Preseli Hills

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Northern moorlands of the Preseli Hills, near Carn Ingli, Pembrokeshire
refer to caption
The Preseli Hills are the elevated areas to the north-east of Pembrokeshire. Inset shows location of Pembrokeshire in Wales.
Highest part of range labelled within Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
1819 Ordnance Survey map of Pembrokeshire
refer to caption
The western Preselis viewed from the northeast
grey stone blocks of bluestone
View from Carn Menyn eastwards towards Foel Drygarn (centre-left) and Y Frenni (centre-right) in the distance

The Preseli Hills (English: /prəˈsɛli/, prə-SEL-ee), known locally and historically as the Preseli Mountains (Welsh: Mynyddoedd y Preseli or Y Preselau), is a range of hills in western 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 highest point at 1,759 feet (536 m) above sea level is Foel Cwmcerwyn. 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. There are scattered settlements and small villages; the uplands provide extensive unenclosed grazing, and the lower slopes are mainly enclosed pasture.

Slate quarrying was once an important industry. More recently, igneous rock is being extracted. The Preselis have Special Area of Conservation status, and there are three sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).

Name variations[edit]

A peak is spelt Percelye on a 1578 parish 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 1578 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] An 1833 publication stated: the ancient Welsh Preswylva, signifying "a place of residence",[6] but does not cite any evidence.


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.[7]


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.[8] Rosebush Reservoir, one of only two reservoirs in Pembrokeshire, supplies water to southern Pembrokeshire and is a brown trout fishery[9] 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.[10]


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]

Peak Height Image Notes and features
Foel Cwmcerwyn 536 m (1,759 ft)
Moorland with view of Foel Cwmcerwyn - - 1447660.jpg
Highest peak; cairns; disused quarry
Cerrig Lladron 468 m (1,535 ft)
Fagwyr Goch and Cerrig Lladron - - 640997.jpg
Bronze Age stone row
Foel Feddau 467 m (1,532 ft)
Foel Feddau - - 1433497.jpg
Carn Siân 402 m (1,319 ft)
Carn Siân, Preseli Mountains - - 259497.jpg
Frenni Fawr 395 m (1,296 ft)
Frenni Fawr from the southeast - - 191718.jpg
Tumuli; see also Blaenffos
Mynydd Bach 374 m (1,227 ft)
Foel Dyrch 368 m (1,207 ft)
Ruins on the south side of Foel Dyrch - - 1026506.jpg
Carn Menyn 365 m (1,198 ft)
Carn Menyn from Eglwyswrw - - 1435904.jpg
Bluestones (on the far ridge)
Foel Drygarn 363 m (1,191 ft)
Foel Drygarn 527375.jpg
Hill fort (meaning: three cairns)
Crugiau Dwy 359 m (1,178 ft)
Television mast, Gwarllwyn Wood - - 527384.jpg
(meaning: Two barrows) Preseli transmitting station
Mynydd Carningli 347 m (1,138 ft)
Carn Ingli from Newport Beach - - 296538.jpg
Mynydd Castlebythe 347 m (1,138 ft)
June in Wales - - 455244.jpg
Waun Mawn 339 m (1,112 ft)
Standing stone and lying stone near Cnwc yr Hydd - - 4213876.jpg
Mynydd Cilciffeth 335 m (1,099 ft)
Heather in the grazings on Mynydd Cilciffeth - - 628512.jpg
Mynydd Melyn 307 m (1,007 ft)
Prehistoric hut circles on the flank of Mynydd Melyn - - 199943.jpg


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 only town in the Preseli area is Newport, at the foot of the Carningli-Dinas upland in the northwest of the range.[5]

Natural history and land use[edit]

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] For example, they are an important UK site for the rare Southern damselfly, Coenagrion mercuriale,[13] where efforts to restore habitat were underway in 2015[14] and reported in 2020 to have been a success.[15]

Communications and access[edit]

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.[10] Cattle grids prevent egress of grazing stock from unenclosed areas of the hills.

The hills are popular with walkers wishing to follow prehistoric trails,[16] 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 (known as Flemings' Way[17] or the Golden Road[1]), together with spurs to north and south, gives access to mountain bikers and horseriders.[18] There are cycle trails.[19] Paragliding is not permitted without the consent of the land owners, who in 2014 collectively agreed not to allow it.[20]

Other features[edit]

refer to caption
Castell Henllys reconstructed Iron Age fort

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.[21]


The Preselis are dotted with prehistoric remains, including evidence of Neolithic settlement. More were revealed in an aerial survey during the 2018 heatwave.[22]

Samuel Lewis's A Topographical Dictionary of Wales published in 1833 said of Maenclochog parish:

Part of the Precelly mountain, which is the highest in South Wales... the ancient Welsh name of this mountain is Preswylva, signifying "a place of residence," and is derived from its having been the resort of the natives, as a place of security, in the intestine [sic] wars by which this part of the principality was agitated during the earlier periods of its history. This mountain was anciently well clothed with forest timber, affording shelter to such as took refuge in its recesses, but now presents a bare and sterile aspect, dreary in its appearance, and exhibiting some small vestiges of ancient encampments, which were probably those constructed by the natives.[23]

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


refer to caption
Carn Menyn bluestones

In 1923 the petrologist Herbert Henry Thomas proposed that bluestone from the hills corresponded to that used to build the inner circle of Stonehenge,[24] and later geologists suggested that Carn Menyn (formerly called Carn Meini) was one of the bluestone sources.[25] Recent geological work has shown this theory to be incorrect.[26] 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,[27] such as at Craig Rhos-y-felin.[28] 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.[29]

Others theorise that bluestone from the area was deposited close to Stonehenge by glaciation.[30] More detailed discussions on the bluestone topic can be found in the Stonehenge, Theories about Stonehenge and Carn Menyn articles.

Further investigations have pointed to a link between Waun Mawn (see below) and the Stonehenge bluestones.[31]

Individual sites[edit]

Bedd Arthur standing stones
Carreg Coetan burial chamber
An upright stone with lichen amongst greenery in the foreground with undulating scenery in the distance behind
Cerrig Lladron standing stone

The hills are rich in sacred and prehistoric sites,[8] many of which are marked on Ordnance Survey maps.[10] 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.[32] The Trust has produced extensive notes on the mountain range and surrounding features and villages.[8][17]

Some of the more notable are:

Others include:

  • Banc Du (evidence of prehistoric settlement)
  • Carn Alw (Neolithic settlement)[32]
  • Carn Goedog (bluestones and standing stone)[36]
  • Cerrig Lladron (Bronze Age stone row)[37]
  • Foel Drygarn (hillfort)[38][39]
  • Foel Cwmcerwyn (tumuli)
  • Frenni Fach & Frenni Fawr (tumuli - see also Blaenffos)
  • Glandy Cross (prehistoric remains)
  • Glyn Gath (tumulus)
  • Gors Fawr (stone circle)[40]
  • Mynyedd Melyn (hut circle)[41]
  • Parc-y-Meirw (standing stones)[42]
  • Rhos fach (standing stones)[43]
  • Tafarn y Bwlch (mountain pass and standing stones)[44]
  • Tre-Fach (standing stone, prehistoric camp)
  • Ty-Meini (standing stone, known as "The Lady Stone"[45])
  • Waun Mawn (standing stones; dismantled[31] stone circle c.3400-3000 BC),[46][47] grid reference SN08393403[48]


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.[49] Preseli slate was not of roofing quality, but its density made it ideal for machining for building and crafts.[50] Most quarries had closed by the 1930s[51] 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.[52][53] Its proposed continued use after the war was the subject of a two-year ultimately successful protest by local leaders.[54] The success of the protest was commemorated 60 years on, in 2009, with a plaque at the foot of Foel Drygarn near Mynachlog-ddu and another near the B4329 at Bwlch y Gwynt.[55]

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.[56][57]


  1. ^ a b "BBC: Wales nature and outdoors". BBC. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  2. ^ "The Golden Road". Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority. Retrieved 14 February 2023.
  3. ^ Mills, David (20 October 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. ^ a b c OS One inch 7th series map sheet 138/151 Fishguard and Pembroke 1965
  6. ^ "A Topographical Dictionary of Wales". GENUKI. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  7. ^ British Geological Survey 2010 Fishguard England and Wales Sheet 210 Bedrock and Superficial deposits 1:50,000 (Keyworth, Nottingham, BGS)
  8. ^ a b c "Dyfed Archaeological Trust: Preseli". Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  9. ^ "Rosebush Reservoir". Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  10. ^ a b c OS Landranger Series, Map 145 Cardigan & Mynydd Preseli 2007
  11. ^ "South Wales Regional Aggregates Working Party". Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  12. ^ a b "Mynydd Preseli - Countryside Council for Wales". Archived from the original on 12 April 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  13. ^ Matt Lloyd (25 January 2020). "Wales a haven for wildlife - but for how long?". BBC News. Retrieved 25 January 2020.
  14. ^ "Conservationists restore habitat for endangered species". Western Telegraph. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  15. ^ "Southern damselfly boosted in Pembrokeshire by 'fantastic' conservation". BBC. 24 September 2020. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
  16. ^ "Dyfed Archaeology: Mynydd Carningli - Mynydd Melyn" (PDF). Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  17. ^ a b "Dyfed Archaeological Trust: Mynydd Preseli". Retrieved 16 February 2021.
  18. ^ Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Explorer mapping
  19. ^ "pembrokeshire County Council: Preseli Stones Trail". Retrieved 25 August 2019.
  20. ^ "Paragliders banned from Preseli Hills". Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  21. ^ "Pembrokeshire Coast National Park: Castell Henllys". Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  22. ^ "Heatwave crop marks reveal 200 ancient sites in Wales". BBC News. 28 December 2018. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  23. ^ A Topographical Dictionary of Wales. Vol. 2. London: S. Lewis & Co. 1845. p. 199.
  24. ^ Thomas, H.H. (1923). The source of the stones of Stonehenge. Antiquaries Journal 3, 239-260.
  25. ^ "Archaeologists Figure Out Mystery of Stonehenge Bluestones". WalesOnline. 2005. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  26. ^ Ixer, R.A. and Bevins, R.E. (2013). Chips off the old block: the Stonehenge debitage dilemma. Archaeology in Wales 52 11-22.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  27. ^ 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). pp. 1005–1019.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  28. ^ "Stonehenge 'bluestone' quarries confirmed 140 miles away in Wales". University College London. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  29. ^ Neil Prior (19 November 2013). "Another piece in Stonehenge rock source puzzle". BBC News. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ a b "The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales". Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  32. ^ a b Scheduling Enhancement Project 2010: Prehistoric Sites Fieldwork - Pembrokeshire (PDF). Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  33. ^ coflein NPRN: 284. DAT PRN: 1021. Cadw SAM: PE464: Bedd Arthur
  34. ^ coflein NPRN: not yet identified. DAT PRN not yet identified. Cadw SAM: PE011: Carn Ingli Camp
  35. ^ coflein NPRN: 304320. DAT PRN: 1462. Cadw SAM: PE056: Carreg Coetan Burial Chamber
  36. ^ "Carn Goedog standing stone". Archived from the original on 27 April 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  37. ^ coflein NPRN: 403808. DAT PRN: 11129. Cadw SAM: PE496: Cerrig Lladron stone row
  38. ^ "The Megalithic Portal: Foel Drygarn". Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  39. ^ "Pembrokeshire Virtual Museum - Foel Drygarn". Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  40. ^ "Gors Fawr Stone Circle". Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  41. ^ "Archaeology in Wales: Mynydd Melyn". Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  42. ^ "Parc y Meirw Stone Row". Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  43. ^ "Dyfed Archaeological Trust: Rhos Fach". Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  44. ^ "Geograph: Tafarn y Bwlch from Eglwyswrw (photograph)". Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  45. ^ Lloyd; et al. (2004). Pembrokeshire. Yale University Press. p. 184.
  46. ^ An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire, Vol.VII. Royal Commission. 1925. p. 260.
  47. ^ "Stonehenge: Did the stone circle originally stand in Wales?". BBC News. 12 February 2021. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  48. ^ "Coflein: Waun Mawn". Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  49. ^ "Pembrokeshire Virtual Museum - Rosebush". Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  50. ^ Richards, A.J. (1998). The Slate Quarries of Pembrokeshire. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. ISBN 0863814840.
  51. ^ The Slate Industry in Pembrokeshire. Pembrokeshire Record Office. 2004.
  52. ^ "Pembrokeshire Military History Guide". Retrieved 23 June 2014.
  53. ^ "Dyfed Archaeological Trust: Twentieth Century Military Sites: Camps and Ranges in Preseli District" (PDF). Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  54. ^ Wyn, Hefin (2008). Battle of the Preselau. ISBN 978-0-9549931-3-9.(editions in Welsh and English)
  55. ^ "Preseli freedom walk". Tivyside Advertiser. 7 May 2009. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  56. ^ Ezard, John (2 June 2000). "'Saintly' Elvis Presili hailed as a son of Wales". The Guardian. London.
  57. ^ "Elvis the King of Cymru". BBC News. 5 June 2000. Retrieved 25 August 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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 [1]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°56′48″N 4°46′25″W / 51.94667°N 4.77361°W / 51.94667; -4.77361