|Notes from the stones, 31 Aug 00
Harold's Stones or The Three Stones stand just south of the village of Trellech. While it's common for towns in Wales to have two spellings (or two different names) to relflect the two common languages used there, on the six mile road from Monmouth to Trellech we saw the roadsigns spelling the town's name four different ways! Local historians say there are eighteen spellings. The Modern Antiquarian says the name means 'three stones', but 'tre/tri' means 'place of' as well as 'three' (as in Treherbert, etc). Either way, the village is clearly named after the standing stones.
The stones are in ascending order of height and stand in a line about 5 metres apart, very close together for an alignment. The small one is a 'normal' standing stone - it stands perpendicular to the ground and has a wide edge and a narrow edge. The narrow edge faces the other two.
The other two are squared, having no obvious edge-face and flat-face. As I stand here with my back against the smallest one, the middle one is leaning out to the right at an angle of about 75 or 80 degrees, and the far one leans to the left at about 60 degrees. It doesn't feel like especially boggy ground or a field that gets waterlogged much (it stands above the adjacent road), so it seems doubtful that the stones have tipped, and quite possible that they were placed at these crazy angles.
The base of the almost laughably phallic tall stone doesn't lean at the same angle as the rest of the stone; even if this first metre and a half were at 90 degrees, the main part of the stone ould still be leaning at 70 degrees or so. This one has clearly been designed to be leaning, which suggests that the middle one was too.
The puddingstone they're made of is pebbles held together with a natural cement. The amount of pebbles in each stone varies; The small one looks like sandstone with the occasional pebble, there are far more in the middle stone. The tall one has so many that it looks like a 1970s council pebbledashing job.
It's been suggested that the stones are aligned with the winter solstice on the holy mountain of The Skirrid.
The church in Trellech is also a curious place. There's a sundial at the back by the vestry (an indoor sundial?!) whose base is a lot older than the sundial part on top. Three sides of the base are carved. One side has the three stones and the legend 'Maior Saxis hic fuit victor Harald'. A second side is carved with a circular dip representing The Virtuous Well, an ancient holy well just east of the village. On a third side is carved a rounded lump and 'magna mole', representing Tump Terret, 300 metres south of the church along the ancient trackway that is still a public footpath. Coming from the stones, it's just over the road and behind the cattleshed of the farm. The Modern Antiquarian says it is a 'likely prehistoric mound', but given its dimensions, I'm inclined to agree with local historians that it is a Norman motte.
Even the embroidered prayer cushions in the church are interesting - featured designs include a Celtic cross, and on another the Three Stones.
The red stone cross in the churchyard is also extraordinary. The church itself dates from the 13th (or possibly early 14th) century, but there was a wooden church on the site since at least the 7th century. Church historians confidently speculate that the stone cross predates even the oldest church building here, and write, 'romantics may picture priests of the Celtic church (continuous in this area right from Roman times) ringing their handbells to summon the faithful to open-air worship inside the holy enclosure'. Beside the base of the cross is an ancient altar carved with Celtic crosses.
The base of the cross is five concentric layers of stone blocks ascending in a pyramid. The cross and the base stones contain white rocks, like the standing stones. Clearly this place was still of great religious significance, because the Christians made it such a constant focal point.
Posted by Merrick
5th September 2000ce