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  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > The Cities of Vortigern > Carn Fadrun

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The 'Cities' of Vortigern
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Caer Guorthegirn
Robert Vermaat

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Carn Fadrun

Carn Fadrun
Lleyn, Gwynedd
No access for the disabledFree access to the monument
Nearest town: Llanbedrog
Nearest village: Garnfadryn
Map reference: SH 280352
Location of Carn Fadrun by UK Streetmap

Go here for a visit to Carn Fadryn by Stuart Stevenson.

Carn Fadrun (left) and Garn Bach (right), Lleyn PeninsulaCarn Fadryn (371m) is a mountain crowned with a large hillfort in the middle of the northern Lleyn Peninsula of Wales. It's quite barren in vegetation (bracken, heather - limestone), and therefore contrasts with the surrounding lush lowlands, as one can see from the images below. The hill itself is very similar to its neighbour Carn Bach, although without any trees.

Carn Fadrun.A very clear and obviously popular path runs up from the village of Garnfadryn where parking is very limited (although there is a new layby for walkers to park in just past the Chapel on the mountain side of the road). It soon emerges onto the open hill and zigzags up through bracken and heather past several ancient cairns to a rocky top crowned by a trigonometry point. The guidebook advises good boots and determination for those who want to visit this fort, that dominates the Lleyn peninsula. The climb is remarkably steep, though the view from the top really is worth the effort.

Views from Carn Fadrun   Views from Carn Fadrun

Tremendous views (click the images to enlarge) give the visitor a breathtaking experience. The hill fort is less obvious than that on Garn Boduan and the view perhaps a little less striking with the higher hills now further away in the haze.

The Castle

The fort at the top of Carn Fadrun.The fort at the top seems to be from the Iron Age, and most of it indeed is (click the image to enlarge). However, there is a small fortress on the western side, some 90 by 30 metres large, whose dry-stone walls may look far too primitive for medieval times, but turn out to have been a twelfth-century Norman castle, which was actually built on the site shortly before 1188, as Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) wrote. This makes it one of the earliest Welsh stone castles, built by the sons of Owain Gwynedd. The Welsh normally built timber fortifications surrounded by earthwork defenses. Here the rudimentary stone buildings are ringed by a low wall more reminiscent of Iron Age hillforts than the new Norman motte and bailey design.

Detail of the tumbled stone wall around the summit.Around the rest of the summit is a tumbled stone wall around a fairly level plateau of about 5 ha (click the image to enlarge), which was later about doubled by a northern extention. Though a further extention of the walls remains undated, the walls and irregular enclosures form two annexes that may be associated with the late Roman period and extend a little further into Vortigern's times. The original gates were in the north and south, though the northern one may be modern. In some places the wall still stands up to two metres high. There are some rectangular, undated huts and a well inside, but the possible oldest feature is a Bronze Age cist grave, and indeed the ruins, which have escaped disturbance and are free from vegetation, indicate a long history. Originally one spring was included, later extended to a well. There were two gates, both reached by a zigzag access roads along deliberately engineered terraces - the southern one is particularly well preserved.

There were about ninety pre-Roman round houses, though only ten of then can be traced inside the settlement. Contrarly, many irregular houses were built inside in the late Roman period, like they were in Tre'r Ceri, a similar hillfort also connected to Vortigern.


Carn Fadrun from the air.Although this site has never been directly associated with Vortigern on account of his name, it is situated very close to many other sites on the Lleyn peninsula that were. The name of Carn Fadrun, however, is most likely taken from Vortigern's granddaughter Modrun. There are several different explanations for the presence of Vortigern's granddaughter in this Welsh backwater, each of which I will adress at the page about her elsewhere on this website.

Summarizing, it is very much possible that the name stems from Vortigern's granddaughter, but a different person with the same name as well as a cult of the Mother Godess (Matrona) may be considered good possibilities as well. A wandering cult of a St. Madrun might therefore be as possible as a wandering legend of Fadrun ferch Gwrthefyr, although I would favour the latter because of the strong concentration of Vortigern-connections a few miles off to the north. By that I mean that it would not necessarily have been Modrun in person that did the wandering, but her followers may have arrived here with her tale at a later date. It all depends, I think, on the historicity of the Vortigern-legends. If he was present in Lleyn, Modrun may also have been. If not, we should look elsewhere for the origin of this name.

Garn Fadryn (click to enlarge)But is it at least possible that Modrun actually stayed here in person? It might have happened of course, but as medieval legends go, it did not matter in the least had she never set foot in the peninsula. Her cult was established, the ancestry through her grandfather gave that cult status, and if his legends were accepted, the rest did not matter. (click the image to enlarge).

Also, the many other Gwrtheyrn-names to the north surely make the presence of his granddaughter less unlikely. For last but not least, Vortigern himself could actually have built his 'city' here, for this is the only of all Caer Guorthigirn-sites that actually has a tumbled-down stone fortress on top!

Arthurian legend

There is of course an Arthurian connection as well. Carn Fadrun has ties to a cromlech named 'Arthur's Quoit', which is found in Myllteyrn parish, Caernarvonshire (SH22973456). This cromlech, recognized by the name 'Coetan Arthur', is on the land of Trefgwm, in the parish of Myllteyrn; it consists of a great stone resting on three other stones. The tradition states that 'Arthur the Giant' threw this coetan from Carn Fadrun, a mountain several miles from Trefgwm, and his wife took three other stones in her apron and propped them up under the coetan.


  • Dyer, James: The Penguin Guide to Prehistoric England and Wales, (Penguin 1981).*
  • Hogg, A.H.A.: Hill-Forts of Britain, (London 1975).

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