A hill farmer and guardian of one of Eryri’s (Snowdonia’s) great heritage treasures has explained why visitors are being denied full access to the site. Landowner Meredydd Williams dug up a small car park at Tomen y Mûr near Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd, in a dispute over its management.

Visitors can no longer fully explore the most complete Roman military settlement in Wales, described by the National Monuments Record of Wales as “one of the premier archaeological landscapes” of upland Wales. Mr Williams took action when he became aggrieved by a perceived lack of action over activities he alleged were damaging the site.

He claimed some tourists were disrespecting its archaeology by climbing on delicate structures, potentially causing damage. He claimed others were parking up overnight and “nighthawkers” armed with metal detectors were sneaking onto Tomen y Mûr in search of ancient artefacts. Mr Williams said his public liability insurance could be affected should there be an accident.

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He was also angered by alleged damage caused by trucks passing the site, and accused heritage body Cadw, which manages the site with Eryri National Park Authority (NPA), of failing to order remedial works.

“Serious damage has been done, these activities are scarring the landscape,” fumed Mr Williams, who's been annoyed at some online barbs. “It’s a disgrace. I’m being made to look like the bad guy when really I'm the good guy.”

Irked by a perceived lack of intervention, he closed the site’s layby parking and removed Tomen y Mûr’s interpretation boards, damaging one in the process: he intends to pay to have it renewed. Mr Williams then began creating a new, larger car park on his land, screened by trees and gated to prevent overnight use. It will be ready soon, but it may not be accepting visitors for a while.

Mr Williams claims some visitors are clambering on a ruined medieval farmhouse at Tomen y Mûr
Mr Williams claims some visitors are clambering on a ruined medieval farmhouse at Tomen y Mûr

Last year a voluntary access agreement between the landowner and Eryri NPA was not renewed. Neither party has returned to the table for talks and Mr Williams claims he’s been left to improve site facilities out of his own pocket.

He cuts surrounding gorse to prevent encroachment, and he’s built a small access gate for less-abled visitors to reach the site. Fences were lowered to improve views. To prevent damaging the ground, he’s equipped his tractor with extra-large tyres.

“With help from my neighbours, I’ve been looking after the site for as long as I can remember,” said the third-generation farmer. “But it’s got to work both ways - they’ve got to work with me to stop the illegal activities. 99% of the visitors are great but 1% like to dig up the site and cause trouble.”

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On the former layby car park, he has plans for a “Mabinogion garden” to acknowledge the site’s importance in Welsh mythology: as Mûr-y-Castell, it was the legendary palace of Ardudwy. Eryri NPA said it cannot comment on the arrangements.

A spokesperson said: “As part of the access agreement, which has now lapsed, parking provision was formerly made available to visitors on a private roadside parcel of land. This is no longer available.

"Alternative or additional parking provision would require the necessary consents. The authority is unaware of any such proposals and therefore we cannot comment on these until we have received further details.”

Tomen y Mûr was a Roman military camp built in the late first century to subdue the Ordovices, a native Celtic tribe. Initially, a large timber fort was erected to house around 1,000 cavalry. Later, as tensions eased, the fort was rebuilt in stone early in the 2nd century to accommodate a much smaller force of around 500 infantry. Only a few decades later, it was abandoned.

Subsequently, it may have been a llys (court) for the princes of Gwynedd. The “tomen”, a great motte that dominates the site, was probably raised by Normans sent to counter a Welsh insurgency in 1095. It’s speculated some of the fort’s cut stone was later used to construct Harlech Castle. As the site was occupied until the early 20th century, having been crossed by a slate quarry tramway, it gives a fascinating snapshot of life over almost 2,000 years.

The 'Tomen' lies at the heart of the old Roman fort - it may have raised later as a Norman motte
The 'Tomen' lies at the heart of the old Roman fort - it may have raised later as a Norman motte

Under his access agreement, Mr Williams received £35-a-week. In return, he agreed to cut sheep numbers on the land by 75%, eating into farm income. The money, he said, is scant consolation for the unpaid work he and his fellow farmers do as unofficial custodians of Tomen y Mûr.

He regularly walks the site to check its condition and look out for safety issues. Once he came across people climbing the chimney of a ruined farmhouse, partly restored by Eryri NPA in 2006. Other visitors have defied requests not to jump from walls. “If anything goes wrong, it will be me who answers for it,” sighed Mr Williams.

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An interpretation board at the site showed how the fort's small military amphitheatre may have looked
An interpretation board at the site showed how the fort's small military amphitheatre may have looked

Eryri NPA looked into claims of site damage but decided no action was needed. They said concerns were raised about "damage to the scheduled monument". They added: "However we understand that these have been investigated and subsequently concluded by Cadw and North Wales Police, who are the relevant authorities on such matters.”

Many features remain as earthworks outside the fort: a large parade ground, bathhouse, mansion, roads, bridge and burial mounds. Overlooking the parade ground was a possible temple complex and the fort had a small weapons training amphitheatre, a facility described as “unique in Britain” by Gwynedd Archaeological Trust.

In the absence of an access agreement, the fort and associated features can currently only be viewed from public footpaths which run nearby. Closest parking is in laybys on the A470.

A Cadw spokesperson said: “We have worked in partnership with Eryri National Park and the private owner of Tomen y Mur for many years to support the conservation of this important historic site and make it accessible for visitors to enjoy. While there is some limited public access still available along the pre-existing rights of way, Cadw would welcome the establishment of the new gated car park.”

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