|A Jolly November Evening
'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness', wrote Keats. He conveniently forgot about the driving rain, dank air and leaden skies that typify this time of year. Outside it is a cold, wet, and miserable November night – therefore a suitable time to sit back and recall a particularly hot and sunny day at the height of summer. So, while soggy leaves blow around in the gusting rain and murky darkness, I'll make myself cosy with slippers and a steaming mug of cocoa - sod that, glass of Ardbeg and Belgian chocolates - and recount a day trip to the delightful sites of Dyffryn Ardudwy and Caer-Dyni.
What A Pair Of Stunnas!
The arresting Kate and I visited Dyffryn Ardudwy back in July, on the first decent summer's day after two weeks of wet and dismal weather. We were ready for sun, sea and sand, so set off eagerly to drive through Snowdonia, and head for the glorious coastline of north-west Wales. I was keen to visit Dyffryn Ardudwy after seeing photographs of it in several of my megalithic books; and I was not disappointed when we arrived at lunchtime. As we approached the dolmens up a narrow track (after realising they were hidden behind a Victorian village school and masses of gorse bushes), the midday sun beat down out of a brilliant blue sky and puffy white clouds drifted overhead. Below us, Barmouth Bay shimmered and sparkled in the blazing sun, whilst to the north, the misty blue mountains of the Lleyn Penninsula rose out of the cyan ocean.
Our first view of the site from its small gateway was enchanting – two beautiful cromlechs stood in the shade of a magnificent oak tree, as sunshine bounced dazzlingly from the wide sea of smooth-faced stones which surrounded them on all sides. The tree towered over them in sentinel-like fashion, and at the same time contrasting wonderfully with the expanse of glaring rock. These dolmens are all that remain of a once huge longbarrow. The smaller of the two formed the initial construction, and is a very dinky portal dolmen, closed off on all sides. The whole barrow must have been a deeply impressive structure, and originally would have commanded the most inspiring views over Barmouth Bay, views now impeded by buildings and trees.
Must Try Harder
As I took photographs, Kate explored the larger of the two dolmens, and discovered the burnt remains of someone's homework inside the chamber. Clearly, Geography was not a favourite subject, as the charred papers revealed themselves to be a basic test on significant places in the world. Nonetheless, and reassuringly for us, our arsonist understood that Stonehenge is a stone circle on Salisbury Plain; but not that the Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede, selecting 'Fort Knox' instead from the multiple choice questions. Not sure if the homework was incinerated before or after marking.
The dolmen has been repaired in a rather heavy-handed manner, with the pile of bricks supporting the capstone on its southern side looking more like a 1960's style exterior stone chimney. More of this chimney work can be seen on the northern side. Yick. The capstone itself though, is huge and beautiful, sweeping up aerodynamically at the SW corner, whilst in the opposite NE corner it curves down into a shapely overhang. A truly fabulous piece of stone – the engineers who built this structure must have been thrilled when they freed it from the ground or rock face.
Inside it is a wonderfully quiet and shady place, beautifully proportioned and ideal for escaping the heat of the day. It also has that unmistakable feel of someone's den. How cool to have such a place right behind your school; I would hope whoever hangs out in it now at the age of nine will be contributing to TMA in a few years' time - hopefully, having such a thing to grow up with will spark an appreciative passion in someone's breast, as well as sparking a Swan Vesta. After all, it is the perfect spot to commit one's homework to the flames.
Small, But Perfectly Formed
The smaller, and for my money, more endearing, portal dolmen is very similar in size, design and structure as the enchanting Maen-y-Bardd. Sitting against it while making notes, I could sense an air of finality, of resting place, and of great calm. Perhaps it was because unlike Maen-y-Bardd, the entrance had been neatly sealed with a large rounded boulder, although it was possible to look inside through the gaps in the uprights. Yet this felt like an act of observation which was somehow slightly voyeuristic, intrusive, and sacrilegious, a bit like peering into a broken tomb in a churchyard. Which is exactly what it is, of course; 5,000 years has diffused the sanctity of many of these places – now they are features of the landscape, rather than sacred resting places where rite and ritual hold sway over allcomers.
Stepping out of the stone sea, Kate and I sat under the shade of the oak, and picnicked on samosas, brie and crackers, sipping Kronenbourg 1664, and spending a long time in silent contemplation of these alluring dolmens, whilst listening to gorse seed-pods popping in the heat.
Pictures Speak Louder Than Words
Further up the road towards Criccieth lies the broken and ruinous dolmen of Caer-Dyni. I didn't know what to expect from this site, and was rather disappointed to see such an insignificant and busted up pile of stone in a large sheep field. I asked the farmer for permission to go into the field and take some photos, and it was as I made my way nearer to the stones that I began to feel a tangible difference towards them. The remains of this barrow lie under a large gorse bush in the middle of a craggy, rolling sheep field that meets the fabulous and empty sands of Criccieth Beach. Although there was very little time to stop and take it all in, I felt very much that although broken, it was still inherently part of the whole landscape, singing with the earth's vibe – testament to the ancient builders, who clearly understood the power of the place.
The view from the footpath gives a greater sense of how it must have looked in its hey-day – the surrounding countryside of rugged mountains, golden beaches and breaking waves on the northern-most part of Cardigan Bay are breathtaking.
Posted by treaclechops
10th November 2004ce
Edited 15th November 2004ce
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