CPAT logo
Cymraeg / English
Back Home
Vale of Clwyd Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Vale of Clwyd


Due to topography, routes within The Vale of Clwyd since early times have probably tended to run either north to south, along the axis of the vale, or at right-angles to this up the stream valleys leading onto or over the hills to either side, giving rise to a loosely gridded network of roads, tracks and footpaths. Because of the more poorly-drained ground along the valley separate north-south routes have also tended to develop linking communities on the slightly more elevated ground to either side of the vale, with only a limited number of river crossings joining the east and west sides of the valley.

Little is known about the earliest roads and paths in the vale. It is assumed that a major Roman road ran the length The Vale of Clwyd, linking military sites at Caer Gai near Bala and an assumed fort in the Corwen area with sites in the neighbourhood of Ruthin and St Asaph. The course of this road and its relationship with Roman settlements and possible military activity in the vale will no doubt be discovered in the future. Much of the basic network of modern roads, tracks and footpaths no doubt gradually developed linking early medieval and medieval nucleated settlements and urban centres, and no doubt become more and more complex during the later medieval and early post-medieval periods as the number of dispersed farmsteads and tenements multiplied. Again, relatively little is know of the early roads and bridges of these periods in the vale. Many of these early routes would have been unpaved and difficult to pass at certain seasons of the year, though several occurrences of the Welsh place-name element palmant ('pavement') may indicate early made-up roads.

Many of the modern roads and tracks on either side of the vale run in hollow-ways worn into the hillside, particularly those reaching farms and communities up the steeper slopes onto more elevated ground. Some of the hollow-ways are of considerable size and antiquity, the present road surfaces often reaching a depth of between 3-5m from the ground surface to either side, resulting from the erosion of many thousands of tons of soil and subsoil washed away further downhill by surface water over the course of many centuries. Even some of the roads on some of the flatter, lower-lying ground on the floor of the vale can be seen to be formed in hollow-ways, possibly in these cases partly dug out by hand. Many of these early routes have now become fossilized, having been paved and provided with road drains, though others still survive as green lanes.

Considerable improvements were made to road transport in the late 18th and particularly in early 19th century when new turnpike roads and numerous new stone bridges were built across rivers and streams, assisting trade as well as opening up the countryside to visitors. In 1801, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the antiquarian, noted the construction of a new road through the vale 'now rendered passable for carriages . . . . by which many steep hills and much dreary country will be avoided'. The work was still not complete, however, and with some regret he noted that 'had I known so much of it had remained undone I should not have attempted it in my chaise, for I found the latter part of it as bad as the beginning was good'.

Road improvements continued throughout the late 18th and 19th-centuries, arched stone bridges replacing earlier timber bridges or fords and carried out hand in hand with drainage schemes and the construction of causeways across some of the wetter, lower-lying ground, all of which provide distinctive historic landscape elements throughout The Vale of Clwyd. A number of new main roads were created such as the new Wrexham to Ruthin road via the Nant y Garth, Llysfasi and Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, superseding the old road which ran through Graig-fechan, on the eastern side of the valley. In places this road, like a number of new or improved roads elsewhere in the vale, is superimposed upon earlier field systems. In some cases, as near Lleweni and Bachymbyd, bridges were built by private landowners in order to gain access to farmland on the opposite side of one of the major streams or rivers within the vale. New roads were built to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding urban centres at Ruthin and Denbigh and as late as the 1850s the course of the Corwen to Ruthin road was diverted around Castle Park at Ruthin, leaving the former road bridge across the Clywedog as a distinctive feature of the parkland.

The export of agricultural produce and minerals, the movement of passengers, and the importing of a wide range of commodities was greatly enhanced by the construction of the Corwen-Rhyl railway in the 1850s, with stations at Eyarth, Ruthin, Llanrhaeadr, and Denbigh. Connections were added to Mold by means of the Mold & Denbigh Junction Railway 1869 with a station at Bodfari and sidings for the Partington Steel & Iron Company at Bodfari in 1924. Though abandoned in the 1960s the railway still has a significant impact on the landscape in a number of historic landscape character areas, including the embankments and bridge abutments to the west of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, the railway cuttings bounding the housing estates on the eastern sides of Ruthin and Denbigh, and the prominent embankment and bridge across the Clwyd near Pontruffydd Farm, to the north-east of Denbigh, as well as a number of former station buildings and gate-keepers cottages. Even where there are no earthworks survive, the course of the former railway is marked by the distinctive boundaries of the fields it once crossed or by the tracks which now run along it.

Few major changes were made to the rural road network in the 20th century, though improvements to the Denbigh to Ruthin road saw the creation of a number of lay-byes, the construction of the Llanrhaeadr bypass in 1971, cutting through the parkland around Llanrhaeadr Hall, giving rise to the demolition of the former lodge and the resiting of the lodge gates of the 1840s. One of the most distinctive changes, as elsewhere in Denbighshire, were the white-painted iron railings erected at numerous rural crossroads during the course of road widening schemes, which enhance the parkland character of a number of areas of the vale.

The visual impact of other 20th-century service industries, including telecommunications, water, sewerage and gas pipelines, has been relatively slight within the The Vale of Clwyd historic landscape areas, though significant valley-bottom palaeoenvironmental deposits were partly disturbed during pipeline construction in the early 1990s to the east of Denbigh.

Offa's Dyke Path, the national long-distance path runs for a considerable distance along the summit of the Clwydian hills along the eastern side of the historic landscape area. The footpath was created partly by the amalgamation of existing footpaths, crosses or runs close to a number of ancient monuments along the summit of the hill, including the Iron Age hillforts on Foel Fenlli, Moel Arthur and Penycloddiau. Erosion resulting from the large numbers of walkers, and more recently by mountain bikes, has resulted in repair works and diversions to the path in a number of areas, particularly where the path crosses steeper ground.

Privacy and cookies