Tracing the history of Wales through time
Published: Wednesday 22nd Jul 2015
Written by: Anita Lee
Pembrokeshire and southern Wales are best known for their beaches, fishing and maritime history. But for the land lovers out there, the region is steeped in history with a number of prehistoric, Roman and medieval sites.
Rich in Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman influences, Wales has been the meeting place of cultures and the countryside reflects that coming together. When travelling to the region, there are a number of unique historic sites that can help make your trip both fun and enlightening. And better yet, many of the sites are right outside the front door of your holiday cottage in Pembrokeshire.
Like Stonehenge in Wiltshire, prehistoric sites are filled with curiosity and mystery. The structures left behind by some of our oldest ancestors in Wales certainly fit that bill.
One of the more famous sites dating back to the prehistoric period of Wales is Pentre Ifan. With views of Newport Bay and Dinas Island, the site is well marked. It is set against the backdrop of the legendary Carn Ingli, or Angel Mountain. The 5,000-year-old stone structure is thought to be an ancient burial chamber for the remains of the area’s residents.
When most first cast their eyes on this reminder of the past, their jaws drop. Like Pentre Ifan, this burial chamber can be traced back to the Neolithic Period. But what makes this spot so special is the view. The chamber overlooks Abercastle Harbour and the Irish Sea. The capstone for the chamber is 15 feet long and 9 feet wide. Now that much of the protective earth has eroded away, the structure often helps nearby sheep weather passing storms.
Those in search of history find the mushroom chamber of Carreg Coetan a crowd pleaser. Almost as if it is cut away from the rest of the world, the site in Newport is well signposted. It once stood over the river estuary and is believed to have been a marker or warning placed to keep strangers away.
It is well known that the Roman explorers of Britain took an interest in Wales due to its geological and mining potential.
Dolaucothi Gold Mines
Somewhere between 70 AD and 80 AD, Romans began to create mines in the region. Using picks and open-cast pits, they removed as much gold as they could from the ground. Without modern mining technology, the mining was hard labour for the Roman settlers. They also build aqueducts to bring water to the mines. They built these leat channels and holding areas that can still be seen today.
Despite this effort and construction, the Romans did not stay in Wales for very long. By 125 AD, they abandoned the military fort built at the site. The former gold mines are now home to a popular National Trust site.
Celtic and Medieval Wales
There are a great number of sites that reflect Wales’ rich history during this period.
Pembrokeshire’s namesake castle grew to prominence in the region, standing as a monument to the past. In 1093, Arnulf de Montgomery built the small inner bailey of Pembroke Castle, standing at the end of the promontory as part of Norman expansion into Wales.
Just a few years later, the castle was able to fight off an invasion by the Welsh tribes in the area. In late 12th century, a larger keep was built making the site architecturally unique. It has a massive cylindrical tower with an unusual stone dome.
Most likely, Llawhaden began as an earth and timber castle in the 12th century. It is located about eight miles east of Haverfordwest. The entrance to the site is nicely concealed among the hedgerows and a narrow approach to building. The castle was the secured residence for the bishops of St Davids. It was totally rebuilt during the 14th century.
It is located on high ground with a spectacular outlook over The Vale of the Eastern Cleddau.
This stronghold – built before the Norman invasions of Wales – stands on a ridge on the northern bank of the River Tywi. From this perch, there is a sheer drop of more than 100 feet to the water below. Although written records of its construction are murky, Welsh tradition says the castle was first built by Rhodri the Great, but much of the original construction has long since been destroyed or replaced. The castle later became a key holding for Rhodri’s grandson Hywel Dda, soon to be king of Wales.