The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB is situated in North East Wales, 80% of it being in Denbighshire, 10% in Flintshire and 10% Wrexham County. It is a landscape shaped by man through time with spectacular Iron Age hillforts, the iconic landmarks of Moel Famau and its Jubilee Tower, Castell Dinas Bran, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct Worls Heritage Site and canal plus the Eglwyseg limestone escarpment Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley landscape is characterised by a sweep of purple heather clad mountains falling to green pasture valleys. It is a gentle, welcoming landscape, less rugged than the mountains of Snowdonia, but equally beautiful and equally cherished.
Extending from the hillside above Prestatyn in the North the area extends some 40 miles south to the remote Berwyn Mountain, encompassing the Clwydian Range, Esclusham, Eglwyseg, Ruabon and Llantysilio Mountain. In the southern area from Chirk in the east to Corwen 20 miles to the west.
These mountains tell the story of changing climates and environments, ancient deep seas and later shallow tropical seas, earth forces and ice. 420 million years ago (the Silurian Period), Wales lay in the southern hemisphere. The mudstones, siltstones and sandstones that now make up the Clwydian Range and Llantysilio Mountains were once mud, silt and sand that were deposited in a deep sea called the Welsh Basin. Around 100 million years later (350 million years ago, the Lower Carboniferous) Wales had moved northwards and was positioned just south of the equator and was covered by a shallow tropical sea, rich in life, which led to rich limestone deposits. The limestone escarpment seen today at Eglwyseg, Loggerheads and Bryn Alyn are spectacular geological landforms within the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley landscape that support a special community of rare plant and animals. The landscape was later radically reshaped by ice, with erratic rocks (large stones) for example from the Arenig area near Bala found at Penycloddiau.
It is an area that has inspired people over centuries, with the earliest evidence of human occupation recorded at Ffynnon Beuno Caves at Tremeirchion through the discovery of stone tools dating from almost 30,000 years ago (40,000 in Ian Brown’s book). The caves of the Clwydian Range kept the secret of these very different times, with finds such as hyena, mammoth and lynx bones, mammals who use to roam this landscape.
One of the most spectacular and oldest, manmade features within the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley is that of Gop Cairn, near Trelawnyd, the largest artificial mound in Wales and the second largest artificial mound in Britain, after Silbury Hill. Truly Remarkable. The spectacular chain of Iron Age Hillforts on the hilltops are likewise inspiring and a testament to the hard work and sophistication of the Celtic tribes. Indeed the area holds one of the highest concentrations of Iron Age Hillforts in Europe, including some of the largest and most famous in Wales, each one worthy of a visit.
The remains we see today at Caer Drewyn, Moel y Gaer (Llantysilio), Moel Fenlli, Moel Arthur, Moel y Gaer (Llanbedr) and Penycloddiau would have been especially imposing structures within the landscape when first built around 2,500 years ago. The hillforts are enclosures and are the earliest settlements seen within the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley.
It is also the landscape of princes and castles. Owain Glyndwr, the Prince of Wales, originated from the area around Glyndyfrdwy and it is here the remains of Owain Glyndwr’s Motte can still be seen. Glyndwr is heralded as a Welsh hero and led the rebellion against the English. Welsh culture is still very important to the area, with the Welsh language spoken within local communities. Welsh place names such as Croes yr Esgob (Bishop’s Cross) and Llwybr y Fuwch (path of the Cows) tells part of the landscape’s story.
Whilst Owain Glyndwr was very much a Welsh Prince Chirk Castle was built on land gifted to Roger Mortimer by Edward the 1st in recognition of his services in overcoming the Welsh Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282. Later Roger Mortimer swapped sides and ended his life as a prisoner in the Tower of London. The National Trust enables people to visit this majestic medieval castle today and even provides the opportunity to meet some medieval knights.
Further down the valley above Llangollen is another medieval castle, Castell Dinas Bran, of Welsh origins, built by Gruffydd ap Madog in 1260. The Castle provides spectacular views over the Dee Valley and to the geolandscape of the Eglwyseg Escarpment. The castle ruins are a cherished landmark as captured by the landscape artists Turner and Richard Wilson.
Man’s more recent achievements continue to captivate us. In 1875, the first stone was laid for Thomas Telford’s magnificent Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a feat of engineering, which was given prestigious World Heritage Site status in 2009.
Today the uplands of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley supports scarce heather moorland habitat, which is home to species such as the black grouse, red grouse and mountain bee. On lower land broadleaved woodlands provide a different habitat and is home to species such as the dormouse. The river corridors of the Dee and Alyn also host a special community of plants and animals. Fresh water pearl mussels, Atlantic salmon and the otter are all valued species that can be found on the River Dee.
People have been drawn to the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley over centuries, with popular destinations being Loggerheads, Moel Famau, the Jubilee Tower, Llangollen and the Horseshoe Pass. The Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail runs through the area, from Chirk to the Dee Valley, the Clwydian Range and Prestatyn. It is a spectacular section of the 177 mile long National Trail between Chepstow to Prestatyn, which follows the Welsh Marches.
People continue to come to enjoy these remarkable landscapes today. However, it is not a landscape preserved in aspic. It is a living working landscape. Farming is an important industry to the area, which has partly shaped the landscape and the continuation of that management is vital to the landscape in the future.
The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley is without a doubt a truly special landscape. Discover this landscape and help keep it special with Friends of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley.