Carn Goch Iron Age Hill Fort

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Carn Goch Iron Age Hill Fort

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Iron Age Hillforts or Fortified Settlements:

The Brecon Beacons National Park is rich in archaeological remains not least of which are the prehistoric settlements usually referred to as hill forts which are found at high level throughout National Park.  These hill forts are more properly described as fortified settlements which were built by the Celtic tribes of the iron age.  Extended families and their animals would have lived in these fortified settlements.  In the daytime the animals would be outside grazing on the rich upland pasture whilst the more sheltered land would be cultivated.  The castles built in Wales at a later date by Norman Gentry were intended to control the surrounding area.  It seems more likely that the hill forts or fortified settlements had more in common with a fortified house of Tudor times. This would suggest that they were occupied on a more or less permanent basis. many would have represented the form of an extended family. Whereas some of the larger hill forts may well have become centres of trading possibly offering specialist services such as metalworking or may even have had a political function. suddenly the construction of very large hill forts such as Carn Goch suggests a level of manpower and co-operation that far exceeds the resources of a single family. 


Bethlehem is a little hamlet in the remote southwest corner of the Brecon Beacons National Park. the name of the Hamlet is derived from the Bethlehem nonconformist chapel. The Hamlet is of particular interest to stamp collectors and others at Christmas time because the small post office sells first daily covers and are Christmas post is franked with the name Bethlehem. It is the closest community to the iron age hill fort at Carn Goch. 

Access to Carn Goch:

Carn Goch in one of the remotest parts of the Brecon beacons national park back SN 690 243.  Make you were way to the hamlet of Bethlehem three to four miles outside the small town of Llangadog. just outside Bethlehem and narrow single track road, steeped in places, inaccessible to coaches larger than a minibus, traverses for 1 1/2 mi approximately until reaching a small area of grassy bank near the entrance to Crug Glas farm.  There is very limited parking for vehicles at this point. from that point a steep rough track can be followed until it brings you to the first of the stone ramparts.  Exploring the large area that this hill fort covers is quite challenging, the ground is very rough underfoot and the ramparts now consist of loose stones which constantly move under your feet and considerable care needs to be taken.

Carn Goch: Archaeological Description: 

A particularly striking example and one of the largest iron age hill forts in Wales can be found in the West of the national park at Carn Goch. it is impressively located on a hilltop whose presence dominates the surrounding countryside.  This choice location at 700 feet above sea level (213m) offers the visitor today not just an opportunity to walk around the extensive explores the remains of the hill fort with its massive stone defences but to partake of the excellent panorama. The twenty-eight acres of land on which it stands was purchased by the national park authority in the 1980s. Carn Goch translates as the red cairn. the preference to a cairn almost certainly refers to a large prominent burial mound within the main enclosure.  Some writers have speculated that the red may refer to the colour of the surrounding bracken in autumn and winter when bathed in the sunlight that this prominent hillside benefits from. 

Hill forts may be constructed differently depending on the materials that are available. Carn Goch is the finest example of a hill fort with extensive storm wall ramparts.   In Carn Goch construction follows the contours of the hill on which it is built and this of course enhances the protection offered by the ramparts. The stone ramparts are extensive and exposed.  As a result of the ravages of over 2000 years of time they now consist of loose fallen stones.  Impressive today at the time of completion in prehistoric Wales Carn Goch must have been a site to behold and unequalled. 

There are two hill forts at this location known appropriately and respectively as Y Gaer Fach (the small fort) and Y Gaer Fawr (the large fort). They occupy two separate summits on the same long ridge and the geographical description implicit in their name really allow you to easily identify which is which.

Y Gaer Fach SN 685242 has not only the smaller of the two hill forts that is generally more dilapidated condition.  There are several places along the perimeter of the hill fort where stone that formed the original ramparts appears to be missing.  It is not clear whether the stone has been removed that some stage of whether this is an indication that this small fort was never completed.  On the eastern side of the fort long track formed by walls that have collapsed appears to indicate an entrance of some kind. this entrance faces the direction of the larger hill fort.

Y Gaer Fawr SN 690242 is by far the larger of the two hill forts enclosing an area of 11.2 hectares. 

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