Abergwyngregyn, known also as Aber, is a village of historical note in Caernarfonshire. Under its historic name of Aber Garth Celyn it was the seat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, known as Llywelyn the Last.
It stands beside the busy A55, five miles east of Bangor and eight miles west of Conwy. The road separates the village from the sea, though beyond the dual carriageway is a fine view over the broad Lavan Sands in the Menai Strait.
Abergwyngregyn is a settlement of great antiquity and was of great importance before the conquest of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. The natural boundaries of the parish stretch from the Menai Strait up to the headwaters of the Afon Goch and Afon Anafon. Protected to the east by the headland of Penmaenmawr and at its rear by Snowdonia, Abergwyngregyn controlled the ancient crossing point of the Lafan Sands to Anglesey. A pre-Roman defensive enclosure, Maes y Gaer, which rises above Pen y Bryn on the eastern side of the valley, has far reaching views over Irish Sea and the Isle of Man is visible on a clear day. The Roman road from Chester (Deva), linking the forts of Canovium and Segontium, crossed the river at this point.
This was the seat of Llywelyn the Last, the last native Prince of Wales. His daughter Gwenllian of Wales was born here in June 1282 and her mother, Eleanor de Montfort, died here soon after on 19 June 1282. In June 1283 Dafydd ap Gruffudd, Llywelyn's brother, who unilaterally assumed the title of Prince of Wales after Llywelyn was slain in December 1282, was captured at Bera Mountain above the present village.
Abergwyngregyn was one of ten sites chosen for the Welsh Cultural Heritage Initiative in 2009.
Y Mŵd is an earthen mound on the valley floor in the middle of the village, at SH656726. The mound is circular, 22 feet high with an oval top 57 feet by 48 feet. It has been regarded as the base of a Norman castle, and on that basis was renamed 'Aber Castle Mound' by the Ancient Monuments Board. E. S. Armitage, in The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles, suggested that it might have been constructed by Hugh d'Avranches, Earl of Chester.
The word Mŵd in early Welsh means 'vault' or 'chamber', and there is no evidence that there was ever a motte and bailey castle at Aber. It has been suggested that it might be a much earlier mound built over the body of a local warrior lord who in his lifetime had protected his people, and in death was expected to do the same.
Other, similar mounds, such as the one on which the Pillar of Eliseg near Llangollen stands, or the one at Scone in Scotland, have been found especially in northern and western Britain.
Adjacent stone building, mediæval royal llys
A large structure on the valley bottom between Y Mŵd, the smithy and the water mill was excavated in 1993 and again in 2010. It has been identified as a high status building from the 14th century, possibly contemporary with the last independent princes of Wales or with the early decades after the Conquest. No defensive structures have been found. The floor plan has been interpreted as a mediæval hall with large wings, and a separate enclosure that may have been used for large ovens or for metalworking. The 1993 dig found a bronze brooch, some mediæval pottery, and a coin from the years before the conquest. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales suggests that this was the site of the mediæval royal llys (palace).
Pen y Bryn
Pen y Bryn is a manor house, recorded from the Elizabethan period, on a promontory on the east side of the valley. It overlooks the village and the Menai Straits to Anglesey. With its adjacent buildings and ground works it forms a double bank and ditch enclosure now known as Garth Celyn. A neolithic burial urn was discovered when a driveway was being made to the house in 1824. There is no evidence of mediæval activity on this site, but it has been claimed as the site of the pre-Conquest royal llys.
Appearance in fiction
Abergwyngregyn has appeared in several works of Romantic fiction, often those treating of the tale of Llywelyn the Last. These include:
- Saunders Lewis play Siwan
- Thomas Parry play Llywelyn Fawr
- Edith Pargeter novels:
- The Green Branch
- The Brothers of Gwynedd
- Barbara Erskine novel Child of the Phoenix
- Sharon Penman novels:
- Here be Dragons
- Falls the Shadow"
- The Reckoning
The valley provides the access to one of Wales's great waterfalls, the Aber Falls as the Afon Goch falls precipitously, some 120 feet over a sill of igneous rock into a marshy area where it is joined by two tributaries; the enlarged stream, Afon Rhaeadr Fawr, heads towards the Menai Strait and the sea. From here the river becomes known as Afon Aber.
The single barrel-vault bridge at SH662720 spans Afon Aber, providing a roadway across the river, some 25 feet in width. The date of construction is unknown, but its existence was marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1822. The bridge provided a safe crossing for drovers leading animals on a drovers’ road up the valley. Large stones in the river under the bridge mark the site of an earlier ford.
Aber is the coastal crossing point for the ancient drovers’ and later Roman road that led across the Lafan Sands to Anglesey.
The Roman road from Chester crossed the river Conwy south of Tal-y-Cafn, connected with the fort at Conovium (Caerhun) by a short branch, then led up by way of Rowen and Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen, the Pass of the Two Stones, as an engineered overlay on top of the earlier British trackway, into Snowdonia.
The Roman road descends down Rhiwiau, the valley between Llanfairfechan and Aber, follows the coastal route west, crosses the river by means of a ford, passes by the church and leads on to the major Roman fort at Segontium, (Caernarfon).
The drovers' road from Anglesey came into the settlement on the valley bottom on the west bank of the valley bottom, where provision was made for the animals to be penned and shod, and the feet of the geese to be coated in pitch, and then followed the valley to join with the Roman road.
Maes y Gaer
This is a defensive enclosure, built on a hill that forms the western end of a spur overlooking the valley at SH673725. It is approximately 730 feet above sea level. The walls of the enclosure are pear shaped and protect an area 400 feet long and 220 feet wide of about 1½ acres. Maes y Gaer has a steep drop on all sides except the east, where there is a more gentle slope leading to the pasture land. The entrance is on the south-east, now badly ruined but originally 11 feet wide, with a passageway to the interior 20 feet long. Below Maes y Gaer, above Garth Celyn Pen y Bryn, is a level area of land known as 'Elen's Garden' in memory of Eleanor de Montfort, princess of Wales.
Hafod Celyn, Hafod Garth Celyn
This is the summer pastureland of Garth Celyn, on open moorland rising to 800 feet at SH676713. The small building on this site, now in ruins, was rebuilt in the 18th century on the ruins of an earlier building that extended further to the west.
Llyn Anafon is the most northerly of the Carneddau lakes, lying between Llwytmor, Foel Fras and Y Drum. It has a maximum depth of 10 feet. A dam was built across the lake in 1930 to enable water to be supplied to the nearby coastal villages. There are brown trout in the lake and by long held custom people who lived in the village had the right to fish both the lake and the river. Half a mile below the lake there are prehistoric hut circles and other signs of early human inhabitation. There is an arrow stone on the lower slopes of Foel Ganol, and another leading down to Cammarnaint Farm. A gold cross, five inches in height, was found on the summit of Carnedd y Ddelw above the lake in 1812.
The earliest name for the vale was Nant Mawan ('Record of Caernarfon', 1371, Bangor University Archives). Mawan, a personal name, contracted over time. Llyn Nant Mawan, became Llyn Nan (Mafon) and then Llyn (N)anafon.
Nearby is an area known as Buarth Merched Mafon (Enclosure of Mafon's Daughters).
Nothing is known about Mawan, but his son Llemenig is mentioned in several early Welsh sources. His name is mentioned in two englyns at the end of a 'Cynddylan' fragment in a manuscript (Canu Llywarch Hen XI. 112b.113b.)
When I hear the thundering roar,
[it is] the host of Llemenig mab Mahawen [read Mawan]
Battle-hound of wrath, victorious in battle.
In Triad Ynys Prydain no. 43, his horse is described as one of the "Three pack-Horses" of Ynys Prydain. Ysgwyddfrith ("Dappled-shoulder") "the horse of Llemenig ap Mawan".
Coedydd Aber is situated in an area of scenic beauty. The steep sided wooded valley, Nant Aber Garth Celyn, leads to the foothill of Y Carneddau. The river has the steepest fall of any in Wales and England. There is a wide variety of habitats in the valley including a diversity of woodlands, open farmland and scrub. A range of birds can be found here, including raven, buzzards, peregrine falcon, sparrowhawk and choughs on the sea cliffs, tree pipit and redstart along the woodland edge, and pied flycatcher and wood warbler in the Welsh oak woods.
By the shore, a hide has been erected on the edge of the Menai Strait, providing clear views of the sea birds on the Lafan sands. As a young man, Sir Peter Scott used Twr Llywelyn, part of Pen y Bryn, as a place to position his telescope, to watch the birds flying in off the Irish sea.
Since the beginning of the Ice Age, 2.4 million years ago, the uplands of North Wales have been subject to several phases of glaciation. The Aber valley provides physical evidence of the two younger phases of glaciation which occurred between 18,000-20,000 and 10,000-11,000 years ago. Y Carneddau has a notable range of glacial and periglacial features that have been studied by geologists, including Charles Darwin, for well over a century, and plays a key role not only into research into landforms, but also into climate change and vegetation history.
- www.geograph.co.uk : photos of Abergwyngregyn and surrounding area
- To see many of the above reports in detail and the two winged, post conquest structure on the valley bottom
- Caernarvonshire Historical Society Transactions 1962 Article Aber Gwyn Gregin Professor T. Jones Pierce
- Y Traethodydd 1998 Tystiolaeth Garth Celyn
- Gwynfor Evans (2001) Cymru O Hud Abergwyngregyn
- Gwynfor Evans (2002) Eternal Wales Abergwyngregyn
- John Edward Lloyd (1911) A history of Wales from the earliest times to the Edwardian conquest (Longmans, Green & Co.) see pages 670-71 for Gwern y Grog
- O. H. Fynes-Clinton (Oxford 1912) The Welsh Vocabulary of the Bangor District
- Harold Hughes and Herbert North (Bangor, 192) The Old Churches of Snowdonia, p. 152-155.