Wales: Top And Bottom

The ferry disembarked at 6:30pm on the Friday evening, so with the long nights at their longest it was only sensible that I made the most of being on Anglesey before heading down south.

fig. 1 : Bodowyr Portal Tomb

My first stop was Bodowyr (SH 463 683) (see fig. 1); a place I'd been to before but only in the rain. On this trip the views to the south and the mountains of North Wales were open and they are spectacular! There's something about this tomb. It's proportions. The selection of stone. Just everything about it gives it a certain something.

fig. 2 : Bryn-Gwyn Tre'r Dryw

Just around the corner are two giant stones at Bryn-Gwyn Tre'r Dryw (SH 462 669); the last survivors of a huge stone circle and avenue. The tallest is nearly 6m tall, 2m wide and just 30cm thick. This pair of Titans guard a gateway between two fields (see fig. 2) and a rather pathetic-looking collapsed rusty gate. It is very hard to imagine what the original stone circle would have looked like, but the size of these stones makes you think of Avebury in Wiltshire, England.
With the evening moving on I decided to start the journey south and head for two ruined portal tombs in the hills above Dyffryn Ardudwy. Both of these sites are dominated by the round, pregnant belly-like form of Moelfre, a definite candidate for a Mother Hill.

fig. 3 : Bron y Foel Isaf

The first at Bron y Foel Isaf, like so many tombs, is now built into a drystone wall. The beautifully shaped capstone (see fig. 3) rests on the ground at the rear with the front supported by one of the portal stones. The only other visible structural stone is a half-height doorstone. The ground within the field to the rear of the tomb is made treacherous to walk across by the remains of the cairn material. Also, in the same field, 30m away are two very prominent low outcrops of bedrock. As with all of these NW Wales tombs there is a beatiful view of the sea.

fig. 4 : Cors y Gedol with Moelfre bathed in a sunset glow

The next site (and the last one for the evening) is just two kilometres away by foot, but seven by road. Cors y Gedol (SH 603 228) is another ruined portal tomb with just the capstone, doorstone and one portal stone in situ, but this one has the traces of a 30m long cairn stretching out behind it to the west. It faces directly towards the bulk of Moelfre (see fig. 4), but this is not the only landscape feature that makes this place special.

fig. 5 : Sunset over Yr Eifl

I was fortunate enough to visit the site on a clear evening just 3 days after the summer solstice. At this time the sunset is almost at the same place as on the Solstice. What I saw blew my mind! On the Lleyn Peninsula one mountain, Yr Eifl, seems to be the focus of so many monuments and amazingly it plays a role in this site's landscape too. As I stood and watched the sun drop it settled on the peak of Yr Eifl and flared magnificently (see fig. 5). It then proceeded to 'slide' down the eastern slope until it disappeared into a notch. I felt truly privilaged to be possibly the first person in 4000-5000 years to witness this event. A great end to a glorious evening. Tomorrow: a big drive south.

Stones circles, put quite simply, are rings of standing stones, although not all of them are cicular, many being eliptical. Many have definite layout plans and often stone circles in one region share a similar style, e.g. Cork features many axial stones circles, where a recumbent stones faces an apparent entrance into the circle (see Drombeg (County Cork)).

They are the most well known of megalithic monuments and the ones most likely to capture anyone's imagination. Many theories exist about the original purpose of these enigmatic structures, the most popular (and at times most controversial) one is that they were built as astronomical observatories, many having apparent solar alignments with the sunrise and sunsets at the solstices and equinoxes. Lunar and star alignments have also ben noted.

No matter what the exact purpose it is certain that they played a significant role in the ritual or religious lives of the builders. One thing that nearly everyone has in common is that they are located in the most dramatic of places, usually offering unrivalled views.

Quite often other monuments, such as alignments, cairns, boulder burials or outliers, are to be found in close proximity to stone circles.

Two stones place either side of a gallery, opposite each other, but not touching so as to leave a gap, that are used to segment it into smaller chambers.

A cairn is a large pile of stones, quite often (but not always) containing a burial. Sometimes they have a kerb around the base.

Most cairns are hemi-spherical (like half a football), but the piles of stones used to cover wedge tombs, court tombs and portal tombs are also called cairns. When associated with these types of monument they are not always round, but sometimes rectangular or trapezoidal.

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