Penycloddiau Hillfort, largest hillfort in Wales, Coffee Mug
Penycloddiau Hillfort, largest hillfort in Wales, Coffee Mug
by cooldudeproducts

Penycloddiau Hillfort

Close up of ramparts of east from afar a

Penycloddiau is a hillfort, that sits in the middle of the Clwydian Hills, that pass north to south across central North Wales, on the east of the Vale of Clwyd. 

The fort has a sure claim, to being the largest in all of Wales, and on top of that is among the largest in the British Isles, and as of the term being a British term, the whole world.  

In all seriousness, the term hillfort has not been fully defined, and nor does it specifically need to be. Often  Maiden Castle is said to be the largest hillfort in Britain and Ireland,  despite there being larger enclosures of Iron Age type, such as Ham Hill, and Bindon Hill, see my fun facts page page for my thinking on that subject, but Penycloddiau is usually said to be the largest in Wales. Although it must be said, there is the site of Llanymynych Hillfort in North East Powys on the border of Shropshire, which has a portion crossing over into England. Well firstly you can put the statement "wholly" in Wales, for Penycloddiau, and secondly Llanymynech Hillfort, has been so affected by quarrying, and housing and other developments that it is not such a recognisable hillfort, so it is possible to just call it a hillfort site, rather than hillfort, it depends on your definition. Though that is no shame on Llanymynych as it is a interesting site as well. I feel it is fair to label Penycloddiau the largest in Wales though as many experts state. 

Indeed Penycloddiau is one of the biggest in Britain and Ireland, easily in the top 20 in size.

The hillfort, rises to 440 metres above sea level, which gives it a great span of the Clwydian valley with Ruthin, straight down from here, one of the major towns of the valley, and Denbigh visible further away, with the estuary able to be seen. You can also see the Clwydian Hills extending northwards, and up to the North East the Wirral and Liverpool, beyond the North East Wales hills, that obscure the view of most of the lower land down there. With to the south, Moel Arthur quite visible, and beyond there Moel Famau at 554 metres.

The site has 2 rings of ramparts at most points, and spans 21 hectares, some definitions put it at twenty six hectares

A Professor Manning of Cardiff University stated it would likely have taken 10,400 trees to construct the fort, for fences and posts, and supporting building projects here. Plus that it would have taken many many man hours, to construct and take the wood, and such to the hill top 1444 feet above sea level at it's highest, even with the aid of oxen pulling the logs. In fact archaeologists have found 33 round houses, and 49 hollows that probably indicate other round houses. I better mention this site’s proud aspect, it is the largest by area hillfort in Wales, so among the highest, and the largest. Carn Goch in South West Wales, with it’s satellite fort reaches fifteen hectares, so for example not as big. I should add the name of this fort, Penycloddiau is the hill of the ditches, which means this must be a name not as old as the fort, just a matter of fact Welsh name of a good description. Whether this refers to the ring of ditches around the fort, or the natural ditches that cris-cross this hill at parts and the ditches north of the fort that are natural flows for rains, and water routes, I am unsure, probably it is referring to the ditches of the ramparts.  

Well surely there were some forms of trading routes and paths to go along. I mean look at the wealth there was, like gold torcs and beautiful silver chalices, and surely trade in livestock and such. Also what about the gold cape from somewhere between 1900BC and 1600BC unearthed a couple of millennia later in 1833 AD in the Flintshire town of Mold. When Great Orme and other mines made North Wales relatively for then, very wealthy. That cape must have been part of a ceremonial costume of a buried notable, that covered the shoulders and upper torso in sheaths of gold, indicating there must have been good trade connections from there and back to it, so good routes for many centuries.

Penycloddiau has a Bronze Age burial mound at it's northern point, that is 3500 years old. 

To the east of the fort, and to the north, the land is pretty much, not that much lower, though there are good quite steep slopes in those directions, but to the west it is a steep gradient to the valley floor. Though to be fair when trying to walk up the eastern slope, it is still quite a climb in most places. Even where there is a path, or at that gulley half way along the east, which I think is the point marked out as a entrance on maps. It almost looks like a monumental gateway with the high banks aside the entrance up the fort, and even a curl half way down on the natural walking path up there. 

I mean such a huge site surely would be harder to defend than a small site, unless you were a large number of people, but not that many roundhouses have been found so far. Maybe further research will discover if it was a highly populous site, or a ritual site, (Bronze Age burial chamber) or maybe a safe place for holding animals, in times of strife, maybe all those things. We will see. Anyway, I would trust the experts on this, not just my musings, this is just my musings, but I feel I have something to say on it.  After all I have been there 11 times and had a good look around this mega fort. So far you can can not call it a oppidum as not enough roundhouses have been found, but in size it is very big. 

The fort, had the fascinating fact found by archaeologists that the palisades, the kind of fences had huts right by them, a great way of protecting from the high winds up here, for those living up here. 

It itself though has Iron Age provenance as a fort. I wrote this webpage in October 2020 to June 2021. Of this site that can be on said to be among the biggest hillforts in Britain, and the for sure the biggest hillfort in Wales, so of course by far the biggest hillfort in Flintshire, and the biggest hillfort in North Wales, as it is on the Denbighshire Flintshire border. So you could say it is the biggest hillfort in Denbighshire in a way, though it is in Flintshire. 

I was lucky enough to see the rampart walls in among my visits as there had been a Penycloddiau excavation going on. You can see that in my pictures. 

For a while as Maiden Castle is listed as being 19 or 21 hectares, and Penycloddiau is stated to be 22 or 26, I was thinking Penycloddiau is bigger, which could have made it the largest hillfort in Britain, and the largest in the world,  as hillfort is a British term really, even if many European oppida are just larger mega hillforts by comparison. This also as Maiden Castle is often said to be the largest hillfort in Britain and Ireland. The thing is though if you look at a compare picture via Google Earth, Maiden Castle is larger, it is just that sources often do not include Maiden Castle's wide band of ramparts, which I feel is a loss, as the ramparts are it's major feature, and cover a wide band. Yes, it needs it as it is a lower hill, but give credit to what the builders did. So Maiden Castle is larger at about 40 hectares if you include the ramparts. You could make claims about including Penycloddiau's slopes to rival the size but that would be unfair. Though the interior sizes are quite close as Penycloddiau's ramparts are a much thinner band. It more compares with sites like Titterstone Clee Camp in Shropshire in size. In the end I believe it is actually Ham Hill in Somerset that is the largest hillfort in Britain at a huge 80 hectares. If you have ever tried to walk below the eastern slopes of Penycloddiau, and up it's slopes a few times you see how the area the hill hovers over is a large scale, so I am not demeaning Penycloddiau by those comparisons. Indeed considering there are thousands of hillforts in Britain and Ireland then to be in the top 20, and I think Penycloddiau is in the top 15 biggest, then that is a amazing thing. I am not sure, but it may well be comfortably in the top 10, but as I am not sure how synchronised the measuring of the area of hillforts is in Britain, and I am not going to measure them myself, I can only say that it seems certain it is in the top 20, and very possible it is in the top 10.   

* A Penycloddiau walk can be a good energetic use of your time, whether you go from the car park to it's south, half way to Moel Arthur, or up the hill from Afonwen, to the north east, or just from north or south along the Clwydian Hills, perhaps along the Offa's Dyke Path, Or even, you can start off further to the south west (half way to Llandyrnog ) or south east, and head up the road that passes the car park that is a little bit south of the fort, though that is not that advisable as it is a road for normal cars, so I do not advise that, though I have done that. Indeed there are also paths, and a horse bridleway way to the east (though I don't think the bridleway goes up into the fort, other paths do) , just below the fort, near the fields down there full of sheep. I myself have seen plenty of sheep, crows, ravens, insects, sheep dogs, moss, heather, grasses, a abandoned farmhouse, walls, cattle and little birds in the areas, of fields, boggy paths, fences,  just below the fort. Indeed I steer clear of them, as of privacy for those people, but there are plenty of cottages and farmhouses near the fort as well,  some of which are quite well hidden at times from view. With plenty of walkers, not that many, walking up the Offa's Dyke path, usually along the western, and central line of the fort, which is good as it leaves the more substantial eastern ramparts a bit more secure from the constant footfall, not that there is anything wrong with people visiting the fort, it is great people see it, and experience it's views. Though I do hope we visitors all keep the fort as we found it, in good condition, and leave the fort's remains in as good a condition as possible for it's owners and farmers, and also for experts, to investigate and research, and for us other members of society to observe unobtrusively in terms of the fort's sake as well.. The fact the fort is so large though, means any walk around the fort will be a good bit of exercise. This can be so for local North Walians, or even Liverpudlians, or people from Cheshire. Or of course even further afield than that... 

I have more pictures of it below. 

Biggest Hillfort in Wales

Moel Arthur and Penycloddiau from Rhoses
Clwydian Hills from half way between Rhu
Ramparts being excavated on the east sid
Moel Arthur from the west, and the green
Roads up past berries to fort.jpg

The pictures above are all my pics, from Penycloddiau, and up to it. The bottom one is me walking from the road below, that heads to the villages below. Though the more common route is to park up at the car park, and walk the rise up to the fort from there. It must be said it sits on the Offa's Dyke Path, but does not have the official Offa's Dyke monument passing through. 

Then I have 3 pics below, all mine. Firstly a drawing second a bead creation of a plan of a similar hillfort and lastly my imagined painting of the site. So there a Pennycloddiau for your thoughts, or hillforts. . 

On Amzon, for sale, more pictures of this fort, as part of The Land of Hillforts, Part 51, this is the 4th part of 5, of numerous pictures of various Welsh forts and locations. This part like some other parts, only has images from North Wales. This part has over 150 pictures of numerous North Wales hillforts and related subjects
Including these stated, A map, (There
are more maps in part 48, which also appear in 46), Over 55 pictures of Tre'r Ceiri and area, and 18 of Dinas Emrys and Beddgelert area, about 5 of Glyndwr's Castle also known as Glyndyfrdwy Castle Mound, About 7 of
the Gop Monument area, A few of
Caernarfon Roman fort, and medieval castle, Not many of Bodelwyddan church and castle and Kinmel manor area, About 27 of Bryn Euryn, Colwyn Bay Rhos On Sea Hillfort. About 56 of Penycloddiau.

I do not claim to be a professional photo taker, but what I can say is that, this work is useful for my story, and possibly it could be use for stand alone purposes, for those who want to see these fine sites and their pictures, not that mine are brilliant, but they reveal interesting things.

My bead artwork of a hillfort.jpg
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Flag of Wales T Shirt
by cooldudeproducts