Many monuments survive in Wales, but most are seen as alien: belonging to predominating foreigners. This is not the case for the native Iron Age Castell Henllys. In 1980 Hugh Foster purchased the land in order to build an archaeological theme park. He thought, the real thing might be just as exciting as fiction like for example an Asterix theme park.
Excavations were undertaken at the site to satisfy curiosity more than being rescue excavations. Archaeological evidence, combined with principles of mechanics and parallels with other timber buildings allowed reasoned inferences to be drawn on the form of the original buildings. If archaeology could help out, it was used as a source, but if not, than other sources of inspiration were sought. The goals was to present dramatic aspects of prehistory. There was great stress put on the mystical and the military.
Foster came, like most of the general public, to the past with questions which archaeology cannot answer. He allowed visitors to participate in the creation of their own vision of the past. After he died in 1991, the park came into the hands of The National Park. This only happened after a lot of pressure from the local population. In the context of rising cultural identity, one didn't feel comfortable with this showpiece, flag of the Welsh nation to fall into foreign, English hands. Still, the Castell Henllys plays a role in strengthening the feeling one belongs to a great, own past.
Four roundhouses and a granary have been reconstructed on their original Iron Age foundations. The first to be built, the 'Old Roundhouse' was reconstructed more than twenty years ago and is the longest standing reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse in Britain. The latest project, the 'Chieftain's House' has just been completed.
While the first years of the centre, under Foster, it was mainly a summer attraction for tourists, nowadays it drifts mainly on a year through educational offer. Castell Henllys is owned and managed by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, in order to: help people to understand and enjoy the rich natural and cultural heritage of the National Park and highlight the special qualities of its character and traditions through the interpretation of Castell Henllys to visitors, students and school children.
Off course it became more rigid now it is part of a civil organisation. The modern approach is more opinion forming, rather than encouraging creativity on the part of the visitor. You don't create your own past, but the archaeologist's past is presented. And it remains to be seen if the visitor accepts this past... A few years ago, the site was the location for a BBC series: “surviving the Iron Age”.