3.2 Sites

3.2.1 Hillforts

Out of the three counties in southwest Wales Ceredigion has the greatest number of hillforts, 35 in total, but these are relatively small in size with 18 sites having an internal area within the range 0.31-0.70 ha, and the largest site measures just 1.71 ha (Table 3). This contrasts with Carmarthenshire, where there are fewer sites but of generally larger size — nine sites lie within the range 0.59-1.50 ha and the largest site is over 12 ha. Pembrokeshire has few hillforts (8) and with a size range between that of Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. Geographical determinism has a role here as most of the Ceredigion hillforts lie in the north of the county in a region of numerous steep-sided hills ideal for hillfort construction. This is in contrast to southeast Ceredigion and mid and south Pembrokeshire, where there are few steep-sided hills and hence few hillforts. There are, however, other factors in play. For instance the terrain of east and northeast Carmarthenshire is ideally suited to hillforts, but, apart from some large examples, is relatively free of them.

Table 3: Internal area of hillforts by county.

County No. of hillforts Range of main internal areas
Most common area range
(and the no. of sites that fall within it)
Carmarthenshire 15 0.40-12.00 0.59-1.50 (9)
Ceredigion 35 0.10-1.71 0.31-0.70 (18)
Pembrokeshire 8 0.22-1.68 0.70-1.68 (5)

3.2.2 Promontory forts

Of the 162 promontory forts 157 are earthworks, of which 102 have been classified as undamaged or good earthworks. This, as noted above, is largely due to their location away from intensive agriculture, particularly so for coastal promontory forts. Coastal promontory forts, however, visibly suffer from coastal erosion, severely so in many cases. This makes estimating the original size of these sites problematical, as the amount of land lost to the sea is, in most cases, impossible to estimate.

Emerging excavation evidence, briefly reviewed above, suggests that promontory forts were among the first defensive sites to be constructed in southwest Wales and could pre-date smaller defended enclosures by several centuries. This should be considered when examining the tables and distribution maps accompanying this article.

Of particular note is the large numbers of coastal promontory forts along the Pembrokeshire Coast (Table 4). The high cliffs along this coast are ideally suited to this type of defence, but this factor alone cannot adequately explain this distribution, as one would expect to find other types of site replacing coastal promontory forts on sections of coast that contain no suitable promontories on which to construct forts, such as parts of the Ceredigion coast. It may be that the large number of such forts in Pembrokeshire is a reflection of the large total number of all site types within the county (and hence a large population), but again this seems an inadequate explanation for the large numbers of these impressive earthworks.

Table 4: Coastal and inland promontory forts by county.

County No. of coastal promontory forts No. of inland promontory forts Total no. of promontory forts
Carmarthenshire 2 31 33
Ceredigion 6 24 30
Pembrokeshire 52 47 99

The distribution of inland promontory forts is fairly regular across southwest Wales. It would seem likely that this type of site replaces hillforts where the topography is suitable, such as across central Pembrokeshire. As with hillforts there are some obvious areas in the distribution across inland Wales where the topography is suitable for the construction of this type of site, such as northern Carmarthenshire and mid Ceredigion, and few promontory forts are seen. As promontory forts survive as upstanding earthworks it is unlikely that there are numerous sites awaiting discovery and therefore these gaps are probably a true reflection of the distribution of inland promontory forts.

3.2.3 Defended enclosures

Defended enclosures make up the largest single type of settlement, with 481 known sites. These are shown in Table 5 by form and county. The majority of defended enclosures are situated on farmland, some of which is subject to intensive cultivation. Given the vulnerability and the relatively small size of these sites it is remarkable that so many survive as earthworks — 309 out of 481. However, during fieldwork it was clear that this class of earthwork site has suffered the most degradation. It has not been possible to quantify this degradation, but records show that many sites recorded as earthworks of at least 1m to 1.5m high in the 1950s have now been reduced to very low, sometimes barely perceptible, earthworks.

Table 5: Defended enclosures shown by form and county.

County No. of earthwork defended enclosures No. of cropmark defended enclosures Other Total no. of defended enclosures
Carmarthenshire 104 21 1 126
Ceredigion 49 85 1 135
Pembrokeshire 156 58 6 220
Total 309 164 8 481

Over 160 defended enclosures are recorded as cropmarks, with most having been discovered by aerial photography in the past 30 years. The distribution of these cropmarks (Map 3) is therefore very much a history of aerial photographic discovery. In addition, some sites initially identified as cropmarks were found during field visits to be low earthworks and the records amended to show this. The exact number of discoveries over the past 30 years is not recorded, but it is considered to be well over half of the 481 recorded defended enclosures, plus the majority of the 81 possible defended enclosures.

Although the distribution of defended enclosures is to some extent a result of discovery, there are underlying trends, such as the concentration of sites across central Pembrokeshire into western Carmarthenshire, and the distinct grouping in southeast Ceredigion. These distributions are discussed in more detail in the section on site size.


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Last updated: Mon Dec 14 2009