Skip Navigation

History of Cwm Mynach

Cwm Mynach has a fascinating history. In 1198, a group of Cistercian monks – an order known for its austere lifestyle – founded Cymer Abbey.

Cwm Mynach lay within the abbey’s estate and the monks made use of its abundant natural resources. Cattle were brought to the wood for shelter, and the order turned to the trees to heat their abbey and fuel their fires. They cared for the land and its people, grazing hardy sheep on the slopes of the hills, and breeding horses for the 12th century welsh prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great).

Cwm Mynach is a gorgeous estate with plenty of history (Photo: WTML/ Mark Zytynski)

13th century

In return, the prince granted the abbey a charter in 1209 which gave it mining rights, and the monks mined the hills for metals such as lead and iron ore, teaching the local people how to smelt it. Despite this, the abbey was still desperately poor, and in 1275 and 1279, the troops of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, grandson of Llywelyn the Great, used it as a base. In 1283, Edward I also used the monastery, and the following year, he compensated the monks for the damage his wars had caused.

14th century 

The Order continued to occupy the monastery, though by 1388 their numbers had dwindled to just five monks. By 1535, the house had an income of £51 a year, and though it was remote, unimportant and small, it fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries just two years later. In the chaos and disarray of that time it was abandoned, but it is thought it was at that time that the monks hastily hid their few monastic possessions - a fine thirteenth century silver gilt chalice and paten (Eucharist plate) - on a secluded rock in Cwm Mynach beyond the mountain of Garn. This would certainly fit with the discovery in 1890 of a chalice and paten beneath a stone in Cwm Mynach. These are now held at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. As the centuries rolled on, the site fell into disrepair, the abbey’s ghostly ruins standing gaunt and derelict at the head of the Mawddach estuary.

Many ruined smallholdings, walls and sheep folds are also testament to the wood's agricultural past.

Visit Cwm Mynach and see if you can spot signs of its past (Photo: WTML/ Rory Francis)

19th century and modern times 

The 19th century brought the fires and noise of the Industrial Revolution to the valley. Local people heard the call and began mining for metals such as manganese and iron ore, found seams of gold, and extracted that fine Welsh staple – slate, which had the same output value as coal by the late 1890s.

The valley was a refuge during the Second World War for two teachers from war-torn Liverpool who settled here to renovate an old farm house and try to make a living from the land. They left an account of their experiences in the book Four Fields, Five Gates.

From the late 1950s, much of the site, like many other areas of the uplands, was planted with conifer for commercial purposes. However, the Trust is carefully removing some of these to restore Cwm Mynach to its original broadleaf beauty.

Echoes of this past haunt the site today. As you wander through the wood, look out for historic sheepfolds and standing relics of deserted mines such as old levels, shafts and winding houses, many of which are now home to lesser horseshoe bats.