Cardiganshire (Welsh: Sir Aberteifi or Ceredigion) one of thirteen historic counties of Wales. Cardiganshire extending from the western coast on Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea to inland hills and valleys and the upland of Plynlimon, to the north by Merionethshire, to the east by Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire, and to the south by Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.
Cardiganshire Cantrefs and Commotes
Extract from ‘A Topographical Dictionary of Wales‘ by Samuel Lewis 1849
CARDIGANSHIRE, a maritime county of South Wales, bounded on the north by the estuary of the river Dovey, or Dyvi, and the county of Merioneth; on the north-east by Montgomeryshire; on the east by the north-western extremity of Radnorshire, and the northern parts of Brecknockshire; on the south by the county of Carmarthen; on the south-west by that of Pembroke; and on the west and north-west, in its whole length, by Cardigan bay. It extends from 51° 55′ to 52° 27′ (N. Lat.) and from 3° 45′ to 4° 51′ (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to Mr. Cary’s Communications to the Board of Agriculture, of 590 square miles, or 377,600 statute acres. It contains 15,123 houses inhabited, 792 uninhabited, and 121 in course of erection; and the population of the county amounts to 68,766, of whom 32,215 are males, and 36,551 females. The annual value of real property assessed to the property and income tax, for the year ending April 1843, was as follows: lands, £159,949; houses, £23,082; tithes, £13,086; mines, £9190; manors, £21: total, £205,328.
The ancient British inhabitants of this county were the Dimetæ, who also occupied the adjoining counties of Carmarthen and Pembroke, and were subjected to the Roman sway by Julius Frontinus, about the year 70. Under the Roman dominion it contained the station Loventium, thought by Sir Richard Colt Hoare and other antiquaries to have been situated at Llanio, about seven miles above Lampeter, in the vale of Teivy. It seems, likewise, to have been traversed throughout by the great Roman road called the Via Occidentalis, which connected the station Loventium with that of Segontium, near the modern Carnarvon; also with that at Penallt, in the present county of Merioneth; that of Menapium, in Pembrokeshire; and those of Maridunum, and at Llanvair-ar-y-Bryn, in Carmarthenshire.
The present name of Cardigan is derived from Caredig, son of Cynedda, a chieftain of North Britain, who distinguished himself in repelling an invasion of Wales by the Irish Scots, about the middle of the fifth century, and received as a reward for his services a tract of South Wales, called Tyno-Côch, or the “Red Valley,” to which he gave the name of Caredigion, signifying “Caredig’s country,” and since corrupted into Cardigan. The precise extent of this tract cannot now be ascertained; but at a later period, the lordship, or principality, of Caredigion is known to have comprehended, besides the present county of Cardigan, the greater part of that of Carmarthen. Little more than their names is known of the successors of Caredig in the sovereign authority: Brothen, the third in succession, received the honour of canonization. The eleventh was Gwgan, who was accidentally drowned in 870; after which event, Rhodri Mawr, or Roderic the Great, sovereign of North Wales and Powys, became possessed of Caredigion (this principality then holding supreme authority over the other petty states of South Wales), in right of his wife Angharad, who was Gwgan’s daughter. Having thus become sovereign of all Wales, he subsequently divided his dominions into three portions, including Caredigion in the kingdom of South Wales, the seat of the government of which he fixed at Dynevor, in the present county of Carmarthen, and to which his son Cadell succeeded on the death of his father. In the disputes that soon arose among Roderic’s sons, Anarawd, King of North Wales, aided by some English allies, led a powerful force into South Wales, in 892, and made devastations in this and the other provinces, burning the houses and destroying the corn.
Ievav and Iago, Princes of North Wales, obtaining possession of their patrimony after the death of Hywel Dda, by whom they had been unjustly excluded from it, asserted their claim to the sovereignty of all Wales, and, in 949, invading Caredigion, defeated the sons of Hywel, who had shared among them the kingdoms of South Wales and Powys; and then carried their devastations into Dyved, the present Pembrokeshire. The year following, they again entered Dyved, but were opposed with spirit by Owain, son of Hywel, by whom they were compelled to retreat with such precipitation, that a great part of their army was drowned in the river Teivy. Owain and his brothers, in their turn, acted on the offensive, and invaded North Wales, where they fought a sanguinary battle with the forces of Ievav and Iago, but without advantage to either party; and the next year, the Princes of North Wales, again entering Caredigion, were repulsed with great loss by the sons of Hywel, who, however, in the end were overcome by their adversaries, whose dominion was established over all Wales.
In 987, the Danes committed great devastation on the coast of the county, burning the churches of Llanbadarn and Llanrhŷstid, and causing such destruction of corn and cattle as to produce a general famine, which destroyed a large part of the population. On this occasion Meredydd, then sovereign of all Wales, was compelled to purchase the retreat of the invaders by the payment of a tribute, called “the tribute of the black army:” but scarcely had he freed himself from these foreign enemies, when Edwin, the eldest son of his brother Einion, who considered himself wrongfully dispossessed of the principality of South Wales, aided by some parties of Saxons and Danes, invaded this county, and hence proceeded into Pembrokeshire. About the year 1068, the Normans having proved successful in their invasion of England, a strong body of them made a descent upon the western coast of South Wales, and ravaged this county and that of Pembroke; but, being quickly attacked by Caradoc, Prince of South Wales, they were compelled to abandon their plunder, and retreat to their ships. These marauders returned three years after, in 1071, but with the like ill-success, being defeated with great loss by Rhydderch, son and successor of Caradoc.
In 1087, the sons of Bleddyn ab Cynvyn, a deceased Prince of North Wales, raised a formidable insurrection in South Wales, against the authority of Rhŷs ab Tewdwr, the reigning prince of this country, whom they compelled to retire to Ireland. Being aided with a large body of Irish troops by his brotherin-law, the King of Dublin, Rhŷs soon returned, and was joined by numerous friends; while the sons of Bleddyn, thinking that delay would increase the strength of their antagonist, hastened to give him battle. The adverse armies met at a place called Llêchrhŷd, and a sanguinary conflict ensued, in which the sons of Bleddyn were totally defeated, and two of them slain. The scene of this action has been generally placed in Radnorshire, but it is now thought to have been fought at Llêchrhŷd, near the Teivy, in this county, a few miles above the town of Cardigan, rather than in a part of the principality the most distant from the Irish Channel, and which Rhŷs could reach only by leading his forces a distance of nearly sixty miles over a desert and almost impassable country.
Caredigion was one of the Welsh provinces first subdued by the Norman lords, soon after they had been so much encouraged in the conquest of the country, by the successful issue of Fitz-Hamon’s enterprise in Glamorgan; and Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, did homage for it to William Rufus, towards the close of the eleventh century: this baron, to secure his conquests, first erected the castle of Aberteivy, or Cardigan, afterwards so distinguished in Welsh history. But the Norman settlers had constantly to maintain an arduous contest with the native princes, in which they were frequently worsted and driven from the territory they had usurped. In 1093, Cadwgan ab Bleddyn, Prince of Powys and South Wales, expelled these invaders, and took possession of the castle of Aberteivy, or Cardigan. Gilbert Strongbow, obtaining leave of Henry I. of England to deprive Cadwgan of all the lands which he could wrest from him, invaded the province of Caredigion with a considerable force, and subdued it without much difficulty: having thus obtained possession of the country, his chief care was to erect fortresses for the defence of his conquests, one of these being the castle of Aberystwith. Grufydd ab Rhŷs, the eldest surviving son of Rhŷs ab Tewdwr, commencing a system of predatory warfare against the lords marcher in the territory of Carmarthen, his success gained him many partisans among the native chieftains, and thus enabled him to conduct his operations on a more extended scale, and to recover a large portion of his father’s territories, in spite of the opposition raised against him by the English monarch, Henry I. The native chieftains of Caredigion espoused his cause and submitted to his government, esteeming him the guardian of his country, and calling on him to free them from the odious and ignominious tyranny of foreigners. Grufydd hereupon entered the territories of these chieftains, by whom he was received with great cordiality and respect. Suddenly arriving at Cardigan Iscoed, he laid siege to a fortress erected by the English at Blaen Porth Gwithan, in the vicinity of that place, which, after many terrible assaults, he at length took and burned to the ground. As far as Penwedic, the like destruction fell upon the deserted houses of the English inhabitants, who, struck with dismay, had fled from the fury of the native forces. Grufydd next laid siege to a castle called Strath Peithyll, in this county, belonging to Strongbow’s steward, which he took by assault, putting the garrison to the sword. Hence he advanced to Glâs Crûg, where he encamped his forces for a day’s rest. But his hitherto triumphant progress soon received a severe check, in a disastrous failure before Strongbow’s castle of Aberystwith, in which the slaughter of his troops was so great as to compel him to evacuate the province.
At the commencement of the reign of the English monarch Stephen, in 1135, Owain Gwynedd and Cadwaladr, chieftains of North Wales, laid waste with ruthless fury the province of Caredigion, taking the castles of Aberystwith, Dinerth, and Caerwedrôs, and two other fortresses, belonging to Walter Espec and Richard de la Mare, all of which were of great strength and well garrisoned. At the close of the following year the confederate princes again invaded this territory, with 4000 infantry and 2000 horse, besides the auxiliaries led by their allies, Grufydd ab Rhŷs and other eminent chieftains, who also furnished their main army with considerable supplies. These invaders, with irresistible violence, subdued the whole province to the town of Aberteivy, or Cardigan, taking and demolishing all the castles held by the English lords. To repel so formidable an incursion, the whole force of the Normans, the Flemings, and the English, in Wales and the Marches, was united under the conduct of several powerful barons, who, however, were signally defeated, in a severe and bloody conflict, with the loss of 3000 men. On this occasion, the routed forces, fleeing to their castles for safety, were so closely pursued, that many were made prisoners, and great numbers were drowned in the Teivy by the breaking down of a bridge across that river, which afforded almost the only means of escape. Having thus successfully completed their campaign, the young princes of North Wales returned to their own country, carrying with them, to grace their triumph, the horses and armour, and other rich spoils, which they had taken. In the course of these events, Richard, Earl of Clare, to whose father, Strongbow, the territory of Caredigion, or Cardigan, had been granted by Henry I., was murdered by a Welshman, named Iorwerth, as he was riding through a wood. After this his wife, who was sister to the Earl of Chester, retired into one of his castles, in this county, where she was besieged by the Welsh, and in the most imminent danger of falling into their hands. She was at length rescued from her perilous situation by Milo Fitz-Walter, lord of Brecknock, who, with a chosen body of troops, undertook a romantic expedition from his own territories for the purpose, pursuing his march along the most unfrequented ways, and, at imminent hazard to himself and his followers, carrying away the countess and her retinue, unperceived by the besiegers.
During the reign of Grufydd’s son and successor Rhŷs, an expedition was undertaken by Owain Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales, against the Normans and Flemings in Cardigan and the adjoining territories on the south, in which inroad he is stated to have demolished the castles of Aberystwith, Ystrad-Meirig, and Pont Stephan, or Lampeter, in this county: retaining in his possession the whole province of Cardigan, and compelling the inhabitants of Pembrokeshire to pay him tribute, he returned into his own dominions. A few years afterwards, Hywel and Cynan, the illegitimate sons of Owain Gwynedd, made another inroad into South Wales, encountered and defeated a Norman force, and took possession of the town of Aberteivy, or Cardigan. In 1150, Cadell, Meredydd, and Rhŷs, sons of Grufydd ab Rhŷs, invaded Cardigan, and took and demolished the castle of Aber-Rheidiol and other fortresses in the northern part of the province; then, marching southward, they possessed themselves of the castle of Cardigan, at that time held by Hywel, son of the Prince of North Wales, thus subduing the whole province, except only a single fortress in its northern part. These young princes were so much enraged at the loss of the bravest of their soldiers, which they experienced at the siege of the castle of Llanrhŷstid, that, on at last gaining possession of it, they put the garrison to the sword: the castle of Ystrad-Meirig, which they next took, they fortified with additional works; and, placing garrisons in both these fortresses, returned to Carmarthenshire laden with rich spoil.
Early in the reign of Henry II., Roger, Earl of Clare, entered Cardigan with the sanction of that monarch, to attempt the recovery of the estates which had been taken from his family during the late reign. He regained possession of the castle of Ystrad-Meirig and some other places, and proceeded to attack the territories of Rhŷs ab Grufydd; but the latter chieftain soon after, in 1165, overran the whole county of Cardigan, levelling with the ground all the castles belonging to the English. A few years afterwards, roused by the savage murder of his two nephews, whom he had delivered as hostages to Henry II., by their keeper, the Earl of Gloucester, Rhŷs again took up arms, and, attacking Gloucester’s possessions in Cardigan, took and demolished the castle of Aber-Rheidiol and other fortresses; then, marching southward, he possessed himself of the castle of Cardigan, and afterwards extended his inroads into Pembrokeshire. On the retreat of Henry II., after his invasion of North Wales, which Rhŷs had aided in resisting, this chieftain, returning into South Wales, suddenly invested the castle of Cardigan, which had again fallen into the hands of the English, and retook it; he devastated the surrounding country, and also made himself master of the castle of Kîlgerran, an important post situated on the banks of the Teivy near Cardigan, the fortifications of which he levelled with the ground. Rhŷs then proceeded to his own territories in Carmarthenshire. Henry II. afterwards granted to this chieftain, along with other extensive territories, the whole of that of Cardigan, in the castle of which Rhŷs in 1176 held a grand festival, celebrated by the Welsh bards of after times. He died in 1196, and, with several of his successors in the lordship of Dynevor, was buried at the abbey of Strata Florida, in the eastern and mountainous part of the county.
Grufydd ab Rhŷs succeeded to the lordship of South Wales, together with all the territories held by his father at the time of his death; but his brother Maelgwyn, aided by Gwenwynwyn, son of Owain Cyveilioc, lord of Powys, soon after he had entered upon his inheritance, attacked him by surprise in his castle of Aberystwith, and made him prisoner: Maelgwyn then proceeded against some of Grufydd’s other fortresses, and soon made himself master of the whole province of Cardigan. In the following year (1198), the wronged chieftain was liberated from confinement by the English lords into whose custody he had been delivered by Gwenwynwyn, and, being strongly supported by his friends, entered this territory, and recovered all his possessions in it, except the castles of Cardigan and Ystrad-Meirig. Through the mediation of the friends of the adverse parties, Maelgwyn entered into a solemn engagement to deliver up the castle of Cardigan to Grufydd, on condition of receiving from the latter hostages for the security of his own person. But on the delivery of these, Maelgwyn sent them prisoners to Gwenwynwyn, and fortified the castle for himself: in the following year, also, he took from his brother the castle of Dinerth, and put the garrison to the sword; but the latter about the same time obtained possession of the important fortress of Kîlgerran, situated on the banks of the Teivy, in the neighbourhood of that of Cardigan, but on the opposite side of the river. Maelgwyn, fearing, from Grufydd’s increase of strength in the vicinity, that he should not be able to maintain the contest much longer, sold the castle of Cardigan to the Normans, lest it should fall into the hands of his brother: the latter died in 1202, and was succeeded in his honours and possessions by his son Rhŷs, whose lands in Cardigan were soon invaded by Maelgwyn, aided by his ally Gwenwynwyn.
Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, having in 1208 seized upon the territories of Gwenwynwyn, then a prisoner in England, marched an army into South Wales against Maelgwyn, who, being unable to resist so overwhelming a force, destroyed his castles and withdrew: Llewelyn rebuilt the castle of Aberystwith, which he garrisoned with his own troops; but the cantrêv of Penwedic, forming the northernmost part of the present county of Cardigan, and the other lands lying between the rivers Dyvi and Aëron, he gave to Rhŷs ab Grufydd and his brother Owain. Maelgwyn, rendering submission to the English monarch John, was furnished by the latter with a large body of English troops, to assist in the recovery of his possessions in this quarter; and entering Cardiganshire with these forces, he encamped at Kîlcennin, in the cantrêv of Penwedic. His nephews Rhŷs and Owain, who were not strong enough to oppose him openly in the field, came privately into the vicinity of his camp, with a chosen band of three hundred men, and, suddenly entering it in the dead of night, fell upon their enemies with great fury, put many of them to the sword, and obliged the rest, among whom was Maelgwyn himself, to seek safety in flight. When King John, in 1212, compelled Llewelyn ab lorwerth and the other principal Welsh chieftains to do him homage, Rhŷs and his brother Owain at first refused; but being soon threatened by the overwhelming forces of Foulke, Viscount Cardiff, at that time warden of the Marches, who was aided by their uncles Maelgwyn and Rhŷs Vychan, they sued for peace, and applied for safe conduct to London, where they were graciously received by the king, and, on doing homage to him and relinquishing their territories between the Dyvi and Aëron, were allowed to retain all their other possessions. The English commander, on this occasion, strengthened the works of Aberystwith Castle, and garrisoned it with the king’s troops. After the departure of Foulke, Maelgwyn and Rhŷs Vychan, probably incensed at the favourable terms granted to their nephews, with whom they had been so long in hostility, threw off their allegiance to the English monarch, and took and dismantled the castle of Aberystwith, thus affording to Rhŷs and Owain an opportunity of retaliating on their uncles, on pretence of supporting the authority of the King of England. Accordingly they entered Maelgwyn’s territories, which they plundered; but it appears that both these young chieftains were shortly after stripped by their uncles of nearly all their estates, which they recovered only by the assistance of some forces furnished them by King John, and commanded by the same Lord Foulke, who defeated Rhŷs Vychan with considerable loss in a battle fought in Carmarthenshire. The latter chieftain, expelled from all his fortresses in that county, removed his family to Aberystwith, and retired to the most inaccessible parts of the neighbouring country. Some time after these events, Llewelyn ab Iorwerth led a large army into South Wales, to attack the territories of the English vassals, and, in the course of the expedition (in which he was assisted by the forces of Rhŷs ab Grufydd, his brother Owain, and their two uncles, who had all come to a reconciliation), took the castle of Cardigan, thus once more totally expelling the English from the county. After a short interval, Llewelyn came again into Cardiganshire, in his character of lord paramount of Wales, to settle a dispute between Rhŷs ab Grufydd and his brother Owain, on one part, and their uncles on the other, concerning the division of the reconquered territory, which he adjusted to the satisfaction of the respective claimants: he soon after placed a strong garrison in Cardigan Castle; and in Powell’s History of Wales he is also stated to have given permission, about this time, to Rhŷs ab Grufydd to do homage to the King of England, for some of his lands. In 1220, the Flemings of Pembrokeshire, who had shortly before submitted to Llewelyn as their sovereign lord, renouncing their allegiance to him, attacked and took the castle of Cardigan; the Welsh prince, however, soon recovered it, and razed it to the ground, after which he overran the greater part of Pembrokeshire. Rhŷs, finding that Llewelyn intended to withhold from him the castle of Aberteivy, or Cardigan, which in the late division had been allotted to him, made common cause with Llewelyn’s enemy, William le Mareschal, Earl of Pembroke: this chieftain’s desertion Llewelyn punished by seizing his castle of Aberystwith, and the territories appertaining to it; but, King Henry III. interfering on the complaint of Rhŷs, the affair was settled amicably. Rhŷs died in the course of the same year, and his possessions were divided between his brother Owain and his uncle Maelgwyn.
Llewelyn having, during the absence of the Earl of Pembroke in Ireland, taken two of that nobleman’s castles, the latter, on his return, retaliated on the subjects and possessions of Llewelyn, seizing, among other places, the castle of Cardigan. Maelgwyn ab Rhŷs died in 1230, and his possessions descended to his son Maelgwyn, who, as soon as he had entered upon his inheritance, hastened against Cardigan, and burned the town; but finding his own forces insufficient for the reduction of the castle, which was strongly fortified, he demanded the assistance of his cousin Owain and some of Llewelyn’s officers; and, thus reinforced, destroyed the bridge over the Teivy, and, after a short siege, took possession of the castle. About the year 1233 died Rhŷs Vychan, son of Rhŷs, the last Prince of South Wales, whose decease was soon followed by that of his nephew Owain ab Grufydd, whose possessions were inherited by his son Meredydd, while those of Rhŷs were divided between his sons Meredydd and Rhŷs. Cardigan Castle was retaken by Gilbert le Mareschal, or Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, in the year 1240, after the death of Llewelyn ab Iorwerth.
Prince Edward, afterwards Edward I., of England, having, about the middle of the thirteenth century, taken forcible possession of some of the estates of the Welsh chieftains in Cardiganshire, the sufferers complained to Llewelyn ab Grufydd, the new Prince of North Wales, who thereupon entered this province with an army, recovered the lands, and gave the greater part of them to Meredydd ab Owain, who died in 1268. Edward I., soon after his accession, and at the same time that he invaded North Wales in person, sent a powerful army into South Wales under Payen de Chaworth, whose successes greatly contributed to moderate the terms of Llewelyn’s treaty of peace with Edward, which was made soon after. Before his return from Wales, the king rebuilt the castle of Aberystwith, in order to secure the advantages which he had gained by this treaty; but the oppressions of the king’s officers becoming intolerable to the inhabitants of the surrounding country, they revolted, and, headed by Rhŷs, son of Maelgwyn, and Grufydd, son of Meredydd, possessed themselves of the newly-erected fortress. Llewelyn, the last native Prince of North Wales, entered this province a little time before his death, and laid waste the possessions of the King of England’s vassals in it, particularly those of Meredydd ab Rhŷs, who had some time before deserted his standard: hence he proceeded with his forces towards Builth, in Brecknockshire, in the vicinity of which place he met his lamentable death. According to the laws and regulations made by Edward I. for the government of Wales, the entire subjugation of which he completed immediately after this event, the territories which had latterly appertained more immediately to the princes of the house of Dyvenor, and were now in the possession of the crown, were formed into the two counties of Cardigan and Carmarthen, to which sheriffs were immediately appointed like those of England. Some few years afterwards, Edward proceeded also to tax his new subjects; but the Welsh, still ardently desirous of regaining their lost independence, revolted, and Maelgwyn Vychan headed a strong body of the malcontents in Cardiganshire, which overran and plundered both that county and Pembrokeshire.
During the revolt of the Welsh under Owain Glyndwr against Henry IV., the castle of Aberystwith was several times taken and retaken by the contending parties. The Earl of Richmond, after landing at Milford with the design of wresting the crown of England from the usurper, Richard III., marched through this county, his forces increasing with his progress, on his way towards Shrewsbury, where he was rejoined by the celebrated Rhŷs ab Thomas, who had taken a different route from the place of debarkation to that of rendezvous. The inhabitants of the county took rather an active part in the civil war of the seventeenth century. Cardigan Castle, which had been garrisoned for the king, was attacked by the parliamentarian forces under General Laugharne, and at last taken by storm: the castle of Aberystwith, also held by the royalists, surrendered without much opposition. Cardiganshire appears also to have been the scene of some skirmishes between the parliamentarian leader, Colonel Horton, and the royalist commander, Colonel Poyer, after the great battle of St. Fagan’s in Glamorganshire, so disastrous to the forces of the latter.
This county is in the diocese of St. David’s and province of Canterbury, and, together with some adjoining portions of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, forms the archdeaconry of Cardigan, which comprises, within the limits of the county of Cardigan, the deaneries of Sub Aëron, or Is Aëron, and Ultra Aëron, or Uwch Aëron. The number of parishes is sixty-five, of which twelve are rectories, twelve vicarages, and thirty-two perpetual curacies. For purposes of civil government, it is divided into the five hundreds of Geneu’r-Glyn, Ilar, Moythen, Penarth, and Troedyraur, all of which have Upper and Lower divisions. It contains the borough, market, and sea-port towns of Aberystwith and Cardigan, the latter of which is the county town, while the former is much frequented for the purpose of sea-bathing; the borough and market-town of Lampeter; part of the borough of Atpar; the watering-place and seaport of Aberaëron; the market-town of Trêgaron, and the ports of New-Quay and Aberporth. One knight is returned to parliament for the shire, and one representative for Cardigan and the rest of the boroughs collectively: the county member, and the member for the district of united boroughs, are elected at Cardigan; the polling-places for the county are Cardigan, Aberystwith, Lampeter, and Trêgaron. Cardiganshire is included in the South Wales circuit; the assizes are held at Cardigan, and the quarter-sessions at Aberaëron: the county gaol is at Cardigan, and there are houses of correction for the county both at Cardigan and Aberystwith. There are about fifty acting magistrates. It contains the poor-law unions of Aberaëron, Aberystwith, and Trêgaron, parts of the unions of Cardigan, Lampeter, and Newcastle-Emlyn, and two parishes in the union of Machynlleth.
The surface of Cardiganshire consists almost wholly of mountains and lofty hills, with their corresponding valleys, having no level tract of any considerable extent. Its northern parts are more particularly mountainous, being entirely composed of a portion of the lofty hills that surround the distinguished summit of Plinlimmon, in the south-western extremity of Montgomeryshire. In Cardiganshire these hills branch into several extensive chains, the most remarkable of which, stretching southward along its eastern border, bounds the vale of the Teivy on the east, and afterwards sweeps through Carmarthenshire into Pembrokeshire. One branch stretches westward between the rivers Dovey and Rheidiol; another, between the Rheidiol and the Ystwith: a third is bounded by the Ystwith on the north-west, and the Teivy on the east, and, extending southwestward, terminates at the river Aëron; while a fourth runs nearly parallel with the last, on the western and north-western side of the Teivy, towards Cardigan. Various detached hills of considerable elevation are scattered in different directions. All of them are destitute of wood, and their aspect is bleak, dreary, and desolate in the extreme, seldom presenting any object to relieve the eye from the uniformity of their bare and gently undulating surface, except the projection of numerous naked crags. The late Thomas Johnes, Esq., of Havod, however, and his predecessors the Herberts, clothed some of the most elevated and exposed summits on this side of Plinlimmon, approaching the source of the Ystwith, with plantations of oak and larch.
Of the great number of natural pools and small lakes, the principal are in the most elevated part of the county, near the summit of the chain of hills approaching the border of Radnorshire, in the vicinity of Strata Florida. They form a cluster, of which Llyn Teivy, the source of the river Teivy, is the chief, being about a mile and a half in circumference, and its waters not yet fathomed; it is surrounded by a high and perpendicular ridge, and the rocks and stones which lie scattered in every direction, unrelieved by any kind of wood or lively vegetation, impart to the whole adjacent scenery a savage and repulsive aspect. From an elevation at a short distance are seen four other lakes, within a few yards of each other, the largest of which is nearly as extensive as Llyn Teivy, but less formal in shape; while the smallest, which is circular, and about three quarters of a mile in circumference, occupies the highest ground in the county: these lakes, from their elevated sites, are much agitated by the winds. Within a short distance of them is a sixth; and another called Llyn Vathey Cringlas, occurs between Pentre Rhŷdvendigaid and Castell Einion; besides which are others in the same quarter, called respectively Llyn Helygen, Llyn Hîr, Llyn Gorlan, Llyn Crwn, Llyn Gweryddon Vawr, Llyn Dû, Llyn Cynvelin, Llyn-y-rhŷdau, Llyn-y-cregnant, a second Llyn Dû, Llyn-y-Gors, Llyngynon and Llyncerig-llwydion: within half a mile of Lampeter is Llyn Llanbedr. Other small lakes are to be seen on the high lands in the county, and several of them are the sources of rivers. The lakes of Cardiganshire afford excellent trout-fishing.
The extent of the Sea-coast, from the mouth of the Dovey, on the north, to that of the Teivy on the south, is about forty-six miles: the lands on the shore, along the whole line, are of considerable elevation, excepting only near the mouths of the rivers, where the vales descend to the coast. The Vale of the Aëron is most distinguished for extent and fertility; in the vicinity of Ystrad it is of considerable width, and contains various rich and well-cultivated farms. The scenery along the courses of the other rivers is of great variety, from the extreme of rugged and romantic grandeur, to the richness and beauty of fruitful vales. The latter, although they increase in breadth and fertility in approaching the sea, are in few instances, even in their lower levels, entirely devoid of that picturesque character which so frequently distinguishes the higher parts of their course, and is so much heightened by the grandeur of their cascades. The scenery on the banks of the Teivy becomes most beautiful and interesting below Lampeter; and the views about Llandyssil, Newcastle Emlyn, Llêchrhŷd, and Kîlgerran, are worthy of particular notice, as equalling any river scenery of the same kind in the principality. The Ystwith is characterized by a romantic interest, in its course through the delightful scenes, so highly decorated, or rather formed, by the hand of art, which surround Havod, the mansion of the late Mr. Johnes, afterwards the property of the Duke of Newcastle, and now of Henry Hoghton, Esq. The Devil’s Bridge, in the vicinity of the Rheidiol and Mynach falls, is a great resort of tourists. The elevation of some of the more remarkable Heights is as follows: Trêgaron Down, 1747 feet above the level of the sea; Talsarn, 1142 feet; Capel Cynon, 1046 feet; and Aberystwith, 496 feet. The two most extensive Bogs in South Wales are in this county. One of them, called Cors Gôch ar Deivy, extends from Trêgaron to Strata Florida, a distance of about five miles, its mean breadth being about a mile and a half: the river Teivy, not far from its source, meanders through it. The other is situated at the northern extremity of the county, adjoining the mouth of the Dovey and the sea-coast, and is between 9000 and 10,000 acres in extent.
A vast level tract of land, called Cantrêv Gwaelod, or “the lowland hundred,” is said to have occupied, in former times, part of the present bay of Cardigan, and to have been defended from the sea by artificial banks; which giving way, it was overwhelmed by an inundation about the end of the sixth century, the then lord of the territory being one Gwyddno Garanhîr. In the sea, about seven miles west of Aberystwith, is still to be seen a collection of rude stones, called Caer-Wyddno, “the fort or palace of Gwyddno;” and adjoining to it, and stretching northeastward towards the mouth of the Dovey, are vestiges of an embankment called Sarn Cynvelyn: these remarkable objects are left dry at low water of spring tides. Much light has been thrown on this interesting subject by the Rev. James Yates, F.G.S., in a paper read at a meeting of the Geological Society in London, in November 1832, entitled “An Account of a Submarine Forest in Cardigan Bay.” The forest appears to extend along the coast of Cardiganshire and Merionethshire, being divided into two equal parts by the estuary of the Dovey, which separates these counties; it is bounded on the land side by a sandy beach, and by a wall or bank of shingle. Beyond this wall is a tract of bog and marsh, formed by streams of water, which are partially discharged by oozing through sand and shingle into the sea. Mr. Yates argues, that as the position of the wall is liable to change, it may have inclosed the part which is now submarine, and that it is not necessary to suppose a subsidence effected by marine agency. The remains of the forest are covered by a bed of peat, and are distinguished by an abundance of pholas candida and teredo nivalis: among the trees of which the forest consisted, is the pinus sylvestris, or Scotch fir; and it is known that this tree anciently abounded in several of the northern counties of England. The labourers who dig for turf beneath the sand, constantly meet with the stumps and trunks of trees imbedded in the submerged turbary; and at low water of spring tides, vast beds of peat or turf become partially visible, extending along the coast from Borth, near Aberystwith, to Towyn, in Merionethshire, and stretching to an unknown distance into the sea. Thus, a great deal of ground becomes dry at low water, and this ground presents satisfactory evidence that part of the bay, at least, was at one time forest land.