Snowdonia from the Air

Llyn Trawsfynydd

Snowdonia from the Air

The Future

It is common for an hypothesis advanced by one scholar to be quoted by a second without qualification and thus, by degrees, to become accepted as fact. Throughout this section we have tried to draw attention to the many areas of uncertainty in the archaeological and historical record and to distinguish between fact, hypothesis and speculation. This may be regarded by some as tedious, but such an approach is essential if the past is not to be falsified. It is clear that much further study is required if we are to understand the landscape of Snowdonia more clearly. Primary historical and archaeological research is necessarily the work of specialists, but in the identification of local sites, the recording of field names, traditions and oral history, everyone can play a part. If nothing else this can give the individual a sense of place and continuity, too easily lost in our modern world of global communications and influences. But to be studied, at any level, the evidence has to be available. This area is particularly fortunate in having, at Caernarfon, one of the oldest local record offices in Britain and few people would question the need to preserve historical manuscripts and photographs. Archaeological evidence is potentially more vulnerable. The landscape has been likened to a precious book and each site ploughed or cleared away is like tearing up a page. But this is not a plea for total preservation. The landscape is a dynamic and increasingly complex record of how people have lived and worked. The changes described in these pages have all taken place over a period of about 6000 years and, taking a nominal 30 years for each generation, this is little more than 200 generations. Unless one takes a very pessimistic view of the future of the human race, it is clear that man’s impact on this landscape has only just begun. Politicians, developers, countryside bodies, landowners and individuals all have a part to play in learning how to balance the need for conservation against the pressure for change, so that we neither fossilise the present nor unwittingly or unnecessarily destroy the evidence for the past. There are clear implications here for everyone involved in the use and management of the countryside, not least the need to keep a wider perspective, both of the past and of the future.

Ffridd Newydd and Pen y Braich, Garndolbenmaen

Ffridd Newydd and Pen y Braich, Garndolbenmaen © CUCAP TQ 54, 1956

This magnificent Cambridge photograph of 1956 provides a fitting end to this section. There are many examples in Snowdonia of encroachments onto common land, but none into quite such a bleak and stony area as here, on the north-west flank of Y Garn. At the turn of the 18th century squatters settled in increasing numbers on the wastes, often using the traditional concept of ‘caban un nos’ in a futile attempt to establish a right to their encroachments. This movement represents the ultimate stage, before the advent of mechanisation, of man’s efforts to tame this wild landscape. Early in the 19th century it was observed that the encroachments at Garn were ‘made by a very lawless race … setting at defiance all parochial rights’. The 1812 Enclosure Act for this area resulted, as elsewhere, in serious rioting and heavy gaol sentences were imposed.  Even today the inhabitants of Garn are known locally as ‘deunaw mul’. The origin of this term has been forgotten, but a line in a poem tells that ‘the eighteen mules of the people of Garn went before the courts’. This suggests that the name resulted from these events, reflecting the strength and longevity of feeling against the large land-owners and distant authority. Some of the squatters, however, were able to purchase their freehold at a very low rate and if they had no money they could remain as tenants. In the 1838 Tithe Schedule David Griffith of Pen y Braich held just over two acres, assessed at 2/9d, and Griffith Pierce of Ffridd Newydd y Garn, a tenant of William Ormsby Gore, held just over one acre, assessed at 1/8d. These were two of the smallest and poorest holdings in the parish. To quote Colin Gresham’s detailed study of land ownership in Eifionydd ‘The land being taken over was almost worthless in its natural state, but, after years of clearing, fields were created of sufficient quality to support the families working them. The whole district still remains as an epitome of man’s fearful struggle to win a livelihood from barren ground. The sight of the vast quantities of huge boulders and countless stones piled up into massive walls surrounding tiny but fertile enclosures cannot but move the heart of the beholder’.