|Dammit, this train is getting later and later. Sometimes a delay is nothing, but today’s a big day of prehistoric excitement, if only I can ever get there. Last night a discussion on the forum led to an offer of a meet up at Penmaenmawr, in a part of Wales I’ve never been to, for a walk to the Druid’s Circle before a climb of Tal-y-Fan.
I ring my companion for the day, to tell her that Arriva are doing what they can to stop me ever getting there. Luckily the voice at the other end is one of calm reassurance, unphased by the changing timetable. This is my first contact with Blossom, who has offered the meet up.
By the time I get to Penmaenmawr, an hour and a half late, it’s shaping up to be a glorious summer’s day. Blossom is waiting on the platform, her dogs are waiting in the car, and without much ado off we head up the steep and winding road that leads to the Two Pillars carpark, at the top of the prosaically named Mountain Lane.
A broad and easy track climbs steadily from the carpark, carefully hiding the views south behind the flanking Foel Lus but providing a grand vista of the quarried and scarred Graig Llwyd and across to Ynys Mon – these are places I’ve longed to see, now laid out between azure sky and blue-green sea.
We emerge onto a hillside of well-made drystone walls and cropped grass. The long summit ridge of Tal-y-Fan is the principal backdrop, far off and high above.
After passing Red Farm
stone circle without a proper look, the impressive boulder of Maen Crwn is the first proper stop on the walk up towards the Druid's Circle.
Set in the V of a valley between higher hills, the long views are restricted. But it feels like a stone-on-the-way-to-somewhere stone, the kind you often find marking your path in upland Wales when on the way to exciting destinations. And given what waits above, it certainly performs that function beautifully.
The pull of the circles is too much to linger though...
It’s a further steady slog of a climb up from Maen Crwn
, and the excitement levels really ramp up from here on. Druid's Circle is already visible on the skyline above, but it's still worth restraining the urge to get there for a while with a pause at this lovely little circle.
Like something someone might build around a campfire, a simple ring of smooth stones, with a wonderful sea view. The dogs are very taken, sniffing around the inside of the ring. If it weren't for the fact that the Big Attraction is so visibly close, it would be easy to stop here for a good while.
But we don't.
It’s not much more of a pull upwards to reach the circle. There’s no-one else about so I can savour this beauty properly. The setting is as good as any stone circle I’ve been to, particularly on such a wondrous summer’s day. The sea to the north, the high peaks of the Carneddau mountains to the south. It’s a bit special this.
The stones are big, certainly bigger than you’d find in many Welsh circles. Each has character and there are veins of quartz here and there. Although some of the stones have fallen, it doesn’t detract from the overall impression.
Mountains, stones, silence, sea and sky.
I could write a few pages of superlatives, but really you should come and see for yourself. In the meantime, we have some lunch and take it all in.
Blossom has Frances Lynch’s excellent Gwynedd guide with her and we have a quick look to see what else there is around here. The prominent jumble of upright stones visible to the west is the most obvious place to head next. Unfortunately we don’t realise that Circle 278
is hidden away over a little crest and miss it completely. Drat.
Monument 280 (these numbers suggest a spectacular profusion of other sites crowding around us) is very difficult to get a handle on, even when you’re standing in its midst. A row of four uprights run north-south across the monument, while on the west an apparent kerb forms its edge. Shapes and patterns can be discerned, but are contradicted by other patterns. Truly an enigma.
Having singularly failed to realise we’d missed Circle 278, we continue west along the main track. Cors y Carneddau circle is supposedly on the north side of the track. Surely this should be easy to find?
Well, no. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there are quite of lot of random stones in the grass here. Which ones do you choose?
Eventually we decide that a group quite near to the drystone wall, just east of a corner, is the best bet. There are at least four stones in a sort-of arc, with a couple of additional possibles close by. But I could be persuaded otherwise…
What is entirely certain though, is the massive Cefn Coch (“Red Ridge”) cairn. It would be impressive anywhere, but what sets it apart from comparable sites is the stunning backdrop of the Carneddau.
Turning its face resolutely from the sea hidden behind a ridge to the north, the cairn unquestionably looks inland towards the mountains. The very highest peaks of the range are hidden from here, but the skyline is filled with an array of summits all well above the 2000ft mark, several of which boast contemporary monuments.
It's a breathtaking sight and we sit in awe for quite a while.
This stunning place will be our final outpost of the day. It’s getting on and my plans to head on to Tal-y-Fan, already compromised by the train delays, were abandoned as soon as I reached the circles. A first visit to this wonderful complex in such amazing weather deserves time to savour. Today I’ve had good company to savour it in.
We retrace our steps to the car and I know I will surely be back. What a perfect day.