3.3 Close contouring since Crawford

It can be affirmed that the cause promoted by Crawford has been taken up by some surveyors of hillforts more recently, and there now exists, from various quarters of Wales, a handful of carefully contoured, and hence effectively three-dimensional, plans of individual hillforts. For example, a plan of Moel Trigarn in the south-west has 2m contours (reproduced in Driver 2007, fig. 199, calling it Foel Trigarn), while Craig Rhiwarth in the north-east has been recorded with 1m contours (Crew et al. 2012, fig. 24), each evidently sensitive to a broken terrain, though the wider vertical interval of the former is bound to be less so (inasmuch as accurate contour-lines can do no more than reflect features intersected by their exact course). In practice, 2m may be the widest spacing that can be expected to prove serviceable for contouring of any irregular site, and this will surely be too wide for some — it need hardly be said that each case must be argued on its merits.31 Yet such hillfort plans remain unusual and, were lists to be compiled, it would be found that far more are lacking than are possessing useful mapping of topographic background (see note 1 for commendable examples in north-east Wales).

Although it is not proposed here to indicate perceived strengths and weaknesses of further particular surveys, the identified frailty of a great bulk of the existing survey record can be brought into sharper focus by considering Brecknock, one of the counties whose hillforts may seem best served from this standpoint because it is furnished with the most recently compiled, comprehensive, set of plans, as presented in RCAHMW 1986. That volume includes surveys of numerous hillforts and related enclosures, just six of which (specifically figs 72, 78, 112, 119, 131, 151) have the hachured earthworks backed by 2m contours to depict the enclosed and surrounding slopes. Each of those six is obviously much more accomplished as a topographically-sensitive image of a fort than any of the 44 showing only the hachured earthworks (though there is distinct hachuring of the steepest of neighbouring slopes in certain cases). These figures bespeak an obvious shortcoming and, churlish as it may seem to utter criticism of a sumptuous volume that evoked 'nothing but unqualified praise' from at least one reviewer (Cunliffe 1988), it is not unreasonable to feel disappointment, for the plans of many of the simplistic 88% could as easily be taken to represent monuments sitting amid a floodplain as atop a summit in hilly mid-Wales (the latter, of course, being generally the truth of it). So, even if the value of contouring may be understood and applied selectively, the Brecknock example demonstrates that its benefits have remained under-rated (for a likely explanation see34). By the same token, imagine how much more effectively the essence of a recent thesis of 'architectural monumentality' (among what were formerly little-known hillforts in Ceredigion) might have been conveyed, even to a receptive audience, had it been possible to call upon plans of sufficient scale and topographic detail to complement the many excellent photographs and occasional perspective sketches published in Driver 2013 — again, closely contoured mapping would surely fit that bill.32


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