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Halkyn Castle Football Team 1910 outside the Blue Bell Inn by Steve | 30/06/2011
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An Introduction to Halkyn Mountain Common
Halkyn Mountain Common is a remarkable upland limestone plateau situated between the Clwydian Hills and the Dee Estuary in North Flintshire. It runs roughly parallel with the Dee estuary and overlooks the towns of Holywell and Flint. Most of the land lies above 250metres, with the highest point being the earthwork of Moel y Gaer at the south eastern end of the common.
It is a landscape that has seen continuous human occupation for 5000 years. Prehistoric remains include evidence of a Neolithic timber longhouse on Moel y Gaer, Bronze Age burial cairns and an Iron Age hillfort on Moel y Gaer.
The rich mineral deposits, in the limestone, particularly lead but also silver, have been exploited for centuries and the limestone itself has been extensively quarried. The landscape today is a reflection of this industrial exploitation.
There is evidence that the Romans exploited lead ores but the area came into pre-eminence as a centre for lead mining between the late 17th and early 20th centuries. At its peak there were as many as 100 mines operating on the mountain and it is estimated that over 550 000 tons of lead were raised. Mining finally ended in 1978 and the final mines fully closed in 1987 when the head-frames were dismantled and the shafts sealed. The landscape has been described as a moonscape of ‘humps and bumps’ which are a result of this large-scale mining activity.
In addition to the lead, the rocks themselves were of high commercial value. Layers of different rocks laid down over millennia faulted and eroded leaving a variety of limestone, chert, fireclay, sand, gravel and silica all within a relatively small area. The limestone was initially extracted for building but later for agricultural lime, as a flux for iron smelting and for glass making and other chemical industries. Chert was in demand as a grinding tool for use in the potteries. Large scale quarrying of limestone for roadbuilding and the construction industry continues today with over 3 million tonnes of stone removed from the mountain each year.
The settlements and culture too have been shaped by the mining and quarrying industries, The population increased considerably in the 17th and 18th centuries with miners coming in from other mining areas, including Derbyshire and Cornwall, and bringing with them the customs and beliefs of their local areas.
Halkyn Mountain Common has a particularly hardy and unusual mix of plant, animals and habitats. The soils are thin and are on a remarkable variety of rocks. Moreover, the grazing and mining activities over the centuries have disturbed and changed both the local soils and the landscape.
Wildflowers thrive on the poor soils in the limestone areas including herbs such as wild thyme and an array of orchids. Where the soils are more acid, above the chert and sandstone, heathland plants like gorse and heathers grow.
Rare plants have adapted to the normally toxic heavy metal soils of the spoil tips around the lead mines. Of particular note is Spring sandwort, also known as Leadwort and was used by the Romans to find lead. The grasses too have adapted to the high levels of heavy metals, and form the largest area of its kind in Wales.
Many old quarry and mine workings have developed naturally into ponds, where frogs, toads and newts abound. These include colonies of the Great Crested Newt, protected by law. Halkyn is one of the few places in Europe where these exotic-looking newts are relatively common.
To conserve this special mix of plants and animals Halkyn Mountain was designated in 2003 as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a candidate Special Area of Conservation, a European measure to protect our most endangered species.
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