From Bwlch Penbarra we have another steep, steep climb to get up to the ramparts of Foel Fenlli. Like the opening ascent of the day some two hours earlier, this is short, sharp shock. Our legs are more tired now that they were then though, and the hundred metres of vertical ascent is harder work this time. However, the reward is utterly worthwhile. Foel Fenlli is multi-vallate, like the other Clwydian forts. It has the benefit of terrific natural defences by virtue of its positioning atop a hill with steep drops on three sides (only the eastern approach is anything but knackering for any would-be attacker). Iron Age status symbol? You bet. The Vale of Clwyd looks a looong way below us. There are good views of the nearest of the neighbouring forts, Moel y Gaer.
There's no two ways about it, it's a long hard slog to get up here but if you stop two or three times and have a look about your hardship is well rewarded.Two sets of banks and ditches are well preserved on the hilltop ,a good south facing entrance that seems to enter the fort at an angle .(not seen one of them before)On a clear day you can see really far Cadair Idris ,Snowdon and Tryfan To the West and the seemingly endless plains to the east and the other Clwydian mountains north and south .The summit cairn I think is modern but it sits on a more intergrated bump that may be an ancient work of some sort.
Plenty of carparking space by the way
Foel Fenlli is a high conical hill topped by a hill fort - it's the highest in a chain of hillforts that run along the Clwydian range. The summit has a cairn, and nearby is "a never failing crystal spring". The fort is named after Benlli Gawr. Nennius describes him as the 'wicked and tyrannical king' of Powys. Perhaps he was, perhaps he wasn't. Whichever, Saint Germanus was in the neighbourhood, and he and his friends turned up at the front door of the fort demanding to see the man. They just wanted to convert him to Christianity. For his own good, you know. It wasn't an evangelical competition to convert the naughtiest pagan they could find or anything. A message was sent to Benlli. He sent back his response: Not Today Thankyou - they could stand on his doorstep for a whole year if they liked, but they weren't coming in.
Well. That night, 'fire fell from heaven and consumed the citadel and all the men that were with the tyrant; they were never seen more'. Sounds very like arson to me. And to add to the suspicious circumstances, Germanus then took it upon himself to make Benlli's swineherd the new king of Powys. Just because he'd been nice to Germanus, made him a cup of tea and agreed to become a Christian. What a set-up.
(Nennius's tale described in vol 2 of 'Lives of the British Saints' by Baring-Gould (1913), p255.)
At the very highest point of the hill (511m), protected by the encircling ramparts, is a burial cairn of an earlier date. With views to die for, this was a fabulous resting place for someone. I can’t help but feel that Moel Famau to the north might have been similarly crowned, before the Jubilee Tower swept away any archaeology. As with many similar cairns, the visible stonework piled in a cone is a modern reconfiguration/addition. The mound proper sits below, with its much wider diameter covered by short turf.
We carry on around the eastern end of the fort’s circumference, until the ground drops sharply once again on the southern slopes. Steps have been built to minimise erosion from the fort’s many visitors. Although Offa’s Dyke Path skirts the western end of the fort, I imagine a lot of people make the short detour to have a look at this magnificent show of Iron Age strength. As we drop back to the path, we meet a group of teenage lads, shouldering enormous rucksacks as they climb the steeply sloping hillside. They are friendly, cheerful and polite, clearly happy to be out in the hills. Perhaps some of the TMAers of the future are in that group? It’s certainly the kind of place to inspire an interest.
"Bronze Age cairn inside Foel Fenlli Hillfort (NPRN96522). Outer circle of compacted earth and stone, approx 12m diameter and 1m high, fairly flat with thin covering of grass. Probably truncated. The centre is surmounted by a modern cairn, a pile of stones 4m diameter and 1m high. Located at the highest point of Foel Fenlli, with panoramic views."