History of Hiraethog - The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages only the very hardy and resourceful could live in Hiraethog - everything had to be produced locally but this was a big challenge given the windswept landscape, thin soils and boggy ground.
The traditional agricultural way of life was based around ‘hendref’ (winter dwellings) and ‘hafod’ (summer dwellings). It worked like this:
After the ploughing and sowing of the lowland fields in the spring, traditionally on May Day (Calan Mai), cattle were driven to the grazing land on upland pastures so that hay could be cropped from the lowland meadows. Some of the family would move to a temporary home - the ‘hafod’ (summer dwelling) to tend the animals, make butter and cheese, and to cut peat for cooking and keeping warm. The family would traditionally return to the hendref (winter dwelling) on All Saint’s Day (Calan Gaeaf) 1 November.
This farming pattern started during pre-historic times and only fell into decline in the middle of the 18th century when sheep became important for both the meat and the wool and stocking numbers increased. The need to contain sheep on the moor led to the creation of large enclosures, called ffriddoedd (mountain pasture). With the sheep came new industries - spinning, weaving and knitting stockings which became the principal activity of the local woman folk.
Small scale cultivation of crops took place in some areas, mostly oats and barley, and as a result, Mynydd Hiraethog retained its unenclosed common land well into the 19th century.
The moors were an inhospitable landscape to cross and people travelled by foot or oxcart along the few tracks and paths linking the settlements. A major step forward came in the 1820/1830s with the opening of the turnpike road between Pentrefoelas and Denbigh. Built with stone from local quarries the new route was described in 1833 as an “excellent road … recently constructed … across the mountains”. It must have made life a lot easier!
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