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High ridges and deep caves.
An hours drive east of home is Buxton, one of the main towns of the Peak district. Ten minutes south of Buxton is a village called Earl Sterndale, it's two nearest neighbors are Glutton Bridge and Hollinsclough, it is to this area, with it's distinctive hills many cairns and archaeology rich caves that my mind and wheeled wagon has been turning.
I first came here one drizzly morning seven years ago, principally to locate and explore Dowel cave. But not knowing it's exact whereabouts I blundered around looking here and there, scrambling up and down sheer cliffs, coming face to face with a fox and sheltering from the incessant showers, during these blunderings I came upon a small cave entrance, it wasn't the cave I was looking for, I had a poke at the metal shield that kept stuff out and it fell over, on it's own, it came off in me hand, so I went in.
The cave entrance has been deliberately blocked, in it's natural state you could just walk in, now you must crawl worm like down and through. It's bigger once you are in, there is a sign pointing to the back of the cave on it says Staffs L D W A Leek moors, I was taken a back that's for sure, the leek moors must be five to ten miles away, can this cave go that far. I didn't test this assertion. So I left.
Eventually I found the cave I was looking for, Dowel cave is more open than the other, you can walk straight through the ahem...vagina shaped opening, but the further you go the more you must crouch and in the end go on all fours. I didn't go further, my only light was the camera's flash.
That was my first time. The cave turned out to have a name it was Etches cave.
The next time I came the weather was much more conducive to climbing the two main hills here Parkhouse hill and Chrome hill. I started with the latter.
Chrome hill has had songs written in its honour, by a Norwegian jazz group no less. Map doesn't say how high it is, but it is Glastonbury tor sized or a little bigger, cut in half long ways, and right at the very top my legs shake and I must crawl around on hands and knees lest gravity pull me over the side. It's from here that I watch a perfect summer sunrise, the suns warm glow slowly filled the valley below me, across the valley I can pinpoint Etches cave. Turning north is the long side of Hollins hill with it's very obvious cairn on top, I make a mental note that it's imperative to climb it one day.
But not today, south from here is Parkhouse hill, a truly great and over sized giant whale breaking the surface of the sea of grass, this hill turns out to be harder to get up.
After some aborted attempts I find the easy way up, from the east. Although this raised ancient coral reef, is lower than the other, Chrome hill, for both are such, it is much more perilous, the narrow ridge that one must traverse is like a grassy mellowed out Crib Goch, certain death one way, presumed death the other. The summit is two rocky prominences, that I wedge myself between, lest gravity get it's way, the whole place no bigger than a small kitchen, I move about very carefully. From here the two main points in view are the very obvious cairn on the next hill over, and High Wheeldon and it's Fox hole cave, all places I must go to if i'm to know and understand this place better.
Too many years later,
Eric and me are up at Hatch-a-way hill cairn, the next hill over from Parkhouse hill. It is a very good cairn, like a Llyn Brenig platform cairn, wide, high and much stone, but the view down to the valley below Chrome hill, as the sun sets and the nearest moon for a century rises behind us, is a site that words do no justice, if an over chatty nine year old is silenced it must have been pretty good.
A year later
Eric and his mate Luke accompany me up to the cairn on Hollins hill, a large grassy doughnut, with some stone showing through in the scooped out area. The sun was out but the wind was high, and with two energetic ten year olds this was never going to be a long hang out. Perhaps the two caves could hold there attention for a little longer. The two things I took from Hollins hill, was the good cairn, and the sensational view down to Chrome hill, and beyond it to Parkhouse hill.
Armed with torches and the go anywhere attitude of children sadly lacking in a sense of self preservation, we got back into Dowel and Etches, and went as far as we could without crawling on hands and knees, both caves undoubtedly went much further than I dared take my two carefree charges. Interesting to note is the list of the things freed from the soils in both caves......
From Dowel cave,
It had been used in the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Beaker, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods, but mostly used as a Neolithic burial-cave. Under these deposits was found Late Upper Palaeolithic material, which included flint tools, charcoal from a hearth, fragments of antler, and pieces of bone showing marks of cutting, radiocarbon dates from an Antler showed the cave was used around 9200 bc.
And from Etches cave,
Finds included three pieces of worked flint, sherds of a Bronze Age collared urn, two worked antler fragments in association with some animal bones, a range of faunal remains including bear, reindeer, hare and cat, and a bone point of possible Upper Palaeolithic date.
So both caves were important places in the past, all of the past apparently, especially Dowel cave. Also worthy of note, just a few tens of meters from Dowel cave entrance is the site of water pouring from a very small cave, a strange thing, water spontaneously gushing from the ground itself, a gift from the Mother.
Just a couple of months ago I took Eric and the dogs up High Wheeldon, it has a cave, barred to the public by iron gates and bricked up interior. Another Neolithic burial cave, with the oldest known bones from the White Peak, also used in the Paleolithic, plus much more. So another special place, one that was passed down through the generations, perhaps becoming more special over time. Barrows begin to be built on all the hill tops in the Bronze age, yes they are all on hill tops but they do have a view of a cave or Chrome and Parkhouse. From Pilsbury cairn High Wheeldon takes on a Pyramidal form, but from Cronkston Low the hill has it's side to us.
This last Thursday was my latest visit to the area, Harley Grange barrow had pointed itself out to me so I made a special trip there to see what was where.
The barrow itself is perhaps the largest in the area, it has an old wall crossing lowly over it's back, and many badger holes, I presume them to be badgers only because I've never heard of Red Deer digging burrows.
The positioning of this big barrow at first puzzled me, it occupies the end of a downward ridge, why wouldn't they put it at the top of the hill ? I wondered, so up I went to see if there was already something there, there wasn't.
Its positioning could only be reckoned from where it could be seen from or what could be seen by it, it was definitely projecting it's presence southwest to southeast, so that's from Fox hole cave to Chrome hill.
After the big barrow I decided I've enough time to re-climb Parkhouse hill, perfect parking and knowing the way propel me there quickly, and soon my legs are wobbling as I traverse the narrow way up. The summit has two rocky prominence's that I wedge myself between for safety, all in all it is a small place and down there wants you to come to it very quickly, I try to keep still.
From up here it all becomes clear, North is Chrome hill and looking over its shoulder is Hollins hill, not all of it just the bit with the cairn on it. Turning right we slow down over Stoup High edge cairn, over more still to Stoup High edge cairn more still to Upper edge cairn. Far below Upper edge cairn are the two deep caves of Etches and Dowel. Immediately north is Hatch-a-way cairn and above that Harley Grange cairn, East is Hitter hill with it's cairn that I haven't been to yet and beyond that High Wheeldon and Fox hole cave, near there barrows fade off into the distance for Arbor Low is just a couple of small hills away.
So why is this place special ?
Does it start in the Paleolithic, or the Neolithic when burials were taking place in caves that go on for ever, or the Bronze age when the barrows and cairns were going up.
Or is it the very distinctive almost alive hills they have here, the perfect dragons back of Parkhouse hill, the higher half dome of Chrome hill, the Pyramid of High Wheeldon. Or is it the water that magically flows through the valleys.
Or is it all these things.
It is most assuredly a special place.
I'll just take a quick picture of that.
It's been a long time coming has this trip, conceived of more than a year ago, everything has come together, like a Hannibal-plan, "well".
For weeks I've been envisaging the kind of weather I'd like to have whilst climbing Tryfan, warm, blue skies and small fluffy white clouds. How hard can it be ?
The weather reports and the drive along the A55 reveals the heat wave has indeed still got some legs in it, so we make hay while the sun shines because all too soon normal scheduling will be resumed.
The car park at Idwal cottage at the west end of Llyn Ogwen was full, but the first lay by down the road had many parking spaces. For the first time ever I'm preparing to climb a mountain in just a T shirt, there are trousers and boots too, to be sure, but it aint gonna rain or be too windy. Perfect, now wheres me camera ? ummmm, Oh yeah right it's in the hall at home just feet from the front door, presumably where I wouldn't forget it.
Absolute and complete consternation .
The walk starts up some well laid steps, but soon fades away into grassy oblivion. This part proves to be the hardest part of the walk, no clear path over uneven ground, leaping over streams, it's well hot, and still loads left yet. We head for a big high waterfall and luckily meet up with the main path, another well laid affair, this path takes us up to llyn Bochlwyd. A vaguely kidney shaped beautifully reflective lake, slowly being heated by the over enthusiastic Sun. The views from here are wonderous, east is our companion for the day rocky Tryfan, south is the massive rock wall that is the north face of the Glyderau, west is Y Garn, Elidir Fawr and Carnedd y Filiast, also made of rock, and north is Pen yr Ole Wen and the Carneddau, strangely more rock there too. This is the home of the Rock Gods. Plus two low flying screaming Hawk jets flew through the valley, at the same height as us, you don't get that at an air show.
From Llyn Bochlwyd we can see the path wending it's way up to Bwlch Tryfan, it's from there that the walk starts to get interesting, with added interest.
The walk from the lake was a good one, easier, and it's good to be able to see where the path goes and where it ends.
Had I a camera I'd take a picture about now, several maybe.
Sooner rather than later we reach the wall that separates east and west Bwlch Tryfan follow the wall south and your in a world of hurt, Bristly ridge to be exact and it wears its name well. North and the wall goes up to a Tryfan subsidiary peak, far south peak to be more exact. We follow the wall north but skirt around the bottom of south peak. As we approach the start of the climb up to the Adam and Eve central peak a group of walkers are just getting to the bottom of it, surely they have got turned round somehow, they are coming down what looks definitely like the hard way, we move on and find the right way, it looks like the easy way, steep but exhilarating, tiring but a good cardiovascular workout, beautiful but with no camera I feel like a buffoon, a prize banana. Look hard, and remember.
A very good scramble ensues, I'm sticking to the rock like spider-man, probably because the sun is melting the rubber souls of my boots, not really, but I am feeling confidant, like I already have the freedom of the mountain , without doing the idiots leap.
I climb quicker and quicker, desperate almost to get to the top, the scenery changes subtly every time we turn round, I'm hungry for the final explosive view from the very top, a full 360 degree dream come true. But this isn't the very top, we can see it, its close, from where we sit and eat butties we watch intrepid walkers and crazed climbers doing the jump from Adam to Eve, or Eve to Adam. There are school parties up here, no balloons and such, but kids much in abundance, boys Erics age and girls Phils age, two things occur to me, firstly could I get my kids up here ? doubtful, secondly, and I thought how cool am I for getting up here, and there are school kids up here, how hard can it be ? not that hard at all really as it turns out.
Butties consumed, we wait for the summit to clear somewhat and were on our way up, it's now I remember my cell phone has a camera, it's a crap one for sure, but better than nothing, click.
Right at the very top we share the summit with at least a dozen other people, some stay only five minutes some linger longer, some do the jump but others just sit and watch. A lone seagull flies round and round waiting for a dropped crust, I get really dizzy watching it.
The view is as you'd expect, adequate to say the least, proportional to the energy expended in getting here, so good that one could almost launch oneself off the side if they didn't have a camera, almost everyone up here is taking a picture. I make out that I do this all the time and have no need for appliances. Cell phone cam, click.
Adam and eve stand almost right on the edge of the eastern edge of the summit, flat topped and two to three feet distant. From the summit a truly giants cairn must be climbed to get to the seemingly small stones, but from the other side there are no boulders, and you can see that one stone is firmly planted in the ground and over ten feet tall, the other stone just rests on another rock, neatly fitting together like some Inca temple. I am tempted to do the jump, but honestly, I couldnt even get up without soiling my self never mind stand up on it and then jump off. Not today.
We notice that time has gotten away from us, if we plan to carry on with the planned walk we need to go, and quickly. One more miserable phone cam click and were outta there. I've never been as sad to leave a mountain top, they've all meant something more than just getting to the top, but this one is truly special, but, I leave nonetheless, bye stones.
We get down easy enough, I find it easier coming down than going up, as the dizzies only occur whilst i'm looking up. Back at Bwlch Tryfan we have to amend the plan, theyre always open to reinterpretation, we end the mountain part of the plan here, vowing to get back soon to enjoy the Glyderau from upon them.
Its a little bit cooler now, we are a little bit cooler now too, cool enough to give the Fonz a run for his money, but not too far 'cause my legs are just a bit wobbly right now.
Back in the car and round the block, through Betws Y Coed to llanwrst, up a very determined mountain road and we park up for some afters. Hafodygors wen, or even Hafod y Gors wen, Coflein calls it a cairn, but notes the four stones set into it resembling a Scottish four poster. Its a firm favorite of mine and I jump at the chance to get someone else to see it. But after our mountaineering, the walk in the hot afternoon sun was longer than Its ever been, drier, but further.
My removal of Gorse bushes in the last couple of years are nicely covering up, the four poster, I cant be swayed from seeing it otherwise, has never looked better. Alken seemed to like it a lot, and the surroundings.
A great way to end an epic day.
Camera camera camera ! ! !
From Lake to Peak
The original plan was for a sunrise up at Brats hill with its neighboring circles, then off to Copt Howe.
But a last minute change in plans had me putting it off for a day. The weather report wasn't saying favourable things (rain everywhere) but they aren't always up to scratch so I went for it anyway.
The day begins at 2.00am, whilst loading the car, it is, as predicted, raining, I almost go back to bed. It rains on and off all the way up the M6 too, by the time I reach junction 36 it's just light enough for the day to reveal itself as decidedly miserable. So contingency plan-F swings into action, I head for Ulverston.
I have a bit of a thing for sites with Druid or Druids in the name and it's been nigh on ten years since my one and only time here, so it will be good to get reacquainted, and see how the stones fared against the red paint that some brainless moron slapped upon them, gone, faded or otherwise.
I park in the big obvious car parking place that is not more than a hundred yards from the circle, but, unnervingly, there is half a dozen less than new motor homes enjoying an adhoc camping trip here too. I'm hoping the throng at the ring wont be too big.
Waterproofed, more against the dew than the rain which has by now mercifully eased off, I head off along the grassy path, sooner than I'd anticipated the stones come into view, and Kalookalaylee, there's no one there, I have the Druids circle to my self, or so I thought.
Firstly I inspect the stones for red paint, one stone, the biggest one still has the gory stuff on it , but it is fading and lichen is growing over it. After bemoaning the current state of humanity I take a few low light pictures, and start to cut away some nettles that are overcoming one of the stones. Then I walk round the circle and stop at an overflowing bag of rubbish, I swear out loud and and give it an experimental tap with my foot. This elicits a loud and piercing bark from an unseen dog, then from the other side of a clump of ferns a large plastic sheet moves about.
Crap ! someone has slept here overnight.
I make my way over to the other side of the circle and take a few nervous pictures, a crusty dread-locked head peers at me over the ferns and says "Good morning"
I return his salutation and take a pew upon a relevant stone, turning my back upon his crustiness. Perhaps now he's up he'll have somewhere else to go. He sits upon the stone next to me, Alsatian at his feet and says " no sun today, can you crash me a fag", I realise, he's been here all night, this is his somewhere else. Sadly I didn't have a fag for him but I did roll one of his for him, his hands were too cold and wet. We both sit staring off across Bardsea and Morecambe bay.
I can take but a few minutes of this before I have to excuse my self and go for a wander, up here, round there, back in the car and away.
To Great Urswick.
It has been a similar ten years since I was last here as well. It wasn't a place high on my re-visit list but seeing as its so close and en route between the Druids circle and Copt Howe, via the Giants Grave, I more or less had to go have another look. I'm very glad I did too.
My biggest memory of it is not being sure of it's authenticity, sure it's a big a stone resting on two other stones, but it's not obviously a burial chamber.
Visible from the road, once you know what and where it is, it is but a five minute stroll across a field over a stile and up hill a hundred yards. Some cows were close by but they hadn't even got up yet so they just watched me from there small dry patches. I sat amid the low branches of the Hawthorn inspecting the rear of the big three stones, there are many more big stones under the tree, can we safely presume they are from the chamber and not just dumped there by the farming dude. I take a good look around the Limestone outcropping as well, always looking back at the stones, from the east on the limestone rocks the chamber is hidden by the Hawthorn. The Cows are getting up now and one even mooed at me, my change of socks are already soaked through, boots stopped being waterproof months ago, so I bid a fond farewell to Great Urswick burial chamber, and leave with a new found appreciation of this under valued site.
Really close by is Great Urswick hill fort and a too close to ignore tumulus, so I decide to have but a quick look round before I go off to find The Giants Grave which we so spectacularly failed to find for a second time last year.
I park/dump the car by a footpath sign north of the fort and follow the wall in the appropriate direction, the path is on the other side of the wall but so are a herd of still seated bovinators, so at the top of the field I have to jump a wall, just twenty yards east is the tumulus, I tell it i'm just going up to the fort then I'll come back for a good look, it has stones on top.
The ramparts are not well preserved, they are very worn down, but the large limestone outcrops still guard its western edge. In clearer conditions good views are to be seen all round, but todays conditions are anything but clear. I start the walk back down to the tumulus with stones on top when I get a text on me phone, it's my daughter, shes encountered a childminding malfunction and I have to return home at once.
I promise to do so straight away, and continue down to the barrow, swearing as I go, the kind of swearing one does when there is no-one to hear you. No Giants Grave, no Copt Howe, what a bummer.
The tumulus turns out to be a long barrow, not a particularly long individual, but to make up for a lack of length it has two small standing stones on it's eastern end. One stone is so gnarled it appears to be a tree stump at first but a closer look reveals it's stoney nature, the other stone is wider.
I cannot give it the time it deserves, I have to go.
But as I leave I hatch a plan, to get home as quick as possible, pick up my no longer little girl and without missing a beat drive off to the Peak District, before I'm even back on the M6 I've decided that a return to Stoke Flat stone circle upon Froggatts Edge is what the day needs to be rescued.
Everything goes according to plan, the only thing I didnt take into account is the frailty of the human body, I was so tired that when we parked up at the little parking area near Froggatts edge I fell swiftly asleep. After Phil listens to six songs on her MP3 I awaken to bright sunshine, jumping to life we exit the vehicle and take the pleasant walk along the edge to the circle.
As usual for this time of year the circle is busy getting buried and choked by the infernal bracken, Phil sits around impersonating a teenager that isn't bovvered whilst I take my little shears to the ferns. The big main stone in the circle has many solstice offerings on it's basin like top, a silvery bracelet, some small change, woven twigs, a wax effigy and so on. I reveal as much of the ring as my back can take then begin to photograph the circle. Phil used to be very camera friendly always posing with a sweat smile ,but now she cant bear to be even in the photo, how those times a change. When the inevitable "can we go now" comes I climb a couple of trees monkey boy like to get a more aerial view, without much success it has to be said.
But it really is time to go now, the solstice is definitely over for this year. Now I've got to get Phil to her friends, pick Eric up from his Mum's, and sleep for England on the sofa, interrupted only by microwave related questions and the information that some one is sleeping at Lukes. I was, as they say, not with it.
Circles, monuments, crashes, and floods.
It's five in the morning and the day is just dawning and once more the A55 takes me to the place that an ancestor called home, a million miles from all my problems, it is where my heart lies, it is called Snowdonia.
I wasn't totally sure where to go, one thought was Tre'r Cieri, but low funds and a late night made my decision for me, it was to be an Equinox sunrise at the Druids circle above Penmaenmawr.
I decided to save time and take the car up the track as far as it would go, passing the twin pillars the track gets rutted and pitted, so much so that I decide this is the one and only time I shall take it up this far.
Coat on, camera over the shoulder and I'm off up the path, rounding a small hill the wind hits me like a mad Yeti, cripes that's cold, for a fleeting moment I think this is far too cold I'm going back, but that's not the postal way either so I quicken my pace, keep my head down and keep moving.
I pass Red Farm remnant stone circle and Maen Crwn with barely a glance, time for that on the return trip. Out of the damning cold wind I reach Brian, otherwise known as Circle 275, I say "alright Bri" and turn to check on the suns progress, bugger, it's already risen, so I run the rest of the way up to the circle of the Druids.
It's as perfect a day for a sunrise as ive yet seen, and ive been watching the sun on the solstices and equinox's for over a decade. The sun rises probably not fortuitously over the highest part of the hills Cefn Maen Amor on the near horizon, this is not perfectly east, but if the land was totally flat it would be too far north of the highest point, but because the sun has had time to move through the sky a bit, it does rise above the highest point of Cefn Maen Amor.
On the other side of the circle from the sun I am standing on a small mound, for a moment I wonder if it's man made, perhaps for people to stand upon whilst watching the equinox sunrise from, I look over to my left and note another mound, almost perfect for watching a winter solstice sunrise. There is no mound for the summer solstice. Was it perhaps not deemed as important as the other two ? Are they actually natural mounds, but the stone circle was placed there because of them. Between the two mounds an ancient track passes by. Ive always wondered why the circle is sited right on the edge of the land before it falls steeply down to Penmaenmawr. In between the big hills (Tal y Fan) and the steep down hill fall there is plenty of room to put a stone circle, granted most of it is pretty boggy , but why right the way over here on the edge. I feel I could be onto something, but it could be just a feeling. On the east side of the circle is another mound possibly in just the right place to see the sun set on the winter solstice, it should also be said that from the sun rise mounds the sun rises right across the middle of the circle. Oh for a central tall megalith..
This is easily the best stone circle in Wales.
From there I take the short walk to the conundrum that Ive called Thora, less enthusiastic folk call it Monument 280, where are the other 279. Just to the north is Kevin, a ring cairn called Circle 278. Both of them would have brought me here on there own, but there is so much more up here. I then walk up to the top of Moelfre, a small hill with big views and a much denuded cairn, but it seems less denuded than before somehow. I sit here for a while watching clouds drift over the snow topped mountains to my south, resisting the urge to run over and climb one. That'll happen soon enough.
I run down the hill, always a fun thing to do, but less fun than with Eric pulling me, urging me to go faster.
Cors y Carneddau is my next port of call, a large barrow with a scooped out interior, a very decent kerb cairn , a less decent ring cairn and a fairly knackered hard to discern stone circle, the kerb cairn and the barrow are in my opinion wonderful to behold , second only to the Druids Circle, and the views of the mountains, which are almost overpowering.
From Cefn Coch barrow I skirt around the base of becairned Moelfre following the path towards two cairns called Bryniau Bugeilydd. Passing the site of crashed WWII bomber " Bachelors baby " a B24 Liberator, they were probably looking for stone circles and never saw the hill coming.
Coflein still isn't co-operating, so I didn't know what to expect, if anything. But I was pleasantly surprised to find the remains of a substantial kerb cairn. Half the kerbing has gone but those that remain are quite large, the interior of the cairn has a slight rise in ground level .
About fifty yards up the hill back in the direction of the Druids circle, is what I presumed must be the other cairn. It is heather covered and is either situated upon a rocky knoll or the whole thing is the rocky knoll, there was nothing else in the vicinity so I clicked the camera and moved on.
From there it's a second visit to Cerrig Gwynion, a cairn with a cist. Coflein state that the cairn is four meters high, it isn't, its barely one meter high
My second visit, but as i'm approaching from a different direction it's as hard to find as the first time.
then quickly back to the Druids, then a longer look at Brian, circle 275.
It's now time to go and get out of this biting wind, but just before I do there's just one more new site to see.
A mere fifty yards from Brian is this massively overlooked barrow/cairn, somewhat unfortunately named Fridd Wanc, with so many megalithic wonders here about it's almost understandable. About a meter tall and maybe five across this heather and grass covered mound melts seamlessly into it's surroundings, look for the telegraph pole uncaringly stuck right on top of it, blighters.
Back at the car I'm glad to be out of the cold, which I'm glad to say didn't affect me too much. I leave the vicinity and head away.
I planned on looking for and hopefully finding Porth Llwyd portal dolmen. I knew from George Nash that it may not be findable as it is now descheduled by the Office of works and described as " Presumed destroyed by flood "
But I still hoped to at least locate the capstone, and one or two uprights could still be in place, but alas it was not to be, two hours of digging, scratching, going round in circles and wading through brambles all on what I supposed to be private property. I could find no trace of it, the Dolgarrog flood disaster (of which i include a photo of from the information board, not the actual flood, just a description of it) has taken it all away.
Only more hours spent searching round in circles can prove its destruction.
Any information about it's location would be greatly appreciated, it is not at the grid ref supplied by me here. (Taken from Nash)
Boat of a million years
Very early o'clock Saturday the 22nd of September, sees me up and at 'em and once more en route to North Wales, the epicenter of me. It's the Autumnal equinox again, I've only failed once in twelve years of getting out and being somewhere good on a solstice or equinox, not in any real pagan way you understand, I really only use it as an excuse to definitely go out, come what may, my works annual leave is always March, June, and September, cant get Christmas off, that ones a sicky this year.
By passing Chester I take the coast road, dual carriageway all the way to Conway, it's my route 66, this drive got an even more spiritual bent to it this morning, behind me high and bright was the planet Venus, stars were everywhere, several shooting stars go by (space junk !)and as the road got higher mist started to come and go, the car seemed to be flying amongst the clouds, my boat of a million years.
As you come off the dual carriageway you enter the Conway river valley, the hills and mountains to the west are as jam packed with megalithic and natural wonders as anywhere you care to think of ( with maybe a few exceptions). Cross the river turn left onto the B5106, turn right after a black and white pub called Y Bedol. The mad twister of a hair-pinned road should be taken slowly and carefully. Stop and park at cattle grid.
It was most definitely getting light now, I donned my waterproof lower half, it was not going to rain but dew is a soaker and there's that river to cross as well, then I was off down the hill towards one of my most favorite of places Hafodygors wen. A northern four poster with a ring cairn around it. I've already removed one small Gorse bush, and almost all of another, it was time to finish the job and catch the place in its best light, sun rise.
The brown patch where I removed the first bush has now almost completely grassed over, but the fingers of the bigger bush have started to regrow, bloody Gorse. I unpack my secret weapon, a flick saw, like a flick knife but a saw, ten minutes in and the sun comes up.
I know from copious map staring and Google earthing that the hill known as Waen Bryn-Gwenith http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/12542/waen_bryngwenith_stone_ii.html is directly east of Hafodygors wen, the big stone right on it's summit is very visible from almost everywhere round here, and if that wasn't enough, fifty yards down hill from it is a probable collapsed dolmen http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/12543/waen_bryngwenith_stone_i.html , A good place for the sun to rise on such an auspicious morning, and the perfect place to see it from.
The sun shone full and bright as it came up over the hill, if it was a more flatter place it would have been a big orange ball, but from here the sun has more chance to accrue it's brilliance. And it was brilliant. The sun seemed to be coming up over the dolmen rather than the big stone, cant be a coincidence surely, two other hill tops near here have big stones on there summits dissuading me of a solar alignment. Behind me the sun light slowly moved down off the mountains and creeped down the hill side to my little stone circle, and bathed us in light. I tried to capture the moment on camera but it never sees the same as me. I renewed my attack on the Gorse remnants till it was all but gone, a small hard knot of root was clutching strongly to some cairn material so I cut it back some but ended up having to leave it as I don't want to damage the stones in any way, hopefully, I killed it, horrendous, I know and I feel badly for it, but each thing has it's place, and seeing as only two people have ever been here, Ive decided that I am the one who decides what goes where. This time next year it will all be grassed over and all will be well for this strange little beauty, if only it was a bit easier to get to, it might get more visitors.
But, that's not all folks. First I head over to the other very nearby cairn, it is just a bump now, but I decide to take a closer look any way. Nothing much to see at all really, but interestingly the big stack of rocks is half way between cairn 1 and 2. I return to the four poster and make ready to walk about. I remember Coflein saying something about a hut circle round here somewhere, I follow the river, with a vague memory that its near to it. I didn't find it first time I came here, but I did this time. A large ring of small stones, on a slightly higher than the ground platform, two small wind shelters/sheep pens ??? have been formed from the stones. Not a particularly inspiring ancient monument, but it's position is in a gorgeous setting, rushing river below, more recent ruined building across the river and every where trees, ferns and mosses, with mountains never far from view.
The megalithic portal brought to my attention that a standing stone is up the valley some more towards the mountains, never needing much of a reason to get nearer the mountains I set off, tired but in good spirits.
Following the Afon Dulyn to the dam, then a footpath takes us to the Afon Garreg-wen, It's only a small river but crossing it was found difficult as I'd come to the waterfall bit, moving about in dense wet undergrowth wasn't easy, my leg disappeared down some dark hole, banging my knee cap on my other leg, I pulled out my soaked leg half expecting a Lovecraftian monster to be clinging to it, but it was just dirt and wet. Ok.
Watching out for a big cluster of sheepfolds I knew I was in the right place. and there it is, vaguely helping a fence to stand up.
The stone is 1.75 meters tall, that's up to my chin. It is only by a fence and the farm dude has tied a wooden fence post to it with new shiny wire, I try half heartedly to undo it but to no avail. The stone clearly predates this fence, even the river is named after it, the fence runs for 1.5 miles from Pant y Mynach hill top to far across the valley to the footpath at Clogwyn-yr-Eryr. There are two stones right next to it, this one and another fifty yards higher up, but its smaller than this one. Brilliant views over to the Carneddau and Pant y Griafolen, and every where else the eye settles on.
One more place on the way to the car, I follow the fence line all the way across the valley crossing the Afon Dulyn in the process, I saw three other people on the way. High up on the other hillside I come to the track and start walking carwards, that is east. First I refind the single standing stone that is situated by a dip in the hill top perhaps pointing towards Pen Llithrig y Wrach, then from there the other stones can be seen, one good tall stone has holes in two sides one all the way through, the fallen stone is perhaps smaller, with another hole in it. The last stone is the smallest and the most northern. It has no holes in it. These three could be a stone row, but the other stone up hill is out of line. It's all very confusing, they were at one time part of a fence line, but the ancients breath has been down my neck all morning, its just as strong here as it was at sunrise. What a beautiful place, I must find a reason to come back, thought of one already, because I can.
One more place to go. Back to the boat of a million years. On the way taking note of the big stone on Waen Bryn-Gwenith, and I spot the tree guard of Cae Du on my right on the shoulder of Moel Eilio.
I drive the car back to Tal y Bont and then immediately back up into the mountains skirting by and below Pen y Gaer, hill fort extraordinaire. There is a small car park west of the fort, i've been up the fort before, so instead I now crawl up the nearby mountain? of Penygadiar. There is no cairn or stone here, just a view to end all views, some places have a good views but compared to this they're just looking over the wall at old ladies drawers. Expansive isn't the word, try all encompassing, it's closer, I wont name all the places seen from up here, but its well over twenty, the nearest is the hill fort, which is why I came up here, on zoom we can see it all. But now, that really is all folks, a leisurely float home and two hours later I'm crashed out on the sofa not watching tele .
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After visiting over a thousand ancient places and driving between fifteen to twenty thousand miles every year I can only conclude that I'm obsessed with these places, and finding this website seven years ago only compounded that obsession, at least I'm not alone anymore.
My favourite places are:
Ring of Brodgar
Balnauran of Clava
Nine stones close
Bryn Celli Ddu
The Druids circle (penmaenmawr)
Gwal y Filiast
La Roche au Fees
Talati De Dalt
and these are only the ones that immediatly spring to mind, so many stones and not enough lifetimes.