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Washed east along the Ross of Mull
We decided to visit Iona for the day (it has to be done) but it all went a bit pear shaped, mainly because of the weather. We were rained on and bitten to the point where we decided to leave early. There was a bit of an exodus of tourists leaving the island, and progress down the A849 was hindered by some pretty severe flooding (the kind where you wonder when the car is going to start floating).
This was the context of our visit to three standing stones on the Ross of Mull, all within easy reach of the A849. I say 'we', but it was only really me doing the visiting. The others stayed dry in the car.
Visited 11th August 2004: On our way back from Iona I persuade Louise that we should pop in and see a few standing stones. Fionnphort was the first we came to, and at the point when we arrived the rain was torrential.
What I should have done was ask at the house for permission to take some photos of the stone. Instead I wound the car window down and took some hurried photos from the relative dry of the driver's seat. Yes, I know, this is not in the spirit of things at all. The stone looks rather pleasant as a sort of garden feature. It's an elegant monolith.
Visited 11th August 2004: Tiraghoil was the second stone we came to heading east. I left the others in the car (the rain had subsided a bit) and made my way to the stone. This is a large lump of rock, much bigger than Fionnphort
. It has quite a presence to it. With the weather as it was the stone did a good job looking immoveable (sort of, "I ain't budging!"). The lichen hair might have been what suckered me into thinking of the stone as human.
Visited 11th August 2004: Taoslin is accessible over a small stile. It's a hefty lump of rock, with large packing stones around the base of it. It's a lot smaller than Tiraghoil
and far less elegant than Fionnphort
. On my visit the hollow around the base of the stone was full of water, forming quite an aesthetically pleasing pond. The reflection of the stone in the water was great. I wonder whether Taoslin is the real deal though? Those packing stones can't be original. They're far too large, and inexpertly placed.
The Best Stone Circle Ever! (not)
Louise was working at home, so I was volunteered to look after the boys and give her some peace and quiet. Faced with this challenge I did what any good father would do... I dragged them off into the countryside to see little lumps of rock and obscure hillocks.
After a bit of a drive (during which Alfie slept) we arrived at the first site of the day, the western of two barrows (which I've given the name the Beili Hwlyn Barrows).
Visited 25th May 2004: The western of the two barrows is right by the road, so easy to spot. It's on the wrong side of a fence, so if you wanted to crawl all over it you would have a problem, but just looking at it is easy enough.
The eastern barrow is on private land, and I couldn't spot it from the road (it was a half hearted attempt to be honest). Not worth an enormous detour, but worth seeing if you're passing by.
We cheated and drove quite a way up onto the hillside towards Fowler's Arm Chair, following a farm-track, then forestry track. Rather than finding ourselves in splendid isolation, we came across a field full of lunatics on scrambler motorbikes and an accompanying cavalcade of vans and trailers. I asked one of the bikers if it was OK for us to park in the field and walk to 'the circle'. He gave me a blank look and said nobody had ever stopped them from using the field. He clearly had no idea where or what the circle was, and I decided I wasn't going to elaborate.
I parked as far away from the bikes as possible, but there were still enough riders circling the field for me to feel pretty nervous about the boys. As soon as we had got our stuff together we headed north, following the footpath over a locked gate. This was a motorbike free zone, but still bloody noisy.
Visited 25th May 2004: After our picnic lunch at Fowler's Arm Chair Cairn
and set out to find the nearby stone circle. After about two steps north William shouted out, 'is this it?'. I was sceptical, because the stone he was looking at wasn't obviously part of a circle. After pondering the rocky lump for a couple of seconds (during which William had climbed it) I had to agree with him. Not bad site identification for a four year old! Ironically we had sat eating our lunch right next to the circle without spotting it.
So, not a very impressive site. If Fowler was a giant, then I wonder what he made of his armchair. Not very comfortable I'd have thought. There are only three obvious stones remaining from the circle, the largest being the arcmchair which has been enterpretted as a central stone. None of the stones are big, and none are really standing. On the ground it's less than clear how they relate to each other.
Visited 25th May 2004: The Cairn next to Fowler's Arm Chair
is much more obvious than the alleged stone circle it stands next to. We approached from the south and had a picnic lunch at the cairn. The weather was spectacular, but the scene was spoilt slightly by the constant sound of 2-stroke motorbike engines coming from across the valley.
This is a great cairn! It's chunky and well defined compared to many we've encountered. Thoroughly recommended as a picnic spot.
The motorbikes across the valley were a constant presence during our visit. They were doing circuits up and down the hillside, and the erosion was pretty atrocious. On our way back to the car I noticed this strange pattern made in the soil by a motorbike's tyres. I hate this kind of thing, but as mindless destruction goes, this example is at least interesting.
It made me think about chalk hill figures and what they would have represented when they were first made. In this case there are regular meetings of groups of bikers on both sides of the valley, so I suspect the strange pattern made in the soil was intended to be seen by competitors on the Fowler's Arm Chair side.
Having run the gauntlet of the motorcyclist where the car was parked, we headed back in the direction of home. On the way we stopped off to see a round barrow I'd spotted on the way out.
Visited 25th May 2004: This lump is probably a Bronze Age round barrow. It's visible from the road, but partly obscured by trees that have been purposefully planted on top of it. There's no public access to the barrow.
Not worth a special visit unless you are barmy about barrows.
After the excitement of Domen, I promised the boys something much much better and headed off towards an obscure dead-end valley behind Nantgwn. At the far end of the valley the road turns back on itself, and this is the best place to park to see the Cwm-y-Saeson stones, possibly the most impressive site of the day.
Visited 25th May 2004: Of the two stones only one remains standing, the second lying directly to the east. Either these two stood extremely close to each other, or the fallen stone has been moved. The stone that remains upright is big by local standards (1.8m according to the NMR). The boys were more keen on the recumbent stone because it was low enough for them both to clamber on.
This is a very quiet spot. The valley is a dead end, so nobody really comes this way unless they need to. I got the impression that the stones aren't often visited, which is a shame.
Having at last seen something that actually looked megalithic, I couldn't resist the opportunity of trying to spot another stone on our way back to the main road.
Visited 25th May 2004: To the east of the Cwm-y-Saeson
stones is Henriw Standing Stone, a full metre taller than its neighbour but much less accessible. We spotted it from the road, which is probably as close as you can get to it without approaching a landowner. It's behind a field boundary, so you have to find a spot where there's enough of a gap in the foliage to see it.
Like the anorak that I am I had binoculars with me, which turned out to be useful (the stone is about 300 metres from the road). Must come back when I have more time and see if I can get a closer look.
Visited 25th May 2004: Tan-y-Coed is a large ploughed down barrow just to the south of Henriw Standing Stone
. It's easier to spot than the stone because it's not obscured by field boundaries.
After all this excitement the boys were extremely keen to stop looking at prehistoric things, so we headed home to play in the garden (boooring!). Actually not a bad day, even if I was the only person interested in the barrows. The weather was good, the picnic was fun, the walking tired the boys out and Louise got to do her work.
A Bit of Northern Ireland
Unexpectedly we found ourselves in Northern Ireland for three days in March. I wasn't allowed to spend all of my time looking at prehistoric sites, but I did manage to get to four sites while we were there, two in the Belfast area and two much further west.
Thanks to Fourwinds for his help with my itinerary (via SMS).
Visited 22nd March 2004: I found it tricky to navigate in Northern Ireland, so our route out of Belfast to the Giant's Ring was a bit circuitous. The site is signposted from some directions, but not from others, so the GPS turned out to be very useful.
Parking is easy, and access to the henge is reasonably good. This is prime dog walking territory for the locals. Definitely an amenity as much as a piece of heritage. The weather was rubbish, but we dutifully plodded around the top of the henge bank looking in at the tomb, and out at the surrounding fields (spotting Ballynahatty Stone
). Half way round the henge we lost our resolve (the rain was getting very bad) and descended into the relative shelter of the interior. The tomb itself was my first glimpse of an Irish megalithic tomb. It's a dollop of a tomb, like an over-weight caterpillar, or a Siamese twin dolmen. Compact and chunky.
I contemplated squeezing inside, but thought better of it. We walked the remaining half of the henge bank, then scuttled back to the car. Nice henge! Nice tomb! Horrible weather!
Visited 22nd March 2004: Ballin Tagart is a reconstructed court tomb, now situated behind Ulster Museum
. Apparently it was rescued from destruction by quarrying in County Tyrone (thankfully this sort of thing isn't a problem any more - ahem).
I understand that you can arrange to be shown the tomb my museum staff, or view it from the museum cafe. Time didn't allow either of these options, so I went for the alternative and walked round the back of the museum where you can see the tomb from the Botanical Gardens. The magic is slightly spoiled by a six foot wire mesh fence, and people walking by give you very strange looks as you peer through the gaps. Still, well worth a visit if you're in Belfast.
Visited 23rd March 2004: Having failed to find Creggandevesky Court Tomb
, I decided to go and see Beaghmore before it was too late. It was a relief to find the place without too much trouble, and thankfully the rain was holding back. The sun even came out!
There's so much here, it's impossible to describe concisely (so I won't try). In summary, it's a tightly packed collection of Bronze Age stone circles, stone rows and cairns. None of the stones are especially large, but coming from Ceredigion I'm not put off my small stones. It was a beautiful scene, with the rain hardly gone and bright oblique sunshine. I inflicted some badly played harmonica on the stones before heading off for one last try at finding Creggandevesky.
Incidentally, access to the stones at Beaghmore is good. A wheelchair user could get at 95% of the site, perhaps with a little assistance in some places. There's a good path running down the length of the site, and parking is easy.
Visited 23rd March 2004: This was one of those mad visits when you ask yourself, "why am I doing this?". I'd already tried to find Creggandevesky earlier in the day, and decided that I'd better quit and see Beaghmore
before I ran out of time. Having seen Beaghmore a second attempt was foolish, given that our flight out of Belfast wasn't far off. But it bugged me that I'd not found it earlier in the day, so I had one last crack at it.
With some help from the GPS (forgotten earlier in the day) I found the footpath leading to the tomb. Then the heavens opened up, and I had second thoughts. It bucketed it down, and I knew I hadn't got the time to sit it out, so I got out the car and started walking. Within metres I was drenched, and I couldn't see through my glasses. The GPs was just about readable, and I could see the lake, so I staggered on through significant amounts of mud.
The rain stopped as I reached the tomb, and it took a while to figure out what it looked like (had to clean my glasses). It was weird landing up at a site having had no sensible visual clues as to what you were about to see. The tomb is impressive (not that I have many court tombs to compare it to) but fenced too closely. It's solid, but graceful; the photos show it better than I could describe. Lough Mallon makes for a beautiful setting, and when the sun started shining and a rainbow came out I felt a lot happier. It was a short visit though.
I ran back to the hire car. On the way I passed a broken wooden sign hidden behind a wall directing visitors to the tomb. After a morning of driving in circles, more evidence that some people don't want visitors to Creggandevesky. I had to change into dry clothes in the car, then after a hair-raising drive back to Belfast to collect Lou, we did
make our flight.
Ynys Môn Day Trip
I'd been meaning to spend a day on Ynys Môn (aka Anglesey), and FourWinds' July excursion gave me the kick up the backside that I needed to get on and do it.
After the usual slow start, and extremely slow service at the Dolgellau Little Chef, we arrived on the island at lunchtime. First stop was Plas Newydd, which I was determined to get at (even though it breaks the sacred Charter of Megalithic Webmasters).
Visited 2nd August 2003: Based on my experiences working on another estate, I decided we could just brazen it out, so long as we were confident and polite. We drove up the drive in our clapped out Fiat Uno, and parked behind the trees near the house. I left the others in the car (Lou doesn't share my taste for this sort of thing) and strolled up to the chamber.
The chamber is beautifully proportioned. You can really see why some people mistook it for a folly. I didn't go inside, because that would have looked a bit weird (not in keeping with my "I'm supposed to be here" persona). I did my best to look academic, and strolled around the taking it all in.
On my way back to he car I nodded and smiled to a National Trust bloke in a minibus. He looked at me a bit strangely, then grinned back and waved. All the cloak and dagger stuff is fun, but there really should be better access to this site. It's a darned sight more important than the house. Even carefully controlled access on a regular basis would be better than the current situation.
After that we drove up the A4080 to Bryn-Gwyn Tre'r Dryw following Elderford's directions (recommended).
Visited 2nd August 2003: Ever since I first read about them, I've been fascinated by these stones, and at last I've got to visiting them. It's no secret that they're big, but you have to stand next to them to get a real idea of just how big. They're much larger than anything else in the area, and standing next to them you can't help wondering about everything that's been lost here. This is an excellent place. I'll definately be back.
We then retraced our steps a bit to get to Castell Bryn-Gwyn, parking in the lay-by at the end of the track. Surprisingly we had the sense to take lunch with us.
Visited 2nd August 2003: We went on to Castell Bryn-Gwyn after Bryn-Gwyn Tre'r Dryw
, by which time the sun had come out again. It was lunch time, so we had a picnic on top of one of the banks. After the food William and I played rolling down the bank. This is a great place to hang out, and I'd recommend it as a picnic spot.
I'd spotted the next two sites on the Landranger when I was planning the trip. We approached the Trefwri Standing Stones from the direction of Brynsiencyn, parking not far beyond Caer Leb and approaching the stones via the farm track (another breach of our sacred code).
Visited 2nd August 2003: After Trefwri (East)
we doubled back to it's bulky and broad neighbor, Trefwri (West). It's not entirely clear whether this stone originally stood upright, or whether it's always been longer than it is tall. In places it's shot with brilliant quartz, but from a distance the stone looks a dumpy and dowdy. Like it's partner, the location of the stone near the river (Afon Braint) is interesting.
Visited 2nd August 2003: Even though we approached from the west, we went to see Trefwri (east) first. It's not enormously tall, but pleasingly proportioned. It has quartz seams running along it's length, and a heavy strata visible on the sides and top of the stone. It looks good and old. This Trefwri stone stands closer to Afon Braint than it's neighbor.
After these two relatively obscure stones we were ready for the headliner of the day, so we headed north towards Barclodiad-y-Gawres, following the A4080 (yet another double back). It was a very pleasant journey, following the coast up to Llanfaelog to collect the key.
Visited 2nd August 2003: Why is everyone in such a rush to get to Barclodiad-y-Gawres
? This little cairn (or tumulus depending on who you ask) is on the way, and well worth the detour (a detour of about 3 meters from the footpath). The remains of a cist are clearly visible in the middle of what's now a rather flattened mound.
It's tempting to keep stepping backwards trying to get a photo of the cairn with the sea behind it, but be careful of the quarry that has been dug just to the east of the site.
Visited 2nd August: Went to shop, got key. It's not difficult you know! I can't believe how many people are missing the key bit!
Barclodiad-y-Gawres is a strange contradiction of a site. It's beautiful and it's ugly. It's moving, but someone has used the entrance as a urinal. Everyone who comes in while we're there is amazed by the carvings, but there are T-lights and dead flowers scattered liberally around the place. The damp darkness inside and the salty fresh brightness outside are too much to cope with in quick succession.
After too much time in the cage we ended up on the beach with ice creams (as sold by Wayside General Stores).
We spent a while on the beach, and William got very wet. Eventually it was time to move on, so we left in search of dinner, heading north for Holy Island (driving past Ty Newydd and Trefignath which really pained me). We ended up in Holyhead eating pizza in the car (from the ever so excellent Pizzeria La Gondola), before making a dash for Penrhos Feilw.
Visited 2nd August 2003: Penrhos Feilw was the last site we visited on our August Ynys Môn day trip, and by the time we arrived the light was fading. I'd had visions of watching the setting sun from here, but a large cloud bank spoiled the view. Still, it was a good place to be.
What beautiful tall things these stones are. They aren't as isolated as most of the photos suggest. There's a farm house nearby, and a static caravan by the gate. There are also far too many telegraph and power cables in the area, tainting the views towards the west. I shouldn't over emphasise these relatively minor intrusions. Penrhos Feilw is well worth a visit.
Then it was time to head home, detouring a bit to visit the beautiful village of Rhoscolyn where went as as kids. After a couple of long hours on the road we got back home, after midnight, exhausted. What a fun day trip!
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I live in a small Welsh seaside town on the west coast. As well as being well placed for visiting the local sites, it's relatively easy to get to sites in south Wales, north Wales and the borders.
If you'd like to use one of the photos I've posted on this site please contact the TMA Eds who'll pass the message on (email@example.com).
Some of my favourite prehistoric sites:
Pentre Ifan (Wales)
La Roche-aux-FÃ©es (France)
Stones of Stennes (Scotland)
Wayland's Smithy (England)