What is a Crannog? Crannogs are a type of ancient lake dwelling found throughout Scotland and Ireland; they were built out in the water as defensive homesteads from 5000 years ago. People continued to build and occupy them periodically until the 17th century ad.
Llangorse Lake’s Crannog
The Crannog on Llangorse Lake is the only Crannog to be found in Wales or England. It is situated in the waters of Llangorse Lake, which is the largest natural lake in south Wales. The Crannog was constructed in 916 ad, probably by the King of Brycheiniog.
The Welsh Crannog Centre
Provides an insite into the history, myths and legends of this unique Welsh ancient monument.
We have constructed a viewing platform that goes out into the lake. It resembles how the buildings on the Crannog may have looked at the time of their construction, you will be able to walk along a causeway to a traditionally built thatched roundhouse from which you will have fantastic views of Wales’ only Crannog, the Black Mountains, the
Brecon Beacons and Llangorse lake.
The viewing platform doubles as an information centre. Providing information on Wales’ only Crannog, Llangorse lake, the flora and forna, myths and legends, and local history.
Find out the answers to such questions as
- How was it built?
- Who lived on a Crannog?
- How did our ancient ancestors live?
- How did they dress?
- What archaeological discoveries have been made?
- Local myths and legends
- What wildlife lives in and around South Wales’ largest natural lake
- The rare plant species that grow in Llangorse Lake
The Welsh Crannog Centre provides you with a brief journey back into Crannog time, a worthwhile visit for anybody who has an interest in Welsh history, culture, archeology, wildlife and plant-life.
History of the Crannog
The small island named Bwlc on Ordnance Survey maps of Llangorse Lake (Llyn Syfaddan ) near Brecon has been the subject of much academic interest relating to the use made of the island by man. The most obvious signs are the rubble visible on the waterline and the vertical oak planking traceable on the eastern edge. This evidence relates closely to structures found in Scotland and Ireland known as crannogs- natural or artificial islands kept together by a ring of vertical close set piles which create a palisade around the site. Most tend to be from the early medieval period.
Recent study by the University of Wales appears to establish beyond doubt that the site at Llangorse is indeed Wales’ only crannog. It is interesting to note some of the medieval sources which mention Llangorse Lake in an attempt to raise questions as to the original purpose of the crannog. In the year 916 A.D the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has the following entry:
“Aethelflaed sent an army into Wales and stormed Brecenanmere and there captured the wife of the king and thirty-three other persons.”
This short notice raises a number of interesting points. Aethelflaed was known as the ‘Lady of the Mercians’. She was the ruler of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom bordering Wales. Brecenanmere (‘Brecon mere’) was the Anglo-Saxon name for Llyn Safaddan (Llangorse Lake).The fact that the wife of the King of Brycheiniog was captured there suggests that it was the site of a royal residence or Llys. Whether the crannog and its palisade represents any part of a Llys or a new defensive site in response to this attack is at present speculative but worthy of consideration.
Indeed, the connection between Llangorse Lake and Welsh Kings does not end with this incident. The twelfth century writer Walter Map tells a story about the Welsh King Gruffudd ap Llywelyn 1039-1063AD. Walter explains that Gruffudd had a beautiful wife whom he was very jealous of. On hearing that a man had dreamt of a relationship with the queen he wanted the man tortured to death. Under Welsh Law the man was allowed to pay 1000 kine for the crime of espousing the Kings wife. However, since the man had only dreamed of this crime the adjudgement of the case despite the angry protests of the king was that the “young man shall set 1000 kine in the king’s sight on the bank of the lake of Bethen, in a row in the sun light, that the reflection of each maybe seen and that the reflections shall belong to the king and the kine to him who owned them before in as much as a dream is the reflection of the truth.”
Walter Map was born in the Welsh border region of Archenfield and obviously knew Llangorse Lake well because he wrote many stories about the ancient legends and describes it quite accurately. However, the fact that he links it to Gruffudd ap Llywelyn is particularly interesting. Gruffudd, who originated from north Wales, was the only Welsh ruler ever to unite the whole of the country under one leader further more, he was a constant scourge of the English and in 1055 AD he utterly destroyed Hereford and burnt the cathedral, returning to Wales with much booty. It seems likely that Gruffudd spent the winter of 1055 in south Wales, probably in Brycheiniog in and it seems probable that he would have chosen a place with a Llys and more importantly a site where ample food supplies were available for his army.
Could a stay at Llangorse have inspired the story remembered by Walter Map? The Lake itself was certainly a great source of food as the most famous medieval writer of Wales, Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) points out, noting that it yielded pike, perch, tench, eels and superb trout. Incidentally Giraldus also noted the prophetic powers of Llangorse Lake – how it turned green to presage invasions and sometimes appeared to be ominously streaked with blood.
Geraldus also described how the locals claimed that the surface of the lake sometimes was covered with buildings, orchards and gardens – could this have been the covering and uncovering of the crannog ( perhaps disused in the 12th century when Giraldus was writing) during periods of flood and drought?
Further research will, no doubt, yield more clues to the history of the crannog. As it stands it represents a unique and intriguing facet of Wales’ past.
Mike Davies / Llangorse 1995