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

Fieldnotes by thesweetcheat

Latest Posts
Showing 1-20 of 510 fieldnotes. Most recent first | Next 20

Crosswood (Enclosure)

Crosswood enclosure could be seen as part of the complex of sites around Four Crosses and Llandysilio. It’s a circular enclosure with an internal ditch, bisected by the road from Rhos to Llandrinio. The road crosses the site about a third of the way from the northern part of the arc, so it’s not an obvious re-use of any original entrances. Sadly the earthwork has been much reduced by ploughing, rather similarly to the nearby line of Offa’s Dyke. It’s best preserved at the northwest, where both the bank and the internal ditch can be made out clearly, albeit not the easiest thing to photograph. Running east the bank gets even further reduced, to the point of near-disappearance.

On the south of the road we couldn't see anything at all, but this did involve trying to peer through a pretty thick hedge!

Not the most impressive place to visit, but as pretty much the only visible remains of the numerous sites on this flat plan, it’s worth a quick hello.

Caer Bach (Hillfort)

Climbing directly up the grassy slopes of Tal y Fan’s southern flank, we pass a ruined homestead and regain a proper path. The map shows some cairns here, but we fail to see anything obvious. [Postie’s subsequent visit shows we weren’t missing much.]

Caer Bach now rises in front of us, flat-topped and dotted with gorse. Just before we get there, we come across a very strange “structure”, consisting of a huge oval boulder apparently placed over some supporting stones to form a small open-fronted chamber, which appears to have been lined with smaller stones. It looks constructed rather than natural, but what it is we have no idea. There’s so much going on in this area that it’s difficult not to imagine it having some significance.

Tal-y-Fan’s summit, crossed by a typically improbable drystone wall, now looms directly above us. It looks almost within touching distance from here, but it’s not on the menu today. Instead we head for the fort. The earthworks aren’t the most impressive, but as with every other place we’ve been today the setting is superb. The views extend to Pen-y-Gaer (Caerhun) and Cerrig-y-Ddinas, so whether the occupants were friend or foe they were certainly observable. It’s a neat and compact site, feeling quite sheltered in the lea of the mountain’s flank, despite its lofty position.

Maen-y-Bardd (Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech)

Even the track feels ancient, a deep green channel between collapsing drystone walls enlivened by vibrant purple foxgloves at this time of year. We pass Ffon-y-cawr, leaning crazily on the other side of the wall. Another one to save for a proper visit, because from here we can see the main objective for today.

Maen-y-Bardd is at once bigger and smaller than I expected it to be. It’s perfectly proportioned and looks out over the wide valley of Afon Conwy, the river itself winding lazily through the centre. And there are mountains, and hills, and little fields, and a huge cloud-filled sky. What a place.

“Stone out of song” goes a poem I hold very close to my heart. But did the song come first, or the stone? Was a bard buried here, or did the place make poets of its visitors?

We stop for a good while. Even the dogs seem content to sit here.

At length an interruption comes in the form of a farmer in his tractor, cutting the bracken in the field next door. The spell is broken. We head uphill.

Cae Coch (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Cae Coch standing stone is first, just a short pull up a bracken and grass covered slope from the track. It’s one of those eternally pleasing stones with a completely different aspect depending on which side you view it from. The broad face is turned towards the track and is perpendicular to Pen-y-Gaer (Caerhun) hillfort, but side-on the profile is slender with a bend in the middle. The views across the Conwy valley are worth the visit alone. An unexpectedly good site.

As we approached the stone the blue sky had turned unexpectedly dark, and now looks like night has arrived early. It rains, just for a moment. And then it’s gone, so that by the time we regain the track much of the blue has returned.

Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen (Standing Stones)

The two stones that give the pass its name are a big step up in size from the ankle biters of Cerrig Pryfaid. Both are taller than me, and there’s some serious girth going on too. The tapering southern stone is a beauty, Blossom and I struggle to reach round it with our combined outstretched arms. There’s a small, shallow drill hole on one side, as if someone foolishly attempted to convert this into a gatepost and was struck dead for their temerity before getting very far. I’ll leave Rhiannon to find some suitably doomy folkore to confirm the point.

By contrast, the northern stone is flat-topped and appears to shine out its whiteness against the dark heather. On closer inspection, the whiteness is entirely illusory, the stone isn’t quartz at all but a light grey. There are two further, shorter uprights close to the northern stone, one of which is indeed a quartzy rock. Their placement isn’t obvious but reminds me somewhat of a scaled-up version of the little followers of Maen Mawr in South Wales. In amongst the chocks at the base of the northern stone is one very dark rock, a matt coal black in colour. It’s not clear whether this is a later addition as it doesn’t seem to be doing much chocking.

We don’t realise that there’s a fan of much smaller uprights close to the southern stone, and in truth a visit in summer vegetation isn’t the best time to look for them. It is a great time to admire the purple flowers adorning the heather though.

Once again, the setting is excellent. The views are similar to those from Cerrig Pryfaid, but with added elevation giving a fresh perspective to the outcrops of Pen y Castell. The stones are not set on the crest of the pass, so there’s no view northwards to speak of. Instead they turn their impassive faces resolutely southeast, looking down the valley of the Tafalog, heading off to join the great Afon Conwy three or four miles away. Surrounded now by pylons and cables, yet they retain their dignity against these huge, transitory metal giants. Time is on their side after all.

I’m really taken with these stones. The sense of deep time seems to hang around them, from the ageless mountains, through the monument builders, the tramp of Roman soldiers, into a hinterland of iron and wire. Rather than detracting, the pylons add to this sense that we’re standing in the midst of a palimpsest, layers of time and people still there, just below the surface. And perhaps we’re a shadowy presence in earlier and later times, too.

The Giantess' Apronful (Cairn(s))

From stone circle to cairn. Barclodiad y Gawres is a good size (15-20m irregular diameter), composed of large cobbles with a central scoop. It’s dotted here and there with clumps of stonecrop, the pink-white five pointed flowers a splash of summer brightness against the grey stones. We entirely fail to see the cist, or either of the other cairns that are supposedly close by. A little way to the southeast we come across a small arrangement of stones, which look like they’ve been placed deliberately but not as anything obviously identifiable. Blossom’s dogs find nice big boulders to stand on and survey the area.

The visual focus is the prominent Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen standing stones, visible from here, nestled in the v-shaped pass between the ridges of the Carneddau and Foel Lwyd. The flanking pylons fail to detract from the setting, despite their best efforts.

Elsewhere this cairn would be worth a proper stop, but here it’s probably the least arresting of the day’s sites. And we can see the next one already, so it’s time to head off.

Cerrig Pryfaid (Stone Circle)

It’s always exciting to start the day with a stone circle, especially one you’ve not been to before. Composed of diminutive stones, Cerrig Pryfaid is certainly no Avebury in purely megalithic terms. But the setting elevates it to something quite special.

The near-perfect circle sits in an amphitheatre of rock, broken only to the southeast where Pen y Gaer overlooks the wide sweep of the fertile Conwy Valley. Even here the longer view is filled with rank upon rank of high hills. The southwestern prospect is entirely blocked by the towering wall of the Carneddau mountains, crowned by Bronze Age cairns on the summits of Carnedd y Ddelw and Drum. To the north Foel Lwyd, the western buttress of the Tal y Fan ridge, rises in a jagged jumble of boulders and outcrops.

Two small outliers stand to the west of the circle, both with tantalising sunrise alignments (midwinter, autumn equinox). But today it’s getting towards midday, in July. So we make do with the earthlier delights of the landscape and views before heading back towards the Pass and our next site.

Cefn Coch (Cairn(s))

What is entirely certain though, is the massive Cefn Coch (“Red Ridge”) cairn. It would be impressive anywhere, but what sets it apart from comparable sites is the stunning backdrop of the Carneddau.

Turning its face resolutely from the sea hidden behind a ridge to the north, the cairn unquestionably looks inland towards the mountains. The very highest peaks of the range are hidden from here, but the skyline is filled with an array of summits all well above the 2000ft mark, several of which boast contemporary monuments.

It's a breathtaking sight and we sit in awe for quite a while.

Cors y Carneddau (Stone Circle)

Having singularly failed to realise we’d missed Circle 278, we continue west along the main track. Cors y Carneddau circle is supposedly on the north side of the track. Surely this should be easy to find?
Well, no. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there are quite of lot of random stones in the grass here. Which ones do you choose?

Eventually we decide that a group quite near to the drystone wall, just east of a corner, is the best bet. There are at least four stones in a sort-of arc, with a couple of additional possibles close by. But I could be persuaded otherwise…

Monument 280 (Standing Stones)

Blossom has Frances Lynch’s excellent Gwynedd guide with her and we have a quick look to see what else there is around here. The prominent jumble of upright stones visible to the west is the most obvious place to head next. Unfortunately we don’t realise that Circle 278 is hidden away over a little crest and miss it completely. Drat.

Monument 280 (these numbers suggest a spectacular profusion of other sites crowding around us) is very difficult to get a handle on, even when you’re standing in its midst. A row of four uprights run north-south across the monument, while on the west an apparent kerb forms its edge. Shapes and patterns can be discerned, but are contradicted by other patterns. Truly an enigma.

Y Meini Hirion (Stone Circle)

It’s not much more of a pull upwards to reach the circle. There’s no-one else about so I can savour this beauty properly. The setting is as good as any stone circle I’ve been to, particularly on such a wondrous summer’s day. The sea to the north, the high peaks of the Carneddau mountains to the south. It’s a bit special this.

The stones are big, certainly bigger than you’d find in many Welsh circles. Each has character and there are veins of quartz here and there. Although some of the stones have fallen, it doesn’t detract from the overall impression.

Mountains, stones, silence, sea and sky.

I could write a few pages of superlatives, but really you should come and see for yourself. In the meantime, we have some lunch and take it all in.

Circle 275 (Stone Circle)

It’s a further steady slog of a climb up from Maen Crwn, and the excitement levels really ramp up from here on. Druid's Circle is already visible on the skyline above, but it's still worth restraining the urge to get there for a while with a pause at this lovely little circle.

Like something someone might build around a campfire, a simple ring of smooth stones, with a wonderful sea view. The dogs are very taken, sniffing around the inside of the ring. If it weren't for the fact that the Big Attraction is so visibly close, it would be easy to stop here for a good while.

But we don't.

Maen Crwn (Standing Stone / Menhir)

After passing Red Farm stone circle without a proper look, the impressive boulder of Maen Crwn is the first proper stop on the walk up towards the Druid's Circle.

Set in the V of a valley between higher hills, the long views are restricted. But it feels like a stone-on-the-way-to-somewhere stone, the kind you often find marking your path in upland Wales when on the way to exciting destinations. And given what waits above, it certainly performs that function beautifully.

The pull of the circles is too much to linger though...

Falkner's Circle (Stone Circle)

By now the threatening skies of earlier have turned to a persistent drizzle, and contact with any vegetation leads to an immediate soaking. I decide to leave the road and Avenue and instead head east to look for the scant remains of Falkner’s Circle.

A path leads round the margin of the field, eventually reaching a gateway where a single standing stone marks the position of the poor old circle. Nettles surround it, neglected and lost, a sad survivor with no-one to talk to. I’d like to come back on a less gloomy day, perhaps in the winter when the nettles have gone. It doesn’t feel like a place to linger today though.

West Kennett Avenue (Multiple Stone Rows / Avenue)

From The Sanctuary, a permissive path allows access to the remnants of West Kennett Avenue on the south side of the A4. This part of the monument seems to receive little attention, probably because of its separation from the better preserved section running northwestwards to Avebury.

However, it’s well worth a visit to make sense of the relationship of The Sanctuary and the henge complex. The first stone encountered is an enormous fallen slab, jutting out from the hedgeline. Beyond that is another fallen stone, apparently broken with a smaller piece placed on its top. The final stone in this group still stands, buried in the hedge and trapped behind barbed wire. It has been broken, leaving a short stump in place. Screened from the busy A4 by the thick hedge, this is a hidden spot, remarkably quiet for somewhere so close to the Avebury tourist hub. It doesn’t have the atmosphere or obvious draw of the well-known northern section of the Avenue, but it’s another part of the jigsaw that makes up this fascinating landscape.

Risking life and limb I cross the A4 onto the B4003, a narrow but busy road that runs parallel with the Avenue on its way to the henge. It’s worth stopping off at the single upright stone, separated from its companions by the road and hedges, looked down upon by the linear cemetery of massive round barrows along the Overton Hill ridge to the east.

The Sanctuary (Timber Circle)

I visited The Sanctuary once before, on my first trip to Avebury. On a day of first contact with heart-stopping monuments, the concrete-marked circle seemed an anticlimax, a curio and little more. Today I’m more receptive, especially after the long, peaceful walk over the downs to get here.

The place is deserted when I arrive, allowing a better appreciation of the layout and in particular the size of the rings. The outer circle is a wide 40m across, as big as almost any stone circle I’ve been to. Although the little concrete blocks are no substitute for stately sarsens or hefty timbers, there’s still much to enjoy here, if you can block out the steady roar of the busy A4 just over the hedge. Looking south across the low Avebury 23 round barrow, the tree-covered form of East Kennett long barrow can be seen from the circles. Such a shame that the original grandeur is lost forever though.

Allington Down (Round Barrow(s))

Sadly the barrows on Allington Down have been rather less well-treated than their neighbours up on the ridge. Once a group of six, there’s nothing to see of all but one now. The plough has taken care of the rest. However, the one that does remain is very decent. It’s quite overgrown with nettles and long grass, topped with three shrubby May Trees in bloom, making it difficult to see whether there’s damage to its top.

I can see Silbury, peaking out from trees and indicating how far I still have to go to get to Avebury today. So I go.

Tan Hill (west) (Round Barrow(s))

Leaving Kitchen Barrow it’s an easy walk around the rim of the escarpment to the western flank of Tan Hill. The first encounter is with the linear earthwork running just below the top of the slope. Presumably part of the same thinking that constructed a much longer section of bank and ditch on the northwestern side of the hill, it’s pretty well-preserved, with the hillside falling steeply away below it.

A bit of further uphill huff and puff and I’m in the midst of the round barrow group that crowns the western spur of Tan Hill, a promontory separated by a narrower neck from the main bulk of the hill to the east.

Tan Hill is the second highest hill in Wiltshire, only fractionally lower than nearby Milk Hill and part of the same long east-west ridge. As you’d perhaps expect from such a prominent place, looking out across the downs in all directions, the ridge is covered in a timespan of prehistoric sites from the Neolithic long barrows of Kitchen Barrow at the western end and Adam’s Grave at the eastern end, through numerous round barrows and Iron Age earthworks, with Rybury hillfort on a southern spur. There’s a great view westwards, taking in King’s Play Hill and Morgan’s Hill, each topped with further barrows, as well as the unmistakable Cherhill Down and Olbury with its obelisk.

The barrow group includes three bowl barrows, in a NW-SE line, with a much larger disc barrow close to the two northern bowl barrows. All are clearly visible, if rather reduced by ploughing. The bowl barrows (particularly the one at the SE) bear clear excavation damage. They are all covered by sheep-cropped grass, so there’s no seasonal vegetation problem to contend with in a visit.

Although it’s the most damaged, the SE barrow is still pretty impressive and boasts very extensive views. The central barrow is bigger, well over a metre high despite the ravages of time and barrow diggers. The NW barrow is the runt of the litter, clinging to its sloping setting like a barnacle. All have well defined surrounding ditches. The adjoining disc barrow is great too, almost 20m across, including its outer bank. All in all well worth the effort of the walk.

Kitchen Barrow (Long Barrow)

From the strip fields there is a great view of Kitchen Barrow Hill to the east. The south-facing scarp is steep and the presence of an intervening dry valley heightens the impression that Kitchen Barrow was placed to be seen from the neighbouring slopes. The area around the barrow is open access land, so there are no complications in getting to the site.

Pastscape records show a round barrow to the north of the long barrow, at a point where the fence changes direction. However, although there are several bumps alongside the fenceline, none is particularly obvious or convincing as the round barrow depicted on the OS map.

The long barrow is certainly obvious though, 30m or so long and a couple of metres high at its southern tip, with well defined flanking ditches. It lies along the sloping crest of the ridge, with its northeastern end almost blending into the hillside. The views south are extensive, as the ground drops sharply to the farmland and the valley of the Kennet & Avon Canal below. To the west there’s a great view of the multi-phase west end of Tan Hill, where more strip fields lie below a linear prehistoric earthwork and a group of Bronze Age round barrows are silhouetted on the skyline.

A good place to stop for a while and let the world turn, especially on a Wiltshire big skies day of fast-moving cloud. Regrettably today’s visit is under a rather more leaden variety.

Roughridge Hill (Long Barrow)

The first stop off is Roughridge Hill long barrow. Well-defined on the OS map, the reality is rather less impressive. Unless you know it’s there, you’d pass by without a glance. All that remains is a low rise in the grassy field, hard up against the edge of the much bigger Wansdyke. The proximity of the dyke may suggest that the long barrow was a reasonably obvious landmark, perhaps a boundary feature, made use of by the earthwork builders when they were planning their route. Sadly it’s not so prominent now, not really worthy of much of a pause as I head across the hill.

Two lithe brown shapes dart into my path, then rise on hind legs to survey their route – it’s the first hares I’ve seen this year, always a great pleasure to encounter.
Showing 1-20 of 510 fieldnotes. Most recent first | Next 20
"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

My TMA Content: