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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?!
treaclechops Posted by treaclechops
3rd September 2006ce
Edited 3rd September 2006ce

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