FARM & COUNTRY: Boundaries Stand the Test of Time; Wales' Rich History Can Be Read in Its Traditional Walls, Ditches and Cloddiau. Richard Kelly Takes a Tour
Byline: Richard Kelly
TRADITIONAL boundaries: we simply do not know very much about them, except that they are widespread and it would be very difficult to imagine many parts of our countryside without them!
Boundaries were primarily built to enclose and protect an area of land for crop or stock raising, but they also provided shelter, gave protection from flooding and prevented erosion.
However, as an archaeologist, I am more interested in the function of boundaries as territorial markers showing who owned or controlled the land.
This is equally important today, as every farmer knows to keep his "clawdd terfyn" (boundary wall) in good condition!
In medieval times, boundaries delimited administrative areas as well as land held in different types of ownership.
They also controlled access, keeping people and animals away from crops and other animals.
Some country lanes in Wales have their origins in the prehistoric period, when the seasonal movement of people and stock first became established.
In time this "hafod and hendref" system would see many of the tracks and lanes crossing rising ground become over-deepened and sunken. The narrow country lanes descending off the Clwydian Hills into the Vale of Clwyd below are remarkable examples.
Boundaries were not always built: the manner in which land was communally organised in many parts of medieval Wales meant many arable areas were organised into open fields.
These fields were open in the sense there were no physical barriers to negotiate. But where one holding started and another ended was apparent in the linear strips into which the open fields were divided.
The two best known survivals of this can be seen at the Vile open field system on the Gower, and in the area around the village of Llannon, in Ceredigion.
There are many more survivals in Wales, especially where the open strips were later bounded off into fields, as occurred, for example, at Uwchmynydd on the Llyn Peninsula.
The earliest reference to an administrative boundary is the name of "Wales" itself, which is derived from the Latin word "wallia" - a wall.
This meant that the area known as Wales, and its early Welsh inhabitants were, quite literally, "outside the walls" of the Roman city of London.
Of greater linguistic significance is the fact that many Welsh words for traditional boundaries, like "wal" (wall), "clawdd" (earth bank), "gwrych" (hedge) and "gweirglodd" (enclosed meadow), have recognisably similar equivalents in Cornish, which split as a separate language from Welsh in the 7th to 8th centuries.
The implication is that many of the land use patterns and surviving terminology could well have their origins in the pre-Roman, Celtic period.
The archaeological evidence bears this out and the division of land by boundaries was certainly a feature of the Bronze Age landscape on Dartmoor, where a system of reeves has been found over vast tracts of the moor. …