The day before
For the past six months or so every trip out into North Wales was with the plan to get myself up to the Carneddau, weather put us off most of the time and a contingency plan went into effect, but yesterday was different, the weather reports were giving favourable conditions, so I decided to go for it, even though I would be making this attempt solo.
But I do have a small companion, of a sort. Just before christmas the doctor told me I had an Aneurism, and after a warm and fizzy CT scan my appointment with the doctor, to decide on which hair raising stomach turning kind of operation was nessesary was due tomorrow.
So on the day before with good weather warnings in effect where else was I going to go.
After our last failed attempt to climb the Carneddau I was definately not going up the Pen yr Ole Wen suicide route, but instead heeded the Gladman and headed up the Afon Lloer to the mirror like Ffynnon Lloer. The path follows the many strands of the river as it babbles and plunges down the mountain side, with Tryfan directly behind me catching the first rays of a perfect dawn on its summit, I was almost rooted to the spot, transfixed by the awsome beauty of this whole Ogwen valley.
When the small lake is arrived at, the first words I uttered was "oh my God",not just at the majesty of the place but also because only from here can we appreciate how far is still to go. All around the lake the towering peaks are still snow covered and the cliffs are mostly absolute sheer. Only to my left is there an inkling of a way up,
but the eastern end of Pen yr Ole Wen is just as difficult looking as the other side, but I make a start on it any way, I get to one tricky point and decide to fffforget that, turning round I can see the easy way from here, its in the opposite direction, so back down to the bog and stream to cross, then up up and so much up that you run out of up.
At the top I come out on top of Ysgolion Duon, and for the second time this morning I invoke the dieties name in wonder, the land drops down vertically, into a wide u shaped valley untill it rises all the way up again to Carnedd Llewelyn, Wales second highest mountain.
For the first time in a long time I'm at the top of a big mountain and it's not a complete white-out, it takes my breath away, it really does, if I were ever to go somewhere exotic like Macchu Picchu I'd probably faint.
Up to my left on the path to carnedd Dafydd is a walkers cairn, the good kind, one that isnt built from someones grave, and warns walkers in fog that the cliff is right there, I pass two of them before I reach the big bronze age cairn that crowns this mountain, fourth highest in Wales.
But it has been despoiled, a huge amount has been pulled aside and a small shelter built from it, next to the shelter the cairn rises once more, but it's not the way it should be.
Just before I was engulfed by white out I could see another cairn down the hill, but untill the fog blew away I lay down amongst the cairn out of the icy wind, usually my thoughts would turn to that of a spiritual wonderer, but today my mind hovers on having a wire squeezed through my entire artery system into my head. I open my eyes and see blue, that didnt take long, I stand up take a picture and tread carefully down the icy slope to the cairn that is southwest of the summit, but not Carnedd Fach.
This cairn is very noticeable standing two meters tall, though that is just how tall the shelter walls stand, yes this ones been abused aswell, but I dont shelter in this one, the mist is coming and going and at no time do I get a clear view all round, just snippets, it teases me, it knows I love it, and it knows I'll be back.
I reclimb Carnedd Dafydd and pass it by following the path that eventually brings the traveller to Carnedd Llwewyn, the weather on either side of me couldnt be more different, down to the left a million natural colours wash across the wide valley giving way to the gleaming white sundrenched mountain tops, but to my right down in the Ogwen all is dark, a low cloud hangs concealing the Glyders and Tryfan summit, just as well, i'm going the other, sunnier way.
I follow the cliff top and sometimes feel dizzy with vertigo, I stay well back from the edge, but soon the ridge narrows and i'm surounded by edges. I sit near the edge staring up at llewelyn, trying to pick out the path by ffynnon Llugwy and watch a helicopter on manouvers way below me.
Time and scardy cat-ness have me beaten (mostly time though) for this mountian visit, I am already planning my next trip up here before ive even started the long wak back.
Belated summer solstice fieldnotes.
Due to insufficient funds my solstice trip would have to be as economical as possible which for me could only mean one place, the hills above Penmaenmawr and the Druids circle. I also wanted to find the nearby cist which I did after considerable field wandering, and further along the coast near Aber falls is a super little cairn called Carnedd y Saeson, so I was coming back anyway it might as well be on a superb solstice morning.
Up at two and carparked by four thirty, to my mild suprise and annoyance there was two more cars parked by the two pillars, and further up the track two more cars and an over hippied van, que the long inward groan.
I passed the four remaining stones of the red farm circle, and the big maen crwm standing stone, and before you know it a sign points the way to the druids circle, before you get there stop and appreciate the five stone ring circle 275 (blyecckkk). From this little treasure I could hear the voices see the smoke and feel the presence of a considerable gathering up at the big old man.
I sucked it in and made the short walk to the top of the hill and finally cresting the ridge the whole circle is revealed at once, most of the time you would be totally alone, but not today, imagine a perfect summer solstice sunrise and then think of the best way to spoil it and you might be half way there.
Four tents were erected within the circle, a big campfire was still smouldering, a small campfire was boiling water and scorching a fallen stone, four or five dogs were running wild, and quietly standing without the circle were a couple sitting quietly admiring the view, one bloke on his own occasionally taking a picture , and a paratrooper/ photographer who had been out in the field too long, and myself taking in the morning in it's entirety.
The normals can sometimes add to an experience, but the asswipes who decided they deserved to entirely overrun the place should be shot, obviously.
When I came here back in April I saw the burn mark and the scorched stone and thought what kind of an arse would do that?
well I saw them face to face and there was no glimmer of consideration from any of them, they obviously thought it was completely normal, and that was the worse thing, the mindless nonchalance of the thoughtless halfwit.
When the sun came up it looked beautiful, I wasnt even sure the horizon was visible from the ring, but these hoodlums obviously knew, at the moment of peak beauty one of them said in a weak vegan voice " hellllooo suuuun".
It was about now that I started to make way round to the other monuments in the near vicintiy, it took about four hours, just as I was passing the druids circle they were packing up, I moved quickly ahead.
I dont go to places like Stonehenge to avoid folk like that but up here in the hills of my beloved North wales ? is it really that time already.
The grass is always greener on the other side.
The first time I came up here I was only looking for the standing stone, but have since found out about another stone and a ring cairn and two kerb cairns all with in site of that first standing stone.
It was time for Eglwyseg part two.
After being blown away by the big clifftop barrow and astounding views over to the hillfort/castle of Dinas Bran, I followed the path up to the hilltop, then veered off towards the kerbies, ring and standing stones, there were no fences to climb and no gates to open the weather was good and the views fantastic. No worries
I first spotted the nearly horizontal standing stone first, the end of the stone still in the ground has packing stones round it, should it be upright it would be an impressive bulky stone about six feet high. From here I could see the first kerb cairn and then as I approached the further one by ten metres came into view.
Niether cairn has all its kerb stones left one of them has only five stones forming a semi circle with one stone bigger than the others, the other kerby has eight stones with again one stone bigger than the others.
The view over to World's End and Moel y Gamelin past that also takes in some of the cliffs that the area is renound for. From the kerbies I could see the ring cairn just above the grass and as I walked over to it I got giggly and a bit giddy, what had started off as a single standing stone was now turning into whole megalithic complex.
The grass in the field is neatly trimmed by a thin hoard of sheep making walking a pleasure, whereas on the other side of the fence an impenatrable waist high sea of heather rather puts a crimp to your stride
The ringer is next to a big hole and a fenced off area, all the stones seem to be there and making a perfect stone circle of themselves, I climbed up onto the corner post in the fence to get a more elavated photgraph, when just then I heard an engine behind me, I turned to look and at first glance it looked like a bus, a quick double take revealed it to be a big farmers quad-bike, I sharpishly dismounted and innocently carried on inspecting the stones, it was farmers wife and she had driven whilst scowling straight over to me.
"What are you doing here?" she impatiently asked, "Erm, I'm just taking a look at the stones"
I replied sheepishly.
"What for ?" she asks incredulously
"Because i'm interested in ancient places"
I slowly and unthreateningly ambled over to her, just be calm and dont forget to play the innocent.
"This is private property, your not allowed to be here" she says " your supposed to get permission from the CCW (Like DEFRA) and us."
I tried in vain to tell her that I just came down off the path to take a quick look at the stones, that there were no fences or gates between the path and the stones and no signs saying go away.
Then with no further a do she threw me off her land, and told me not to publish any photos of the stones taken whilst on her land and not to tell anyone the stones whereabouts.
So I withdrew, asking if it was ok to take pictures from the other side of the fence, " yes thats ok, but over there is a site of special scientific interest"
She really didnt want me anywhere near her land, she never left site of me all the time I was there, and so in deference to the old biddy I haven't put up any pictures taken on her land, but managed just about to get some from the goodboy side of the fence.
If I hadnt had the time to give the place a good look over before she came I would have been on a real downer, but as it is I felt great at rediscovering a secret megalithic complex, and I really think as many people as possible should go and look for themselves (preferably on the same day) though its up to you which side of the fence your on.
After that I went on a long walk to the Eglwyseg mountain cairns supposedly three but just one obvious, then it was back down to the clifftops and a phenomenal walk back to the car, these cliffs, terraces, gorges and hardy trees growing in impossible places is fast becoming a favorite haunt of mine.
Two more large impressive barrows and its home time, but they really were taking a very back seat to the Eglwyseg complex.
God bless her irrational heart (the farmers wife that is)
Another world.... Walking in the air
After last weeks aborted attempt to climb Moel y Gamelin and visit the big barrow up there and the nearby hillfort Moel y Gaer, I decided today would be a good day to try again, but it wasnt, I didnt even try to get onto the horseshoe pass the road may have been passable but the hilltops were lost in fog, so I switched to plan B which was try to get to a trio of big barrows north west of llyn Brenig.
Rhiwiau barrow is three metres tall and looked to be the easiest to get to, but no sooner had I turned off the main snowcleared road the small road became undrivable after a few hundred metres. I dumped/parked the car where it would least cause offence donned my all weather clothing and set off up the road.
I didnt get far, the sky was clear and visibility was good but a road sign hinted at a walk of at least three miles there and back, nope, back to the car.
The trouble with my plan C was there was no plan C, the best I could come up with was go to Anglesey buy a map and try to get to a few of the easier to visit sites. As I was drving past Conwy I noticed the sky had a bit of colour to it over the mountains a road sign said Penmaenmawr and suddenly a plan was born, the druids circle was my new destination.
Mostly the roads were ok lower down but as I drove higher the roads got worse and I left the car at a convenient parking place near a footpath
It probably took about forty minutes from car to circle 275, with every yard gained the snow got deeper and the path got slippier.
Above me to my right was Graig llwyd axe factory/quarry and even without a map I knew that circle 275 was near the power lines that cross the hills nearby, unfortunatly I strayed from the path and knee deep snow sapped my stregnth, at this time the fog came, I could tell which way the path went and which way was north so I stuggled on. Out of the whiteness came some dark shapes and I made my way over,
mostly beacause it was the only feature I could see, I sank with both feet in a really deep snowdrift just as the wind whipped a snow cloud into my face and I shouted into the wind, Its usually about now that a feather light monk rescues you and takes you to a hidden monastary where you develop some super powers, but I got cold waiting and pulled my self out staggered over to the dark shapes which then pleasingly turned into a stone circle, huffing and puffing more than a bit I smiled at the prospect of knowing once more where I was,
Aubrey Burl says of this lovely little five stone cirlce that it is considered an outlier of the southwest Irish five stoners with one of the stones (the recumbent) much flatter than the others, they were probably up here getting copper and stone axes?
From here it wasnt far to the druids circle, and it never dissapoints, my grandfather whom I never met brought my teenage mother up here in 1953, so the stones hold a special quality for me.
Standing out of the wind behind the tallest stone, the deity stone or the alter stone, dont know which, it appeared to me that me and the stones were the only things that existed, we were in the middle of a complete whiteout the only thing I could see was the stones, there was no mountains no path no anything, here I would stay forever, lost.
Then it cleared enough for me to come back into the world and I could see from the hillock that overlooks the druids circle the weird muddle of stones known only as monument 280. (worse name ever) I waded over to them and took a couple of pics of the confusing mess.
The ring cairn that is called circle 278 wasnt obvious to see so I went in the other direction towards Cors y Carneddau stone circle, I found the kink in the wall where this ruined stone ring lurks only three stones seem to be left. Over the wall is a ring cairn and a kerb cairn both in good condition from the ring cairn I spotted the barrow and had to get back over the wall and through two three foot high snowdrifts, twice.
The barrow is about two metres tall and has a scoop out of its top, on a clear day good views across the valley to Drosgl and llwytmor can be seen.
Not bad for stone hunting in the fog and snow without a map, by now my fingers and toes were going a tad numb so I started back down, as I skidded and slid down the hillside it occured to me that as the snow was so deep my feet hadnt touched the ground for quite a while so I was actually walking in the air and looking a bit snowmanish too...... Shut up Aled !!!
I would drive 500 miles
Blog guidelines specify that among other uses a weblog can be used to show what can be done in a day trip or holiday. I would say that what can be done is entirely up to the traveller, how hard-core are you?
On thursday 15th november we dropped the kids off at school and started the long drive to the Scottish border. Mother in law would pick them up have a sleep over and we would see them the following night. So what can one do in about 36 hours.
The cast of characters are myself my wife Hayley and our 10 yr old Jack Russell Arnie. We got to Dumfries and went strait to The Twelve Apostles stone circle. Parking at the corner of the field we had our sandwiches whilst watching sheep dancing on one of the stones, and was gratified to see the grass was much shorter than the last time we came. We walked down the road and climbed over the stile, and there it is, a big ring of the Cumbrian type with large though toppled stones and a large number of them have gone, but still impressive nonetheless, all the sheep had deserted the stones for the safe haven of the field next door, a buzzard wheeled over us, I know there ten a penny but still, I think theyre cool.
We got back in the car and travelled the short distance to another smaller less impressive Easthill stone circle, after wet feet, knackered out and pretty annoyed we gave up looking, we could not find it at all
But more easy to find was the Cairnholy duo, it took a bit less than an hour to get there and I was worried we didn't have enough time before sunset, but we made it just in time, the sky was a tadd cloudy so the moment of solar interrment was lost upon us but the sky was awash with reds, oranges and pinky-yellowy colours it was very nice. The stones here are fandabydosey although the chambers are quite small the megalithic forecourt is a doosy, tall and pointy. I left Hayley at the stones with Arnie and I went up to the smaller Cairnholy 2, though the farm is very close access isnt a problem and if you turn toward the sea you can forget everything, A couple of points to point out are the two chambers are not intervisible and of very different type. It was beginning to darken so I ran back to the car (which you can leave right next to the chamber) and I drove quickly round a few corners to Glenquicken stone circle.
There are 4 or 5 circles round here but for now i'll see only this one, I left Hayley and Arnie in the car and ran over the field. The tall central stone is all you can see untill your right on top of it. Some have likened this place to my local Bullstones but there is practically no resemblance at all the cenral stone here is a different shape and hieght, the circle is almost gone if it was ever there at all at the bullstones
Glenquicken is a very special place and the bullstones is just ok.
It was getting dark but my new improved camera and a couple of filters were doing just what I wanted of them. It was too late on to find the nearby cist so I just sat and took in the evening light and caressed the big cetral stone, a bit daft maybe but you havent been some where till you've touched it, a touch turned into
a light rub and that turned into a caress which ended as a full blown hug and then it really was time to go. I sauntered over the field safe in the knowledge that we had plenty of time and no real hurry to get there. We then drove across country back to the M74 and eventually got through the Hell hole (sorry)sometimes known as Glasgow and stopped for Dinner at a carvery near Dumbarton. Then onto our final destination the Kintyre peninsular, it was a bit dissapointing not seeing any countryside on the way but Iv'e been this way a few times so have seen it before and anyway needs must.
We parked in the carpark at the north end of Machrihanish beach and got our heads down, despite the time of year it was warm in the car, the only sleep disruptions were the end of every dream and the dog chewing his pigs ear at about midnight.
In the morning I first found Craigs standing stone with its big horse and abandoned houses and two hudred yards away glencraigs standing stone the two are'nt visible from each other and different from each other too, good views out to sea and behind up to the hills.
Next was Balegreggan, we parked on a residential side street and I left the others in the car. Jumpingthe gate I made my way up hill to the fence upon reaching it I read a sign saying 'beware electric fence' as if not beleiving it I touched it, stupid beyond belief. Carefully I climbed over and was only 60m away from the stone, possibly the biggest stone on the peninsular and with a very pronounced lean I could hear a quad bike in the distance so didn't linger long.
Ten minutes later we were walking in Campbletown high street looking for breakfast, from there you can look up at the hills and see a standing stone, I bet not many towns can say that. After a bacon buttie and coffee we headed even further south looking for Glenmucknach standing stone.
I followed a land rover to a house down a rough farm track and got out to ask the old chap about the stone, he was great not only did he explain how to get there and let us park in his ample yard, but he also showed us a photo of himself at the stone with his mate who looked oddly familiar to hayley and me.
We left his house and turned left through a gate negotiating the gorse and brambles we entered the forest (which isn't on the map) the path led through the trees to the open ground and we climbed the north-south fence, the old chap mentioned something about climbing it or maybe don't we wandered about for a while untill we remembered his words "its in a clearing amongst the trees" and looking at the map we knew we'd gone too far so turned back and reclimbed the fence and headed for the only clearing we could see turning the corner into the clearing hayley and me both clenched our fists and shouted "YES"
The clearing is large enough for a stone circle let alone a single stone,which is nice to see. The stone is twice my height, quartzy mossy and licheny we both felt elated to find it despite the trees, on the way back we were laughing and singing to the proclaimers tune " I would drive 500 miles, just to see a stone in a plantation" We thanked the old chap for his kindness and went back north as time was beginning to catch up with us, back through Campbeltown and a little way north was Glenlessa lodge and its stone in a wall, what a place to live .
Next rather ambitiosly we headed for Paul McCartneys stone at High Park but it was padlocked and no way through so a bit further north was Skeroblin stone situated in what must be the muddiest field in Scotland it was mostly water and sometimes bubbled when I stepped on a clump of earth and grass those of you who know what I mean, will know what I mean. Not a tall stone but you take what you can when those bloody scousers block your way.
It was now getting late and we had a long way to go so there was just one place to go on the way.
Ballochroy is a splendid stone row with a large cist thrown in too. Looking out to sea we can see the islands of Gigha and on a clear day Jura where the summer solstice sun sets.
Sheep are funny things they usually run away alerting the farmer to your prescence but these were different they were huge beefy and completly unafraid they came towards us untill I flashed them (with my camera) as we walked around they just ignored us. and that was our mad trip to Kintyre, like I said at the beginning anything is possible, it all depends on how hard-core you are. We arrived home at 10.15, my son said to me before going sleep remember we're going out tomorrow, so at 6.30am we were on our way to N.Wales
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.