The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Dinas Emrys



I guess it's fair to say that the reputation of Dinas Emrys precedes it somewhat..... a state of affairs that, I have to admit, has been known to depreciate the potential value of a site in my eyes in the past. Not a laudable behavioural trait, perhaps, but I reckon there are worse idiosyncrasies out there. Anyway, I reckon I duly absolved myself of any accusations of elitism courtesy of last year's comic failure to ascend the right crag, an error compounded by a subsequent screening of 'Merlin' on TV. Never mind. As Adam Ant once said, 'ridicule is nothing to be scared of'. Only the failure to try and correct an error when it is in your power to do so.

So, what's in a name? Why are the (relatively) fragmentary remnants of this Iron Age hill fort, overlain with later medieval castle, accorded such a prominent place in Welsh lore? I mean it's not as if Merlin actually existed, any more so than Ms Rowling's bespectacled, mop-haired muppet? Well, for what it's worth.. it seems to me that in an age before the dubious 'delights' of mass communication and TV, power politics was nevertheless still utterly dependent upon the ordinary peasant being sold a good story, one complete with iconic sets and characters. Needless to say, then as now, it didn't have to be true! Add a widespread belief in the supernatural into the mix and this crag, magnificently set beneath Yr Wyddfa at the very heart of Gwynedd's 'natural fortress', was just about the perfect location to stage your 'battle of the dragons' clash of cultures, the analogous bout naturally foretold by that man Merlin. Powerful realpolitik indeed. Wouldn't have had the same impact if Harry Hill had said 'So which dragon is best? Red or White. There's only one way to find out. Fight!'.......

Hmm. How can any site possibly live up to all that? Seems an impossibility. But you know what? I reckon Dinas Emrys carries it off. As per last year (ahem) I approach via the way-marked path from Craflwyn Hall, the scenery very pleasant, bordering upon the exquisite where the Afon-y-cwm, crossed by a 'clapper bridge', cascades down from the rocky heights of Yr Aran (incidentally a lovely peak, that). The legendary fortress rises more or less due east, the final, rocky ascent by way of a narrow, wooded ridge from the north-east. Llyn Dinas lies resplendent in Nantgwynant far below, the classic, achingly evocative scene framed by autumnal vegetation of a hue somewhere between pink and brown... don't think it's got a name. The colour, that is. The Snowdon massif towers above to the north, the summits obscured by the almost obligatory cloud mantle. Continuing to the west I encounter the rectangular footings of the apparently medieval great tower and, beyond again, three lines of drystone rampart. Ok, these are much denuded, but are nevertheless a lot more substantial than I expected. Indeed it would appear the main approach to the enclosure was here to the west, the defences thus aligned to cover the 'easiest' approach. Easiest? Yeah, right.

The north-western outlook has another prize in the form of a wondrous vista toward Beddgelert, the Bronze Age skyline of Moel Hebog looming above all through a grey mass of vapour. Also worthy of note is the nearby hill fort of Dinas.... standing aloof and displaying a far more precise geometric profile than its illustrious eastern neighbour. Wandering to the southern edge of the crag I gaze down at the fast-flowing Afon Glaslyn, sourced immediately beneath Yr Wyddfa itself, and ponder that it would be difficult to imagine, let alone visit, a more strategically placed fortress than Dinas Emrys? Yeah, the pieces are falling into place.

The onset of darkness beckons so I decide I'd better be off. One can not be too careful, what with all these legends hanging in the air. For example it seems that the site has also been known as the 'Hill of the Flaming King', perhaps a reference to a solar cult? Needless to say the Celts were not adverse to a touch of sun worship. Clearly Dinas Emrys has played a fundamental part in shaping how this nation and its people view themselves. After (finally) coming here to experience it for myself.... I can understand why.
16th December 2013ce
Edited 19th December 2013ce

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