The Begwyns
An overall look at this large area of common land and its place in local history - Article by B Bowker



Heading East across the Begwyns with the Roundabout at the top of the picture - B Bowker - 20/04/2014
Introduction

The Begwyns is a large upland area and encompasses a wild and rolling landscape of common land situated north of Ffynnon-Gynydd and south of Painscastle. It rises to 415 m at the Begwyns Round Barrow ( contained in the summit Roundabout ) and falls away to a low point of some 270 m to the NW. The whole area of 1292.98 acres had been owned for a long period by the Maesllwch Estate before being gifted to the National Trust by Major G. W. F. De Winton on the 7th July 1992. Since this time the National Trust have been overseeing and surveying the area on a continuing basis.
The underlying rocks are silurian shales and mudstones to the north, merging to old red sandstones in the south and the area is complicated with some latterday glacial drifts due to the ice sheets overspilling from the main Wye Glacier. There are a few natural mawn pools which can dry up during the summer months and some small recently created pools which cater for the animals grazing the common. There is one large pond, the Monks Pond, which has been enlarged in recent times to provide a reliable year long water supply for the Perthiduon farm. The vegetation is mainly rough grassland and bracken, with a fair scattering of cotton grass, gorse and some resilient hawthorn trees. There are also some heather patches in the more peaty area by the two mawn pools to the west of the Roundabout.
The Roundabout itself was built by the de Winton family in 1887 to protect the numerous trees which had been planted to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond jubilee. These gradually disappeared over time along with the wall which fell into total disrepair by the mid 20c.
The trees were replaced in 1977 by the Maesllwch estate and stock proofed by Rhosgoch Y.F.C. This was to commemorate the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth 11.
The surrounding wall was rebuilt as a funded Millennium project by the National Trust and the Painscastle Community and help was provided by volunteers who were learning a trade . The surrounding wall was built in just over 3 months and is standing the test of time.
Access is provided by two styles, roughly north and south, and the impressive circular seat was built in June 2000 under the direction of Mr Richard Harris of Rhosgoch.

The triangulation point close by was adopted in January 1997 by the Beagley family of Cornhill and has been maintained by them admirably since that time.

Common Rights

The farms surrounding the Begwyns possess varying common rights depending on their deeds. These are in the main pasturage, estovers and common in the soil and the farmers themselves have mutually exercised and managed these rights over a long period prior to ownership by the National Trust. At a practicing level the rights refer to the grazing of sheep, ponies and cattle, along with the cutting and gathering of bracken for winter bedding on the surrounding farms. There has also been selective quarrying of rock and the shales over a long period, some of this being used for building purposes and some to improve the various trackways where necessary. It is worth noting that both the farmers and the National Trust have been and are developing a working relationship regarding the management and preservation of the area.

Archaeology

There is abundant physical evidence that the Begwyns have been occupied by man during prehistoric times and some indications for the medieval period, although at present nothing has been discovered to suggest an occupation by the Romans. There is also post medieval evidence of agricultural and wartime activities, latterday quarrying and the creation / improvement of access tracks and footpaths.

Prehistoric Settlement

Within the Roundabout lies the Begwyns Round Cairn, probably of the Bronze Age and a burial mounds of some 11m in diameter which has been much abused over the years by grazing animals, human traffic and tree planting. It is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument (S.A.M.) with a protected area of 22m in diameter.

Other S.A.M.'s of note are as follows : -

The Maesgwyn Round Barrow - GR 164 436

This is a grass covered barrow of some 19.5m in diameter and 1.6m high. The protected area is 26m in diameter

The Bailey Bedw Ring Cairn - GR 165 442

This is a well constructed ring and possibly a burial cairn. It is 7m across and encircled by a stony bank up to 3m wide and 1m high. The protected area is a circle of 15m radius.

The Begwyns Standing Stone - GR 153 450 ( Possible Prehistoric standing stone )

This is a large split stone of just over a metre high and a metre wide. It is nearly 0.5m thick and has a 8m diameter protected area.

Along with 11 other lesser sites the four above are considered to be of the Bronze Age and all but one, the Maesgwyn Round Cairn, are located in the northern half of the Begwyns. The reason(s) for this are not fully understood and could be topographical, geological or to do with the climate at the time, which was decidedly more temperate.

During the surveying of these sites a number of flint artefacts were found, these being four flint scrapers and three small fragments of flake debris. The size and knapping on the scrappers would suggest an early Bronze Age date

Medieval Settlement

This site is an extensive one with several earth platforms. There are supporting stone foundations, of rectangular long huts and a number of small attached enclosures. There is also a series of larger enclosures defined by earth banks.
The protected area for the site is 400 x 600 mtrs.
There are a few other possible medieval sites as yet unconfirmed ( 2014 ) and they all occur in the northern half of the Begwyns. This may be due to climate or topography or a combination of these and other factors.

Post Medieval to Modern

The common rights have been in use since medieval times on the Begwyns and during this period there have been improvements to existing roads and trackways ( a particular example being the road from Ffynnon-Gynydd over to Painscastle, once a well used ancient trackway - as witnessed by the very high roadside hedges - and now a fully metalled 'C' class road.
Other well used grassland tracks have been modified and consolidated with the quarried shales and some ditches have been crossed by 'Clapper Bridges' as the one at GR 149443. This ditch was possibly used to drain the area of the two mawn pools above the bridge in order to improve the grazing. This .area is shown on the 1832/33 OS map as being one large lake ( similar in size to the Monks pond ) and is still quite boggy during the winter months when water egresses out of the now shallower ditch.

The Bamford Hay Rake

This unusual relic was discovered in a little visited area on the Begwyns. It was identified by Paul Greenow as a Bamford Hay Rake and was probably abandoned in the early 1950's.
The apparent suspension is probably not due to geological erosion alone but more likely to be from a combination of weathering and sheep treading, as they rub off their woolen coats when the weather warms up. Traces of this can be seen in the photograph opposite.

Wartime Activity

Some temporary but important events occurred during World War Two when the War Agricultural Executive Committees implemented farming changes for a second time. The effect of the "War Ags" was to increase the productive land in the UK by over 1.5 million acres between 1939 and the early 1940's and this included large areas of the commons of Ffynnon-Gynydd and the Begwyns.
Milk, potatoes and cereals were considered to be essential to the food supply and a large part of the Begwyns was commissioned for the grazing of cattle and the growing of mainly potatoes. Some 300 acres were fenced off and ploughed, initially for growing oats and afterwards for potatoes. These were clamped and stored on the common to be used as and when required.
Two nissen style huts with concrete bases were built to house the necessary equipment and a loading ramp constructed at GR 139 435 to service transport of the produce from the Begwyns. The huts were also used as repair sheds and shelters for lunch breaks and foul weather conditions. Land-girls were employed to work with the farmers, and also a few POW's. They all helped in the construction, planting and running of the scheme.
After the war and around 1949 the graziers held a meeting and after a spirited discussion agreed that the land should revert to common usage. Today there is little evidence left of any extensive crop growing, but there are however some remaining legacies worthy of note.

Approaching from the west the first of these can be found at GR 139 435 and is the loading ramp mentioned above.

The second can be found at GR 143 435. These are the two concrete bases; all that is left of the nissen style huts.

The third is the small dam and related water troughs which were constructed for the benefit of the cattle and can be found in the area of GR 149 436. The water was piped from the dam to the troughs to provide a reliable and safe supply.

The fourth was a post-war event and is known locally as 'The Bomb Hole' . During the war ammunition was safely stored in a variety of depots ( A large one was created at Gwernyfed ) and these became redundant with the advent of peace. After a few minor and trial explosions it was decided to dispense with the remaining ammunition in one fell swoop and the Begwyns was the favoured and chosen site. In due course the ammunition was sited at a safe distance from the road at GR 178 443 and the demolition team at a even safer distance in the ditch to the southwest. The bomb-blast was successful but ruptured the bed-rock below, allowing a spring-line to create a small lake which has remained largely full since that time.
In the aftermath there was significant structural damage to some local farm buildings and this resulted in token monetary compensation where necessary.

Recreation

The prime recreational activity on the Begwyns both past and present has always been walking in its various forms and the foremost of these is walking for exercise by individuals - sometimes with their dogs. To a lesser degree there have been organised groups at an archaeological, historical and ecological level and since the mid 20th century the Outdoor Education Centres have used the Begwyns for hiking, pony trekking, map reading, cross country skiing, mountain biking and also camping. These activities have also been pursued at a personal level by numerous hardy individuals. - click here for one example
Jogging and running have been a feature at a personal and organised level and one activity of note is an annual 10K cross country run. This was instigated and supervised in 2006 by the Hay Hotfooters Running Club. The Club was formed in 2004 and their Begwyns 10k race attracted over 200 runners by 2015. It starts at the Roundabout and finishes just right of the highest point of the road from Ffynnon-Gynydd to Painscastle. Base camp is just to the left of this road.
Another annual activity is organised by the Hereford & District Driving Group, their latest rally on the Begwyns being on Monday the 25th August 2014.
Ornithologists have been observed and also instances of kite flying. Numerous people have pick-nicked in the Roundabout complex and in the sheltered hollows that abound in the area as a part of their days activity.

Regrettably there have been instances of off road driving by both scrambles bikes and 4x4 cars although these seem to be of nuisance value only at present.

 

B Bowker
December 3rd 2014
Amended June 7th 2015

 

 

Sources

Wales,  A Physical, Historical and Regional Geography.  Edited by E. G. Bowen, M. A.  F.S.A.

National Trust archival material and reports.
The Hay Hot Footers Running Club
Hereford and District Driving Group

Mr Paul Greenow
Mr Fred Lloyd
Mr A A Nicholls of Croesfeilliog
Mr J. Perrin
Mr Aubrey Price of Llwynpenderi
Other local farmers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Approaching the Roundabout from the West
The triangulation point can be seen on the right
B Bowker - 02/03/2013


Sheep and ponies grazing the Begwyns
B Bowker - 01/06/2014


Aubrey Price of Llwynpenderi loading bracken in 2010
B Bowker - 18/09/2010


The Measgwyn Round Barrow mirrored by the Tumpa

on the distant Black Mountains
B Bowker - 28/02/2009


The Bailey Bedw Ring Cairn from the north
B Bowker - 04/03/2014

  
The possible Begwyns Standing Stone
B Bowker 28/06/2014


The clapper bridge at GR 149443
B Bowker 28/06/2014


The Bamford Hay Rake - B Bowker - 03.03.2016


The loading ramp and the track leading off the common
B Bowker - 06/12/2014


The twin concrete bases at GR 143 435 - all that is left of the
"War Ags" Nissen style huts - B Bowker 26/03/2012


The concrete dam at GR 149 436 which was piped to
the cattle troughs below - B Bowker 22/11/2011


The remains of the cattle troughs below the dam and on
the right bank of the stream - B Bowker 22/11/2011


The Bomb Hole at GR 178 443. A permanent pond
in an unlikely location - B Bowker - 14/09/2012


The ' Magic Roundabout ' race start in 2013
Courtesy of the Hay Hotfooters Running Club


Hereford Drivers on the Begwyns in 2014
Courtesy of Hereford Drivers