including the remains of the bridge that crossed Nant Tyddyn-yr-ynn a short distance below Llyn yr Oerfel. This lake supplied water to the fort. Another Roman road ran over to Bennant-Lliw and to the Roman Fort at Caer Gai near Llanuwchllyn.
This picture shows the motte within the walls – Tomen y Mur
There is a reference to Tomen y Mur in the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, the fable of Math fab Mathonwy. Llew Llaw Gyffes lived here with Blodeuwedd after the wizard Gwydion had created her a woman from the flowers of the oak, broom and meadowsweet that brought her to life.
It was time now to bid farewell to Steffan and to thank him for what had been a most interesting talk, given in spectacular scenery and despite the cold, on a sunny day.
The next step was to visit the Llys Ednowain Heritage Centre in Trawsfynydd. There we met Mr Isgoed Williams MBE who gave us details about this special centre, which is not only an interactive museum interpreting the history of the village but is also a hostel for visitors. Central to the museum is the history of Saint John Roberts (1577-1610) and of course Hedd Wyn (1887-1917).
Time was running against us, and after a hurried farewell we made our way to the Cross Foxes, Brithdir for some sustenance before going on to Castell y Bere where Adele Thackray of CADW would be waiting for us.
By now it was raining cats and dogs but as we approached the Castle it eased off and even brightened up slightly. Adele and her colleague Ian Halfpenney were waiting for us at the car park. Both Adele and Ian have been a great support to the Group since its inception.
Castell y Bere is a native Welsh Castle, constructed by Llewlyn Fawr in the 1220’s with the intention of maintaining his authority over the local people and to defend the south-west part of the princedom of Gwynedd. Llewelyn Fawr was born in Castell Dolwyddelan which we had passed earlier in the day and his statue can be seen in the Square in Conwy Following the death of his grandson, Llewelyn our Last Prince, in the 1282 war with Edward I, Castell y Bere fell to the English forces. Its location on a rocky outcrop at the head of the Dysynni Valley made a great statement as to the importance of the one who was in charge around here. This fortifaction was strengthened even further by the fact that Afon Dysynni at that time was an estuary and the sea came up to the castle ramparts. It was a great help to our understanding of the various elements of the castle and its history to have Adele and Ian’s interpretation of the situation at the time.
After a word of thanks to Adele and Ian by Elan, in glorious sunshine, we made our way back home after what had been a fairly hectic and eventful day.
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