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Mynydd Hiraethog Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Mynydd Hiraethog

Transport and Communication

Mynydd Hiraethog is crossed by relatively few paths, tracks or roads. Two important routeways between the Dee valley and Dyffryn Clwyd are probably of some considerable antiquity but have now been almost wholly replaced by more modern roads. The more important of these routes was the earlier road between Pentrefoelas and Denbigh and took a more easterly route to the present road, running from Bwlch-y-garnedd, Bwlch-gwyn ('white pass') to the east of Tan-y-graig to a bridge crossing the Alwen at Nant Heilyn and thence via Pont-y-Brenig and Bryn Maen to Nantglyn. This was superseded in the 1820s and early 1830s by the turnpike road, the route followed by the present A543 via Cottage Bridge, Pont-y-clogwyn and the Sportsman's Arms and then on to Bylchau, formerly with a toll-house at Turpeg Mynydd ('mountain turnpike' or tyrpeg) on the southern side of the moor. The road described in Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Wales, published in 1833, as 'excellent road . . . recently constructed . . . across the mountains' has been improved since, but traces of original walling and embankments survive here and there, together with Cottage Bridge, an early 19th-century single-arched stone road bridge across the Afon Alwen and a number of early roadside quarries used for construction materials. The inn at the Sportsman's Arms, formerly known as Tan-bryn-trillyn, together with its regular pattern of fields carved out of the moorland, which the road originally skirted around, seems to have been built as a coaching inn with livery and grazing to serve early travellers across the moor.

The second early routeway linked Cerrigydrudion and Denbigh, and is now partly submerged below Llyn Brenig. It ran along the valley of the Brenig and Afon-fechan past Elorgarreg and Hafod-lom, past Hafoty Sion Llwyd by way of Rhyd Sion Wyn and Bwlch-du and thence down the northern escarpment of Mynydd Hiraethog in the direction of Denbigh via Garreg Lwyd, crossing at the head of the Afon Fechan valley with a number of small lanes and tracks which joined the earlier route from Pentrefoelas to Denbigh via Nantglyn, north of Bryn-y-hen-groes. The routeway, again probably of considerable antiquity, was referred to by the antiquary Edward Lhuyd in the late 17th century by the name Llwybr Elen or Sarn Elen ('Helen's Way'), a name attributed to other ancient roads in Wales. This ancient track has now replaced by the modern road running through the forestry plantation to the west of the Brenig Reservoir which branches to the north to join the Pentrefoelas to Denbigh road north of the Sportsman's Arms and to the east across the northern edge of the moorland past Maen-llwyd, the name Sarn Helen being preserved in the stepping stones across the stream next to Hen Ddinbych. A further ancient trackway in this area linked the upper Brenig valley with Cyffylliog and Ruthin, to the east, running through the modern Clocaenog Forest via the Aber Llech-Damer and Afon Clywedog valleys, passing the medieval settlement at Hen Ddinbych.

Most other trackways on the moor, many of which are again likely to be of considerable antiquity, tend to be short-distance routes formed to link lowland farms and communities with moorland grazing, hafodydd ('summer houses'), outlying permanently-occupied farmsteads, peat cuttings or quarries, many of which simply peter out when they reach their goal. Various footpaths are shown on a number of 19th-century maps of the moor, some of which also show streams crossed by stepping stone and footbridges, some of which have since disappeared. From early times most journeys onto or across the moor would have been on foot or by ox-cart, the horseshoes, spur and harness fittings found during excavation of early houses on Nant-y-criafolen suggesting that by the 15th and 16th centuries some farmers were travelling to and from their upland dwellings on horseback.

The early 19th century Pentrefoelas to Denbigh turnpike was the first road which could reliably carry carriages or other wheeled traffic across Mynydd Hiraethog at all seasons, making a considerable saving on winter journeys from north to south which would formerly of necessity have taken a route in the direction of Llanrwst on the west or Corwen on the east. As well as improving communication, the construction of the turnpike road also made the experience of the bleak mountain moorland landscapes of Mynydd Hiraethog accessible to the first of many number of generations of sightseers and tourists.

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