It's just over a hundred miles from my house, at the far end of another country, but I've just had my malfunctioning car fixed so I had to go and see some stones. I'm sure you understand.
I didn't have an OS map and that worried me greatly, but after reading Carls notes twice, looking on street map and Google Earth I was confident I could find it.
After slowly slipping and tripping up the steep sandy path I reach the summit cairn, all but unrecognisable now, I pause only long enough to acknowledge the ethereal beauty of the fast moving swirling mists and take the Carl path to the stones, my daughter is waiting for me in the carpark at Wentwood reservoir so no time for sitting around.
Some major forestry? work has occurred up on the common, all the trees have been cut down leaving meter high stumps as far as the eye can see, with massive piles of said cut down trees here and there, it was a bit unpleasant. But I suppose it did help me to spot the tall outlying stone, so it's not all bad.
The tall furthest out outlying stone is rather a good one, if it was nearer to home I'd have come just for that alone, but from here I can see the other outlier, which stands right next to the stone circle, and I've been waiting an age to make it's acquaintance so I go straight over and introduce myself.
The right next to it outlying stone is another impressive tall stone, a small tree with nice clumps of bushy lichen on it stands by the stone, I sent monkey boy up it and another to get a looking down photo of the stones but branches get in the way, I should've brought the drone, but frankly I'm a bit scared of it. The sun is beginning to get through now and the mists are lifting, I'm warm so I disrobe slightly and set to tidying up the place prior to photographing the site thoroughly. That can be hard work for my poor back, and if anyone were to see me pruning and whatnot I might get a bit embarrassed, so I keep an eye out for other people. Once, I looked up at a nearby thud and two ponies were being led back home by a grey haired woman, escapees she explains. Right, ok, that's normal I suppose.
After a tidy up, the sun hits us with it's full winter force, well, it was bright and sunny, so I dashed round taking pictures, it looked really very nice, the colours seemed to leap out at me, and now the bridges are visible it adds a new dimension to the scene, I don't like what people do to the planet, but for some reason I do like these big bridges.
Time has run out sadly, the time which I suggested to daughter has been and gone, so I thank the stones, tell them they were good, (they like that sort of thing) and they are good, and take my leave.
This was the primary site I wanted to visit today and the main reason for having an early finish from work. After my earlier, somewhat disappointing visit to Lanmelin Woods, it was with great anticipation that I parked the car in the large car park overlooking the shimmering waters of the reservoir. The first thing I noticed was that the information board had been vandalised, one bin destroyed and the other overflowing with rubbish.
This is South Wales after all.
There was only one chap in the car park (bird watcher) and I said ‘hello’ (as you do in the countryside) as I headed up towards the bridleway opposite.
He ignored me – miserable bugger!
Unperturbed I carried on my merry way.
The track starts off being well made and not too steep but once you reach the last house, and go through the gate marked Grey Hill Common, the track becomes a path. From here the path becomes progressively narrower and steeper – although the views get better, out over the reservoir and beyond.
It is a 15 minutes walk from the car park to the top of the hill. Until reading TSCs notes I hadn't realised that the stony soil at the top was the remains of a cairn. Great location for a cairn.
I had brought my previous direction notes with me but to be honest, at this time of year with everything in full growth, I didn’t find them much use.
Perhaps these are better directions for finding the standing stone and circle?
(Note – they cannot be seen from the path along the ridge of the hill)
Once you reach the top of the path and come out onto the top of the hill, take the path to your left. Follow this path for a couple of hundred metres until you pass (what appears to be) two small quarry pits – one each side of the path. A little further along the ‘main’ path you will see a ‘minor’ path heading off to your right – down the hillside and through the ferns/bushes/trees. Take this path and it will lead you straight to the standing stone and the circle just beyond.
10 minute walk from the top of the hill / 25 minutes from the car park way down below.
Despite the new growth the stones were easy enough to see. The inside of the circle was free of ferns etc. I had forgotten that the southern edge of the ring was made up of a continuous row of stones. The rest of the circle was more fragmented.
The tall outliner is a fairly impressive stone in its own right. Between the outliner and the circle I spotted several 'suspicious' looking recumbant stones. One in particular looked very much like a fallen standing stone. The small oak tree next to the circle had a couple of clooties tied to its lower branches.
What is most impressive about this site of course is the view.
Sweeping views over the River Severn, along the coast and out over to England. Flat Holm and Steep Holm just about visible in the summer haze.
The centre of the circle was free of ferns etc and, using my t-shirt and the leaning/fallen stone as a pillow, I lay down on the cool grass and watched the clouds drift by high above me. The sun was beating down and the surrounding ferns acted as a wind break. It was very warm and I nearly fell asleep. All was well in the world. A sense of contentment came over me. All my cares (for a while at least) ebbed away.
Before long however I had to rouse myself as it was time to pick the children up from school and return to the ‘real’ world. It is important that every now and again you get the chance to visit such a site and de-stress.
It is certainly cheaper than a psychiatrist!
This can be tricky to find as when you get to the top of the hill the stones are not visible. Once at the top, take the path along the ridge to your left (when looking at the River Severn). As you walk along the path you will see the two Severn Bridges. Head 'off track' roughly between the two bridges until you see the outliner. Harder to spt in the summer due to the masses of bracken.
What a great site! Walked up from Foresters Oaks round barrow, climbing Gray Hill up the path from the NW corner of the hill, which involves a very steep climb. Once at the top, at the western end of a ridge, you come out right next to a low cairn. There are views across to the Black Mountains, while the Severn flows past to the south. Both Severn bridges are visible. From here, I walked east along the ridge, before cutting southwards down the slope. After a while the large outlier became visible.
The outlier is a big, "double slab" of conglomerate rock, leaning to the north-east. From the outlier, another large standing stone is visible further down the hill to the south - this stone is another outlier, standing immediately adjacent to the eastern end of the circle itself.
The circle is small ring of recumbent slabs. Although it's overgrown by the vegetation, it's a lovely setting, with terrific views over the Severn. Two larger stones lie in the circle, possibly the remains of some kind of "cove" setting - they were reported as being upright in the 19th century. After months exploring the limestone of the Cotswolds, the ferns and quartz-pebbled rock were a welcome change of texture and reminded me of Cornwall. A truly lovely place to come.
From here I headed down the slope to the south, passing a smaller, moss-covered, possible standing stone next to the path as it wound through the trees. Then off to the pretty village of Llanvair-Discoed and its possible menhir.
Best to park in the Wentwood carpark, rather than park off the track and be told off by an irate farmer like i did! This time of year the bracken is very high and so the stones are quite hard to find. Basically keep going along the top of the hill until u come to a tiny cairn that points the way, heading towards the river. There are huge huge views looking way across the magnificent Severn. It really is a Goddess of a river!
First u come to an outlier, which guides u towards the circle. Then100 yrds on u come to the circle itself. Most of the stones are recumbent, but u can get a good feel of what it was like. Apparently the circle is surrounded by a D shape enlosure with raised banks and "Ritualistic Items" have been found in the banks. The local archeologists think that this circle is late neolithic, which will be the only one of this age in Wales. It is going to be investigated further next year.
The Gray Hill Landscape Research Project: A stone circle, possible stone row or standing stones and prehistoric cairns were known on the hilltop, but a GPS-based assessment survey carried out in 1999-2000 by Graham Makepeace on behalf of Monmouthshire County Council identified many more archaeological features..