A new pecked chevron design has been found at Barclodiad y Gawres - bringing the total of decorated slabs at the site to six. It was initially discovered by amateur archaeologists Maggie and Keith Davidson, and officially recorded by rock art experts this month... continues...
The interpretation board informed us that Barclodiad-y-Gawres means 'Giantess's Apronful'. I cannot add much in the way of field notes as we were not able to arrange a visit inside the tomb and could only look through the metal gate (which gave the tomb a cave like ambiance). A fabulous spot on the headland by a small bay, the entrance of the tomb faces towards the Irish sea and Ireland. The walk up to it was lovely, strewn with sea pinks on the day of our visit.
I understand there are engravings on some of the stones inside the tomb and these can be viewed by prior arrangement. I'm afraid we weren't that organised.
This is obviously one of those ‘must see’ Anglesey sites.
I went to the Wayside Stores to ask for the key but was told it was now ‘escorted visits’ only.
The lady in the shop (who initially didn't seem very interested) ‘phoned someone who said there was a group form Glasgow University being shown around the site at 2.00pm and could I join that group?
No problem said I and headed straight to the famous Chambered Cairn – where I was told to meet the party.
I arrived at the Cairn at 1.45pm – it is about a 10 minute walk from the large beach car park. Sophie was asleep so Karen stayed with her in the car whilst I took a wander along the headland. It was a sunny but windy day and I was surprised to see so many brave souls enjoying a ‘refreshing’ dip!
Whilst waiting for my ‘guide’ to arrive I first visited the nearby Round Cairn and then read the information boards. The outer door was open which gave access into the passageway but the inner door was padlocked. I was able to peer into the chamber but could not make out any of the carvings on the stones. No bother thought I, I will have a good look when my ‘guide’ arrives with the University group. It was now 2.00pm.
I looked back along the headland, expecting to see a gaggle of people but saw no one.
I sat down on the Cairn and admired the coastal views and seabirds.
2.15pm – two people turned up and despite my initial excitement soon became obvious they were ‘normal’ visitors who were also disappointed to find the door locked. ‘Don’t worry’ said I, someone with a key will be along soon! (How wrong I was)
2.30pm – still no sign – the couple who were waiting with me decided to give up and head back towards the beach.
2.45pm – I walked back along the headland forlornly hoping to see my ‘guide’ and his ‘posse’.
3.00pm – I gave up and headed back to the car. After all there is only so long you can expect people sat in a car to wait for you. Although this is not a direct fault of CADW it certainly doesn’t show them in a good light. I hope that when/if he ever did eventually show up they all had a nice time. No doubt it would have been a better experience than the one I did.
Hopefully those TMAers visiting will have more luck?
The alignment of the chamber at Barclodiad-y-Gawres has been puzzling me lately. The Irish passage graves - of which this is surely one - were sometimes aligned on the sun. Newgrange is the classic example, aligned on the midwinter sunrise.
The orientation of the passage at Barclodiad-y-Gawres is just about due north, as measured with a compass, which means that it cannot be aligned on any movement of the sun.
It is, however, aligned on a pair of low hills in the distance - Mynydd y Garn and Mynydd Mechell. The standing stones of Llanfechell lie at the foot of the latter.
The horizon on this part of Anglesey is remarkably flat and level, so these hills do stand out on a clear day. The obvious feature of the horizon is the great lump of Holyhead Mountain, but the passage points instead to the two smaller hills. I've attached a photograph of these from the passage.
Was this a deliberate alignment? Were these sacred hills? I don't know. Go there on a clear day, sit in the clear air of Anglesey, soak up the view and see what you think.
Seems to be getting a lot of attention from the general P now. Every time I go I follow groups of families on "outings" I think a lot are disappointed as the chamber is locked, but the key can obtained from the wayside stores.
Nice new informative signs there now.
I suppose it's good to see people showing an interest.
Saturday morning dawned grey and dry, and inevitably, Jane was like a greyhound out of a trap, with the key to Barclodiad-y-Gawres the hare. Soon, the four of us (Cleo stayed in bed), were rewarded with one of the most spectacular dolmens in the country.
It takes a long time for one's eyes to adjust to the darkness, but finally a very impressive chambered tomb becomes visible. Six stones are decorated with lozenge, spiral, cup mark and concentric circle patterns – the first and most impressive immediately to the right after unlocking the gate and entering the structure within a structure.
The large capstone has been skilfully engineered so as to appear to be balancing delicately and airily on the uprights, when viewed from certain angles. The back stones of the two side chambers are both carved with spiral designs. The best of these are on the eastern chamber – three spirals in a row. The handiwork of a Stone Age monumental mason, perhaps?
Whilst sitting on the comfortable, dry, sandy bank above the gloomy western chamber, listening to oystercatchers and the crash of the incoming tide on the cliffs below, two chaps entered, so I directed them to the Maglite Jane had left by the gate, and pointed out the carvings while giving them a (very) brief overview of the dolmen.
A fiver deposit got us the key from the Wayside stores in Llanfaelog, just one mile north from the chamber. And then with a stiff westerly blowing, we walked up the headland from our cottage to Barclodiad-y-Gawres. Right on a headland sticking out between two gorgeous beaches this chamber has much to recommend it.
I zipped inside quickly not least because it offered blessed relief from the wind. A couple of stones have swirls and zigzags carved onto the rocks reminding me a little of Gavrinis. I even liked the concrete dome protecting the internal chamber from the weather and allowing vistiors to view the entire construction. However, this was the only instance of Welsh restoration that I liked. But more on that story later.
If you get the chance, walk round on the cliffs to the south of Barclodiad and Cable Bay. The views of Barclodiad are wonderful and while you're here look out for the merlins, wagtails, oystercatchers and whinchats!
Keys from Wayside Store (A4080), not Aberffraw - 5 quid deposit also gets you a torch, but bring your own, just in case.
Great! deserted passage mound on promontory stretching out into the saline tossed Celtic Sea.
The main orthostat is excellent - pecked chevrons and spirals - I consider a goddess stone, on the strength of [cawres] 'Gawres'; I would like to have been more aware of the cruciform arrangement of the mound, however - it is now very 'dome-like' inside, as well as out.
This is a magical location - when I arrived a solitary Sand Martin was flitting to and fro within the mound, illuminatied by the entrance, flying round and round in circles; One of a pair, they had nested in the concrete dome.
I take the 'goddess stone' for the owl goddess, also found in prehistoric France, and the magical stew as an offering to her - I am reminded of Blodeuwedd from the Mabinogion...
Visited 2nd August: Went to shop, got key. It's not difficult you know! I can't believe how many people are missing the key bit!
Barclodiad-y-Gawres is a strange contradiction of a site. It's beautiful and it's ugly. It's moving, but someone has used the entrance as a urinal. Everyone who comes in while we're there is amazed by the carvings, but there are T-lights and dead flowers scattered liberally around the place. The damp darkness inside and the salty fresh brightness outside are too much to cope with in quick succession.
After too much time in the cage we ended up on the beach with ice creams (as sold by Wayside General Stores).
What can I say about this site that hasn't already been said before! Visited the site twice now whilst in Anglesey. Once about 7 years ago and then again last year after The Modern Antiquarian had rekindled my inner fascination and connection with such sites (thanks to Cathy Mc by the way for first borrowing me her copy!). Only just found the time though to post pics from last years visit. On visiting the site you must make sure that you get the key and have a look inside (someone had already borrowed it last time and disappeared for the day with it!). The modern concrete dome does take a bit away from the aesthetics of the internal structure but it is still worthwhile venturing in. The carved stones are superb examples and you can imagine what kinds of ancient ceremonies used to take place within their view. The location and panoramic views are simply breathtaking. Astounding!!
This is one of those sites you know you shouldn't miss, its just a pure joy to be here.
Merlin would have definately stopped by here for tea though I doubt he would have been impressed by modern building techniques.
The setting of Barclodiad-y-Gawres is awesome. The whole thing is spoilt by the huge grass covered dome which houses the monument. The gates were padlocked on the day we came and we were left frustrated by the fact that whoever had been allowed access last had left candles, foil wrapped chocolate Easter eggs and daffodils! Each to there own, but this kind of thing is pretty meaningless. A walk by the cliffs, down to the nearby cove showed the setting off further, with views out to Holy island. The orange coloured foam, as mentioned in TMA, was found frothing round the cliff edges, which shows this must be a perennial problem.
This is another site I remeber from childhood holidays in the rain searching out all the ancient burial chambers in Angelsey.
Revisted last year and when we arrived a cool dude from the University was inside. He invited us in and pointed out the spiral markings and the area where strange brews of bones and other bits and pieces where discovered...
The children were open-mouthed and awestruck at the chamber and description of the "witches' brew". This is a fantastic setting and quite a magical experience if you can get inside - the key should be available from the vistor centre in Abbefraw. I understand it's been significantly restored though...
Ah ha! We wonder if you managed to unlock the door to this one, Julian...from your entry in the Gazeteer, me thinketh perhaps not. Journeying from the Rhosneiger direction, along the A4080, from A5, just before the x-roads for Aberfraw/Rhosneiger, there is a little general stores on your left, Wayside Stores....ask for the key...(£5. deposit>>>)continue journey along coast, half mile or so, the site is preceeded by an ample car park, with the little bay on your right, walk along the well trod foot path, you will see the dome of the chamber ahead of you. Unlock iron gates...and enter.....
a dark womb of mysteries...lit well enough from the day light coming in, although, as we discovered to our delight, a torch can reveal more wonders...the "Giantess" (Gawres) with her pregnant belly holds up one end of the cap stone ( the belly is not apparent, run your hand gently down the back of the stone to find it.....) which stone? go see....there are faint spiral and chevron markings on about 5 stones, like drawings on a misted window pane, visable almost only to the minds eye, without a torch (luckily we had brought one with us. it was my 3rd visit to the chamber and I'd not seen them before, being too awestruck with the pregnant belly on previous visits) Sit for a while at the back of the chamber and watch the sea spray the rocks of the nearby beach and listen to the cry of the lapwings.
Ty Newydd a bit average, perhaps better had it been left to the elements. A fun scramble to sit on its cap stone and watch the clouds and rabbits...(well, ok, only Mort saw the rabbits...these Tylwydd Teg are so sharp)
Hey, by the way, I was at Barclodiad y Gawres on 12th March 1994, just missed bumping into you by less than a week.
You and your family are most welcome to come stay with us next time you visit Snowdonia. We live down near Porthmadoc and would love to show you some other sacred sites...
Instead of a cromlech at Mynnedd Cnwc we found the vestiges of a large carnedd many of the flat stones of the cist faen or chamber are still remaining but the small ones have been almost all removed to build a wall close at hand. On another fork of the peninsula about an hundred yards distant we observed the traces of another carnedd of much smaller dimensions.*
...The country people have a strange idea of spirits haunting these carnedds and frequently see lights (Ignis fatuus) hovering round the point. They moreover report that an iron boot was dug up not long ago full of money but on further enquiry the money vanished and so did the boot too.
By the description of a man who had seen it I believe it was no other than a gambado belonging to Mr Woode or one of his descendants.
From the Rev. John Skinner's 'Ten Days' Tour through the Isle of Anglesey' (1804).
Apparently a gambado is a big boot / gaiter that attaches to a horse's saddle so you don't get all cold and wet in bad weather. But That Explains Nothing, why would it be buried with money in it?! Besides, I prefer the tales of the strange lights anyway.
The placenames on the 1:25,000 map certainly suggest this is the right place:
Let us now come to the treasure caves, and begin with Ogof Arthur, 'Arthur's Cave,' in the southern side of Mynydd y Cnwc in the parish of Llangwyfan, on the south-westem coast of Anglesey. The foot of Mynydd y Cnwc is washed by the sea, and the mouth of the cave is closed by its waters at high tide, but the cave, which is spacious, has a vent-hole in the side of the mountain [*] . So it is at any rate reported in the Brython for 1859, p. 138, by a writer who explored the place, though not to the end of the mile which it is said to measure in length. He mentions a local tradition, that it contains various treasures, and that it temporarily afforded Arthur shelter in the course of his wars with the Gwyddelod or Goidels. But he describes also a cromlech on the top of Mynydd y Cnwc, around which there was a circle of stones, while within the latter there lies buried, it is believed, an iron chest full of ancient gold. Various attempts are said to have been made by the more greedy of the neighbouring inhabitants to dig it up, but they have always been frightened away by portents. Here then the guardians of the treasure are creatures of a supernatural kind...
[*] All said by natives of Anglesey about rivers and mountains in their island must be taken relatively, for though the country has a very uneven surface it has no real mountain: they are apt to call a brook a river and a hillock a mountain, though the majestic heights of Arfon are within sight.
From chapter 8 of 'Celtic Folklore, Welsh and Manx' by John Rhys (1901), which you can read at the Sacred Texts Archive.
Barclodiad-y-Gawres means, as has been mentioned by others here, "The Giantess' Apronful". The folklore behind this name describes how two giants, husband and wife, were on their way to Anglesey, where they intended to build themselves a house. The husband was carrying two large boulders, which he intended to use as door-posts, and the wife had filled her apron with smaller stones. When they reached Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen ("The Pass of the Two Stones") they met a cobbler, coming in the opposite direction, and so they asked him how far they still had to travel to reach Mona. With a mischevious look in his eye he showed them the numerous pairs of worn-out shoes he was carrying (he was a cobbler, after all) and told them he had worn all of these out walking from there. The giantess and her husband were so horrified at this news that they threw down the stones they were carrying, in this way creating Barclodiad-y-Gawres.
Barclodiad y Gawres (the Giantess's Apronful) is the largest of the chambered tombs of Wales. Some of the stones inside are decorated with amazing spirals, chevrons and lozenges, pecked out with stone tools, very similar to the ones you can see in the Boyne valley in Ireland (like Newgrange). To add to the site's mystery, in addition to the expected burnt human bones found in the side chambers, the central space showed evidence of having had a fire in it, and then a 'stew' poured over it before being covered with pebbles and limpet shells. Who knows, perhaps the spilt stew was just the result of it being chucked on the floor in disgust at the taste: analysis of the bones in it supposedly turned up wrasse, whiting, eel, frog, toad, natterjack, grass snake, mouse and hare. Mmm, tasty. Sounds like a magic potion to me.
The megalithic walks site suggests you can get a key, assuming the place is still locked :
"To get one go to the village of Llanfaelog and find The Wayside shop, where for a £5 deposit you can get one. It is worth phoning to check they are open, they were on Sunday, the number is 01407 810153."
A fabled cave lies in the cliffs below the tomb, connected with King Arthur. Arthur was supposed to be battling with the Irish, so to get his treasure out of harm's way he stashed it a mile underground in Ogof Arthur. It's said to be still there - but you'll have to wait for an extremely low tide to glimpse the entrance to the cave.
If this is what the giantess was carrying in her apron, then you'll have to go to Y Ddeufaen to see what the giant had been carrying (according to Grinsell's source in 'folklore of prehistoric sites in Britain').
The 'magic stew' at Barclodiad y Gawres has been widely accepted as an example of neolithic ritual.
I think that there is room for re-interpretation here.
The stew, for those who are unfamiliar, was identified by the excavators from small fragments of bones found mixed with the charcoal of a fire in the centre of the chamber. These included bones from wrasse, whiting, eel, frog, toad, natterjack, grass snake, mouse and hare. Since this mixture seems hardly edible it has been interpreted (in the typical archaeological way) as having a ritual purpose.
There is however another possible explanation, and a very down to earth one at that. The original excavators of the tomb, T. G. E. Powell and Glyn Daniel, noted that the bone fragments were consistent in size and type with the stomach contents of an otter. However, since it would be unusual for an otter to have all these bones in its stomach at one time, and then somehow regurgitate them in the chamber, they rejected this idea and hypothesised that the bones came from a stew instead, being small enough to sink to the bottom of the pot.
I agree that it would be strange for an otter to have eaten all these species in one go, but if the deposit had accumulated over time then it makes perfect sense. The bones are consistent with those found at an otter's 'spraint' (dung) site.
Coastal otters tend to live in crevices in rocks, and like all mustelids they mark their territory with regular 'latrines'. It is feasible that an otter made its home in the chamber at some point in its 5,000 year history, and left its spraint in a particular place on the floor. This would explain the mixture of small bones, any of which could be in the diet of a coastal otter.
Incidentally, otters can still be found within 10 miles of the chamber, so this is not so far-fetched as it sounds. For that matter, people seem to use the site as a latrine even today!
So there you have it. Either a strange 'magical stew' or the more prosaic dung pile of an otter. The matter rests on how the excavation evidence is interpreted.
For those who would like to investigate further, Rhosneigr library has a copy of the original excavation report (as well as many other local history books) and is only a few miles up the road from Barclodiad y Gawres.
Just a few tips really:
Take a torch, otherwise you won't see the carvings.
Ignore the CADW guide to Anglesey which informs you that the key is kept at Beaumaris Castle (a dozen or so miles away).
It is kept at the Wayside general stores, just up the road a mile or so, in older guides it is called the Wayside Cafe (which it isn't anymore).
Believe it or not there is only one key, and whoever has paid the deposit can keep it all day.