|Jane and Moth were visiting us for Easter, so it was appropriate that a reasonable day's megalithing be arranged. After ascertaining Jane fancied a few big, glitzy Hollywood-style sites, a route was planned which took in choice attractions from the last 6,000 or so years. Knowing the girl loves a good sweeping canvas, the inclusion of two sacred landscapes was considered an essential feature of the day's trip. The only problem was that (as with much of North Wales), reaching them involved walking. Jane doesn't do walking. If she knew in advance that walking was required, Moth and I would definitely be suffering from ear-ache come lunchtime. How was I to get round this? Easy. We were going on a Megalithic Mystery Trip . . . .
The Art Of Seduction
We left at 8:00am sharp, the same moment as the Ginster's Pies-sponsored passenger train rumbled along the railway line at the back of our house. This was generally perceived as a good omen by the three of us (the arresting Kate was at work), and indeed it was – after stopping for coffee at Rhug Organic Farm Shop, and spotting four waxwings by the roadside, we arrived at Capel Garmon in exactly an hour. Although thick fog had bedevilled us for most of the journey there, it petered out shortly before the turn off into the rolling hills leading to this magnificent burial chamber.
Another effective method the arresting Kate employed to seduce me. She brought me here on a glorious blue, russet, and gold autumn day, and blew me away. This place is so beautiful, peaceful and completely breathtaking.
When Jane, Moth and I visited, a misty, slightly overcast sky greeted us, and lifted as we left – typically. Nonetheless, a superb view of Snowdonia was afforded which demonstrated beautifully why the ancestors chose this site. As ever, the placing of a Severn-Cotswold long barrow in the heart of North Wales fascinated me. Who were the builders? Were they a group of people who moved up from the south? Were they a tribe who had taken on different belief systems to the others prevalent in the vicinity? Were they traders? There are no such barrows anywhere else up here, so I assume this must be the case. Or could it have been the last one to have been built before that set of beliefs changed? Or is the only one that has survived?
Whatever the reasons, this is a fabulous structure, definitely worth a visit. The remaining capstone (on the western chamber), is awesome, and it is easy to imagine how the thing must have looked when originally built. The post and panel work inside the chambers is a joy to behold, and even though it has been extensively restored, remains of the original dry walling can be seen in the lower courses of the eastern chamber. 5,000 year old dry walling. Cool.
We enjoyed a good half hour here, joined briefly by two other visitors, and watched by many fluffy sheep.
This Is A Local Rock For Local People
Leaving the bouffant sheep (and no mention of walking), we continued on up the A496 to Hendre Waelod or Allor Morloch, a dolmen I was particularly keen to see, and which Jane had also requested. We drove down a narrow lane until the metalled road on the map finished, and parked in a convenient gate-hole. A local pedestrian was intrigued by our presence, coming back to check on us, not once, but three times. We were definitely suspicious. However, once she saw a bearded chap wearing cammo pants and a rucksack, a large blonde in cammo pants and fluffy jacket, and a mad woman sporting a bush-hat head off up towards the woods, she was satisfied that we weren't a chav robbing squad, and continued her constitutional.
Follow the footpath up to the right from the gate hole, turn right into a brambly snicket, then left, and stay against the hedgerow until passing into a small wood. There are footpath markers to assist. You will be able to see this intriguing chamber silhouetted against the sky-line. In your eagerness to get up close to the monument, which forms the edge of two raggedy barbed-wire fences, take two seconds to locate the kissing gate 50 feet up to the right at the edge of the wood; using it is infinitely easier than scrabbling through tetanus-loaded wire.
This secret, compact dolmen – the only one of the Conwy valley's portal dolmens sporting the customary high portal stones – looks down a tranquil bend in the Conwy valley, towards Llandudno and Great Orme. Although compact, it is deceptively huge from a distance, resulting in the viewer feeling a little surprised on arrival. What is most certainly huge, however, is the capstone. It is utterly gigantic. Despite the fact it has slipped down on the northern side, enough space remains to see the interior of the chamber. It is possible to wriggle inside, which I thought of doing until noticing how the capstone is held in place. (See pictures). Frances Lynch in CADW's publication Gwynedd says this is not for the squeamish. Quite right she is too – I didn't fancy the idea of being crushed by a ten-ton capstone, albeit an appropriate way for a Modern Antiquarian to perish. With my wide beam-end, the dislodging of rocks one way or another was sure to occur. When the arresting Kate saw the pictures the next day, she said "Well, at least it would give you an idea of how it feels to be a grain of wheat under a quern stone."
Although I was initially a tad disappointed in this site, it has stuck in my mind, and on reflection, I enjoyed it very much. It does have something about it which lingers in the psyche. I liked the remaining portal uprights, and the solidity of the site. I imagine if there are bluebells in the wood, it will look most agreeable throughout May. We would have stayed longer – Jane could have made a fab painting of the river vista – but a chilly wind chased us away to the next site.
Still no mention of walking as we sped off to the next attraction on the list – not 'The Magic of Llandudno', but the pleasures of Great Orme. There were two sites of interest scheduled before lunch, lesser known than the Bronze Age Copper Mines, which are something we will do another time. First on the list was Llety'r Filiast.
'The Lair of the Greyhound Bitch'. Appropriately enough, the house next door had a yard full of dog shit and a pack of hounds who barked long and loud on our arrival. In addition, the throb of bitchin' rap emanated forth - rather distracting in the otherwise secluded and peaceful setting of this small dolmen.
Unfortunately, the diminutive chamber is crumbling slowly away, much like a piece of Cheshire cheese. Enough remains to reveal what a charming structure it was, and happily, it is obviously looked after, as a helpful tourist information board is stationed nearby. The puddingy stone put me in mind of Carreg Samson
, although there was no variation in the stones used here.
With its capstone in place, it would probably have appeared more dramatic, but sadly this broke in three or four pieces a while ago, and the chunks now lie where they fell. Remarkably, although access is very easy via the solid purpose built ladder at the foot of 'Cromlech Road' (big help, that), the site is very clean and tidy. I expected it to be 'The Lair of the Burberry Chavs', but there was not an empty bottle of White Lightening in sight.
Moth and Jane reckon that in its hey-day, Lletty'r Filiast would have been a similar size to Hetty Peglar's Tump, which mean it would have been a seriously important site. Its position so close to the Copper Mines (just a few hundred yards above), is also interesting. It wasn't as dramatic as I had hoped, but pleasant. At least Jane was bewitched, finding herself reluctant to leave.
Virgin of the Rocks
Hunger pangs were starting to jab as we set off to find Great Orme Stone Row. This did entail some walking, but not too much, and we had decided to picnic on pies and crisps when we discovered its whereabouts. Although marked on the map fairly well (along with some weird rectangular structure to the rear – suggestions, anyone?), we had a hell of a job to find it, spending a good twenty minutes tramping this way and that through dense heather and gorse.
Eventually, a cry from Moth (looking epic against the sky-line, a bit like Gregory Peck), indicated the secretive Bronze Age site – and my first stone row.
As our initial searching had been confounded by many erratics, the general consensus was that this might not be a very spectacular site. After hoping for something reasonably impressive, I was beginning to think this would be a few short, squat, piddly stones running in a line for 10-20 feet.
Thankfully, this wasn't the case – Moth finally located approximately 100yds of Bronze Age handiwork, made from substantial stones, leading towards the Irish Sea. What a treat for a stone row virgin.
As we took photos and generally prepared for lunch, a hale and hearty woman approached, enquiring as to whether this was the stone row. We informed her it was, and she asked if we were students of archaeology. I replied that we were Modern Antiquarians, so in effect students of archaeology, but really just megalithic enthusiasts. She explained that she was an ex-midwife who led walking parties, and was walking Great Orme to suss out a new route, with places of interest like the Roman well by the roadside above the stone row. We suggested she check out Lletty'r Filiast.
Amongst all the erratics, the uniformity of the stone row was very clear, and picnicking above them, I wondered what their purpose had been. Interestingly, they faced north-ish, so presumably the setting sun would not have been visible at their end. Could they have been a ceremonial route, or something connected with shipping? Moth said they reminded him very much of Dartmoor stone rows, and on our return to the car, we had an interesting discussion about the possibility of Cornish tin miners being drafted in to work the Copper Mines, bringing with them new customs and traditions.
Upon our return to the car, Jane mentioned that the 350m walk and time spent searching had been quite a leg stretch. I looked at Moth (who by now knew what was next on the list), and kept schtum. The next stop was the one that involved walking.
Posted by treaclechops
8th April 2005ce
Edited 29th April 2005ce
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