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Archaeology in the Forest

Archaeology in the Forest:
The Deserted Countryside

Deserted countryside location map

Map showing Forest Enterprise land (green) and the Forest District boundaries (red), the locations of 4 deserted settlement sites are marked

For thousands of years people have abandoned their homes and moved to new sites. Sometimes they have moved to neighbouring farming areas, at other times to work in mines or factories, or to emigrate to a better life in a new country.

The majority of the forests owned by Forest Enterprise were planted in the 1940s and 50s on old agricultural land. At that time the planting was mainly done without the use of large machinery and it was possible to preserve many of the old farmsteads, trackways and field boundaries. Now that the trees are mature these sites are often hidden from view but many more lie along trails or near forest roads.

Medieval Upland Farms

Although there are areas of forest on lower land much now covers what was formerly rough grazing on the hills. During the medieval period this was used as summer pastures large areas of which were owned by the Cistercian abbeys including Strata Florida (North Tywi) and Cwm-hir (Coed Sarnau). Because much of the land was only used during the summer months the dwellings (hafodydd) were insubstantial often no more than a small rectangular building set on a small platform cut into the hillside. During the winter the animals were driven back to the main settlements in the valleys.

Reconstruction of long hut

Reconstruction picture of a long hut, © Forest Enterprise Wales

Many of these small medieval farmsteads and hafodydd have tumbled over the years into little more than a pile of stones but in a number of forests well preserved remains of long huts have survived. In Hafren a small rectangular stone building, now moss covered, is situated close to the banks of the Afon Hore and can be seen from the forest road.

Farms of the Recent Past

From about the 16th century, or in some favoured areas even earlier, farms expanded onto upland pastures or woodlands that were cleared and improved. In other areas existing farmsteads were rebuilt with more substantial dwellings, barns and byres. Today these farmsteads lie abandoned in the forest but it is common to find buildings still standing. Abandoned dwellings are most common in the forests of Mynydd Du, Talybont, Brechfa and Cwm Taf. In Mynydd Du the fields, which were bordered by stone walls, were small and irregular with sinuous trackways linking the farms and leading out onto the common land on the hills. In other areas the fields were improved in the 18th century and laid out as large rectangular blocks.

Sychpant Isaf farmstead

Sychpant Isaf farmstead, Cwm Taf, © Forest Enterprise Wales

Most of these farms had already been abandoned by the time the forests were planted because of great changes to the economy brought about by industrialisation and other factors. The ruined farmstead of Sychpant Isaf, near the Garwnant visitor centre in Cwm Taf, is a typical example of a once prosperous holding of the late 18th or 19th century. Land in this area was bought up by the Cardiff Corporation between 1884 and 1926 to build the reservoirs of Cantref, Beacons and Llwyn-on.

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