Until 2012 virtually nothing was known about Caerau Hillfort, but since then and with local people at the heart of discovery, this beautiful monument has been revealed to be of international significance.
Community excavations since 2012 have shown that Caerau has an exciting and rare archaeological heritage. During the Neolithic or Stone Age (c.3,600BC) a causewayed enclosure was built on the hilltop. These are an extremely rare type of monument and represent the earliest known examples of the enclosure of open space in Britain, providing places for communities to gather, feast and perform rituals. Caerau Hillfort was built around 600BC at the beginning of the Iron Age.
Three enormous, concentric ramparts were constructed surrounding the hilltop while the interior was intensively occupied by a population probably of a few hundred people who lived in timber roundhouses. The hilltop was clearly an important place for many centuries after the hillfort fell out of use. Excavations have shown there was a Roman settlement on the hill, while in the north-east corner of the hillfort a small ringwork castle was built in the Middle Ages adjacent to St. Mary’s church whose origins date back to at least the 13th century.
There are surprisingly few historical accounts of Caerau, despite its obvious significance as a place of power and settlement for several millennia. Antiquarian interest was sparked by Iolo Morgannwg who asserted that there was an ancient place of worship at the site of ‘Y Gaerau’ whose construction he attributed to the 7th century king Gweirydd ap Brochfael. Other scholars have suggested the site may be ‘Cairduicil’ mentioned in the Book of Llandaff.
St. Mary’s church was certainly a prebend of Llandaff Cathedral by the 13th century, but the interior of the hillfort has been farmland since at least the 1600s after which Church Farm was constructed adjacent to the church. In the early 20th century Caerau House was built on the southern slopes immediately beneath the Iron Age ramparts and a series of paths were constructed in the woodland. From the 1930s to 1970s the hillfort was the location for annual festivities known as the ‘Whitsun Treat’ where, on Whit Monday, the local community came together for a fair, games and sporting events.
Image credit: Tony Haycock
Nature and wildlife
Caerau Hillfort is home to a varied range of flora and fauna. The centre of the site is private farmland given over to the pasture of cattle and horses, but the hillfort ramparts and much of the lower slopes are freely accessible and covered by beautiful semi-ancient woodland. The main tree species are oak, ash and beech with hazel coppice understory.
The woodland has a lush floor of ferns and mosses augmented in the spring by carpets of wildflowers such as bluebells, wood anemone, celandine and wild garlic. There is a good population of bats, including Pippestrelle and Lesser Horseshoe, as well as a range of woodland birds. Grassy areas on the fringes of the woodland provide habitats for slow worms and other reptile species.
Image credit: Vivian Thomas
CAER Heritage is a collaboration between ACE, Cardiff University, local schools, residents and many others. Its aim is to explore the history and archaeology of Caerau Hillfort and the surrounding area, helping to connect wider communities with their heritage and develop educational and new-life opportunities.
ACE – Action in Caerau and Ely
Our Place: Dusty Forge
460 Cowbridge Road West
02920 0031 32