|Louise was working at home, so I was volunteered to look after the boys and give her some peace and quiet. Faced with this challenge I did what any good father would do... I dragged them off into the countryside to see little lumps of rock and obscure hillocks.
After a bit of a drive (during which Alfie slept) we arrived at the first site of the day, the western of two barrows (which I've given the name the Beili Hwlyn Barrows).
Visited 25th May 2004: The western of the two barrows is right by the road, so easy to spot. It's on the wrong side of a fence, so if you wanted to crawl all over it you would have a problem, but just looking at it is easy enough.
The eastern barrow is on private land, and I couldn't spot it from the road (it was a half hearted attempt to be honest). Not worth an enormous detour, but worth seeing if you're passing by.
We cheated and drove quite a way up onto the hillside towards Fowler's Arm Chair, following a farm-track, then forestry track. Rather than finding ourselves in splendid isolation, we came across a field full of lunatics on scrambler motorbikes and an accompanying cavalcade of vans and trailers. I asked one of the bikers if it was OK for us to park in the field and walk to 'the circle'. He gave me a blank look and said nobody had ever stopped them from using the field. He clearly had no idea where or what the circle was, and I decided I wasn't going to elaborate.
I parked as far away from the bikes as possible, but there were still enough riders circling the field for me to feel pretty nervous about the boys. As soon as we had got our stuff together we headed north, following the footpath over a locked gate. This was a motorbike free zone, but still bloody noisy.
Visited 25th May 2004: After our picnic lunch at Fowler's Arm Chair Cairn
and set out to find the nearby stone circle. After about two steps north William shouted out, 'is this it?'. I was sceptical, because the stone he was looking at wasn't obviously part of a circle. After pondering the rocky lump for a couple of seconds (during which William had climbed it) I had to agree with him. Not bad site identification for a four year old! Ironically we had sat eating our lunch right next to the circle without spotting it.
So, not a very impressive site. If Fowler was a giant, then I wonder what he made of his armchair. Not very comfortable I'd have thought. There are only three obvious stones remaining from the circle, the largest being the arcmchair which has been enterpretted as a central stone. None of the stones are big, and none are really standing. On the ground it's less than clear how they relate to each other.
Visited 25th May 2004: The Cairn next to Fowler's Arm Chair
is much more obvious than the alleged stone circle it stands next to. We approached from the south and had a picnic lunch at the cairn. The weather was spectacular, but the scene was spoilt slightly by the constant sound of 2-stroke motorbike engines coming from across the valley.
This is a great cairn! It's chunky and well defined compared to many we've encountered. Thoroughly recommended as a picnic spot.
The motorbikes across the valley were a constant presence during our visit. They were doing circuits up and down the hillside, and the erosion was pretty atrocious. On our way back to the car I noticed this strange pattern made in the soil by a motorbike's tyres. I hate this kind of thing, but as mindless destruction goes, this example is at least interesting.
It made me think about chalk hill figures and what they would have represented when they were first made. In this case there are regular meetings of groups of bikers on both sides of the valley, so I suspect the strange pattern made in the soil was intended to be seen by competitors on the Fowler's Arm Chair side.
Having run the gauntlet of the motorcyclist where the car was parked, we headed back in the direction of home. On the way we stopped off to see a round barrow I'd spotted on the way out.
Visited 25th May 2004: This lump is probably a Bronze Age round barrow. It's visible from the road, but partly obscured by trees that have been purposefully planted on top of it. There's no public access to the barrow.
Not worth a special visit unless you are barmy about barrows.
After the excitement of Domen, I promised the boys something much much better and headed off towards an obscure dead-end valley behind Nantgwn. At the far end of the valley the road turns back on itself, and this is the best place to park to see the Cwm-y-Saeson stones, possibly the most impressive site of the day.
Visited 25th May 2004: Of the two stones only one remains standing, the second lying directly to the east. Either these two stood extremely close to each other, or the fallen stone has been moved. The stone that remains upright is big by local standards (1.8m according to the NMR). The boys were more keen on the recumbent stone because it was low enough for them both to clamber on.
This is a very quiet spot. The valley is a dead end, so nobody really comes this way unless they need to. I got the impression that the stones aren't often visited, which is a shame.
Having at last seen something that actually looked megalithic, I couldn't resist the opportunity of trying to spot another stone on our way back to the main road.
Visited 25th May 2004: To the east of the Cwm-y-Saeson
stones is Henriw Standing Stone, a full metre taller than its neighbour but much less accessible. We spotted it from the road, which is probably as close as you can get to it without approaching a landowner. It's behind a field boundary, so you have to find a spot where there's enough of a gap in the foliage to see it.
Like the anorak that I am I had binoculars with me, which turned out to be useful (the stone is about 300 metres from the road). Must come back when I have more time and see if I can get a closer look.
Visited 25th May 2004: Tan-y-Coed is a large ploughed down barrow just to the south of Henriw Standing Stone
. It's easier to spot than the stone because it's not obscured by field boundaries.
After all this excitement the boys were extremely keen to stop looking at prehistoric things, so we headed home to play in the garden (boooring!). Actually not a bad day, even if I was the only person interested in the barrows. The weather was good, the picnic was fun, the walking tired the boys out and Louise got to do her work.