|Sheds v Stones
After a lazy Saturday morning in bed, then discovering the weather was actually rather splendid, Kate elected to take the day off from work. Imagining she would be keen to continue with the current shed painting project (my beloved is never happier than when she has an open tub of Cuprinol nearby), I was pleasantly surprised when she said "Thought we might go megalithing this afternoon."
"Oooo," I replied excitedly,Glorious and beautiful, or stubby and megarakky?!"
"I think you need glorious and beautiful", she smiled, knowingly.
Consulting my library of ancient monuments and prehistoric structures, it didn't take me long to work out that Moel ty Uchaf and its environs would be suitably glorious and beautiful. Packing dogs and megalithing gear into the car, we headed out through Llangollen, following the Afon Dyfrydwy, or River Dee, singing loudly to Stevie Wonder's I Wish. Truly music to megalith by . . .
Pissed Off Puppies
Turning left after Corwen, and dropping off the main road, we soon found ourselves driving into the less populated, gently swelling hills of Berwyn Mountain and its surrounds. The hills and mountains in this part of North Wales are soft and flowing, subtle yet imposing, yet possess an understated magnificence, something that can be too easily missed due to their close proximity to Snowdonia. Goddess symbolism, shape and form abound, the hills holding a timelessness and raw energy that our modern life eschews. From what little I have seen so far, North Walian sacred landscapes and their mysteries are somehow more tangible, more dominant, – the elemental cohesion sings in an entirely different fashion to that of the south of England.
Blessed with rich afternoon light, we drove halfway up to Moel ty Uchaf, and left the car when the track became too rutted, muddy and steep. As it was sheep country, the dogs were also left in the car, their disgusted barks echoing loudly through the still winter air as we set off up the hillside. After following muddy ovine hoof prints almost to the top of the hill, the fabled circle had not come into view. As I consulted the map once more, Kate quietly said "There it is." On a natural bank rising up from the hillside, a line of small and enchanting stones broke the horizon, with the rich blue sky as a backdrop. Leaving the path, the ground dipped and rose again as we walked, momentarily causing the stones to disappear - a nice touch, I thought. Then we found ourselves in front of a most beautiful circle.
Silence Is Golden
This structure inspires reverence. It is so complete. Particularly noticeable is the closeness of the stones. Standing firmly side by side, they form a neat walled enclosure. Although not very tall, they create an emphatic delineation of space within space, of place within place. Inside the hollow of the central cist, someone had recently placed a chunk of white quartz, its paleness contrasting loudly with the encircling stones. The stones themselves contain amongst their number some interesting forms. One, slightly taller than the rest, is clearly a preferred spot for local raptors, as streaks of guano stain the rock; this stone offers splendid all-round views for hungry birdies. My favourite though, is a pentangle-shaped stone; in the same moment it manages to be reminiscent of a supernova, a five armed shoreline animal, and a bag of Milky Way Magic Stars.
A large mound, with two uprights like snaggly teeth, sits in a field on the Dee floodplain. This must have been very impressive in its hey-day, but sadly has been robbed for stonework. Still lovely, though, especially under a winter sunset, while a thrush sings through the dusk.
Moel ty Uchaf commands the most stunning vista; that of the Dee and Alwen Valleys to the north and north-east, and the edge of the Cambrian Mountains to the west and north-west, hills that continue in curving serried ranks to the far horizon. Behind, to the south, the view is of bare hilltop, a small copse, and masses of sky.
By now, sunlight was kissing the top of a distant hill, and pale gold light bathed everything, bringing alive its form and texture. Silence was all-consuming, the stillness of the air total and magical. The stones glowed under a vast sky. Below, Denbighshire stretched for miles. Down in the towns and vales, lives pressed on; inside the stones, life was timeless. We did not speak. Boots brushed over scrubby turf. Birds called out inside the copse. A whisper of cobweb ran delicately from a stone to a blade of grass. Caught in a breath of wind, it quivered silently, shimmering like molten gold. Everything was glorious, and very, very beautiful.
This is a stunning site; set in magnificent scenery, relatively diminutive, yet equally as magnificent for its completeness. It is quite easy to believe that the original builders abandoned it a few hundred years ago, let alone 4,000 years ago.
We visited on a classically beautiful late winter afternoon, and were bewitched. The peace of this cosy circle is deeply regenerating; its effect has continued on in me for days. Do visit, and prepare to be transported.
It was hard to take our leave of this place, but sunset was growing closer, and there were two other sites to view before nightfall. Happily, they were both in close proximity to Moel ty Uchaf, so returning to the car (the dogs made it clear that they weren't speaking), we headed back down to the Dee Valley, and a few minutes later, arrived in a lane bordering the field which is home to Branas Uchaf.
Parking under a wooded hillside opposite Branas Uchaf as pinky-gold light blossomed at the far end of the valley, I was pleased to see a handy stile had been built into the fence. The structure was too far from the road for my camera (a natty little digital, kindly given to me by Moth and Jane), to cope with the distance. Hopping over, I made my way across the field, and took a stroll round the whole of the mound before climbing onto it for a better look.
This circle of recumbent stones is quite lovely, and lies right next to a smart farmhouse (how is it these Welsh folk get to have such antiquities in their gardens?! See Fairy Oak Round Barrow
). Some of the stones have been robbed, but nonetheless, an idea of the commanding nature of the place remains. Fab mountain views are to be had on all sides. Pretty.
A thousand years or so older than Moel ty Uchaf, Branas Uchaf is a battered and incomplete chambered round cairn. The mound itself appears to have sunk somewhat, and the chamber has been raided for stone over the years. The most impressive feature is a couple of large uprights, surrounded by a few other tumbled stones. Two lovely trees grow out of the mound.
The manner in which the stones have fallen suggest, at the briefest of glances, that something of a chamber might remain – but sadly, this not the case. However, something put me in mind of Wayland's Smithy and The Hoar Stone (at Enstone. I don't know why, because there isn't really any resemblance to either; perhaps it just felt the same. As I looked around, a loud and heart-achingly exquisite thrush's song broke the silence. Pouring mellifluously from the wood above the field, echoing like fluid, honeyed gold, its purity was breath-taking. It was that which made Branas Uchaf for me. The sense of timelessness and the sheer number of millennia which have passed since it was first constructed swept over me. Had the ancients interred their dead here, spent time with their ancestors in the stillness of the beautiful river valley, their ruminations broken only by the richness of bird song? Not for the first time the sense of ages separating us evaporated, and whatever the culture previously, a powerful sense of universe and cosmos prevailed. The burial chamber still stands proudly in its field, despite efforts to tear it apart, testament to that wholeness. I returned to Kate deeply satisfied, and was rather pleased to discover her reading The Modern Antiquarian, its orange cover glowing like the deepening sunset.
Although the light was fading fast, there was just enough time left to squeeze in a quick look at Tyfos cairn circle. This is close to the road, in a field adjacent to Tyfos farmhouse. Although it is possible to look through the hedge, more joy is to be had by enquiring politely at the farm for proper access; the two gentlemen we spoke to were more than happy for us to have a look.
Evidently Moel ty Uchaf's hilltop is visible from Tyfos, but I was unaware of this, although the thought had crossed my mind. Annoyingly, therefore, I wasn't too sure where to look to see if the stones could be spotted. Relying on small printouts from the excellent Ordnance Survey website (due to a lack of OS Explorer 255), I was unable to work out the precise positions. Nonetheless, I suspect Moel ty Uchaf's stones are unlikely to be seen from the bottom of the Dee floodplain, but do correct me if I am wrong.
Tyfos is a large cairn, with a big circle of recumbent megaliths atop the flattened mound. It appears to have been raided for stones, as there are a few gaps. One stone has clearly split in two; I wondered if this was the result of modern man's interference since it was positioned, or just the effects of the elements. It seemed slightly odd to have a stone circle on such a low-lying tract of land; mountains can be viewed on all sides, with the best views spreading east to west.
Due to fading light, there wasn't much time to hang around, and I tried to get some photos of stones backlit with pinkening sky. The colour and texture of the stones definitely put me in mind of Arbor Low, the only other recumbent stone circle I can recall visiting. This was more a stubby and megarakky site, really, so after Kate had amused us both with comical Green Man impressions through a hole in a nearby hedge, we left the last site of the day. Heading home for some real ale, watching a perfect sunset ending a perfect day, and singing along joyfully to Maroon 5's 'Songs About Jane', we both felt very glorious and very beautiful indeed.
Posted by treaclechops
9th February 2005ce
Edited 4th September 2006ce
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