The Modern Antiquarian. Ancient Sites, Stone Circles, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic Mysteries

Fieldnotes by thesweetcheat

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Avebury (Stone Circle)

By the time I reach the eastern entrance of the henge I’m tired and the sky has turned much darker. As always though, meeting the huge stones of the circle boosts my flagging energy in a way that Red Bull will never be able to replicate.

I don’t take the full tour today. Today’s efforts have been focused on getting here through the landscape, the journey being the reward for once. Instead I have a mooch to the Cove (still my favourite setting in the whole complex) and the southern quadrants. I finally take up residence on the sloping bank above the ditch of the southwestern quadrant, not quite at the bottom but on a level with the stones. Arriving at such a busy place after the quiet of the Downs would usually irk me, but today I enjoy watching the different interactions people have with the stones. Some stand in awe, some touch, some just have their picture taken. From where I sit, the voices are muted and the words don’t carry, except one who is expounding something about the electrical properties of the stones.

Ah, Avebury in the summertime. Long may it be a focal point, the builders would surely approve.

The Polisher

Much wandering later, just as I’m on the verge of reluctantly giving up, I spot a pointy stone, which looks familiar. And so it proves to be, the unmistakable grooves of the Polisher lying just beyond. I’ll be honest, I’m feeling a bit pleased with myself at this point, but even without the extra euphoric boost, this would be a winner all day long every day.

I won’t try to describe the stone, the pictures do that better. Instead I’m going to lie down with my head resting on its smooth surface and enjoy the peace for a few minutes.

Fyfield Down (Natural Rock Feature)

The next part of the walk is a bit less straightforward. I’m hoping that I can find the Polisher, but I don’t actually know where it is. I know photos on TMA show a gallops fence nearby, but that’s about all I’ve got. Most significantly, I don’t know which side of the Herepath it’s on. The only thing to do is to wander.

Wandering in the drifts of Fyfield Down is a good thing though. After entering the Down at its southeastern corner, I’m immediately confronted by the scale of the drift itself. I’ve never really seen anything quite like it. I have a quick look at the Fyfield 1 and 2 barrows, but really even these are overshadowed by the natural landscape here. From here I follow the ribbon of the Mother’s Jam, coming across The Monster Stone as I wander. Yep, it really is a monster. Other treats here include the experimental earthwork, slowly decaying as intended. Overton Down (south) may be just about the least impressive round barrow I’ve seen in Wiltshire, a barely-there mound under nettles – get the sheep in, someone.

Devil's Den (Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech)

South of the Clatford Down gallops I finally part with the White Horse Trail, taking a bridleway southwest towards the second site of the day. As the path follows the contour of the hillside, Devil’s Den comes into view. This is one of those sites that you’ll already have seen, even if you’ve never been to it. Something of a celebrity, even in a county that boasts some of the biggest A-listers of them all. It’s great to see it first from afar, how it sits in its valley, tucked away below the windy downs.

Devil’s Den is something of a triumph in another way, as although the OS map shows it standing off the right of way, the little triangle of land is subject to permissive access, which means you can go and spend as long as you like there without worrying about any confrontation. This is a relief, because it’s a site I want to savour. No rushing here. The chamber sits on top of a little mound, all that remains of a much larger structure. The field is turning to meadow, and will be a haven for chalkland flowers and insect life. Beneath the low spread of grasses, the surface is completely littered with chalk and bits of flint, presumably turned up by years of ploughing but now left discarded in the sun.

I love this site. The whole structure looks poised, as if about the march away across the Wiltshire landscape. The sky has turned somewhat cloudy now, but rather than diminishing the visit it adds an extra drama to the backdrop. I could stay here a long time, and so I do.

Time passes, not a soul approaches. Just how a site visit should be.

Barbury Castle (Hillfort)

Walking from Uffcott gives a slow and steady approach to Barbury Castle, today’s first objective and the proper start of the walk. A week or so earlier, G/F and I had a wander round Old Oswestry, which frankly blew me away in its scale and ambition. As a result, I’m not expecting quite so much from Barbury, but you should never, ever, underestimate what you might find at a prehistoric site. You’d think I would have learned that by now.

As the rampart looms above me and the climb steepens, it’s already becoming apparent that this is going to be a good ‘un. The first thing properly encountered is a fine disc barrow set below the western entrance to the site, constructed on the slope and facing westwards over the edge of the down. The disc is actually easier to see from the approach than close-up. A smaller round barrow lies to the northeast, closer to the bottom of the hillfort rampart. On another day, in another place, these two would be enough to linger over. Here though, the pull of the earthwork is too much and I make my way up onto the bank.

I make my way clockwise around the outer ditch. Up close, the earthworks really are very impressive indeed, the ditch still deep despite 2,000 years of silting. There are terrific open views from here. Liddington Castle, the next substantial hillfort to the northeast, can be seen on the horizon. Over to the east the views stretch across the Marlborough Downs, while to the south the fort commands views of anyone coming down the Ridgeway. Once inside the splendour of banks and ditches, there is little else to be seen. The real joy of the visit is undoubtedly in the perimeter and the views from it. A week after Old Oswestry, Barbury Castle is certainly holding its own. A gem of a fort, all in all.

Llanymynech Hill (Ancient Mine / Quarry)

No sooner have we left the wooded cover of Blodwel Rock than we’re across the Welsh border and into Llanymynech hillfort. Sadly our emergence from the trees takes us slap into the middle of a golf course. Immediately we’re scowled at by plus-foured types and the visit becomes an exercise in avoiding plummeting golf balls rather than looking for the remains of the fort’s earthworks. The whole interior has been moon-scaped by older quarrying superimposed by bunkers and hazards. Bah.

When we get a moment to look anywhere but heavenward, it turns out that there’s a decent view of the whaleback of The Wrekin, a very fine hillfort that dominates the north Shropshire plain.

Our route ducks back into the trees and alongside Offa’s Dyke, a.k.a. the northwest rampart of the fort. As at Blowel Rock, the tree-cover makes it difficult to really get a sense of the site. We follow the edge of the escarpment and the earthwork round to the southern tip of the hill. Here the gentle terrain gives way to the towering cliffs of Asterley Rocks, much quarried and mined over the centuries. There is a very fine view south featuring a number of neighbouring hillforts on The Breiddins, Beacon Ring on Long Mountain, and the lowland sites of Bryn Mawr and Gaer Fawr but overall the feeling from the visit to Llanymyech Hill is one of frustration, both from the general destruction caused by industry and from the irritating placement of a golf course across the interior.

Blodwel Rock (Hillfort)

After crossing first one then another disused railway line at Porth-y-Waen, we have a view of the today’s first prehistoric site, the wooded Blodwel Rock fort. It looks like a fairly stiff climb up from the valley floor, and so it proves to be.

The fort occupies the top of the ridge, the steep scarp face of which we climb from the northwest. Offa’s Dyke has been an absent friend for the last couple of miles, but we reacquaint ourselves here. The fort is just in England, but the frontier has curved back eastwards again and we are poised on the edge of Wales here.

In truth it’s not the most impressive of forts, the woodland cover is quite dense and the tangled vegetation underfoot anywhere off the main paths makes it difficult to really get a sense of what’s what. This is compounded by the fact that Offa’s Dyke runs along the lip of the scarp, although Pastscape (see Misc. post) suggests that the Mercian earthwork stopped short of the fort and simply made use of what was already here and at neighbouring Llanymynech Hill.

Easter Head (Cairn(s))

Visited 16 October 2013.

We take the Thurso-John o'Groats bus as far as Brough (pronounced to rhyme with "loch"), then it's a simple road walk of three miles to Easter Head, the most northerly part of Dunnet Head. I had completely underestimated the distance from the map (doh), so it becomes a bit of a rush to get up here. The quiet road climbs steadily, winding its way past a selection of heather-imprisoned lochs, bright mirrors in a dark and impenetrable setting.

The highest point of the headland, where the cairn is, is visible the whole way, but doesn't seem to get any closer for quite a long while. Eventually we round the corner and the lighthouse suddenly comes into sight. A car-parking area is available, which attracts several blink-and-they're-gone other visitors during the time we're here.

The cairn itself has sadly disappeared under a circular seating/toposcope thing, but this place is well worth the effort of the visit on a clear day for the views of the Orkney Islands across the Pentland Firth, almost close enough to touch. As the helpful, albeit cairn-destroying, panels inform us, we can see Hoy, Scapa Flow (which brings schoolboy memories of the sinking of the Royal Oak by Gunter Prien's U-47), as well as the cliff fort of Holburn Head, Ben Loyal, Cape Wrath to the west and Duncansby Head to the east, amongst other things.

We have about three quarters of an hour before the repeat journey back to catch the bus, during which time the wind whips up a frenzy, even on this mild and sunny afternoon. The headland is dotted with abandoned concrete buildings of a military-looking type, casting an air of post-apocalyptic decay onto the scene. I'm sure the weather was all lovely and tropical in the Bronze Age when the cairn was built, but this feels as close to the ends of the Earth as anywhere right now. Perhaps they felt that too, some days. Until we make it across to the Orkneys one day, this is as far north as we get.

For all the howling wind, I find it a wrench to leave here.

Carreg y Big (Selattyn) (Standing Stone / Menhir)

The Path rejoins the Dyke south of Orsedd Wen. The next section of the earthwork is once again particularly fine. Just after it passes through a little wood, a footpath heads off eastwards and will take us to the second Bronze Age treat of the day, which can be seen from the Dyke.

Standing 2m tall, Carreg-y-Big is probably Shropshire’s tallest standing stone, just topping the large pillar at Mitchell’s Fold to the south. The name looks like it should mean “The Big Stone”*. Damn accurate with their names, these Welsh folk (I know, it’s not in Wales). I was mainly aware of this one from Postie’s lovely snow-bound pictures from a year and a bit earlier, but it looks equally impressive in watery Spring sunlight.

I’m particularly taken with the quartz vein running through the stone, being a sucker for a bit of quartz. There is also evidence of packing at the stone’s base. The positioning is slightly obscured from the east due to a hedge, but otherwise the stone would be prominent and just the kind of thing that could be used as a way marker, perhaps pointing the way to nearby Selattyn Hill ring cairn. Cynynion, a further, very similar, stone lies a mile and a half SSW.

Selattyn Hill (Cairn(s))

Now comes the biggest hill of the day, one I’m looking forward to greatly as it boasts the first prehistoric site we’ve been to since leaving Castell Dinas Bran. It only requires a short diversion off the Path to reach it, through an area of recently felled forestry. Standing at a reasonable 372m, the summit of Selattyn Hill is high enough to command excellent views into Shropshire, as well as of the Berwyns to our west and (I think) the Breiddins to the south. Seeing the former gives me much pleasure, as we sure didn’t see much when we were on them!

The monument here is a ring cairn, sadly much trashed by the plonking of a stupid Victorian tower (now itself ruined) in its centre. However, traces of the stonework that comprised the ring can still be seen protruding through a heather covering. The construction is a wide bank of large blocks of stone, and would have been pretty impressive without the tower. It is best seen on the northern arc, the southern being very overgrown. It’s a great spot though, now that the surrounding forestry has been felled to open up the views, and should be even better once the resulting debris has started to break down. There is another cairn (Orsedd Wen) on the next hill to the west, but we can’t make this out today. It is also noticeable how few footpaths there are on the Welsh side of the border here.

Whatever the post-Roman politics of the Welsh border, Selattyn represents a natural frontier, as the last hill above 1,000 ft before the drop down to the Cheshire/North Shropshire plain to the east. Certainly a worthy place for the twelve urns containing burnt human bone, found here when the tower was built.

At length we head off south, alongside an ancient field boundary composed of huge boulders and an equally large field clearance heap. I find a small sliver of flint on the path, apparently worked (but broken) and certainly not native to this part of Shropshire.

Bannau Sir Gaer (Stone Circle)

The final site of the day proves to be a winner. By the time we reach Bannau Sir Gaer, all but one of my friends has had enough, and don’t even make the effort to leave the path the look for this. The one who is left at least comes to the circle, but isn’t massively impressed, to be honest. Which just shows that this game isn’t for everyone!

And so it comes to be that I’m left here on my own for a while, just as the sun re-emerges to illuminate the site in a golden glow, while the mountain backdrop is silhouetted into a wall of dark browns and black shadow. Spectacular. The circle is a wreck, it doesn’t matter a bit. A fine addition to the utterly compelling megalithic complex spread across these wild uplands.

Rhyd-wen Fach stone setting (Stone Circle)

One of the main attractions of this walk for me, apart from the brilliance of the summit cairns, is the two stone circles shown on the OS map along our return route. The second, Bannau Sir Gaer, is the better known, already visited and chronicled by Postie. But the first is virgin TMA territory. Coflein are dismissive of the site, and on getting here it’s easy to see why.

We found the narrow track that the OS map shows as bisecting the site easily enough, but it crosses an area of plentiful small stones. Some are vaguely upright, but it would take a determined eye to be convinced that there is a circle here, unless we’ve missed something. My companions were certainly not impressed! Not far from the site, we came across a neat little spiral of blocks, half-hidden in the tufty grass. Someone has spent time here, to make that. To be fair, the setting is lovely, with the pointed prows of be-cairned Twr-y-Fan Foel and Fan Foel providing the main focal points. To the north, the land gradually slopes away towards Nant Tarw, although the circles aren’t visible from here, as far as I could tell.

We head away from the setting across the tussocky, peaty moor of Waun Lwyd, close to the source of the river Usk/Afon Wsyg, one of South Wales' major rivers, which passes close to the Nant Tarw circles as well. It may be significant that the Tawe, another important river, rises not far away to the east, before passing Cerrig Duon & The Maen Mawr. There’s certainly plenty of scope for water-based theory and speculation about the siting of these monuments.

Twr-y-Fan Foel, Y Mynydd Du (Round Cairn)

From Fan Foel, it’s not far at all to the next of today’s cairns, Twr y Fan Foel. Last time I came here from Fan Hir, a walk that is do-able using the Neath-Brecon bus service, but there’s no doubt that today’s approach is more satisfying. The cairn itself is a bit of a wreck, eroded at its base and piled into a silly cone. Purely as a structure of earth and stone, it lacks the charm of the wonderful ring on Fan Foel. But the view is astonishing. The ground drops away to north and east, and this is perfect viewpoint for the second of today’s mountain lakes, Llyn y Fan Fawr. From up here, it’s hard to believe that the lake itself is located at as-near-as-dammit 2,000 feet up. The cairn is at the highest point of Y Mynydd’s Du magnificent escarpment and boy, what a place for a monument. Worth every bit of energy and effort to get up here.

Sadly we don’t linger so long at this one, my companions are getting hungry and a bit further along the escarpment, at the southern summit, there is a drystone shelter that has been identified as our lunch spot. There’s nothing on Coflein to suggest that this shelter has been fashioned from an ancient cairn, so I can feel relaxed about making use of it. For all that the sun is shining, it’s still bitterly cold up here and a stop of any duration is going to see a sudden drop in body temperature. It’s here that we meet the only other people that we’ll see today. Not far to the SW of the summit is the spot where an Avro Anson crashed in thick cloud and rain, back in peacetime 1939, a stark reminder of just how bad the weather can get in and above these mountains.

Fan Foel (Cairn(s))

The route from Picws Du to the next cairn, on Fan Foel, is easy enough but includes a fairly steep up-and-down, via Bwlch Blaen-Twrch (“pass of the river summit”). Once negotiated, there is a fine high-level retrospective view of Picws Du summit before we head over to the magnificent cairn placed right at the apex of the escarpment, the point where Carmarthenshire meets Powys/Brecknockshire.

Was this always a territorial marker? If it was, it’s a high place for the people of power to agree upon their frontier. And perhaps such a person was laid to rest here, interred within a sizeable kerb of red sandstone blocks. If he or she were the monarch of all they surveyed, they certainly ruled over a far-reaching territory, for the views are extensive indeed, stretching eastwards to the twin summits of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du then further away to the Black Mountains, with many other cairned summits in between. And yet the archaeological record reveals perhaps something rather more intriguing and human than a story of powerful warriors. A child was buried here, possibly garlanded with meadowsweet flowers. If only these stones and mountains would share the memory of that little sliver of history, what a tale they might tell.

This cairn is ignored by many walkers, hurrying between the “tops” of Piws Du and Twr y Fan Foel/Fan Brycheiniog. But sadly enough come here to cause damage to the structure, which is what prompted the excavation and exposure of the magnificent kerb and half-buried cist. Probably the best of cairns on the main escarpment of Y Mynydd Du, this place will richly reward any TMAer making the trip.

Picws Du, Y Mynydd Du (Round Cairn)

As the Picws Du summit cairn comes into view, it becomes apparent that it has a very decent sized footprint, but is now quite low, with a smaller walkers’ cairn plonked on the top, possibly/probably made from stones from the original monument. There are some pretty big blocks in the original though and the footprint suggests it would have been a big cairn. In any case, the setting more than compensates for any deficiencies in the cairn itself. The views north over the escarpment edge are awe-inspiring, even on a day of fairly short visibility like today. And as we stop to take it all in, the mist lifts properly and blue skies open above us. Ah, what a wonderful world. And what a place to be interred.

Incidentally, the name is obscure – the Nuttalls translate it as “Black Peak”, but I’ve not managed to find a translation for “picws” in any Welsh dictionary yet, so I’m not sure of this. Any ideas?

Moel Fferna (Cairn(s))

On the map, the route looks straightforward, with little in the way of ascent or descent over the three miles or so between Pen Bwlch Llandrillo (north top) and Moel Fferna. The Nuttalls helpfully inform us “a path has developed beside the fence which runs the whole way, making walking and route-finding quite straightforward”. Sounds fine, even on such a fog-bound day as today. What neither map nor guidebook tell us is just how miserable a slog the next three miles will turn out to be. For a start, on heading northeast we have found ourselves more exposed to a wind now blowing in keenly from our front-right. The wind carries with it a stinging rain, quickly lowering our temperature and splattering my glasses to render the already limited visibility almost non-existent. Secondly, the “path” that “has developed” is barely anything more than a boggy rut cutting through heather and mud. The surface is anything but level, every few steps requiring a detour around a crumbling peat hag or muddy pool. The heather drags at our shins, making each lift of the leg a trial.

With no visibility, it becomes near-impossible to gauge how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Instead, we concentrate all our efforts into placing our feet and forcing ourselves on into the soaking, freezing wind. Although there is little real up-and-down, each minor rise becomes an impediment of cliff-like proportions. By the time we reach Cerrig Coediog, we’ve pretty much had enough, but we’re so close that it would be a waste of our efforts so far to turn back. We plod on down to the bwlch, from where one last climb to the summit awaits us.

At first a broad, muddy path heads away north, but soon reaches an area of waterlogged, impassable bog. The only option is to divert around to the west, but this involves leaving the path to force a way through the tough heather that characterises these Berwyns slopes. Progress is very, very difficult. G/F’s leg is playing up at the constant lifting needed to negotiate the vegetation. Despite waterproof boots, her feet are now quite wet (mine aren’t much better) and there is little in the way of enjoyment to be had from any of this. Eventually we hit a narrow path running laterally across our route, we still can’t see the summit so it’s difficult to know how far we have left to go. We take this and soon meet up with the main path again, still making its way north and upwards.

The final straw looms out of the mist in the shape of a stile. You know those stiles that you sometimes find on uphill routes where even getting your leg onto the lowest board is a struggle? One of those. I have been with my G/F for a long time, but never have I seen such an expression of “I’m going to kill you” as I do when she sees this stile. Any comment I could make along the lines of “nearly there” is unlikely to help now. But we climb the stile and plod on, across yet more featureless bog.

At last, a shape looms out of the mist ahead of us. The unmistakable shape of a sizeable summit cairn. We’ve made it! It’s taken us 1 hour and 50 minutes since leaving Pen Bwlch Llandrillo (north top) but it feels like several weeks have passed. Much as I dislike the idea of a Bronze Age summit cairn being turned into a shelter, we have little choice but to embrace its waiting charms. The only solution now is hot tea, and quickly.

Perhaps it’s because we’re British, but the restorative power of hot tea, even the metallic variety from a cheap flask, should not be underestimated. Out of the wind and rain, we start to feel like we may survive the walk back to the bus. Suitably envigorated, I also take some time to have a look at the cairn that we’ve come so far to see. It’s a big bugger, despite its mistreatment over the years. Slumped on one side, there is still a substantial amount of material here. Just a shame that the undoubtedly superb views are absent today. Some snow still clings to the base of the cairn, a reminder that it’s only February and we’re above 2,000 ft here.

Moel ty Uchaf (Stone Circle)

We take the bus towards Llandrillo, passing the visible remains of the Tan-y-Coed chambered tomb. The driver very obligingly drops us off at Pont yr Hendwr (“Bridge of the Old Water”), from which a minor road takes us southeast, climbing steadily at first, then with increasing steepness up into the Berwyn foothills. By the time we reach the end of the road to join a rather muddier bridleway, we are both out of breath and overheating under our waterproof coats, while the mist has thickened into a fog that reduces visibility to a hundred yards or so. We hear rather than see some voices ahead, presumably other walkers heading off to the main Berwyns ridge, their voices brought nearer by the weird sonic effects of the fog.

The final approach to the ring cairn is up a steep, grassy slope. The circle doesn’t come into view until we are almost at the top – luckily the fog is thin enough to at least show us where to go. The local sheep look on, bemused by the stupid humans coming into their midst in these conditions. Sadly, the far-reaching views from the ring cairn are entirely absent, but we do at least get plenty of solitude to enjoy the stones themselves.

The name, pronounced “Moil Tee Ickavv”, translates as “house on the highest bare hill”, which certainly seems apt today, when the undoubtedly higher hills normally visible in just about every direction are blanked out.

A rounded boulder lies a little way to the west, described by Burl as an outlier of the circle. The circle itself is made up of chunky stones, some round shouldered, others squared, not graded but nevertheless very aesthetically pleasing. There is a “gap” at the SSW, although the ring continues across it by use of seven or eight much smaller stones. Inside the ring are the remains of a cist or central cairn, on the largest stone of which someone has scratched a crude pentagram. Other than that, the place is devoid of signs of human intrusion, no litter or offerings (tat), just the stones on their grassy hilltop. Perfect.

The fog makes for a strangely intimate visit, not exactly claustrophobic, but there is a sense that the world may not extend much beyond our immediate surroundings. I’m reminded of the Doctor Who story “Warrior’s Gate”, where the TARDIS becomes trapped in a slowly-shrinking, featureless void between universes. A wonderful site this, but a return on a clear day is now assured.

We make our own escape from the void by dropping off the hilltop to the southwest, to investigate the two cairns shown on the map, somewhat unusually placed in the saddle between Moel Ty Uchaf and the rising ground to the east. The two cairns differ greatly in construction, the northeastern being a wide, low platform, kerbed liberally with small blocks of local quartz that stands out brightly against the turf covering much of the contruction. The southwestern cairn is much smaller, covered in several flat slabs of stone and overgrown with reeds. The stones of the circle standing proud on the hill above are visible from the cairns, an obvious relationship between them all.

Horse Cliff Fort

Visited 26 April 2013

A short cliff-top stroll from Paviland fort, Horse Cliff is a simpler construction than its neighbour and has suffered more in the couple of millennia since its construction. A single, curving line of defence cuts off the windswept headland. Several quarry pits have been dug up against the northern section of the rampart.

The views off the cliffs that form the western and southern bounds of the site are impressive and dizzying, especially down to the water-filled channel separating this headland from The Knave, coincidentally the next of the chain of multiple forts that top the cliffs between Port Eynon and Rhossili.

Worm's Head can also be seen from here, the western tip of the Gower peninsula. Beyond, the Pembrokeshire coast is dimly visible.

In all honesty, it feels less impressive that its neighbours, lacking the romance that the "Paviland" name conjures. Still well worth a visit though, especially on such a lovely day.

Paviland (Cliff Fort)

Visited 26 April 2013

After reluctantly leaving Goat's Hole cave, we make our way back up the gulley of Foxhole Slade. Passing the sheer cliffs that mark the southern extent of the promontory fort far above us, G/F points to the only slightly less steep grassy slopes to our left and says "we could climb up there". Fresh from the revelation of her enthusiasm for the inaccessible upper chamber of the cave, she's obviously feeling adventurous, so climb it we do.

This brings us out beside the inner rampart of the fort, with a dizzying view back down to Foxhole Slade behind us. We flop down on the grass of the flat interior to get our breath back.

This is actually my second visit to this fine little fort, as I came a little more than a year earlier on a coast walk with some friends. That was a rather flying visit, so today I'm keen to stay a while longer. It is very windy up here, luckily blowing inland over the cliff edge and unlikely to hurl us broken to our deaths far below.

The cave that we recently left is invisible in the cliff face below us, although we can see the "tongue" of rock that allowed us to scramble up to it, the far end now starting to disappear beneath the waves. The seaward aspect of the fort is pretty formidable, even if the tide is out only a lunatic would make any Guns of Navarone style approach to the defences from down there.

There are two certain lines of defences, one of which is further protected by an apparently rock-cut ditch. There may be a possible two further lines, although these appear more to be slight augmentations of the tilted planes of rock that form the headland and, indeed, the Gower's entire southwestern coast line.

We sit for a while at the exposed and windswept tip of the fort, above the "Yellow Top" that provides the alternative name. Exmoor can be seen hazily across the Bristol Channel, forming the far edge of the pre-Ice Age plain that once stretched sway from these cliffs.

It's a great spot, worth the longer visit this time round. We head off to meet the neighbours at Horse Cliff.

Paviland Cave (Cave / Rock Shelter)

Visited 26 April 2013

Back in the autumn last year, as we made our snail-like way around the Glamorgan coastline on the newly opened Wales Coast Path, we promised ourselves a Gower weekend in the Spring. This gave us something to aim for, an elusive Shangri-la to spur our efforts onward, possibly more in hope that expectation.

So I'm mightily excited that we've reached the Gower on time and the long-awaited trip has even tied in with some promising weather. We're staying in Scurlage, but come down the day before our first walk. I've managed to remember to bring the tide times with me, ostensibly on the off-chance of a visit to Worm's Head tomorrow, but I've realised that the tide will be at its lowest point about an hour after we arrive at our accommodation, itself less than an hour's walk from the coast path and the wonders of Paviland.

From Pilton Green, a footpath sign points to "Foxhole Slade". We scurry and hurry along the path that runs smooth and easy alongside hedges for about a mile, conscious of the limited, precious minutes ticking away. We meet the Coast Path, to the left heading to Longhole Cave and then Port Eynon (3.5 miles), to the right climbing up to the cliff forts on the headland above and onward to Rhossili (4 miles), but our route carries straight on down towards the azure sea, glimpsed tantalisingly between the V of steep cliffs.

There is no footpath, just a sheep track heading down over initially grassy then increasingly rocky slopes, alongside an old drystone wall. The cliff on our right looms intimidatingly steep, a sheer tower of rock, and I start to wonder how accessible the cave is actually going to be.

The path peters out and we find ourselves scrambling over sharply sculpted rock, millennia of wind and water have carved this foreshore into a serious obstacle. Progress is slow but the tide is at least out (thank you, tide timetable). I've read that you have to get down to "beach" level before climbing back up to the cave, so that's what we do. The foreshore is rock, slick and jagged, but not impossible to negotiate. Once down on the relative flat, we turn round and scan the cliff face above. From here, the entrance to the cave faces us rather obliquely, but that's definitely it! The pear-shaped opening of Goat's Hole is recognisable from photos I've seen, with a smaller cave entrance visible to the left.

G/F hadn't decided until now whether to stay on the shore and wait for me, or to come up to the cave. Once down, the scramble doesn't look too difficult, the rocks rise from the shore at a fairly gentle angle until the cave itself, where the cliff then shoots up vertically. She decides to come with me, good choice. I will say that although the scramble isn't all that difficult, it isn't all that easy either, the rocks are very pointy! Wear appropriate footwear and don't try this if the tide is on its way in, that's my advice.

Luckily we have no such worries, at least an hour or more before we would really have to start hurrying.

Scramble over, we reach the cliff face and the opening. It's apparent that this is actually a very big, open cave - no ducking and squeezing here. The thrill of stepping over the threshold is almost too much. It's just a cave, no piles of jewels, no genied lamp, but it's soooo exciting coming here. If you have even a passing interest in the past of these islands, this has to be one of the most overwhelming places you can come. I'm almost beside myself.

The cave floor has been dug out, so there is a bit of a pit on the left hand side, which I think must be where the Red "Lady" was laid to rest. The cave goes back somewhat further, a spacious place and certainly one that you could imagine being holed up in, as it were, for a while. There does not appear to be any entrance to goblin town from the back of the cave. There is however another "chamber", high above the main area. It looks possible to access, but I wouldn't even attempt it without rope and safety equipment (helicopter on standby, for example). G/F is strangely keen to have a go, despite her previously stated absolute aversion to potholing and confined spaces, but I dissuade her from making the attempt. There's more than enough excitement in the main area.

We stay for an hour or so, sitting and gazing out of the cave mouth across the Bristol Channel. The lapping of the waves, the sun playing on the water, creates such a feeling of calm, I could stay for days. One of the many joys of a visit here is to picture the sea replaced by a plain, stretching away for miles and miles, roamed by antelope and mammoth. Wow.

Eventually we reluctantly decide that tide will wait for no man or woman and we must start our return. Before departing, we scramble some way up the ridge at the side of the cave, just to enjoy the vantage point. We also visit the smaller cave to the west, which is rather less interesting and doesn't go far back at all.

The return to the shore seems easier than the scramble up. There is also an enormous, echoing sea cave to the east of Goat's Hole Cave, worth a look as the tide is still out. From there, the waters are obviously starting to creep up the beach and we make our exit. In our excitement at climbing up to the cliff fort above, I completely forget to look out for Foxhole Slade cave, which is in the cliff here somewhere.

Of all the prehistoric sites I have visited, Goat's Hole may be the most evocative, the most overpoweringly redolent of an impossibly long-vanished age, and people like us and yet not. Come if you possibly can. Truly a cave of wonders.
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"The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body." Alfred Wainwright

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