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Roman practice camps, a little house and a lake full of longing - Helen's journal and online home
heleninwales
heleninwales
Roman practice camps, a little house and a lake full of longing
On Tuesday, we went on another expotition. This was an exploratory walk around an area that neither of us had visited before.

We drove to Trawsfynydd and then took the road that leads across bleak moorland to Bala. A mile or so along the road we found a parking place by a chapel. The chapel seemed to have been converted into a private house, but the parking area was far enough away that it didn't look as though it was part of their property. We put on our boots, crossed the road and headed up a track into a farm yard where we expected to pick up a footpath that headed up into the hills, following a small river.

After a false start where we ended up at a barn, we were put right by a helpful woman who emerged from a caravan in the farmyard. Once on the right path we followed it, rather boggily at times, onwards and upwards.

The terrain in this area is completely different to the wooded valleys near home and also nothing like the very craggy landscape of the mountains actually close to Snowdon. In fact it always reminds me of Scotland, but that's probably because that's where I met this sort of upland blanket bog for the first time.

Distant snowy peaks

There were some beautiful clumps of bright mosses, many different species all growing together and covering the rocks in a soft wet green cushion. Eventually, after negotiating just a couple of fences (fortunately plain wire and not barbed) and fording one stream, we reached our destination, the ruins of the smallholding called Dolddinas.

Ruined cottage

Dolddinas is a tŷ bach, which means a small house and beside it was a lovely example of a tŷ bach.

Tŷ bach

The toilet (bathroom to Americans!) is still called a "tŷ bach" in Welsh and this photo shows very clearly why it got that name. Just to clarify, you say "tŷ bach" slightly differently when you are referring to a small house than when you mean toilet. In the first case the stress is on the word "tŷ" (house), in the second case, the words are run together so the emphasis ends up more on the final syllable.

I don't know when the little cottage was abandoned and left to fall into ruin, but the book on local archaeology published in 1967 says it "has for some years been deserted and will soon fall into ruin." It is a very isolated spot and you can see how low the cottage has been built. It hunches in a sheltered spot with its back to the prevailing wind. It's not actually the cottage that is of archaeological interest. It's the Roman practice camps that lie in the fields alongside that are the thing we've actually come to see -- and the rocks, of course, for the geology book.

Roman practice camps

If you use a bit of imagination, you can just about see that the longer marsh grasses in that bright green field are growing in squares. That's all that remains of the practice camps. These were built beside a Roman Road running from Tomen-y-Mur to Caer Gai and would have been constructed at various times by parties of soldiers from the fort as part of their training in military field-works. They were initially discovered via study of aerial photos, because as you can see, if you weren't looking for them, you wouldn't spot them. Though as the archaeology book says, the name Dolddinas (Meadow of the City) might have been a clue that there was something there worth investigating.

As I think I've mentioned before, Welsh place names are usually very mundane and descriptive, though occasionally they wander into more poetic territory. The small river running by the camp is the Afon Llafar. Llafar means verbal, colloquial, spoken or vocal, so I'm not sure whether this particular river is more talkative than the usual babbling brook.

And this brings me to the next location of interest. After we left the ruined cottage we headed across the moorland to the next valley where we eventually found a faint path that brought us to Llyn Hiraethlyn.

Llyn Hiraethlyn

This is another slightly odd name as it means "Lake Longing-yearning-lake". "Hiraeth" is the supposedly untranslatable Welsh word that means a feeling of "grief, pining, homesickness, longing, nostalgia and wistfulness". So it's not actually untranslatable, it's just that English doesn't have one single word for an emotion that encompasses all those feelings at once, whereas Welsh does.

From here we followed an actual footpath down to the track of an old railway line which we then followed back to the farm just by where we'd left the car. We were accompanied down through the final field by a tiny pony, a grey and white Shetland that seemed to think we should be providing treats or at least company.

A final photo taken just before we descended to the old railway line.

Thorn tree

Remarkably the weather remained dry until we were back in the car, though as you can see it was very grey and brooding.
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Comments
grey853 From: grey853 Date: November 13th, 2016 05:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
All the stone work is fascinating. We don't have those kind of things often here in the States. Most of the older buildings and cottages were made from logs or cut wood, not stone. Thanks for sharing the pictures.
lizziebelle From: lizziebelle Date: November 13th, 2016 06:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
One of the things I love about New England is that we *do* have those sorts of things, just not as old. :)
grey853 From: grey853 Date: November 13th, 2016 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I live in the South, so about the only older stonework we sometimes see is a fence, but not the buildings.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: November 14th, 2016 04:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
There is just so much stone lying around this area that it was a natural choice for a building material. The remains of houses thousands of years old show that people have always built with stone round here.
lizziebelle From: lizziebelle Date: November 13th, 2016 06:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
What a lovely, lonely place. How old is the house?
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: November 14th, 2016 04:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
That is a very good question. I'd say it's probably been abandoned for something like 100 years, though it could be a little less. The small holdings that continued to thrive usually replaced the original low cottage with something a little larger and more comfortable. As to when it was built, it could have been any time really during the past couple of hundred years. Best guess (and it is totally a guess) would be early 1800s.
kaishin108 From: kaishin108 Date: November 13th, 2016 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fascinating post! Especially about the ty bachs. Thank you for sharing!
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: November 14th, 2016 04:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
The tŷ bach had been built over a small stream, so it had natural drainage. I'm not sure about putting human waste directly into a stream though. Fine for this cottage, but not for anyone downstream!
coth From: coth Date: November 14th, 2016 05:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Lovely photos. Lovely day.
puddleshark From: puddleshark Date: November 14th, 2016 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wonderful photos. There's nothing quite as desolate as upland bog. I do miss that sort of landscape now I no longer get to visit the mountains.

I knew the two meanings of "tŷ bach", but I never knew that about the two different pronunciations. I suppose there might have been misunderstandings otherwise!
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