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East Fforest Fawr and Mynydd-y-glôg
Historic Landscape
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Historic Landscape Characterisation

East Fforest Fawr and Mynydd-y-glôg: Coed Penmailard – Coed Cefn-y-maes
Hirwaun community, Rhondda Cynon Taff
(HLCA 1203)


Modern conifer woodland partly superimposed upon medieval and early post-medieval landscape of dispersed farms, irregular fields and scattered limeworkings.

Environmental and historical background

The character area is made up of two non-joining areas of modern, predominantly conifer plantation covering an area of almost 830 hectares and lying between a height of about 230-400 metres above sea level on the eastern and southern shoulders of the mountain and extending onto the western slopes of the valley of the Taf Fawr. The eastern and southern boundaries of the characterized area are largely drawn along the line between the forestry and the unenclosed moorland. To the east and south the boundaries reflect those defined in the historic landscapes register but have been drawn more explicity along the upper margin of the enclosed land in the valley of the Taf Fawr and on the hillside west of Cefn-coed-y-cymmer and around the boundaries of the Bryn Du gas works to the south-east.

The solid geology in the northern part of the area now covered by Coed Cefn-y-maes, north of the Nant Aber-nant, is predominantly Carboniferous Limestone, whilst that to the south is largely Old Red Sandstone. The underlying solid geology in the northern part and along much of the eastern edge of the area covered by Coed Penmailard is of Carboniferous Limestone. To the south of Penmoelallt and Onllwyn the solid geology changes to sandstone and millstone grit. Soils are mostly slow draining and seasonally waterlogged loams which have supported wet moorland grazing of moderate or poor grazing value.

Up until local government reorganisation in 1974 the area fell within the Breconshire civil parish of Penderyn.

The former farm at Cefn-y-maes is mentioned in documents dating from the early 17th century. Farms at Penmailard, Sychbant-uchaf and Sychbant-isaf are represented on an estate map of the Penmailard estate belonging to the Williams family and others, dated 1749. Most other former boundaries and properties are first shown on the Penderyn tithe map of 1840.

The woodland forms part of a much more extensive afforested area in an around the upper Taf Fawr valley. Significant land use changes were taking place in the area with the construction of the three reservoirs constructed in the valley of the Taf Fawr by Cardiff Corporation in the later 19th and earlier 20th century, the Cantref Reservoir completed in 1892, the Beacons Reservoir completed in 1897 and the Llwyn-on Reservoir completed in 1926. In 1946 the Forestry Commission purchased over 2,300 acres of land in the upper Taf Fawr, now focused on the Garwnant Centre. A number of facilities for visitors have recently been provided within the area, including woodland walks, picnic areas and a woodland stretch of the long distance Taff Trail.

Key historic landscape characteristics

There are relatively few place-names that are of significance to the settlement or land use history of this small character area. The area includes the sites of four former upland farms or farmsteads lying above 300 metres formerly associated with enclosed fields, their height emphasised by the element pen (‘top, summit’) in the names Pen-yr-heol, Pen-y-glog-fan-ddu. The element heol in Pen-yr-heol might have the meaning of ‘fold, enclosure’ but its position on the modern minor road across the mountain to Cwm Cadlan suggests that it means ‘road, path’. Of the two remaining farm names, Llwyn has the meaning ‘grove’ and the element maes in Cefn-y-maes probably refers to an open area or enclosed field. Coed Penmailard is the name of the more ancient strip of broadleaved woodland and scrub which still survives on the steep valley slopes on the eastern side of the area, overlooking Afon Taf Fawr. The name is composed of the elements coed (‘wood’) and a corruption of pen + moel + allt (‘top’+ ‘bald hill’ + ‘hillside’), the central element of which describes the former state of the hilltop before afforestation in the 20th century. Onllwyn is one of the few other names within the area describing historic vegetation within the area now covered by conifer plantation, being derived from onn (‘ash’) and llwyn (‘grove’).

Early prehistoric clearance, land use and settlement is suggested by the chance find of a Neolithic polished stone axe near Cefn-y-maes. Early settlement may also be indicated by an undated small enclosure towards northern side of the area on the edge of Pant Sychbant valley, in an area which is now afforested.

In the northern area and the eastern part of the southern area the modern woodland overlies relict fieldscapes belonging to the earlier farms in the area, on slopes overlooking the valley of the Taf Fawr. On the tithe map of 1840 these farms are mostly shown as holdings of between about 15-60 hectares (40-140 acres) with a mixture of fields used for arable, pasture and meadow, some of the farms already having been amalgamated. Penmailard is exceptional in forming the centre of a small estate of about 480 hectares (1200 acres) extending down to the bottom of the Taf Fawr valley. Many of these holdings can still be traced and are represented either as earthen banks or as drystone walls now often obscured by vegetation. Earlier Ordnance Survey maps suggest that the fieldscapes in these areas represent a mixture of small irregular fields, generally less than 3 hectares in extent around the former farmsteads, representing a gradual process of clearance and enclosure, probably from medieval times onwards, together with a pattern of larger enclosures, often over 10 hectares in extent, around the boundary with the encircling unenclosed moorland. In the case of the northern area of woodland the plantation is largely enclosed by drystone walling of probably 18th-century or earlier origin which defines the boundary between these farms and the surrounding moorland, the line of which is mostly shown on a map of the Penmailard estate dated 1749 which also shows other ‘old banks’ in this area. The western side of the southern area had been part of the extensive unenclosed moorland area to the west.

The area includes a number of former farmsteads, at Penmailard (later transferred to a farm further downhill to the south formerly called Ffrwyd Ucha Fach), Sych-bant-isaf, Pen-yr-heol, Pen-y-glog-fan-ddu (in the area now called Sycamore Grove), Cefn-y-maes and Llwyn. Former farm buildings or the levelled sites of former buildings are identifiable in some places.

Agricultural activity is also represented by clusters of clearance cairns associated with former farms and fields on the eastern edge of the area, on slopes overlooking the Taf Fawr and by several sheepfolds including one near Penmailard and two on northern edge of area close to the Nant Sychbant stream, some which are shown on a map of the Penmailard estate dated 1749.

Industrial activity of probably the later 18th and 19th centuries is represented by a group of two limekilns and quarry on the western side of Coed Cefn-y-maes, towards the moorland edge, at a height of about 400 metres. In Coed Penmailard are a number of small quarries and groups of limekilns, one near Onllwyn and perhaps six or more on the eastern edge of the area, associated with trackways (some now forming part of the Taff Trail between Brecon and Cardiff). An old mining level or adit is recorded at Ty-gwyn towards southern end of the area.


Historic Environment Record; Ordnance Survey 1st edn 1:2,500; Clough & Cummins 1988; Leighton 1997; West Glamorgan Record Office, Penmailard estate GRO D/D La 58, 1749; Thomas 1992; Penderyn tithe map and schedule, 1840

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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