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The Monsters of Rock Tour

Everyone suffered a fitful night's sleep due to the rough weather of the previous night, but by morning, the clouds were clearing, and another day of Big Rocks was on the cards. We decided to head east across the island, working back round to Holyhead, from where I was due to catch a train home at teatime. Moth assured us there were some very impressive sites to take in, the first of which, Pant-y-Saer, was near Benllech, and the beautiful Red Dwarf Bay – I mean, Red Wharf Bay. The views of cliffs, beaches, woods and sea as we neared Benllech was wonderful, and it is somewhere worth exploring - not just for prehistoric goodies.

We soon found ourselves parking up a narrow lane, before walking up the edge of a cow field and into more bracken, interspersed with blackthorn bushes smothered in ripe sloes, and much prickly gorse. Turning the corner at a thicket of blackthorn, the large rounded capstone of Pant-y-Saer stood out boldly, its whiteness emphasised by the sunshine pouring down onto the green hillside.

Pant-y-Saer — Fieldnotes

What a stunna. Despite the fact the capstone has slipped, and the general appearance the stones offer is now that of a boozy looking, drunken effort to stay upright, it is still an awesome structure. Its disrepair is a shame though, as originally, it was clearly a very important and complex site. Pant y Saer means 'Hollow of the Masons', an accurate title, as beneath the capstone are the remains of a rock-cut pit 16 ft x 10 ft x 3ft, which contained the burials of 36 adults, 9 children, and 9 full-term foetuses. Separately, there were two more burials in a possible Beaker cist. At the western end, between the horns of a dry stone wall, there had been the remains of a forecourt. Despite the wear and tear of time, this lovely dolmen still retains much of its prominence, and apart from anything else, is situated in a very good spot for a picnic.

Lligwy – 'Place of the Earwigs'

We left the Hollow of the Masons all too soon, to make tracks to the historical complex next to the village of Lligwy. Here, one can get a taste of the Neolithic, Romano-British, and Medieval, all within spitting distance of each other. Cool. During our visit, I had been explaining the meanings of Welsh place names to the others, such as that of our local pub – Pant y Ochain, which means Hollow of the Oxen and so on and so forth. Thus it was that Jane decided Lligwy meant 'Place of the Earwigs' – she could be right, as no-one seems to know what Ligwy means! (It's not earwig, that's a chwil in Welsh). Any-way . . .

Lligwy — Fieldnotes

Did I say Pant y Saer was a stunna? Well, this is a stunna with knobs on! Lligwy has the most incredible capstone, a huge rectangle of rock, easily a yard thick all the way round. Interestingly, deep grooves are to be found on all sides of this cumbersome capstone, and I read on the information board a suggestion that they were caused by ropes rubbing into the stone as it was transported to the site. Can't see it myself; why don't other structures have such obvious grooves? It looked more like eroded drilling lines to me, if it were anything manmade.

This really is awesome. A large dug out chamber under the capstone held the remains of 30 people, and even has a reasonable shelf on which to lay a body. Only after squeezing through the constricting entrance way, grubbing around in the chamber for a while, and sitting on the (not uncomfortable) shelf chatting to a lady on the outside, did I later discover the 25 tonne capstone is only held up on three of the eight uprights. Gulp.

Once again, the prehistoric understanding of rock and engineering never ceases to amaze. . . .

I didn't see one earwig.

After leaving Lligwy, Moth was keen to take in Mein Hirion, but the three of us girls were keen to take in a ladies' powder room. "Croeso Amlwch Welcome" said a large rock on the outskirts of the next major town. We drove around searching fruitlessly for a ty bach.
"Huh! exclaimed Jane, "Can't say I feel very croeso!"
Eventually, relief was to be had, which was a good thing, as we would otherwise have wet our pants on discovering Mein Hirion.

Mein Hirion — Fieldnotes

Three most beautiful stones stand by a dry stone wall on a rise in a sheep field. The views over Ynys Môn are spectacular, including the modern day fferm gwynt, wind farm. Forming an isosceles triangle, the grey, lichen-fronded stones reach up gracefully to the sky, and look very much like the elegant pair of menhirs at Penrhos Feilw. One of them is indeed extremely phallic. All of them are about six and a half feet high. My summer felt complete as I rolled about in the close cropped turf, flicking away sheep poo and photographing this fabulous trio of stones.

Llanfaethlu — Fieldnotes

On the way to our final destination, Presaddfed, we screeched to a halt by the roadside chapel of Llanfaethlu, just so Moth and I could hop out of the car and take a couple of snaps of the quite attractive monolith which stands in the next door field. This is much more solid than the previously described stones; much more like the traditional menhir. I liked the way it was still quietly sitting there, despite the Christianisation, and the road passing within a few feet of its field. Again, it enjoyed some lovely views, and the benefit of being utilised as a sheep rubbing post.

We continued westwards, as the cloud thickened, and the sun began to disappear. It looked like we were in for more rain, and I prayed the light would hold out so Moth and I could at least get one reasonable shot of Presaddfed.

Presaddfed — Fieldnotes

Near the Anglesey Shooting School, in a grassy field of the richest Hooker's Green (what the hell had they been putting on it), with a backdrop of beautiful deciduous woodland, sits this imposing chamber. When we arrived, the Shooting School seemed to be having a clay shoot, so rhythmical pops and bangs broke the silence. Once again, some rather dodgy restoration work had taken place – presumably by none other than Chippy Minton. The most incongruous wooden brace was jammed under the capstone, rather spoiling the appearance of this otherwise very pleasant tomb. Yet again, I was put in mind of the Dyffryn Ardudwy type of monument. In the 18th century, this apparently provided shelter for a family of squatters. I imagine that with a few tarps or similar strung round the chamber, it would be quite snug.

The sun finally faded as we photographed this ancient tomb, and megalithing energy was fading equally. As we returned to the car, raindrops began to fall, thus bringing to a close a splendid Bank Holiday weekend. Jane, Moth, Cleo and Rupe dropped me off at Holyhead Station, before going off to enjoy a few more days on this intriguing island. As the train headed south across Anglesey, I saw Trefignath and Barclodiad y Gawres, the blue mountains of the Llyn, and passed not far from Bryn Celli Ddu. Crossing the Menai Straits, I left the Mother of Wales behind me, enriched by the soul of a powerful megalithic heartland.


Cool Cromlechs and Mysterious Menhirs

The good weather we enjoyed at South Stack RSPB reserve stayed throughout Saturday night, and Sunday morning dawned with a glorious blue sky and warm sunshine. Long before the others awoke, I was on the beach at Porth Trecastell, saw the Britain's cows munching the emerald grass on the opposite headland, and then walked the cliffs to Barclodiad-y-Gawres for a third time. Ten hours after my nocturnal visit, I stood on the mound and watched the white-crested waves wash up the sands at Porth Nobla. The air was clear, and the light clean, so that the crashing waves broke into thousands of sparkling droplets against the dark Pre-Cambrian cliffs under my feet. I breathed in great lungfuls of the sea air. I knew it. Today was going to be Big Rock Day.

What better way to start a tour of some of the finest dolmens in the country than by visiting the fantastic burial chamber of Bryn Celli Ddu?

Bryn Celli Ddu — Fieldnotes

This was the other site with which Kate had seduced me, on a golden day in late October. It was just as beautiful this time round. The vibrant green mound stood out wonderfully against the cerulean blue sky, and commanded a stunning view of Eryri. The uprights and other stones at both sides of the mound were covered with the fluffy, frondy grey-green lichens seen at Trefignath. As ever, the menhir inside the mound just blew me away. I love Bryn Celli Ddu; it has the most wonderful energy and a low, thrumming magicalness. The other thing that thrummed was the back of my head, after I cracked it against the interior lintel – the type of blow to the skull that makes anyone else present want to throw up.

I noticed that some thoughtful people had left an offering to the Goddess on a stone ledge inside the chamber. Millennia ago, the Goddess was often honoured with a burnt sacrifice of a prized bull, a sheep or two, or a few goats - now she has to make do with a handful of peanuts, a wizened crab apple, and couple of torn Quality Street wrappers. Quality indeed.

I took some pics of the fake inscribed stone outside the mound, before joining the others back at the car and setting off for Bodowyr.

Bodowyr — Fieldnotes

Not unlike St. Lythans, Bodowyr stands in the middle of a field, but unlike St. Lythans, it is caged up behind a green metal fence. This prevents it being used as a shippon by cattle, or having chunks hacked out of it by farm machinery. This is a Good Thing, as it is a charming, faerie-magical dolmen, with a capstone that looks like a toadstool cap. Again, like Bryn Celli Ddu, Bodowyr enjoys a great view across to Snowdonia. Cute and charming. Bizarrely, I managed to take a photo which makes it look like an African mud hut.

The next stop was at a weird and incongruous pair of standing stones. By now, Cleo and Rupert were quite fed up with tramping across fields, and over stiles, so irrespective of how weird and incongruous these next two stones might be, all they wanted was the beach. We'd make this one snappy.

Bryn Gwyn — Fieldnotes

On reaching this pair of stones, I think we were all in awe at their sheer immensity. The first, a slender, wide, leaf-shaped monolith, stands a clear 13 feet tall – I thought it looked more like 18 feet, personally. Next to it sulks a brooding, ten foot high rectangular block of rock. Although impressive, I wasn't as keen on the energy of this place. It was in total contrast to the elegant airiness of Penrhos Feilw. There is a suggestion that they are the remains of a stone circle – that must have been one hell of a sight! I think they were a couple of try-outs for comparison, and got left in a field by the early engineers . . .

After a sunny stint on the beach at Porth Nobla in the afternoon (during which cloud formations predicted foul weather by about 8pm), dark grey clouds were packing in by teatime; so we squeezed in one last dolmen whilst out getting more Crag Rat and Hobgoblin for the evening.

Ty Newydd — Fieldnotes

Rain was swirling in the gloaming as we reached Ty Newydd, and I was also disappointed to note the utterly insensitive and ugly restoration work on this previously stunning cromlech. However, I suppose we shouldn't be ungrateful, as brickwork aside, we still see the structure erect. Best of all, the capstone offers a decidedly nautical feel; seen from below, it looks like the prow of a large ship. I remembered trips to HMS Victory.

Later that evening, at 8.05pm exactly, a heavy squall lashed into the cottage, rain straking across the picture window in rattling bursts. This continued on and off for the rest of the evening and beyond, the high winds soughing round the house, causing a loose door to tap in its lock for hours. At 4am, my thoughts were of the Holyhead Mountain Hut Group, its exposed position, and what it must have been like to try and sleep when the wind was banging around all night, the sea throwing itself madly at the rocks below, and driving rain dripping through the brush-covered roof of a Bronze Age roundhouse. . . .


Mackerel and Megaliths

Ynys Môn has the greatest concentration of megalithic monuments in Europe, and therefore must bring us as close as possible to experiencing the ancient landscape of our forefathers – certainly with regard to the relationship of these monuments to each other, as well as the landscape in which they are situated. The island itself is a total contrast to the rest of North Wales, which is craggy, hilly, and dominated by Snowdonia (in Welsh Eryri, the Place of the Eagles), the western end of which finishes almost in the sea, at the Menai Straits. Indeed, these majestic mountains were created in part by being pushed up against the uncompromising chunk of rock which is Mam Cymru. Cross the treacherous straits, step onto Ynys Môn, and suddenly the landscape flattens considerably, looking quite Cornish in some respects. The softer, undulating fields are tempered with the cragginess of the coast, and sturdy little hedges make a patchwork over the whole island. The cows grazing patiently in these coastal fields look exactly like old-fashioned Britain's farm toys.

Further north west lies an even tinier island – Holy Island, named for the 6th century monks who lived there, and who progressed through from Wales and Ireland. Holyhead Mountain, formed primarily from Holyhead Quartzite, dominates the place, and I suspect it was also the source of many of the rocks found in several of the magnificent dolmens which stud the island.

After an hour spent at Barclodiad-y-Gawres, Jane Moth, Rupe and I set off to see a couple of the most dramatic of these monuments. Out first port of call was the majestic Trefignath.

Trefignath — Fieldnotes

For once, ignore the surrounding landscape when visiting this place, otherwise you will be entirely distracted by the gigantic aluminium smelting plant just the other side of the A55, which runs below Trefignath. Focus instead on the monument itself, think to yourself how much it is reminiscent of Dyffryn Ardudwy. (This was the first thing to strike me about the site – further reading revealed that the esteemed Frances Lynch had indeed proved it had a complexity the same as Dyffryn Ardudwy). Pay especial attention to the two tall pillars at the chamber entrance, and the chamber itself, which is quite something. The huge capstone appears to have broken in half at some point in time. The second chamber is minus its capstone. Jane's immediate reaction was that the whole thing looked like French allee couverte. Haven't seen one, so don't know. Sounds fun, though. I liked Trefignath, despite the drizzly rain, and particularly liked the nobility of the main chamber and the hairy, frondy, fluffy grey-green lichens that grew all over the stones.

Over time, and after many struggles printing in the darkroom, I have gone off menhirs somewhat; they are frequently a bugger to photograph, and it can be very difficult to translate the feelings they engender into an image – dolmens are far more visually stimulating. However, Moth took us off to two of the finest standing stones I have ever clapped eyes on, sited at the back of a farmhouse on the west of the island.

Penrhosfeilw — Fieldnotes

These two lovely stones are in the middle of a field, and would have commanded a fabulous view across Ynys Môn when first created. Reminded me of nothing more than a gateway or spiritual portal, and I was put in mind of a reference to the rune known as Thurisaz: ' Thurisaz is also held by some to be the gateway rune. It can represent powerful forces available for your use. The decision you have to make - the gateway facing both ways - is how to use them. Thurisaz exhorts you to choose your path and take action before it is too late. Which path will you choose? What force will you employ - attack or defence? This is the problem with Thurisaz- the chaotic element that makes it so dangerous and difficult to deal with.'* Sure was some big gateway stuff going on here. These are a beautifully matching pair of stones – elegant, poised, subtle. Very other-worldly. I liked 'em.

* Quote from

By now, the low cloud base was breaking up nicely, so after a quick bap in the car at Penrhos-Feilw, we headed off to see the Holyhead Mountain Hut Group. I had never visited an ancient settlement such as this before, and was preparing myself to be deeply bored by a 'series of small walls . . . '.

Holyhead Mountain Hut Group — Fieldnotes

Parking in the RSPB car park – allowed, we were off bird watching after the huts –we crossed the road and progressed along well kept grassy paths amidst a sea of bracken on the lower slopes of Holyhead Mountain. Some mature American hippies/Bronze Age wannabees passed by, one of them wearing a very nice purpley-russet poncho. The sun shone down warmly, and rounding a corner, I was treated to my first hut remains – and was instantly enchanted. What a corker of a site. White dry stone walls, approximately two and half feet high, shone in the light, contrasting with dark green bracken fronds, vibrant purple heather, and brilliant yellow gorse flowers. The turf floors were cropped close, and despite the exposed position, the whole place looked very 'gentle', for want of a better word.

It was easy to visualise the low conical roofs of the roundhouses, and the people moving between the structures. Having just finished the third in Manda Scott's Boudica series of books, I was put in mind of her Iron Age vision of life. What must it have been like living in a roundhouse on an exposed cliff face? The weather had by now broken into glorious sunshine, but winter gales must have been horrendous as they drove into the cliffs, straight off the Irish Sea. One roundhouse looked as if it would have made a snug bolt hole when the tribe gathered together for food, drinking, and story telling. Presumably though, our North Walian Bronze Age ancestors were nowhere near as nesh as a modern day Southerner – and of course, the climate was warmer in those days.

I thought of how they would have sustained themselves – fish caught from the beaches below, boar raised on the mountainside, and eggs taken by terrifying climbs on the perpendicular cliffs which are home to thousands of sea birds. Tasty! Before we left, I gazed out over the view our ancestors enjoyed. The Irish Sea stretched unbroken to the horizon, and to the south, the mountains of the Llyn Peninsula rose out of the sea in irregular, soft, misty blue silhouettes. It was, quite simply, superb.

By now, Rupert's Saturday had taken a turn for the better – we were off to go mackerel fishing from the other side of Ynys Môn. Mackerel and megaliths – what better way to spend a Bank Holiday?!


Mam Cymru & the Centre of the World

Extremely generously, Jane, Moth, Cleo and Rupert had invited me to join them on their trip to Ynys Môn over the Bank Holiday weekend, a kind offer snapped up as rapidly as a mackerel snapping up a strip of tinfoil dangling from a hook – the other good reason to visit Ynys Môn being the fishing (which is much nearer to Rupert's heart than big old rocks)

Ynys Môn, or Anglesey, a remarkable island situated above the Llyn Peninsula, is also known as 'Mam Cymru', 'Mother of Wales'. After three wonderful days there, the reasons why became very clear. It is also the driest place in Wales, so naturally enough the rain was pissing down on our arrival, sweeping in magnificently from the Irish Sea which was less than a quarter of a mile from our cosy and bijou holiday cottage.

However, what was a little rain to discovering Jane had totally unwittingly booked the nearest residence on the island to Barclodiad-y-Gawres? It was a bit lovely to have that as the view from the large picture window in the living room. When the arresting Kate and I were courting, almost three years ago, we had visited this stunning dolmen, sans clé. Then, we had peered through the bars at the huge stones in their gigantic cement capsule, before lying by the grassy mound and watching a spectacularly seductive cliff top sunset. As the fiery red sun sank into the sea, Maxfield Parrish-like clouds filling the sky, we looked deep into each other's eyes.
"Clever of you to arrange such a display," I remarked.
"Cost me 50 quid on Ebay, this sunset did," she breathed romantically.

Barclodiad-y-Gawres — Fieldnotes

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.

That night, I walked up to Barclodiad-y-Gawres with only the Maglite and a bottle of Jenning's Crag Rat for company. Sitting on the cold cement nub at the roof of the capsule, I looked across the Irish Sea, listening to the waves and the wind and watching the shadowy phosphorence of the ocean as it lashed the cliffs. Below me in their silent, dark chamber, the stones of Barclodiad-y-Gawres were palpably present. I thought about their pecked out, 4,500 year old carvings, and remembered Jane saying "They're just like Gavrinis." and a postcard she had sent me of those remarkable stones. Time slipped for a while. Out on that headland, there was only the night, carvings, stones, cliffs, sea, carvings, sky, a star, wind, clouds, darkness, carvings, Gavrinis far to the east, and the Irish tradition far to the west. The importance of this place was very clear. It felt like both the end and the centre of the world at once. Someone had pecked out those marks so many millennia before and yet their resonance with the world and the elements were as fresh as if they had been made that day. The remote wholeness and connectivity of the place was total. The ancestors were to hand.


Return of the Native Part II

Waking before Jane and Moth the following morning, memories of the visit to Wiltshire coursed through my mind. Not least the annoying little ditty Jane made up on our return -

"Bronze Age Britain,
Bronze Age Britain,
In Bronze Age Britain
They ate a lot of pork!"

We tried to add to this, but couldn't think of anything which rhymed with 'ingot' or 'smelting'.

Sitting quietly in their loft space, drinking a cup of tea and watching the wind in the trees, I ruminated on our Stone Age architect ancestors. Their capabilities, skills, and understanding of life have been lost to us, yet the beauty and mystery of their structures still unfailingly connects with some deep-seated primal aspect of our souls. We have become 'civilised', yet how much have we lost in doing so? We are left with ghosts of memories of our place in the landscape, the part we play within the whole, and the whole suffers because of it - the symbiotic relationship that still remains means that we suffer accordingly, but many are largely ignorant to what extent, because they live in a fabricated world. Very few of us could survive in a late Stone Age environment. Is this a good or bad thing? Discuss.

It was a beautiful day, blue-skied, sunny – so when Jane and I were deciding what to do, it seemed ludicrous not to continue the megalithing. Jumping in the zippy number, we headed north, to the omphalus of Jane's world – the Rollright Stones. Again, this was another site which I hadn't visited for three years, and I was intrigued to see the changes which I had heard about via TMA.

Now With Added Wow!

The Rollright Stones — Fieldnotes

Upon arriving, the first noticeable change was the structured lay-by with a now dedicated wheel-chair friendly footpath leading to the entrance of the stones. Neither did it appear necessary to scramble over a rickety stile to get to the King Stone – there seems to be proper access via a small gate. I was keen to see what the circle would be like now its exterior was expanded by the purchase of land to the south.

No disappointments on this score. Moving away from the visitor's hut, the circle opened up before me, more able to breathe within its landscape than for many years previously. It looks fantastic. What made it look even more fantastic was the sunshine spilling over the weathered, twisted, pitted stones, singing out the colours of honey-coloured oolitic limestone, egg-yolk yellow lichens, and olivaceous-green mosses. To the south, a wide, rustling field of sun-baked golden wheat rippled and shimmered in the warm breeze. Fluffy white cumulus clouds sailed in stately fashion across a sky of rich, uplifting blueness. Wild flowers poked up through the grass, and clumps of coltsfoot sat the base of some of the stone, their dark glossy leaves contrasting with the rock. Perfection in Oxfordshire.

Limestone Cowboy

After lying in the bone-warming sun taking dozens of photographs, I spent a while observing the circle as it should be seen from the southern entrance portal. With this new view, the place took on a more complete character, its significance resonating more clearly without the confining, ugly metal railings.

Sitting in the shade next to Jane, who was working up a watercolour sketch of a south-eastern view, I fumbled in my bag and removed a Ginster's pasty, for old time's sake. Of the many megalithic forays had Jane and I made in the past, seemingly in all of them, a Ginster's pasty featured as a light snack. It would have been rude not have done so on this visit.

While consuming the cheese and onion concoction, I idly watched a couple of fellows dowsing in the centre of the circle. I've never really paid much attention as to the veracity of the arguments put forward to support dowsing – probability would suggest it would work sometimes, particularly when locating water – but I am a tad sceptical when it moves into the realms of energy lines et al. My scepticism was heightened while watching the practices of these dowsers. From what I recalled of dowsing for water, the hazel twigs one used were supposed to twitch subtly when above a suitable source. (No, not a river or lake, smart arse.) However, the L-shaped metal rods these guys were employing for the purpose were hurtling round like football rattles every time they stepped near the centre of the circle.

Now, I'm certainly not condemning out of hand any possibility that currents of energy might be able to be felt within these places; however, I am doubtful that they would manifest themselves in such Hollywoodesque fashion. Perceptible movements of the dowser's wrists also served to under-pin my reservations on the subject. These reservations were further enhanced when Jane and I quite clearly heard one of the dowsers inform two ladies that north was in the direction of the visitor's hut. 'As any fule kno' (or should be able to work out, especially on a gloriously sunny day), the visitor's hut stands to the east of the circle. This did not fill us with confidence.

Mentioning our concerns to the ladies as they passed us, they concurred with our reading of the compass points – they too had noted the position of the sun. We all agreed that logic was a very good thing, then fell into conversation, and spent some time sat in the circle discussing art and life. It felt very natural – was this the energy the circle was meant to engender, I wonder?

We spent the rest of our visit in the company of these two lovely ladies, all rambling down to the Whispering Knights, where Jane explained the origins of this ancient construction, how it would have looked, and how it might have been built. All too soon, it became necessary for us to leave, as I had a bus to catch - it would have been great to just sit and while away the rest of the afternoon high up on that Oxfordshire ridge, with only the countryside and good company to fill the time. We bade them farewell, and drove off, feeling mellow and satisfied after a fulfilling visit to this magnificent circle.

The Rollright Stones — Images

<b>The Rollright Stones</b>Posted by treaclechops<b>The Rollright Stones</b>Posted by treaclechops<b>The Rollright Stones</b>Posted by treaclechops
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"Out of the strong came forth sweetness"
Treaclechops died on 4 January 2007 after a three-month battle with cancer. She was 38.

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