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Historic Landscapes

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Caersws Basin



The following description, taken from the Historic Landscapes Register, identifies the essential historic landscape themes.

Topographically, the Caersws Basin presents a striking natural arena in the centre of Mid Wales. Visual prospects out of the basin are confined in almost every direction by the surrounding, seemingly unbroken, rim of low hills and ridges between about 300m and 400m above OD. The apparently enclosed but wide basin floor is essentially flat, rising only 20m in 5km, from 115m to 135m above OD, east-west. This remarkable, albeit shallow, natural arena has made the basin an area of exceptional strategic and historical importance in Wales, while the confluence of the Rivers Carno and Trannon with the Severn has also made Caersws in the centre of the basin a natural focus for communications. This was most clearly evidenced during the Roman period when a network of roads emanated from the Roman fort there, leading along the valleys and over the hills to the north. The remains of some roads are still visible in places. The combination of natural topography and evidence of manís determination to control access and communication routes has thus created a landscape high in historic interest and integrity.

A series of small Iron Age enclosures, now largely visible only as crop-marks, provide an indication of the prehistoric occupation of the area. A large oval enclosure surrounded by an interrupted bank and ditch has recently been discovered just to the north of Caersws, and excavations have provided an Iron Age date from the ditch silts. To the south west of Caersws the elaborate multivallate hillfort of Cefn Carnedd is one of the many sites put forward as a contender for the last stand of Caradog, although the association is somewhat tenuous. However, all these remains are clear evidence of intensive Iron Age settlement, and presumably farming, in the area.

The Roman influence began with the early campaigns against the Ordovici, the Iron Age tribe occupying North Wales. A fort was constructed to the east of the present village of Caersws, but by about AD 75, this was replaced by a new fort sited near the confluence of the Rivers Carno and Severn. At its height, during the 2nd century, the fort would have been an impressive structure defended as it was by a substantial red sandstone rampart and a series of up to three external ditches. Inside the fort, successive excavations have revealed the plans of the main ranges of stone buildings and the remains of the timber barracks and stables. Around the fort, to the south and east, a sizeable civilian settlement or vicus became established, containing workshops, taverns, and a small temple as well as domestic buildings. The bath house, which was discovered in 1854, now lies beneath the railway yard.

Little is known of the medieval history of this area. On the southern side of the basin, at Bronfelin and Moat Farm, are two motte and bailey castles, with evidence for possibly earlier enclosures. Caersws itself has a street plan which one would normally associate with a medieval settlement, although there is no archaeological evidence to support this.

The local parish is in fact centred on Llanwnog which was reputedly founded during the 6th century by St Gwynog and which retains a medieval church. In recent times, the area is associated with the popular 19th-century Welsh poet and lyricist, John Ceiriog Hughes, who was sometime stationmaster at Llanidloes, and later, the line supervisor on the Cambrian Railways branch from Caersws to Van. He is buried at Llanwnog.

The branch line to Van was constructed to carry the ore from the important lead mines at Van and Dylife, and like many of the original lines of the Cambrian Railways in the area, it was the creation of the industrialist and entrepreneur, David Davies. He made his greatest mark in South Wales , extracting coal from the Rhondda and exporting it along his own railway and through his own dock at Barry. His house at Llandinam, Broneirion, overlooks the village and is today the Welsh Girl Guide Training Centre. In the later part of the 19th century, the Davies family built Plas Dinam, which now dominates the northern approaches to the village, much of which was, in fact, created by Davies. Llandinam is notable as one of the first Welsh rural parishes to have electricity, in 1904. The origins of the village, however, are much earlier, as the church is reputedly an early Celtic clas or mother church foundation .

The Making of the Caersws Basin Landscape

The forces which have helped to form this landscape of special historic interest in Wales are outlined in the following sections.

The Natural Environment

The Administrative Landscape

Settlement and Land Use


Transport and Communications

Associative Landscapes

Sources of information

Information on the Caersws Basin can be found in various published sources.

Published sources of information

Character areas

The following historic landscape character areas have been defined within the historic landscape area.

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Character areas defined in the Caersws Basin Historic Landscape


1178 Penbedw character area. Fieldscapes and dispersed farms on sloping land and lower hills forming the north-eastern rim of the Caersws Basin, partly representing piecemeal enclosure probably from medieval times onwards and partly early 19th-century enclosure of former common, with evidence of probable later prehistoric defended settlements. Course of Roman road north-east of the Roman fort at Caersws. Photo: CPAT 06-C-14. (back to map)

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1179 Llanwnog character area. Some evidence of early prehistoric settlement and land use. Course of Roman road north of the Roman fort at Caersws. Mixed fieldscapes representing both piecemeal clearance and enclosure and the probable enclosure of former medieval open fields associated with the nucleated settlement of early medieval or medieval origin at Llanwnog. Industrial hamlet exploiting water power at Pontdolgoch, and features associated with the development of the turnpike road and railway networks in the 18th and 19th centuries. Photo: CPAT 06-C-43 (back to map)

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1180 Glasgoed character area. Predominantly irregular fieldscapes representing piecemeal woodland clearance and enclosure since at least early medieval times onwards. Photo: CPAT 06-C-65 (back to map)

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1181 Cerist character area. Mixed fieldscapes on the relatively flat and lowlying ground along the lower Trannon and Cerist valleys, representing a combination of piecemeal clearance and enclosure from medieval times onwards, probable emparkment and landscape reorganisation in perhaps the early post-medieval period, and some reorganisation following the construction of the Van Railway and the diversion of a stretch of the river Cerist in the later 19th century. Photo: CPAT 06-C-74. (back to map)

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1182 Caersws character area. Modern village, originating as a medieval borough, overlying a Roman civilian settlement alongside a Roman forts, which owes its development initially to its position on the road and rail networks of the later 18th and 19th centuries and latterly as a dormitory village for Newtown. Photo: CPAT 06-C-24. (back to map)

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1183 Maesmawr character area. Fieldscapes predominantly of large irregular fields along the floodplain of the river Severn and its margins, some of which appears to represent enclosure of meadow land associated with the a group of high status estate centres which came into being in the 16th and 17th centuries. Photo: CPAT 06-C-08. (back to map)

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1184 Carnedd character area. Iron Age hillfort on hilltop ridge. Irregular fieldscapes and disperse farms of possible medieval and later origin with areas of remnant broadleaved woodland on steeper slopes and conifer plantations and some open pasture on land first enclosed in the early 19th century. Country house landscape with associated gardens, lodge and other buildings built for David Davies at Broneirion. Photo: CPAT 06-C-85. (back to map)

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1185 Rhos Ddiarbed character area. Irregular fieldscapes and dispersed farms possibly of medieval or earlier origin on the rising ground on the south and east of the Caersws Basin. Medieval motte and bailey castles associated with the Anglo-Norman conquest. Small nucleated church settlement of early medieval and medieval origin at Llandinam whose development was influence by the turnpike road improvements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the coming of the railways and the patronage of the Davies family in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries. Photo: CPAT 06-C-106. (back to map)

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1186 Moel Iart - Penstrowed Hill character area. Enclosed moorland on the hills around the southern and eastern rim of the Caersws Basin, substantial parts of which were subject to parliamentary enclosure in the early 19th century. Photo: CPAT 06-C-122. (back to map)

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For further information please contact the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust at this address, or link to the Countryside Council for Wales' web site at

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1182 Caersws 1180 Glasgoed 1181 Cerist 1186 Moel Iart - Penstrowed Hill 1178 Penbedw 1178 Penbedw 1184 Carnedd 1179 Llanwnog 1185 Rhos Ddiarbed 1185 Rhos Ddiarbed 1185 Rhos Ddiarbed 1183 Maesmawr 1183 Maesmawr