The Abbey's Immediate Environs

The environs consist of an area of some 8 square kilometres defined by the boundaries of the precinct and the land around which was part of the monastery's access to key resources. We have called this, using a phrase familiar in Wales to denote the area in which one's roots and identity are formed, Y Milltir Sgwar, the Square Mile.

Geographically it is the are of the side valley through which the Teifi and Glasffrwd flow before they turn into the main valley and Cors Caron. It stretches from Pontrhydfendigaid in the west to the edge of the higher mountain (mynydd) areas in the east marked by Hafod Newydd, a former summer dairy of the Abbey. Topographically it is a horseshoe shape of ridges surrounding the flat floor of the valley in which the Abbey Precinct sat.

Around the precinct were a number of managed agricultural and other resources which kept the Abbey going, all run from its home farm probably in the Outer Precinct. On the south was the Abbey Wood, significant elements of which still survive as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This would have provided its main timbers for building and 'unbderwood' for fires, toolmaking, fencing and industrial processes such as smelting and forging various metals.

To the east, on Pen Lan, are a number of earthwork enclosures and building remains which are probably related to the management of the Abbey's herds and flocks. To the north were the farms of Dolebolion, Bron-y-berllan, Cae-Madog and Penddol-fawr, whose names indicate they were part of a group of specialist production units which extended out onto the north-eastern edge of Cors Caron: in turn, horses, fruit, grain and hay.

To the west lay Pontrhydfendigaid, a 'bond' settlement, a 'maerdref' which provided the secular labour required to run a large institution like Strata Florida. On the surrounding ridges lay the 'frith', land which served as the interactive boundary between the lowland farms and the mountain proper which was open and provided for grazing of large flocks of sheep for 6 months of the year.

Finally, just to the north of Bron-y-berllan are the spoil pits and eroded pits of shallow mines from which the monks extracted lead ore and perhaps a little silver.

The Project has begun to work on this area, looking at the water management systems draining the precinct area and delivering fresh supplies to the Abbey itself as well as providing power for mills. Survey by Louise Barker of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales and others has demonstrated that the water system incorporated a holy well at its head.

We have looked closely too at Abbey Wood and the survey here carried out by Louise Barker shows a great complexity of earthwork features. Together with documentary and ecological research undertaken by Katie Fretwell, we now have a complex story of long-term land use on the southern periphery of the Abbey precinct. This includes the remains of what we take to be a very large kiln although we are still a little uncertain, despite preliminary excavation, as to what it was producing. Nearby too was an area, devoid of trees, which, on excavation, produced evidence for the making of good potting clays from the underlying boulder clay, using a settling tank.

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