After a safety briefing from Derek it was standing room only when Geraint welcomed Julian Ravest to give his talk in the work he has been doing with his new professional drone he bought expressly to photograph archaeological sites as a volunteer to CPAT. We are extremely fortunate that Julian has specialised in Radnorshire and has agreed to talk on the area around Penybont.
Julian lives in Llandrindod and, as a relative new-comer to the area he has found that the drone has given him an interest that has engaged him in the history, archaeology and geology of the area. The inspiration for his talk came from the book “Radnorshire From Above”, by Chris Mussen, and his own interest in all matters ‘tech’.
Aerial photography from an aircraft has advantages in that the landscape can be seen within its broader context. The drone has different advantages in that it can take multiple photographs from different heights and can get quite close to areas of interest. Because the cost is so low it is possible to go back to sites to take more photographs . The challenge is to take photographs in the right weather conditions and at the best time of the day. For this latter point most of the photographs are taken when the sun is low so that the features are shown up most clearly in the shadows they cast.
Note: Julian has given me a sample of his photographs, and where possible I will refer to these by number. The photos can be found in the History Group cupboard.
The opening picture gave a very clear picture of Penybont Village. Julian pointed out later in his talk that as well as bringing out archaeological features these photos also record clearly the countryside as it is now.
- Rhos Swydd Common
- Roman Road
Julian showed impressive photographs of the Roman Road as it crossed Rhos Swydd (Penybont) Common. The initial one showed a section close to the village, and then at different stages right across the Common and showing how the Road crossed the current road along the hedgeline of a field to re-join the current road as it heads off towards Dolau and presumable Mortimer’s Cross. The detail in the photographs even highlights the way in which the roads were constructed showing a raised area in the centre with ditches on either side.
If we compare photograph 3 with the photographs from previous aerial or satellite photography as at: https://ancientmonuments.uk/131037-penybont-common-roman-road-and-early-turnpike-road-penybont#.WnwUlufLjIU; the clarity is very evident.
More discussion of the Roman Road can be found in our previous Notes at:
- Ridge and Furrow
A series of photographs demonstrated the extensive nature of ridge and furrow cultivation on the Common. Photographs 3 and 4 show two different types of cultivated areas to the left of the road, as you drive towards Dolau away from Penybont; in 3 the lines of the furrows are very straight, whereas in 4 they show the distinctive S indicating where the plough turned to do another run. In some of the photographs it was even possible to see how sections of the cultivated areas were divided into groups. It was interesting to see how the ant hills are arranged in lines following the ridge and furrow pattern. It was pointed out that on frosty mornings these details are highlighted to the naked eye on many parts of the Common.
More information on the cultivated areas can be found in our Notes of 5th October 2015, as above.
In photograph 3 a very substantial pathway leads to the quarry (not shown). It was suggested that this could even have been a tramway, but this led to a question about who could give permission for extraction from the quarry. The Common is owned land and in these times it would have been the Squire who would have the quarrying rights as opposed to the Commoners’ rights to graze on the land.
- Burial Site
Taking a line across from the ‘ring of trees’, sometimes known as the ‘fairy ring’, towards the road and just over a path is a Barrow, probably dating back 3 to 4000 years ago.
All of the evidence of human activity on the Common dating back over several millennia was highlighted in photographs taken of the part of the Common across the A488. In our October notes we discussed Caertwch. Julian had a photograph of the platform that we were most sure of. This came up as a very distinct B shape.
As well as referring to our October 2015 Notes you can also get information at: https://ancientmonuments.uk/130473-medieval-settlement-on-penybont-common-penybont#.WnwSJufLjIU
- Military Activity
Julian then took us back across the road to the area just below the ring of trees and to a raised area that suggested human activity. When it was suggested that there might have been military activity here the activity of the 20,000 troops based on the Common during World War II, and leading up to D-Day, that this just might have been an area for practicing with hand grenades.
- Coed Swydd Common
A dramatic photograph opened up further discussion about human activity on the Commons around Penybont. Photograph 9 shows an ancient fortified structure lying within the bracken on top of Coed Swydd Common. Julian hopes to go back when the bracken has died back to see more of what appears to show mole drainage in this area. There was some discussion about this as Coed Swydd is a very dry area? Another photograph showed one of the many rabbit warrens/pillow mounds that are a feature of this Common. Julian was able to tell us that, while the one in the photograph was a circular feature, all but one of the other pillar mounds were rectangular.
- Llandegley Rocks
Julian then took us on a walk up Llandegley Rocks and along the ridge. As an area not at yet studied by the members, it is also an area well known and loved by many of them.
The first photograph showed the path leading up to ‘Pearl Rock’ that started from a gate at the back of the Church in Llandegley. This shows quite substantial boundaries between the fields and common land.
The next photograph (7) raised more questions than answers. It highlighted a long stretch of stones in a straight line with gaps along the way. It has been suggested that this might be an unfinished Hill Fort, boundary or an enclosure but Julian is more sceptical it gives the impression of being associated with a half-hearted project. It was difficult to see any relevance to the area around. One of the members, with tongue in cheek, wondered if it might be part of Llandegley International Airport.
This feature raised one of the other special features of drone photography and archaeology in general. The drones identify many new features that clearly have been created by human activity but it can be impossible, without major other work being done, to know what and when this activity took place.
Julian did identify Cairns that showed bronze age activity some 3000 years ago, and a bronze age hut that appears to have been marked in the wrong place on maps – about 50m away.
Moving along the Rocks Julian came to Graig Farm (Number 8) and once again speculated that there is some evidence of a fortified structure above the farm.
Most members would have known about the Hill Fort on Llandegley Rocks but Julian’s photographs of this site did not disappoint. Close to the path up from the Church in the village this is a faily typical Iron Age hillside Fort of about 500 BC. The two stages of development were pointed out by Julian. Adjacent to the Fort is another Bronze age burial site.
- Cefn Llys
Julian then took us to Cefn Llys that has contributed so much to the history of this area.
It is worth looking at the Clwyd-Powys document for some background information: http://www.cpat.org.uk/ycom/radnor/cefnllys.pdf
Within our own Notes there is reference to Cefn Llys in our Field Visit, ‘Skulls, Dragons and Skulduggery’ on 1st June 2015; and again in Marion’s review of the Castles in the Ithon Valley, 3rd November 2014.
- The Chartered Town, Market, and St. Michael’s Church
Photograph 10 shows St. Michael’s Church in the centre of an open area under the Castle. As a settlement it is really quite small. Some of the landscape has been obscured of detail by more recent drainage activity, but there is evidence of platforms. On the southern slope there is evidence of ridge and furrow cultivation.
Julian was somewhat bemused by the size of the settlement as seemed to be more of a village or even a hamlet than its classification as a Town that was given a Town Charter in 1304 and a Market Charter in 1297. Geraint wondered if part of the settlement was closer to the Neuydd.
In the church yard Julian had measured the girth of one of the yew trees – this suggested that the tree was at least 500 years old.
Tracking down towards Shaky Bridge there is ditch and evidence of earthworks. Julian found this area very difficult to photograph due to the surrounding trees. As mentioned above the key to getting good photographs is the angle of the light. Here it is simply not possible to get the results he would like. The generally accepted explanation was of a Mill Leat with the site of the old Mill being near the bridge.
Julian also showed images of what appears to be a sunken path next to the burnt mound in the field next to the village site. The attribution of “burnt mound” is from original OS survey and has not been subsequently endorsed.
- Cefn Llys Castle
Photograph 11 shows the top of Cefn Llys with the Castle and the two sites that were developed by the Mortimers, one in 1246, and the second building 1267. The Castle was completely destroyed in 1406 by Owain Glyn Dwr as he battled for supremacy over the Mortimers. For more details see: https://themortimersblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/cefnllys-two-mortimer-castles/
It is probable that, while the Mortimers are given credit for the Castles, there may well have been an Iron Age fort here.
There is evidence of cultivation with field divisions, and building platforms within the curtilage of the castles.
Julian noted one difficult narrow steep path leading to the eastern side of the northern castle of unknown purpose given the much better route to the eastern entrance.
An interesting debate then occurred when Julian suggested that the SE slopes up to the Castles could be the site of a vineyard. Excitement grew when Julian suggested that could be the only site of this kind in Wales. Marion was not so sure as she would have expected terracing. What did emerge was that the soil in this area could be volcanic and therefore more fertile than the Silurian soil conditions that are more common in the wider area.
With this discussion ringing in our ears Geraint thanked Julian for an excellent talk and an introduction to the wonders of drone technology.
Geraint reminded members to come in sombre dress for our next meeting which will be on local gravestones.
Julian drew attention to the CPAT talks that are coming up soon that Members might be interested in.
Subsequent to the meeting a most interesting debate continued about Julian’s idea for a vineyard. The following discussion which was pursued using email and throws some further light on the subject:
On 06/02/2018 16:00, Marion Evans wrote:
I was very interested in the talk you gave to Penybont History Group yesterday. I can see that drones will be an extremely interesting addition to archaeological research.
As you will have noted, I was a little surprised at your ideas of vineyards at Cefnllys. It is not of course impossible, although I think it will take quite a lot of evidence to convince. I did not push my questions too hard as ours is a friendly group and, as Geraint noted, I should not have wanted to spoil the fun of the idea of Chateaux Cefnllys……………
Nonetheless, here are some of my thoughts. I hope they will help with your further research.
Vines will grow in any soil as long as it is well drained and you can produce wine as long as there are enough warm days in early spring and autumn. The terroir affects the taste of the final wine but not the ability of the vine to grow.
While it is true that some wine is grown on very steep slopes – eg Rhine/ Moselle region – these are usually terraced with vines being individually staked so that workers can tend them horizontally across the lines. The terracing also allows for the collection of steep slope soil erosion – which can then be put back on the terraces.( This is slatey stone in Rhine/Moselle). The terracing is also a safety feature as such steep slopes can, and have, led to loss of life. Additionally, while wine is produced from these slopes, it is dependant on the reflected sunlight from the wide Rhine and Moselle in the steep valley bottoms below. (You noted that around this time we were in the medieval warm period. This is thought to have been roughly between 950 and1250 – with a peak between 950 and 1100. Temperatures are not thought to be as high as now but I accept that this may have helped matters.)
Your pictures do not show any sign of terracing, and even given medieval approaches to the life of a working man, I cannot see why you would not bother to terrace if the angle of the slope would allow it. Moreover, you indicate that the vertical lines down the slopes are field boundaries. If they are indeed boundaries, then I cannot see why they would be there for vineyards at this early period. Grapes and the subsequent wine would undoubtedly belong to the lord of the castle – and not for consumption by, or a cash crop for, the peasantry.
We know that there were vineyards in Roman times – although the temperature was such that most of them probably produced verjus rather than wine. After the conquest wine production seems to have increased and Domesday notes 46 vineyards south of a line from Gloucestershire to Ely in Cambridgeshire. There are none recorded by that record above this line and most historians the dismiss individual reports that argue for 2 or 3 above this line – but it is always possible. We would, of course, have been above that line.
The dating for an argument with reference to the medieval warm period seems out. If the climate was cooling again by 1250 – then the date of the first documented post conquest work of 1246 to 1260 doesn’t support that thesis. Cefnllys could possibly have had it’s own microclimate – again not impossible but difficult to prove. Moreover, the marriage of Henry 11 to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152 led to the negotiation of trade agreements with Bordeaux and easy access to cheap reliable wine. I agree that we are a long way from the coast or an easily navigable river – but this wine was transported all over the country and was welcomed and prized.
In addition, we need to consider the confounding factor of population growth. In the 300 years of the medieval warming period, the population of Northern Europe tripled – meaning that land use must be maximised. This was a time of rapid advances in agricultural methods, and innovation was encouraged by Henry 11nd and subsequent monarchs. It was essential to use the land to produce more food than ever before and putting land to vineyards would not have been best use, or encouraged. (The monasteries, of course, were a law unto themselves !!) You could, of course, argue that this is why the steep slopes were being used but – given that this type of viticulture uses 7 times the amount of man hours than less precipitous vineyards – it’s a hard argument to convince with.
I hope this helps
From: Julian Ravest
To: Marion Evans
Sent: Tue, 6 Feb 2018 18:02
Subject: Re: Vineyards at Cefnllys ??
Thank you for your thoughtful reply, I very much appreciate it. My conjecture, and I hope I did not put it forward with any higher authority, was intended to provoke and be a devil’s advocate to elicit other views – hence I am grateful for your taking the trouble to reply at length. I really cannot prove vineyards, I put it forward as credible option in the absence of other likely explanations. There are many puzzles at the castle and the village which may never be fully resolved without excavation or even then.
I concur with a lot of what you say, though I had understood that the medieval climate optimum extended to around 1350, I stand corrected.
My best wishes,
On 12 Feb 2018, at 10:02, Derek Turner
Thank-you for keeping me in the loop with the discussions and your thoughts on the Vineyard. Can I insert these thoughts into my Notes as they give much more insight into the question?.
Can I add a point that came up in the session we did on Penybont Common about the soils. Joe Botting the local Geologist would say that the soils are primarily the very poor Silurian shale from a 420 million years ago, Llandegley Rocks are the older Ordovician rocks dating to about 450 million years ago.
To: Derek Turner
Yes the geology is important. Stephen tells me that vines are rarely grown down hill on steep slopes because of erosion problems and the only reason not to terrace would be if we had clay subsoils as this might lead to pooling and lack of drainage. There are no clay subsoils at Cefnllys.
On the question of Silurian shales. That’s what we have in Walton basin and you have in Penybont but I read in the Cranfield reports that in the east Llandod/Builth area it was mostly Ordovician plus igneous quartz outcrops. I think you should mention the three. The critical thing though is that we don’t have volcanic soil as stated- this is caused by volcanic ash and not igneous quartz deposits.
I also had another thought. Why would you plant vines on your most defensive slope? Would this not give purchase and/or cover to aggressors?
Plus, vines are unlikely to have happened after cooling temperatures as once we get to 1348 we have severe manpower shortages because of the Black Death.
I think that the critical thing about this discussion is analytical use of sources. We have no archaeological or written record to support or deny Julian’s thesis. But as we are in the historic period we are not dependant on missing archaeology to make judgements of likelihood.
Hope this helps
From: Marion Evans
From Marion to Julian
I don’t know what was going on, so it is an interesting mystery. There is a lack of dating information – although the listing schedule for Cefnllys envisions the enclosures etc to date from after the castle period. Plus, in the 15th century, we know that a large house was built to house the administrative and managerial grandee – Ieuan ap Phylip. The listing schedule again refers to this and says – ‘the grand late medieval hall-house referred to by Lewis Glyn Cothi probably stood in the saddle of the summit between the two castle sites, where traces of three substantial and apparently later rectangular structures are visible within a lightly embanked enclosure. It is unclear whether any of the earlier buildings were still in use……..’
The geology is, of course, very important and the area has been closely mapped – although, I don’t know whether the augers actually went down on the top of Cefnllys itself . But, I imagine so, as the LandIs info distinguishes between quite small areas. For example, leading out from Penybont and stretching out to Cefnllys, you have free draining flood plain soils. But at Cefnllys the soil is given as very shallow acid soil over igneous acid rock – except, as I note below, in the area immediately below and around the citadel where a deep bed of manmade humus is found. As it can take up to a thousand years to produce a very deep bed of this kind – it may be evidence for pre-conquest Brythonic activity at this site. I am looking for a contact to ask about the actual depth here.
Your picture is very interesting and I would have thought well worth a revisit. I will keep you in the loop if I get any other info.
From Julian to Marion,
I like the responses, from which I gather that vineyards are unlikely. Since the banks on that slope are clearly not natural, what was going on? I don’t think that there has been any excavations on the castle or village, most interpretations being made from ground level observations and from aerial photographs taken at higher altitude from light aircraft or RAF photos, set against the background of historical documentation. I like the idea of bringing in geological evidence. Has there been any auger work done on the castle or village? It is very exciting how there are now so many more techniques available for exploring sites.
I have quite a few photos of the castle and village which I can make available If anyone is interested in investigating the sites further. I am hoping to take more images of the fields to the north when the opportunity arises though I am not optimistic that they will show much of interest. I attach one of the few photos I have of those fields. Not very conclusive but they do seem to suggest some marks of ploughing including “S” form. – enough to justify a visit to photograph under optimum lighting. I also want to photograph the western slopes without bracken cover.