Castell Henllys (Welsh, "castle of the old court") is an important archaeological site in north Pembrokeshire, Wales, between Newport and Cardigan. This Iron Age hillfort has been the subject of an ongoing excavation for more than twenty years, accompanied by an exercise in reconstruction archaeology whereby experiments in prehistoric farming have been practised. Four roundhouses and a granary have been reconstructed on their original Iron Age foundations. This is a fascinating insight to the way our forebears lived over 2500 years ago.
The Demetae were a Celtic people of Iron Age Britain who inhabited modern Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire in south-west Wales, and gave their name to the county of Dyfed. They are mentioned in Ptolemy's Geographia, as being west of the Silures. He mentions two of their towns, Moridunum (modern Carmarthen) and Luentinum (identified as the Dolaucothi Gold Mines near Pumsaint, Carmarthenshire). They are not mentioned in Tacitus' accounts of Roman warfare in Wales, which concentrate on their neighbours the Silures and Ordovices. Vortiporius, "tyrant of the Demetae", is one of the kings condemned by Gildas in his 6th century polemic De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae. This probably signifies the sub-Roman petty kingdom of Dyfed.
The Latinized element Demet has a clear and well attested relationship with the Welsh Dyfed and even after the imposition of the English Shire system the use of the name Dyfed for the former tribal lands continued unabated. Unsuccessful attempts were made in he 19th-century to link the etymon with the later kingdom of Deheubarth. A more plausible relationship with the word defaid (English: sheep) was suggested by 1832 as Dyfed remained "a country fit for the pasture of sheep" and local people were noted for their cultivation of large numbers of sheep and goats from ancient times. Another possible root is dwfn (English: deep or low), indicating the geographical area the tribe occupied in the lowest part of Wales. The English area of Devon (Welsh: Dyfnaint) may share this origin.
The classical author, Diodorus Siculus, was probably quoting the earlier writer, Posidonius, when he stated:"the inhabitants of Britain lived in mean dwellings made for the most part of reeds and wood ..." Cassius Dio in his 'Roman History' wrote: "Caractacus, a barbarian chieftain who was captured and brought to Rome and later pardoned by Claudius, wandered about the city after his liberation and after beholding its splendour and magnitude he exclaimed: and can you then who have got such possessions and so many of them, still covet our poor huts?"
The British Celts lived in roundhouses. We know this from the archaeological remains that have been excavated and dated to the Iron Age. The size of the roundhouses can be seen from the rain ditches which surround the houses. From those ditches we know that some of the roundhouses in the hill fort were quite big and that there was room for a lot of people inside. The archaeological record for these roundhouses is incomplete due to the decomposition of organic materials and the removal and reuse of their contents elsewhere. However, Castell Henllys Iron Age Hill Fort probably provides the most authentic reconstruction of Iron Age roundhouses in Britain. The roundhouses at Castell Henllys have been reconstructed using the archaeological evidence found at the site. Each of the upright poles which support the roof of the roundhouse have been placed into the original post holes. Archaeologists discovered that the walls of the houses were made of wattle and daub. The wattle walls were made by weaving a fence of pliable hazel or willow sticks into an extremely strong circular structure. The daub was made of a mixture of clay, straw and animal dung. The straw and dung help to stop the clay from cracking and falling away. The daubed walls were very good at keeping the heat in and the wind out. Lime-washed walls helped to create a better appearance and make the houses a little lighter.
It is quite dark inside the roundhouses with most of the light coming from the doorway during the day. In the centre of the roundhouses there were fireplaces. At night the flames from the fire provide some light but you still needed to get additional lighting from rush lights if you wanted to see things more clearly. It is more practical to use the daylight and get up at sunrise. The fire would also have been used for cooking. There is evidence of a saddle quern-stone, which would have been used to grind corn to make bread. There may have been an oven somewhere in the roundhouse. Sometimes food was cooked on hot stones placed next to the fire and it is quite likely that a cauldron would only have been used in one of the houses for communal cooking as it would have been a very costly item. A firedog may have been used to roast meat over the open fire.
We guess that these were the homes of the warriors and their families and that the biggest house would have belonged to the Chief. It is thought that the peasants probably lived in hovels outside the walls of the fort although there has been little excavation to prove this. Castell Henllys Iron Age Village is located on a spur of land overlooking the valley of a small river. Visitors gain access to this reconstructed fort after buying their tickets in the Visitor Centre, which is located below the fort. A track leads through wooded areas to the fort and is steep in places. The track surface is of compacted grit to ease access by wheelchair users and pushchairs. There is limited mobile phone reception in the valley below the fort but the landlines in the Visitor Centre can be used for urgent calls. A purpose built second car park is located closer to the fort and is accessed by a road to the rear of the site. A map with directions to this car park is available from reception, which has limited disabled parking nearby. From the second car park the route to the fort is shorter (100m), and is not as steep. A site vehicle is available to carry individuals from the Visitor Centre to the fort and there is also a tramper bike for individuals with mobility problems. A map will show which areas of the site are accessible using the tramper bike. A hearing loop is located at the reception desk. An accessible toilet with a panic alarm is located close to the Visitor Centre and disabled toilets are located in the Visitor Centre. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Castell Henllys Iron Age Village, Meline (near Crymych), Pembrokeshire SA41 3UR
Transport : Fishguard Harbour (National Rail) then bus (403). Bus Routes : TrawsCymru T5 stops near by. For Travel Information.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00.
Tickets : Adults £5.00; Concessions £4.25 ; Children £3.50
Tel. : 01239 891319