Preseli Hills

The Preseli Hills or, as they are known locally and historically, Preseli Mountains (Welsh: Mynyddoedd y Preseli / Y Preselau English: /prəˈsɛli/, prə-SEL-ee) is a range of hills in north Pembrokeshire, west Wales, mostly within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

The range stretches from the proximity of Newport in the west to Crymych in the east, some 13 miles (21 km) in extent. The ancient 8 miles (13 km) of track along the top of the range is known as the Golden Road.[1][2]

The Preselis have a diverse ecosystem, many prehistoric sites, and are a popular tourist destination.

Name variations

A peak is spelt Percelye on a 1583 map, and more recent maps show the range as Presely or Mynydd Prescelly. The etymology is unknown, but is likely to involve Welsh prys, meaning "wood, bush, copse".[3] A number of other peaks are shown on the 1583 map, but the only other named peak is Wrennyvaur (now Frenni Fawr). An 1819 Ordnance Survey Map refers to the range as Precelly Mountain (singular).[4][5]


The hills are formed largely from the Ordovician age marine mudstones and siltstones of the Penmaen Dewi Shales and Aber Mawr Shale formations which have been intruded by microgabbro (otherwise known as dolerite or diabase) of Ordovician age. The former slate quarries at Rosebush on the southern edge of the hills worked the Aber Mawr Formation rocks whilst it is the dolerite tors of Carnmenyn which have been postulated, amongst other localities, as the source of the Stonehenge ‘bluestones’. In contrast Foel Drygarn towards the eastern end of the range is formed from tuffs and lavas of the Fishguard Volcanic Group. Further east is Frenni Fawr which is formed from mudstones and sandstones of the Nantmel Mudstone Formation of late Ordovician Ashgill age. The sedimentary rocks dip generally northwards and are cut by numerous geological faults. Cwm Gwaun is a major glacial meltwater channel which divides the northern tops such as Mynydd Carningli from the main mass of the hills.[6]


The hills, much of which are unenclosed moorland or low-grade grazing with areas of bog, are surrounded by farmland and active or deserted farms. Field boundaries tend to be earth banks topped with fencing and stock-resistant plants such as gorse.[7] Rosebush Reservoir, one of only two reservoirs in Pembrokeshire, supplies water to southern Pembrokeshire and is a brown trout fishery[8] located on the southern slopes of the range near the village of Rosebush. To the south is Llys y Fran reservoir. There are no natural lakes in the hills, but a number of rivers, including the Gwaun, Nevern, Syfynwy and Tâf have their sources in the range.[9]


The principal peak at 1,759 feet (536 m) above sea level is Foel Cwmcerwyn. There are 14 other peaks over 980 feet (300 m) of which three exceed 1,300 feet (400 m).[5]

Foel Cwmcerwyn536 m (1,759 ft)Highest peak; cairns; disused quarry
Cerrig Lladron468 m (1,535 ft)Bronze Age stone row
Foel Feddau467 m (1,532 ft)
Carn Siân402 m (1,319 ft)
Frenni Fawr395 m (1,296 ft)Tumuli; see also Blaenffos
Mynydd Bach374 m (1,227 ft)Stone circle, standing stone, tumulus[10]
Foel Dyrch368 m (1,207 ft)
Carn Menyn365 m (1,198 ft)Bluestones (on the far ridge)
Foel Drygarn363 m (1,191 ft)Hill fort (English: Three Cairns)
Crugiau Dwy359 m (1,178 ft)Preseli transmitting station
Mynydd Carningli347 m (1,138 ft)
Mynydd Castlebythe347 m (1,138 ft)
Waun Mawn339 m (1,112 ft)
Mynydd Cilciffeth335 m (1,099 ft)
Mynydd Melyn307 m (1,007 ft)


Villages and other settlements within the range include Blaenffos, Brynberian, Crosswell, Crymych, Cwm Gwaun, Dinas Cross, Glandy Cross, Mynachlog-ddu, New Inn, Pentre Galar, Puncheston, Maenclochog, Rosebush and Tafarn-y-Bwlch. The principal town in the area is Newport, at the foot of the Carningli-Dinas upland.[5]

Natural history and land use

The Preselis provide hill grazing for much of the year and there is some forestry. As well as features of interest to geologists and archaeologists, the hills have a wide variety of bird, insect and plant life. There are three sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs): Carn Ingli and Waun Fawr (biological), and Cwm Dewi (geological). The Preseli transmitting station mast, erected in 1962, stands on Crugiau Dwy near the hamlet of Pentre Galar. To the south of Crugiau Dwy is the extensively quarried hill Carn Wen (Garnwen Quarry) which was still actively extracting igneous rock in 2018.[11]

The Preselis have Special Area of Conservation status; the citation states that the area is "... exceptional in Wales for the combination of upland and lowland features...". Numerous scarce plant and insect species exist in the hills.[12] The hills are the most important site in Wales for the declining Southern damselfly, and efforts to restore habitat were underway in 2015.[13]

Communications and access

One major road, the A478, crosses the eastern end of the range, reaching a height of 248 metres (814 ft). Two B-class roads, intersecting at New Inn, cross the hills: the B4313 NW-SE, reaching 278 metres (912 ft) and the B4329 NE-SW, reaching 404 metres (1,325 ft) at Bwlch-Gwynt (translation: windy gap). These, and a number of other minor roads and lanes, provide scenic routes popular with motoring, cycling and walking tourists. The A487 road skirts the western end of the range, near Newport.[9] Cattle grids prevent egress of grazing stock from unenclosed areas of the hills.

The hills are popular with walkers wishing to follow prehistoric trails,[14] with walks varying from easy to long-distance. The larger part of the hills is designated under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 as 'open country' thereby enabling walkers the 'freedom to roam' across unenclosed land, subject to certain restrictions. An east-west bridleway which runs the length of the main massif, together with spurs to north and south, gives access to mountain bikers and horseriders.[15] There are cycle trails.[16] Paragliding is not permitted without the consent of the land owners, who in 2014 collectively agreed not to allow it.[17]

Other features

Castell Henllys, on the A487 road between Eglwyswrw and Felindre Farchog is a reconstructed Iron Age settlement, illustrating what life may have been like in those times.[18]


Pollen analysis suggests that the hills were once forested but the forests had been cleared by the late Bronze Age.[12]

The Preselis are dotted with prehistoric remains, including evidence of Neolithic settlement. More were revealed in an aerial survey during the 2018 heatwave.[19]


In 1923 the petrologist Herbert Henry Thomas proposed that bluestone from the hills corresponded to that used to build the inner circle of Stonehenge,[20] and later geologists suggested that Carn Menyn (formerly called Carn Meini) was one of the bluestone sources.[21] Recent geological work has shown this theory to be incorrect. [22] It is now thought that the bluestones at Stonehenge and fragments of bluestone found in the Stonehenge "debitage" have come from multiple sources on the northern flanks of the hills,[23] such as at Craig Rhos-y-felin.[24] Advanced details of a recent contribution to the puzzle of the precise origin of the Stonehenge bluestones were published by the BBC in November 2013.[25]

Others theorise that bluestone from the area was deposited close to Stonehenge by glaciation.[26] More detailed discussions on the bluestone topic can be found in the Stonehenge, Theories about Stonehenge and Carn Menyn articles.

Individual sites

The hills are rich in sacred and prehistoric sites,[7] many of which are marked on Ordnance Survey maps.[9] They include burial chambers, tumuli, hill forts, hut circles, stone circles, henges, standing stones and other prehistoric remains. These sites are spread across a number of communities that share parts of the Preseli range. In 2010, Dyfed Archaeological Trust carried out a comprehensive survey of historic sites in the Preseli Hills for Cadw.[27]

Some of the more notable are -

Others include -

  • Banc Du (evidence of prehistoric settlement)
  • Carn Alw (Neolithic settlement)[27]
  • Carn Goedog (bluestones and standing stone)[31]
  • Cerrig Lladron (Bronze Age stone row)[32]
  • Foel Drygarn (hillfort)[33][34]
  • Foel Cwmcerwyn (tumuli)
  • Frenni Fach & Frenni Fawr (tumuli - see also Blaenffos)
  • Glandy Cross (prehistoric remains)
  • Glyn Gath (tumulus)
  • Gors Fawr (stone circle)[35]
  • Mynyedd Melyn (hut circle)[36]
  • Parc-y-Meirw (standing stones)[37]
  • Rhos fach (standing stones)[38]
  • Tafarn y Bwlch (mountain pass and standing stones)[39]
  • Tre-Fach (standing stone, prehistoric camp)
  • Ty-Meini (standing stone, known as "The Lady Stone"[40])
  • Waun Mawn (standing stones).[41]

Dyfed Archaeological Trust has produced extensive notes on the mountain range and surrounding features and villages.[7]


Slate quarrying was once an important industry in the Preseli Hills; the former quarries, worked for much of the 19th century, can still be seen in a number of locations such as Rosebush.[42] Preseli slate was not of roofing quality, but its density made it ideal for machining for building and crafts.[43] Most quarries had closed by the 1930s[44] but there is a workshop at Llangolman where slate is still used to make a variety of craft items.

During the Second World War, the War Office used the Preseli Hills extensively for training exercises by British and American air and ground forces.[45][46] Its proposed continued use after the war was the subject of a two-year ultimately successful protest by local leaders.[47] The success of the protest was commemorated 60 years on, in 2009, with a plaque at each end of the Golden Road: one at the foot of Foel Drygarn near Mynachlog-ddu, and the other near the B4329 at Bwlch y Gwynt.[48]

In 2000 Terry Breverton, a lecturer at Cardiff University, in promoting a book he had published, suggested that the rock star Elvis Presley's ancestors came from the Preseli Hills and may have had links to a chapel at St Elvis.[49][50]


  1. "BBC: Wales nature and outdoors". BBC. Retrieved 22 Nov 2013.
  2. "The Golden Road". Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority. Retrieved 22 Nov 2013.
  3. Mills, David (20 Oct 2011). A Dictionary of British Place-Names (Illustrated, Reprint, Revised ed.). OUP Oxford. p. 376. ISBN 9780199609086. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  4. "Penbrok comitat". British Library. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  5. OS One inch 7th series map sheet 138/151 Fishguard and Pembroke 1965
  6. British Geological Survey 2010 Fishguard England and Wales Sheet 210 Bedrock and Superficial deposits 1:50,000 (Keyworth, Nottingham, BGS)
  7. "Dyfed Archaeological Trust: Preseli". Retrieved 4 Apr 2014.
  8. "Rosebush Reservoir". Retrieved 28 Apr 2014.
  9. OS Landranger Series, Map 145 Cardigan & Mynydd Preseli 2007
  10. "Dyfed Archaeological Trust - Mynydd Bach". Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  11. "South Wales Regional Aggregates Working Party". Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  12. "Mynydd Preseli - Countryside Council for Wales". Retrieved 28 Apr 2014.
  13. "Conservationists restore habitat for endangered species". Western Telegraph. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  14. "Dyfed Archaeology: Mynydd Carningli - Mynydd Melyn" (PDF). Retrieved 27 Apr 2014.
  15. Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Explorer mapping
  16. "pembrokeshire County Council: Preseli Stones Trail". Retrieved 25 August 2019.
  17. "Paragliders banned from Preseli Hills". Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  18. "Pembrokeshire Coast National Park: Castell Henllys". Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  19. "Heatwave crop marks reveal 200 ancient sites in Wales". BBC News. 28 December 2018. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  20. Thomas, H.H. (1923). The source of the stones of Stonehenge. Antiquaries Journal 3, 239-260.
  21. "Archaeologists Figure Out Mystery of Stonehenge Bluestones". WalesOnline. 2005. Retrieved 20 Nov 2013.
  22. Ixer, R.A. and Bevins, R.E. (2013). Chips off the old block: the Stonehenge debitage dilemma. Archaeology in Wales 52 11-22.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  23. Bevins, R.E., Ixer, R.A., Webb, P.C. and Watson, J.S. (2012). Provenancing the rhyolitic and dacitic components of the stonehenge landscape bluestone lithology: New petrographical and geochemical evidence. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39 (4). p. 1005–1019.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  24. "Stonehenge 'bluestone' quarries confirmed 140 miles away in Wales". University College London. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  25. Neil Prior (19 November 2013). "Another piece in Stonehenge rock source puzzle". BBC News. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  26. Thorpe, R.S; et al. (1991). The geological sources and transport of the bluestones of Stonehenge, Wiltshire. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 57, 103-57.
  27. Scheduling Enhancement Project 2010: Prehistoric Sites Fieldwork - Pembrokeshire (PDF). Retrieved 27 Apr 2014.
  28. coflein NPRN: 284. DAT PRN: 1021. Cadw SAM: PE464: Bedd Arthur
  29. coflein NPRN: not yet identified. DAT PRN not yet identified. Cadw SAM: PE011: Carn Ingli Camp
  30. coflein NPRN: 304320. DAT PRN: 1462. Cadw SAM: PE056: Carreg Coetan Burial Chamber
  31. "Carn Goedog standing stone". Retrieved 27 Apr 2014.
  32. coflein NPRN: 403808. DAT PRN: 11129. Cadw SAM: PE496: Cerrig Lladron stone row
  33. "The Megalithic Portal: Foel Drygarn". Retrieved 22 Nov 2013.
  34. "Pembrokeshire Virtual Museum - Foel Drygarn". Retrieved 27 Apr 2014.
  35. "Gors Fawr Stone Circle". Retrieved 27 Apr 2014.
  36. "Archaeology in Wales: Mynydd Melyn". Retrieved 27 Apr 2014.
  37. "Parc y Meirw Stone Row". Retrieved 27 Apr 2014.
  38. "Dyfed Archaeological Trust: Rhos Fach". Retrieved 27 Apr 2014.
  39. "Geograph: Tafarn y Bwlch from Eglwyswrw (photograph)". Retrieved 27 Apr 2014.
  40. Lloyd; et al. (2004). Pembrokeshire. Yale University Press. p. 184.
  41. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire, Vol.VII. Royal Commission. 1925. p. 260.
  42. "Pembrokeshire Virtual Museum - Rosebush". Retrieved 29 Apr 2014.
  43. Richards, A.J. (1998). The Slate Quarries of Pembrokeshire. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. ISBN 0863814840.
  44. The Slate Industry in Pembrokeshire. Pembrokeshire Record Office. 2004.
  45. "Pembrokeshire Military History Guide". Retrieved 23 June 2014.
  46. "Dyfed Archaeological Trust: Twentieth Century Military Sites: Camps and Ranges in Preseli District" (PDF). Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  47. Wyn, Hefin (2008). Battle of the Preselau. ISBN 978-0-9549931-3-9.(editions in Welsh and English)
  48. "Preseli freedom walk". Tivyside Advertiser. 7 May 2009. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  49. Ezard, John (2 June 2000). "'Saintly' Elvis Presili hailed as a son of Wales". The Guardian. London.
  50. "Elvis the King of Cymru". BBC News. 5 June 2000. Retrieved 25 August 2019.

Further reading

  • Downes, John. Field observations in the geology and geomorphology of the Preseli hills of north Pembrokeshire. Open University Geological Society Journal, Volume 32 (1–2) 2011, pp 17-21

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