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Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Seafarer

The following anglo-saxon poem is one of my favourites, its harsh gloomy mood speaks down to us through the centuries, the misery of cold and ice and dangers faced are captured clearly. The strength of the spoken language comes over vividly. Michael Alexander in his book Earliest English poetry, stresses the fact that these Saxon poems come from a much earlier tradition of bardic poetry, it has the same strong echoes that are found in the early British poet Taliesin. To read them out loud, one must remember that they were delivered in a great smoky timbered hall to the assembled company as they feasted. Because they are spoken, the person who recites them can alter the words to suit the moment, the drama of the words are underlined by the half-line rendition; between these two half-lines one must imagine the sound of a harp giving the dramatic pause of a story in the telling. Also, like Shakespeare, there are rich metaphoric images, so that the sun is woruld candel the sea is swan-rud (swans riding).

Mæg ic be me sylfum soðgied wrecan,
May I for my own self song's truth reckon,

siþas secgan, hu ic geswincdagum
Journey's jargon, how I in harsh days

earfoðhwile oft þrowade,
Hardship endured oft

bitre breostceare gebiden hæbbe,
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,

gecunnad in ceole cearselda fela,
Known on my keel many a care's hold

atol yþa gewealc, þær mec oft bigeat
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent

nearo nihtwaco æt nacan stefnan,
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship's head

þonne he be clifum cnossað. Calde geþrungen
While she tossed close to cliffs.
Coldly afflicted

wæron mine fet, forste gebunden,
My feet were by frost benumbed

caldum clommum, þær þa ceare seofedun
Chill its chains are; chafing sighs

hot'ymb heortan; hungor innan slat
Hew my heart round and hunger begot

merewerges mod. þæt se mon ne wat
Mere-weary mood. Lest man know not

þe him on foldan fægrost limpeð,
That he on dry land loveliest liveth,

hu ic earmcearig iscealdne sæ
List how I, care-wretched, on ice-cold sea,

winter wunade wræccan lastum,
Weathered the winter, wretched outcast

winemægum bidroren,
Deprived of my kinsmen; .

bihongen hrimgicelum; hægl scurum fleag.
Hung with hard ice-flakes, where hail-scur flew,

pær ic ne gehyrde butan hlimman sæ
There I heard naught save the harsh sea

iscaldne wæg. Hwilum yifete song
And ice-cold wave, at whiles the swan cries

dyde ic me to gomene, ganetes hleo€or
Did for my games the gannet's clamour,

ond huilpan sweg fore hleahtor wera,
Sea-fowls, loudness was for me laughter

mæw singende fore medodrince.
The mews' singing all my mead-drink

Stormas pær stanclifu beotan. €ær him stearn oncwæõ
Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern

isigfe€era; ful oft €æ earn bigeal,
In icy feathers; full oft the eagle screamed

urigfe€ næra; nænig hieomæga
With spray on his pinion.

Anglo Saxon transcribed by Alan Watson
English by Ezra Pound

The rest of the poem can be found here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Silbury Hill seeds

Seed identified from seed and fruit remains from the old land surface and the turf stack (1136 species examined (D.Williams) Taken from; SACRED MOUND, HOLY RINGS by Alastair Whittle.

As Silbury Hill is in the public eye at the moment because of the work undertaken to fill and make good the terrible damage it has sustained over the years by tunnelling into its heart, I thought to list the great number of plants that were found from the primary mound.
The thought was provoked by something someone said on the radio, it went thus, to be always dismayed by the terrible encroachment of modern civilisation on our wild and natural places it is well to remember that even the tallest building is built on soil, but that within the soil there can still be found the seeds of yesteryear. This spark of hope, as motorways slice through our archaeological inheritance may be small, but the intrinsic small parts of history still remain and it is well to rejoice in such things.
What makes the list below so interesting is the commonplace nature of the flowers found. Short turf is illustrated by the presence of bugle, trefoil and ground ivy, a pretty tapestry of blue and yellow snaking through the grass, "Colonisers" such as nettles and rosebay willowherb (fireweed) show disturbed land, the nettle always growing, as it does today, on old sites that have a rich nitrogenous soil. Rosebay is supposed to colonise after a fire, so maybe there was burning of trees. Hazel and yew are represented as well, hazel that most useful of tree for nuts and hurdling material, and slow growing yew, now mostly found in churchyards but then it would have been wild in the forests. Its stately grace dark and menacing against the other forms of trees. Water is represented in the sedges and crowfoot, with the damp edged plants such as buttercups. Stitchwort and red campion are wildflowers well suited to growing near hedges, whilst bedstraw and scabious are flowers of the open aspect.

Ajuga reptans Bugle - blue flowers in spikes, slightly bronzed leaves
Arenaria serpyllifolia Thyme leafed sandwort - small rough greyish annual with white flowers
Centaurea sp (cf.C.nigra) Common knapweed - medium to tall purple hardheads
Cerastium holosteoides Fr Common mouse-ear - weedy white flower
Chamaenerion augustifolium Rosebay-willowherb - large rose or purple coloured flowers
Chenopodium album Fat-hen - spiky flowers, mealy leaves, and of course edible
Corylus avellana LHazel - catkin flowers and nuts
Galium sp.(cf.aparine L) Bedstraw
Glechoma hederacea - ground ivy - ground creeping, heart shaped leaves with soft purple flowers
Lapsana communis LNipplewort - leaves toothed, flowerheads yellow
Leontondon hispidus Rough hawkbit -deeply toothed leaves, yellow flowers (dandelion like)Linum catharticum Fairy flax -( interesting calcerous) fragile plant with small white flowers lotus corniculatus Common birds - foot trefoil, flowers yellow to orange yellow
Montia fontana (vr.chrondosperma) Blinks - small inconspicious white flowered plant
Plantago Lanceolata- Ribwort plantain - leaves linear lanceolate, flowers brown
Polygonum aviculare Knotgrass - silvery leaf, flowers greenish with pink tinge
Polygala sp. ( cf. P vulgaris) Common milkwort - leaves not bitter tasting, flowers bell-like, blue, pink or white
Poterium sanguisorba Salad burnet - upper flowers with reddish styles, lower with yellow anther (edible)
Prunella vulgaris Self-heal - low to short, leaves oval to diamond shaped, flowers deep purple-blue, occasionally pink or white
Ranunculus sp(R aquatilis) Common water-crowfoot - floating water plant with white flowers
Ranunculus acris - LMeadow buttercup
Ranunculus repens - Creeping buttercup
Rubus fruiticosus L sensu lato
Blackberry bramble Sambucus nigra
Common elder - white elderflower
Scabiosa columburaia - Small scabious - soft purple flowers
Silene dioica - Red campion - flowers bright rose pink
Stachys sp (sp.S.Palustris) - Marsh woundwort - Flowers purple, whorls forming a dense pyramidal shape down stalk
Stellaria graminea - Lesser stitchwort - straggly weak branches, white star flowers

Taraxavum sp (cf.T.Laevigatum) - dandelion
Taxus baccata - Yew
Urtica diocia - Stinging nettle
Viola -Violet

Uncertain identification
Composita fruit stones
Cyperaceae small berries

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Presceli Landscape

The Presceli range of mountains is of course supposed to be the place where the famous 'bluestones' of Stonehenge came from. The large rocky outcrop of Carn Meini rises from the mountains dominating the land around a distinctive landmark. Firstly, it is beautiful, more hill like than mountains, golden grass in early autumn with hundreds of sheep (and a few ponies) dotted round. Natural stone carns are scattered around rising from the earth and stand like untidy longbarrows on the ridges.
The day I went it was hot with a blue sky and to the west you could glimpse the sea. The narrow lane you follow for several miles is from Machenclog to Cymrwych, it follows the line of the mountains, there are apparently standing stones in several places in the fields, but you would need a GPS to track them down. .. There is a small stopping place, to one side of the road marked by one of the modern bluestones brought down from the mountain by helicopter, another went to Stonehenge.
Parking the car, the short turfed path, nibbled by the sheep who lounge around either side of the path, peters out and one is forced to follow the smaller animal paths, when you gain the ridge Carn Meini faces you in all its grandeur about a mile away, the river of stone in the valley below a strange figment of natures imagination. Viewed from a distance there is a certain heart-stopping moment, time kaleidoscopes down and at last you can enter the world of prehistoric man. You see as his eyes saw the curving darkness of this great outcrop, stone circles, barrows are given their true religious nature when you understand that it is the earth upheavals of all its wondrous rocks that entered into the imagination of neolithic people. Carn Meini must have been a symbolic monument, part of the trade route from Ireland, through Wales down to the south west and Stonehenge. Wainwright and Darvill have put forward the theory that the springs that are to be found here, where sacred and had some sort of healing force, and that is why the bluestones were taken to Stonehenge. This fits in rather well with the theory that Silbury was also a place of worship surrounded by her sacred springs and rivers.
Below the ridge and just above the stone river is Bedd Arthur, its horseshoe shape of stones echoing the similar shape in the Stonehenge circle
Carn Meini looks like a quarry, stone that could be taken from the mountainside easily. Its value would have been immense, both on a practical and spiritual level. People talk of moving a bit of the landscape from this place to Stonehenge and you can understand why.It could well be that the land became exhausted on the mountains, and the hunting scarce forcing a move to a more productive environment and that is why they eventually arrived on Salisbury Plain.
One of the things you notice in the later iron age in this part of Wales is the proliferation of so-called forts, mostly promontory, situated by the sea. They point to a need for defense, either from local warring tribes, or more likely from Ireland. There could have been some sort of pressure in the bronze age as well, forcing a move by the Carn Meini people further south.

The way the stones may have travelled;The Eastern Cleddau starts near Waun Isaf today, at least 4 to 5 kilometres south of the bluestone outcrop it journeys south towards Picton Point where it meets the Western Cleddau it then travels down the Daugleddau to Milford Haven (Aberdaugledau).

What you feel on the Preseli mountains is similar to the experience of the down lands of Avebury and perhaps Stonehenge, an open wide landscape - there is no sense of enclosure only sky and land.
Letting my mind drift on this notion took me back to "The Mother's Jam" in Julian Cope's TMA, nature's moodiness in a landscape littered with a drift of stones, a place where the mind can take flight and see shifting shapes, Carn Meini reminded me of the Gorsedd stone, a symbolic natural outcrop of rock that maybe neolithic people saw as the first sacred site.

Simulacra; John Mitchell;-"The concept of the visible world as an elaborate code, which conceals, but yet may be used to reveal. the metaphysical causes behind it, is of great antiquity, arising from the experience of people before the age of settlements, who wandered the face of the earth, and whose existence depended on their ability to read the subtle signs that prefigure Nature's moods and changes.They did not consider it unreasonable to find significance in the shape of the rocks or clouds or in the flight pattern of migrating birds, and they accepted the guidance through dreams and visions of oracular trees, stones and springs.

Perhaps this is the only way to explain it; this human affinity with the land snakes down through the centuries and though we may have lost the instinctive sense of wonder at nature, there is still a small kernel in the deeper levels of our consciousness that responds
Speculation is the most we can do to understand stone circles and burial places, but the spiritual content, the need to recognise ancestral and significance of place, is important - longbarrows and circles become imitations of each other, they define a culture, they move forward in time and technology, a timber circle will replace stone, it is this fluidity of motion that teaches human history, .
Refs; Julian Cope The Modern Antiquarian

The Silbury Game

A term coined by Julian Cope in his book The Modern Antiquarian to explain the visual game that Silbury plays with you as it unfolds itself within the landscape. This sacred landscape has accrued from its early beginnings in the Neolithic, a series of monuments that mark it out as a special place. Monument is a dryasdust terminology for what is re-enacted; mythological stories written into the landscape for us to observe and contemplate on as we wander its paths and byeways.
The great West Kennet longbarrow, snaking its way along the ridge like a great serpent,its back broken by the track some medieval farmer drove through its centre, its huge stone facade faces the sun in its morning coming, welcoming it down through the ages as dawn breaks. There is nothing quite so bare and austere as the great fields that surround the longbarrow, linking it to the earth, and the surrounding plain that stretches down to the Vale of Pewsey. A statement of territory, it faces the Ridgeway defiantly, its stone shapes vaguely echoing the monsters of some distant past.
Perhaps we should look at the landscape as mystical, a quiet play on mother goddess Earth, and Sky God father to get a better understanding, here Silbury can be seen as a central womb, a great hill altar, perhaps giving birth to the fertility of the earth. Cope sees it as the great eye goddess Suil, similar to of course the goddess Sulis at Bath . But we are not as yet in the era of gods and goddesses, this is the time when mother earth is asked to give her bounty, to renew and replenish her gifts.
Silbury Hill in its watery enclave sits low, yet it faces the longbarrow on the ridge, it can be seen from The Sanctuary, a few hundred yards to the east. Trace your way past the great Seofren barrows along the Ridgeway, and Silbury will follow you just above Waden Hill,
the long Avenue of stones below winding its way back to Avebury and its stone circles. There is a certain playfulness here, could it have shone shining white with its cap of chalk all those thousands of years ago, sparkling in the sun as you made your way down the Ridgeway. Luring the pilgrims and wanderers on who came to the festivals and yearly meetings to feast and meet one another. Did they go back to their settlements and talk of the stone circles, great barrows of the dead,
and this enormous hill, as one of the wonders of their world. Well it still draws its pilgrims to
wonder who would have the vision of mind to undertake such a feat, we are no nearer the truth.
The treasures of this landscapes are best seen as interlinking nodes, a visual marking of that which is important, death, festivity, ritual, the great primeval matter of the earth itself, a human
map inscribing on the earth the small follies of our beliefs.

River Severn

Of the English stones*there is a story told
of Roman soldiers from the days of old
There is a legend that on these stones lye
the remains of many roman bones

The estuary of the Severn is a remarkable place, for people who live in Somerset, to drive over the new Severn bridge to Wales is like entering another land. As you drive over the vast expanse of dangerous fast flowing water there is a palpable beat of the heart experienced, you are entering into the magical world of Wales, mountains, rocky coasts, small farm nestling in the valleys, but you are also entering into a celtic history of dragons, a giant boar who fought Arthur, saints who colonised it in the 5th/6th centuries - it is a land of myth and stories, prehistoric stones dedicated to a celtic king all muddled with fairy tales, so that there are no edges just a blending of myth and fact.

It would probably be impossible to explain a British mind to an American when asked how we view this magical , religious, mythical world to rationalise it into a coherent whole, it is best experienced through the inner eye that sees great celtic nobleman riding on their horses with the red-eared white hounds that always accompany them on the hunt, flowing down the hillside at Llanthony maybe, or galloping along the cliff tops at that most holy of places - St.David.

So crossing the estuary is entering into another world, a world where it is told that St.Augustine preached at St.Aust, by the old motorway bridge, and if you don't believe that story what about the iron age hoard that was found in the 19th century below the cliff at St.Aust, perhaps buried in haste from rogues, or perhaps, my version, offerings to the river god for a safe crossing over the water.
And truly you needed a safe crossing for there is a tale told of roman horsemen caught up on a sandbank in the middle of the estuary, and as the waters rose they screamed for help as did the horses neighing wildly but all were drowned, the tale is told by Nennius below, but as in all good celtic stories, if you were to turn away from the tide it would not drown you - always there is another magical world running parallel in the tale.

The Mouth of Llyn Lliwan 'Another wonder is the mouth of Llyn Lliwan. Its estuary is in the Severn and when the Severn is flooded in the bore and the sea also floods up the estuary of the aforesaid river, the river is received into the estuary waters like a whirlpool, and the sea does not go up; and there is a shore by the river, and whenever the Severn is flooded in the bore, that shore is not touched, and when the sea ebbs from the Severn, then Lake Lliwan spews up everything that is devoured from the sea and that shore is touched, and, like a hill, breaks and spews up in one wave.And if the army of the whole country where it is should be there, and should front the wave, the force of the wave would drag down the army, its clothing filled with water, and the horses would also be dragged down. But if the army should turn its back on the wave, the wave does not harm it, and when the sea ebbs, then the whole of the shore that the wave covered is laid bare again, and the sea ebbs from it

Of course Nennius is talking about the Bore that great tidal wave, driven by the moon, that runs up the estuary to the river until as the channel gets narrower so it gets higher, and people surf the wave early in the year, sometimes going for miles, other times it is but a short journey as they tumble into the water.

Spectacular today as it was back in history, though the Bristol channel is now straddled by two flowing modern toll bridges, an underground train tunnel, which leaks water from the great spring that was breached in the building of the tunnel.. It's best to hold your breath today when going through the tunnel and pray that the waters don't come splashing in, I believe it takes three minutes to go through. Not forgetting of course the two nuclear stations as well that line the sides of the channel, alongside prehistoric stones that seem to march down to the waters edge, reminding us always of other times.

On the Welsh side there is a roman road and the famous Caerwent town and Caerlon camp, with the Gray's Circle up on the hill above Wentwood Forest.Further on past Chepstow, there is the roman healing temple of Lydney,(Noden Mars) a tripartite cella points to a complex trinity of gods. Wheeler gives it a date of 364 ad. Like the temple of Nettleton Shrub (very early essay) it paints the world of roman religion and mythology. Nine small bronze dogs were found, (dogs were considered healing, as their saliva has an antiseptic balm), a bronze arm, an oculist stamp, all point to a healing centre.
In the iconography, sea monsters and fish, fisherman and tritons and probably the hunting god Silvanus was represented.

The Bore - Nennius The River Severn Dan Ri Hafren (The Two Kings of the Severn)
'Another wonder is Dan Ri Hafren, that is, the Two Kings of the Severn. When the sea floods into the Severn estuary, two heaped-up wave crests are built up separately, and fight each other like rams. One goes against the other, and they clash in turn, and then one withdraws from the other and they go forth together again at each tide. This they have done, from the beginning of the world to the present day...

Note: There are only two locations on the Severn where such an event can be witnessed. Before the weir was built at Maisemore, the west channel tide would wrap around the Upper Parting into the eastern channel and collide with the flood tide running up that channel. But more famous, is the collision that occurs in the eastern channel of the Noose, as the leading west-channel tide rebounds of Hock Cliff and flows straight back into collision with the advancing flood tide in the eastern channel. Just as the Roman Army experienced.

.* English stone, probably a bone of contention to the Welsh, but they are the rocks that lie under the estuary and upon which the tunnel and presumably the bridges are built.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The first is an English fairytale, it tells of two sisters and is called "Binnorie".
They were the daughters of a king and lived by the mill dams of Binnorie. The elder daughter fell in love with a prince and he returned her love, till one day he took notice of the younger one, and of course fell in love with her.The elder sister grew angry and one morning invited her younger sibyling to go for a walk by the banks of the mill dams, the young girl went and sat on a stone to watch the boats sailing by and her sister crept up behind her and pushed the girl into the rushing mill-stream.

The younger sister pleaded with the elder to reach out her hand and save her, promising half her land and the young prince also, but the wicked princess laughed and said "no hand or glove of mine you'll touch, sweet William will be all mine when you are sunk beneath the bonny mill-stream of Binnorie".
And so the young princess floated on down the stream crying out for help but no one came. As it happened the miller's daughter was cooking and needed water from the stream, and as she went down she saw something white floating along, called her father, who immediately stopped the great mill wheel. But it was too late, the princess was drowned, and was laid on the bank with her golden hair spread around.

And a harper chanced to be passing by and was saddened by the sight of this beautiful dead princess and never forgot her sad face. Many years later he came by the mill and remembered the princess but all he could find were her bones and golden hair. So he made a harp out of her breast bone and hair.
He travelled up the stream to where the king lived and to his court where he entertained them with his music and song. First of all he played his old harp and everyone was happy, the king, queen, the older princess with her William.

He had left his new harp on a stone in the hall, and presently it began to sing by itself, low and clear, and this is what it sang;

O yonder sits my father, the king,
Binnorie, O Binnorie,
And yonder sits my mother, the queen;
By the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie
And yonder stands my brother Hugh,
Binnorie, O Binnorie;
And by him, my William, false and true;
By the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie.

Everyone was astonished at the harp's song, and the harper told the story of how he made this harp out of the hair and breastbone of a dead girl he had found by the side of the stream, upon which the harp sang out loud and clear the final part of the story
"And there sits my sister who drowned me
By the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie"

Upon which the harp snapped and broke and never sang again 

The second story is a celtic one and tells of the great hound Gellert, whose faithful watch was rewarded with death, and it is a sad tale..Bedd Gellert, is the grave of this great hound and is to be found near the Great Mountain of Snowdon in Gwynedd, of course that is the english name in welsh the mountain is called Yr Wyddfa. There are other tales told of the mountain for it is really the great burial mound of a king, but that tale will come later.

There was a prince of Gwynedd and he was called Llewelyn, his favourite hound was Gellert, the dog was as brave and beautiful as a lion but he was also a gentle creature, and Llewelyn would often leave him in charge of his young wife and baby
One day the prince rode out to hunt, but Gellert was no where to be found and did not come to the call of the horn as the other hounds did. So Llewelyn rode off without him, and when he returned from a bad day's hunting in a foul mood, he was surprised to see the great dog bounding joyfully towards him but the dogs mouth was dripping blood.

A terrible thought came into the prince's mind, and as he rushed through the rooms following the trail of blood to his child's cradle, he found no trace of the baby in the blood bespattered cot.The prince turned with great rage upon the dog who sat patiently behind his master wagging his tail, not understanding what was happening, and drawing his sword slew Gellert for killing his child. As poor Gellert gave his last dying howl, it was answered by the cry of the baby, who lay hidden under a blanket, and on the other side lay a great wolf slain by the faithful hound.

The dog had not come on the hunt but had stayed behind to protect the child, he had sensed a great wolf prowling round the castle and done his duty.So the sad Llewelyn carried the body of Gellert to the slopes of Yr Wyddfa and buried him, and over his grave he raised a cairn and this is the place called Bedd Gellert or the Grave of Gellert.

And it is said that the phantom of the dog still hunts on the slopes of the mountain,his lonely howl, is the howl of a trusting, loyal dog betrayed by his owner.


Another celtic story tells the tale of two arrogant and vain lords of Gwynedd;

These two lords went by the name of Peibaw and Nynniaw and were always setting each other wagers as to who had the best possesions. One day they laid a wager as to who had the best fields and the best herds and it was Nynniaw who suggested that they should meet by Yr Wyffda at midnight to contest their counter claims. Nynniaw claimed he had the best field here and Peibaw could do no better, when they arrived Peibaw demanded "so where is this field" and Nynniaw said " look upwards" Peibaw was puzzled for he could only see the vast expanse of the sky covered with stars and could not understand. Nynniaw laughed and said that is my field, Peibaw retorted "well, I will show you herds and flock which you cannot better" and he also looked up at the sky "my herds and flocks are the galaxies, do you not see my milk-white cattle and sheep which are the stars, and do you not see the beautiful shepherdess who tends them""Where" demanded Nynniaw angrily, but of course it was the moon who lit the skies so that the flocks of stars/sheep could see the pastures....."Get them out of my field this instance" roared Nynniaw, and he challenged Peibaw to a combat to the death before he would grant him the grazing rights of the heavens.

Luckily the kingdom was ruled by a mighty giant king called Rhita Gawr, and he said that if anyone had rights to graze his cattle in the heavens it was him. And with a great army he defeated both these foolish men, and because he was also clever in the arts of the druids he turned both men into oxen. To drive his message home, he made them very strong when pulling together in the plough, but weak when they were apart.....

.footnote; or how Snowdon came into being..
When the great giant king called Rhita Gawr died, his people who loved him dearly came from all corners of the kingdom to pile stones over his body. Soon the cairn became a great heap of stones above his grave and it grew and grew and it was called Rhita's Cairn. Now, if you will believe this, that the words of Rhita's Cairn are shortened in the welsh language to "Yr Gwyddfa" then this is how the largest mountain in Wales was born.

Stories retold from Celtic Myths and Legends - Peter Berrisford Ellis and English Fairy Tales collected by Joseph Jacob .

The Wild Swans of Coole

by William Butler Yeats;
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty Swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

The swan is a noble and beautiful bird, it is also a mythological bird caught up in the celtic story of The Children of Lir, it can also be found in the German 13th century tale of the Swan Knight and of course in the Grimm's story of the six brothers who having been turned into swans by their evil godmother, can only be released by their sister,who must not speak for 6 years and must make each brother a shirt of nettles.She does this but unfortunately has not enough time to finish the arm of the last shirt, so that this brother is left with a swan's wing.
According to Ann Ross, the swan in its early conception of bronze age history represented the sun, and came to be portrayed as one of the creatures pulling the sun chariot from the bronze age, only later during the celtic period did it become more abstract.
There is even a pair of swans found in rock art in Norway, they are clearly distinguishable as swans because of their long beaks, necks and heavy bodies.
Birds were important motifs to be found in celtic artwork, the little duck on flagon handles or swans holding chains in their beak on horse furnishings. And there is a tale told of Cu Cuchlainn that of having decapitated the three heads of the sons of an enemy, on returning in his chariot drawn by horses, he spied some deer which he duly caught and tied them to the chariot. He then brought down alive with stones from his sling, first 8 swans and then 16 swans, which he fastens also to the chariot and then proceeded to Emain Macha.
Shapeshifting or the metamorphising of human to animal can be found in the "Tale of Angus", written down in the 8th century. Swans are often described as having a silver or gold chain round their necks and in the tale of Angus, he falls in love with a particular girl called Caer. But is told that she is a powerful magical being who, one year is a human and the next a swan. She is surrounded by 150 other girls, her followers. Her transformation takes place at the pagan festival of Samhain (November 1st) at Loch Bel Dracon.
Her magic is weaker when she takes the form of a swan, and Angus goes to the loch and sees the 150 swans with silver chains and golden ringlets with Caer being taller than the rest. He also changes into a swan and they fly round the loch together three times. It must also be noted that they also cast a spell of sleep for three days over the countryside whilst they fly to his palace.
The anglo saxon for swan is Ielfetua, and the tale of the Swan Knight also rest on an Scandinavian story found in the earlier story of Beowulf. Here it is told that a boat once arrived at Scandia with a young boy in it, he was called Scild, the son of Sceaf, he became educated by the people and became their king. And in Beowulf it is said that Scild reigned long and when he was about to die, wished to be laid in a boat fully armed and sent out to sea; other legends say that he was drawn by swans.

Hung with hard ice-flakes,
where hail-scur flew,
There I heard naught save the harsh sea
And ice-cold wave, at whiles the swan cries,
Did for my games the gannet's clamour,
Sea-fowls, loudness was for me laughter,
The mews' singing all my mead-drink.
Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern
In icy feathers; full oft the eagle screamed
With spray on his pinion.

Taken from the "Seafarer"

the Anglo-Saxons believed that the swan's wings produced music in flight and the loud rhythmic throbbing sound of the flight of the Mute Swan, Cygnus olor differentiates it from the Whooper Swan, Cygnus cygnus whose wings produce a quieter swishing sound.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Extracts from 19th and 20th Century romantic travel writers

Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales - Jacquetta Hawkes 1954; Chatto and Windus publ.

"The traveller who wishes to approach Stonehenge most fittingly should keep along this road, crossing the little river Till at Winterbourne Stoke. As he reaches the quiet crossroads on the summit, he will be on the edge of one of the greatest, and certainly the richest, congregation of burial mounds in all Britain. Here was a kind of vast scattered cemetery on ground hallowed by its proximity to the renowned sanctuary. Barrows cluster round Stonehenge on all sides - three hundred of them - but here to the west is the greatest concentration and the area most sequestered from the blighting military activities of Amesbury. Close within the north-eastern angle of the crossroads is a well preserved longbarrow and its spine acts as a pointer to a line of round barrows starting just beyond the small wood. These in their range of forms make a typologist's heaven. First there are two striking bell barrows and on their left two disks - one of normal type, the other with twin tumps. Just beyond them is perhaps the best known example of that rare variety - the pond barrow - which consists of a circular depression with a low bank on the lip. Back on the line of bells are four bowl barrows, and there are many more of this type beside the left-hand road as it leads very happily northwards to nowhere.
This completes the enumeration of this famous group, and I will not attempt another. When the ritual and whatever its accompaniment may have been of masks, effigies and offerings have vanished so long ago, when there is no stir left of emotion and the ghosts which emotion keeps alive, when the very people responsible for raising these mounds have been overwhelmed, absorbed and forgotten, then their detailed study can become lifeless enough.
Better perhaps to look at them with knowledge but with the knowledge unexpressed, these round barrows that are like the floating bubbles of events drowned in time."

The following is taken from H.J.Massingham - English Downland, first published in 1936 by Batsford. and is dedicated to;' members of our Avebury party'...

"So with Stonehenge. The hoary grey pile exercises a magnetic pull over all the roads of the south, the south east and the west. It holds the reins of all the roads in its fist, from the Isle of Wight to the scalloped escarpment of the Marlborough Downs between the headlands of Tan Hill and Martinsell, and from Bearminster to Beachy Head. So deeply buried in the unrecorded past are these twin realms (Avebury) of ancient Wiltshire that they have left us a mighty graveyard only, and nothing more, not even an inscription upon the tombs. Yet the chalk country belongs to them still, and of this mystery all who travel it are conscious. Their tombs themselves are little rounded headlands and promonotories, their roads and banks the very gestures of the downland manner, the peace in which the barrow-builders dwelt together caught a breath of that lofty repose that clothes the downs themselves. The downs were the high places of their cult of life and death. But we, step upon their springing turf as aliens, or at least with the dim awareness of having strayed and of seeking once more the ancient mother of our race.
I am myself convinced that the consecrated places of Avebury and Stonehenge are the fruits of two separate waves of colonial adventure. Stonehenge with its highly formalised cult and its horseshoe of great Trilithons so exactly resembling the Lion-Gate of the pre-hellenic Peloponnese, bears the mark of a more direct influence from Cretan Mycenae. The tympanum of the Lion Gate reveals the older and simpler religion of the Goddess of Earth overlaid with the state and political (as opposed to elemental) creed of the sun, which was mainly kingship. Stonehenge is not merely the most finished stone circle in Europe; it is a monarch of stone circles with a court, a church with a churchyard inseperable from it.. This court, this churchyard consists of the multitude of barrows mostly round, which are set along the slight ridges in various groups, often in definite alignment, within an area of 12 miles of the temple. There are longbarrows and bowl barrows, bell barrows, saucer barrows and disc barrows to the number of more than 300..........
The Temple of the Plain was something of an observatory as well as a house of deified presences; it had its Cursus for the sacred spectacles and ball games between the sky and the underworld, whilst its circle of bluestones, geoligically distinct from the sarsens of the Trilithons, were carried all the way from the Prescelly Mountains in Pembrokeshire. These and other evidence all point to the highly organised cult of the sun being more prominent at Stonehenge than at Avebury.....

English Hours by Henry James 1962; Pub; Heinmann

Stonehenge...."It stands as lonely in history as it does on the great plain whose many tinted green waves, as they roll away from it, seem to symbolise the ebb of the long centuries which have left it so portentously unexplained. You may put a hundred questions to these rough hewn giants as they bend in grim contemplation of their fallen companions; but your curiosity falls dead in the vast sunny stillness that enshrouds them, and the strange monument with all its unspoken memories, becomes simply a heart-stirring picture in a land of pictures. It is indeed immensely vague and immensely deep. At a distance you see it standing in a shallow dell of the plain, looking hardly larger than a group of ten-pins on a bowling green. I can fancy sitting all a summer's day watching its shadows shorten and lengthen again, and drawing a delicious contrast between the world's duration and the feeble span of individual experience. There is something in Stonehenge almost reassuring to the nerves; if you are disposed to feel that the life of man has rather a thin surface,and that we soon get to feel to the bottom of things, the immemorial grey pillars may serve to represent to you the pathless vault beneath the house of history"..... (! portentous)


Edward Thomas

about pewits on Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge: His Winter and twilight cry expresses for most men both the sadness and the wildness of these solitudes. When his Spring cry breaks every now and then, as it does to-day, through the songs of the larks, when the rooks caw in low flight or perched on their elm tops, and the lambs bleat, and the sun shines, and the couch [grassy weed] fires burn well, and the wind blows their smoke about, the plain is genial. . . . But let the rain fall and the wind whirl it, or let the sun shine too mightily,
writes Thomas, and the Plain becomes "a sublime, inhospitable wilderness. It makes us feel the age of the earth." Thoreau had called English poetry "tame and civilized." For Thomas, the wintry plain proves "the earth does not belong to man, but man to the earth."

John Piper

On Avebury; The great stones were then in their wild state, so to speak. Some were half covered by the grass, others stood up in the cornfielda were entangled and overgrown in the copses, some were buried under the turf. But they were always wonderful and disquieting, and as I saw them, I shall always remember them... their colour and pattern, their patina of golden lichen, all enhanced their strange forms and mystical significance.......

John Piper's painting of the stained glass window at Devizes Museum

Life of William Morris by J.W.Mackail 1901

And so to a youthful Morris writing home to his sister from Marlborough College;

...."On Monday I went to Silbury Hill which I think I have told you before is an artifical hill made by the Britons but first I went to a place called Abury where there is a Druidical circle and a roman entrenchment both which encircle the town originally it is supposed that the stones were in this shape first one large circle then a smaller one inside this and then one in the middle for an altar but a great many in fact most of the stones have been removed so I coud not tell this. On Tuesday morning I was told of this so I thought I would go there again, I did and then I was able to understand how they had been fixed; I think the biggest stone I could see had about 16 feet out of the ground in height and about 10 feet thick and 12 feet broad the circle and entrenchment altogether is about half a mile; at Abury I also saw a very old church the tower was very pretty indeed it had four little spires on it of the decorated order, and there was a little Porch and inside the porch a beautiful Norman doorway loaded with mouldings the chancel was new and was paved with tessellated pavement this I saw through the Window for I did not know where the sexton's house was so of course I could not get the key, there was a pretty little Parsonage house close by the church. After we had done looking at the lions of Abury which took us about half an hour we went through a mud lane down one or two fields and last last but not least through what they call here a water meadow is as there are none of them in your part of the world, so for your edification I will tell you what a delectable affair a water meadow is to go through; in the first place you must fancy a field cut through with an infinity of small streams say about four feet wide each the people to whom the meadows belongs can turn these streams on and off when they like and at this time of the year they are on just before they put the fields up for mowing the grass being very long you cannot see the water till you are in the water and floundering in it except you are above the field luckily the water had not been long when we went through it else we should have been up to our middles in mud, however perhaps now you can imagine a water meadow; after we had scrambled through the meadow we ascended Silbury Hill it is not very high but yet I should think it must have taken an immense long time to have got it together I brought away a little white snail shell as a memento of the place and have got it in my pocket book I came back at half past five the distance was altogether about fourteen miles"...............
April 13th 1849

Friday, May 18, 2007

Narrating the landscape

Historically through the written word we are able to do this, garnering past information from many sources. Its built record, farming legacy, even its prehistory is still littered around on the surface in the form of stones. Geographers can map the surface, geologists the rocks, folklore can tell its stories and religion its mythologies. A landscape therefore is a rich tapestry with many threads, catch one up and that will only be part of the story. In many ways this is a thought process, the seeing mind transforming it, sometimes in a logical fashion so that we can name its rocks and rivers, other times it is the artistic mind that creates poetry or paintings in an individual interpretation.
Chasing all these ideas leaves one confused, there is a multitude of voices giving vent to there particular ideas, our minds are creating stories all the times and so this would have been all through human history -which is after all a great vast storytelling epic.
We live in a westernised society that having banished its gods as both foolish and useless, we now turn to the narrow stimulation of the made up, both fiction and "reality", media of television.We have narrowly tunnelled our thinking in one direction, forgetting in the process that there may have been a reason why we have a spiritual side.
In art, as well as words, we dig deep into our psyche to reveal what we are trying to see or paint - gone is the surface image, the imagination is allowed to play down through the many layers of our thinking so someone like Paul Nash or John Piper will allow their images of prehistory to flow together in the painting, they are narrating their vision of a particular landscape.
(Compare them for instance with a Constable -faithful representation, or Gainsborough - greenery draped round portraiture.)
In this instance I am talking about their response to stones in the landscape, a response to the mythical religious nature of prehistory, the interpretation of neolithic people's vision - the otherworldliness we are unable to translate into words. Looking at chinese paintings of landscape, in which the view is again of the mind; a spiritual translation of rivers and mountains inhabited by spirits, caught in the artists picture so that waters tumble and pine trees are silhouetted against rocky crags and mountains. We are reminded that landscape is a place of peace and contemplation, the mind can rest easy in the natural world

Words that shape and become one with the land and its flora and fauna brings to mind Ted Hughes and Alice Oswald, her poem The River Dart, follows its course and the people who use the river; her words echo the flow of a river tumbling over rocks, stranded in ponds, the whirling centre current of the river, and the slow motion of its backwaters interwoven with human lives......
I find you in the reeds,
a trickle coming out of a bank
a foal of a river
one step-width water
of linked stones
trills in the stones
glides in the trills
eels in the glides
in each eel
a fingerwidth of sea,
Hawk Roosting;
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

Part two; Christopher Alexander is an architect, but through his books he tries to explain how we relate to what we see around us. The natural order of things is that everything in the world works in a particular way, it confirms to the spaces around from the centres of that which is organic, there is, for want of a better expression, a measured response in everything that is defined by a certain order of growth. Our minds unconsciously see this order as beautiful, that is why we respond to nature from, some would say our souls, others would say a deep underlying emotional feeling that gives us a sense of euphoria.This order can be seen in everything, whether a painting or pottery vase, our minds examines the patterns, the functionality, the space around the vase that gives it its shape; the shape itself must conform to an order of measurable value. This wholistic way of looking at things is the way our physical world defines itself, growing out from its centre, it moulds and creates patterns of great beauty and form, and it is this that we should be looking at as we make our own "personal" value judgments, for instance why does a great timber post found in an old temple, strike the eye as infinitely more satisfying than a roman stone column intricately designed.
Or indeed one of the old monasteries built on rocks, so that the building rises tall from their foundations imbedded in the natural rock, to soar to the sky, compare it to a high rise building in an American city, and the actual "life force" is lost.
He explains the word personal, our particular viewpoint, not as a selfish act of our own seeing, but something that deep inside us responds to that which is "personal" in the things around us, the "life force" of objects whether inaminate or animate.
I have chosen three photos to try to illustrate something of what I see in the landscape. The first is of Cherhill in Wiltshire, a downland swept bare by winds and hungry sheep, its curving shapes are fluid following the skyscape above. It is probably as near to what a neolithic person would have seen as he went about his daily business, its still holds a sense of wildness in its shape and form.The second photo is of a Japanese shrine garden, here Alexander would point out how they horizontal and vertical lines of the built environment contrast with the natural foliage of the trees kept in check by the walls. The absolute calm of the central area is underlined by its raked surface, the eye is drawn to the ridge and furrow of the surface. This calmness is emphasised by the placement of rock, the smaller trailing into the larger.The third photo is of a living form sculpture of stones set in a river bed, the eye is taken to the waterfall in the background. Drury has splayed his stones centred round a vortex, strangely there is something wrong with the composition, the conceptual balance is wrong.

Three Promonotory Forts

Iron age forts are difficult to define, some are large, some small and temporary, but promontory forts are a particular feature of our coastline, in Wales and Cornwall they run into their hundreds. They point to the need for defense for the homestead, people needed to barricade themselves and their animals in from outside forces. The sites themselves could also be earlier bronze age settlements
St.David's Camp (or the Warrior's Camp)

on St.David's Head is such just one, hidden in a jumble of rocks, it has three banks, and even today there is evidence of small circular huts within its banks and ditches. Not too far away lies an earlier cromlech, and there is evidence of celtic fields in the surrounding area, which are difficult to see because of the growth of gorse and heather. The landscape seems bleak and hostile, thin soil on rocky ground it would have been a very different environment to what we live in today, a limited food resource might have been a probability.

Porth Y Gawr

The other promontory fort, Porth Y Gawr is similar, situated on a narrow promontory with steep banks to the path below, it was excavated a few years back and revealed a somewhat dense pattern of living between the 1st and 4th Century AD, 8 roundhouses were excavated, one having been rebuilt at least 4 times. Iron and glass beads were found on the site, and a small kiln.The following photo shows the small inlet at the foot of the fort,
here boats could have landed and fishing taken place. There is a small stream that runs down to this inlet which would have meant fresh water to hand as well, in the distance St.David's Head can be seen. The following photograph shows old field banks below,

and the steepness of the bank facing landside.

The next photos show two different type of forts, or more probably defended enclosures overlooking the harbour of Solva.

There is a great ridge that runs back from the sea inland, on one side is a drowned valley, on the other is the harbour with Solva river running into it. The above photo is The Gribin, and is the long narrow ridge that would have made defense easy in difficult times. The next photo shows what remains of the bank of the promontory fort that overlooks the sea,

again a narrow living platform for huts meant that this was a small defended enclosure.
Trevor Bloom mentions a wall going across the promontory;

The last photo shows a bank, possibly two, of a larger area at the far end of The Gribin, this could have been a temporary defensive enclosure, use
d only when times were difficult for the people living down in the valley of Solva.

Trevor Bloom in "A History of Solva" describes the iron age people living here in the typical "celtic" warrior fashion that is described by Caesar, maybe this is not so, the small defended promontory forts would not have housed many people, it could well have been a subsistence living for them and they were on the outer zone of the celtic world, though rich celtic Ireland may have been across the water, it would have been small raiding parties that were the great danger, roman coins have been found in the vicinity, but the Romans had a centre at Carmarthen.,Directions to Porth y Gwar; is approached along the path from Nine Wells, the path leads down to a small inlet, and taking the left coastal path you walk a few hundred yards until you see the banks of Porth Y Gwar, the small promontory juts out into the sea, and having no head for heights, did not venture on this narrow sea-girdled plateau, but apparently an archaeological excavation was undertaken during 1998;- ;

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cromlechs around St.David

There are quite a few round St. David and Solva but some have disappeared their presence in the landscape only marked by placename such as Llandruidon - The Land of the Druids. Llan is the piece
of land in which the the first founding churches are situated, slightly unspecified it is probably the place of the settlement. The lost dolmens are at Nine Wells, Llanuwas and Lochvane, one that still exists is at St.Elvis farm (double chambered tomb) although a farmer tried to blow it up in the 19th c, pictured here below;-

Standing stones are mentioned at Llanugar Fawr, Trecadwgan and Whitchurch (a very old church at a crossroad). There is a standing stone at Tre-Menhir, (Kings heriot) as in the photo below;

Further along the road are more standing stones at Caerwen. Roughly 6 kms to the east and west of these stones are two further burial chambers, the White Horse Cromlech below;-
also one at Treffynon(SM8536 2866) concealed in a hedgebank., the other at Llanhowell (Llecha cromlech) is mentioned in the local history of the church there. It says;-"On Lecha Farm there are the remains of a cromlech which would have appeared to have sunk into the soil from the weight of the capstone, though it may have damaged by wanton or careless marauders. The capstone measure some 15 feet by 11 ft and is about 4 feet thick."All these burial chambers probably stand in the landscape as a symbol, marking the small territories or land of individual families or clans. They are small mausoleums their orientation seeming to be towards St.David's Head on the horizon.
St.David town is is an especially sanctified place in Wales and to understand the religious significance of this, one has to think in terms of a long "folk memory" that stretches back in time. St.David (550AD) is said to have built his monastery near the present cathedral.
St.Davids Head;On this rock strewn headland there are three cromlechs, firstly there is Coetan Arthur;- (SM7253 2805) an "earth fast" sub-megalithic tomb; its capstone pointing down the valley that runs underneath Carn Llidi and is supposed to resemble the line of Carn Llidi.

It is here in this valley that evidence of celtic field systems have been found, probably relating to the small promontory fort on the headland. Baring -Gould excavated it in 1898.
The following pair of cromlechs are found under Carn Llidi, a bit difficult to find but head for the WW2 footings of concrete and they lie behind there. The capstone of the one below points out to sea. Carn Llidi - SM7352 2789201.The second cromlech capstone, rested on the ledge of the backing rock outcrop;

Refs; A History of Solva by Trevor Bloom.Neolithic sites of Cards,Carms and Pembs. by Geo.Children and Geo.Nash.The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park; Chapter on Neolithic and Bronze Age by G.F.Grimes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Saint David;- date of birth variously given between 460 and 520. He is the great grandson of an illustrious name, Cunedda, "dux Brittaniae" or "Gwledig" (over-king). Tradition says that Cunedda came from the north with 900 troop in the early 5th century and drove the Goidels (the Irish) out of North Wales. He had eleven sons, and one of his grandsons Maelgwn Gwynedd was also a "Gwedlig", and a protagonist in the battle of Camlan between Arthur of South Wales and his Cumbrian/Strathclyde relatives - all conjectural of course.
There are several sources for the site of David's birth, one that he was born on the site of St.Non's chapel within a stone circle and baptised at Porth Clais ..........
prehistoric stones can be found in the field around the chapel. Legend also says that David's father Sant was told by an angel to save some land for him 30 years befor he was born. Also at this time an angel told St.Patrick not to settle on some land at Glyn Rhosyn, as the place was reserved for an unknown boy to be born 30 years later. Here the monks are retelling an old story to echo with Jesus's life. Apparently Patrick was upset that God preferred an unborn boy to him but God took him to a cliff rock, still known as Eisteddfa Badrig to show him that God wanted him to look after all Ireland instead!
The story goes that David, or Dewi, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was made a bishop and led the councils of Brefi (in Cardigan) and Caerlon. At Brefi he was recognised as primate of all Wales and replaced Dyfrig and he moved the see from Caerlon to Menevia (St.David's); this taken from a source of 1098. (Rhygfarch's Life of St.David).
He was known traditionally as The Waterman as he and his monks were ascetic teetotallers and vegetarians. He is associated with over 50 churches in South Wales, most in the south west, Glastonbury was also claimed to have been founded by David. And another tale tells that it was Arthur who allowed Dewi to move his see and that soon after Arthur's death, David died in 544 aged 82 and he was honourably buried by Maelgyn Gwynedd.
February 28th is St.David's Eve and one of the favoured nights for the Cwn Annwn (hounds of Annwn, the Underworld) to take to the skies. They race and howl across the firmament, souls of the damned they hunt for more souls to feed the furnaces of hell. Sometimes they are seen as huge dogs with human head - a pre-christian belief that lasted in rural Wales until the 19th C.
in the Gwaun valley in Pembs.
Old St.Davids Day (March 12th) was the time when the wax candle on the table was replaced by a wooden one, signifying that supper could be eaten without candlelight - the end of the winter months.
As he did only drink what crystal Hodney yields,
And fed upon the leeks he gathered in the fields
In memory of whom, in each revolving year,
The Welshmen, on his day, that sacred herb do wear.
Another story says that it was St.Davids spirit who convinced the Welsh to wear a leek, so that they could be distinguished in the battle on Hatfield Moors in 633.
Some stones; 8 foot menhir on edge of Dowrog Common in 1912, standing by a cottage known as Drws Gobiaeth (The Door of Hope). Also a rocking stone, now destroyed, near St.David, intact in 1919.David's dedication at Abergwili in Dyfed is surrounded by standing stones such as Pentre Ynis, Pant y Glien and Merlin's Stone. The last two are both in fields called Parc y Maen Llwyd (Grey stone Park. Carreg Fyrddin (Merlin's stone) carried the prophecy that a raven would drink human blood off it.. Hubberston there is also a standing stone;
ref; The Book of Welsh Saints - T.D.BrevertonchapelThere is an interesting tale also about Clegyr Boai, the stronghold of a celtic chieftan, regarding the seduction of St.David's monks, the full story can be found here on TMA, also photos of the rocky crag itself.
This tale must be taken with a large pinch of salt though, Baring Gould retold it from Rhygyfarch's Life of David. The 19th Reverend Baring Gould excavated sites round St.David and obviously embroidered the Boai story. Elizabeth Rees in Celtic Saints, Passionate Wanderers, gives a much simpler version, the story of the ritual sacrifice of the young female is seen as a pagan druidical act, and that the chieftain Boai was a druid, also his wife as well. She sees David as settling by the River Alun in a hidden valley and building his timber church and monks hut, Boai spying the smoke coming from the valley challenged David and his followers in different ways, but Boai was eventually killed by an Irish raider named Liski - a nearby coastal inlet is named after him (Porth Lysky).
Trevor Bloom cites the Solva church at Whitchurch(Capella Alba Monasterium) as one of St.David's, it could have been a timber church to start with, it was on the main pilgrims way.
Whitchurch; There is apparently an old cross stone here, funerals would circle round this stone.
Its interesting to note that a quarter of a mile down the road, there is probably an iron age settlement on high ground overlooking a steep valley down to the river Solva.
Site of settlement above the valley
Underneath the settlement buried in the woods is a well at the top of a steep slope,it has 18th/19th century bricks, but this would have been a source of water down through the ages.
Landscapes disappearing; The following photo shows the growth of the trees around the well. It is interesting to note that as larger farming equipment took over the fields, small sloping fields have disappeared over the last 100 years or so.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pentre Ifan - Nevern

This is a chambered long cairn and the remains of its mound can still be seen. Set high on a hill, with, at the moment, hundreds of sheep and lambs cavorting around, this is one of those spectacularly rocky places, with stones protruding from the ground everywhere. Soft turf and chunky turfed walls add to the charm of the surrounding rather deserted countryside. The capstone looks rather like a flying saucer, elegant with two shaped orthostats framing the stone portal door, this is seen as a sophisticated design, but perhaps we are looking with modern eyes, given the chunkiness of Coetan Arthur and Carreg Samson's capstones, the ideal of beauty is in the beholders eye. Who is to say; maybe the neolithic builders felt that the erection of great heavy capstones was a work of great physical strength and prowess and deemed far worthier than puffs of the wind sailing capstones that Pentre Ifan represents.

Its capstone is tilted towards the Afon Nyer Valley to the north, the chamber being about 3 metres long by 2 metres wide. It was originally cut into the ground about 40 cms and lined with drystone walling, but has recently been infilled.

There is a blocking stone(doorway) in the forecourt area. Apparently there is supposed to be a cupmark on its outer face, but have stared long and hard could'nt find it- so I shall put it down to wishful thinking on someones part.

According to Nash it is a terminally chambered long cairn with a semicircular forecourt set in the southern end of the barrow - a Closed Portal Tomb. Glyn Daniels compared it to the so-called "horned cairns" of Carlingford in Ireland. Not surprising really its just a short hop over on the ferry to Ireland. Interestingly he also suggests that our more easterly Severn-Cotswold tomb group is derived from the Pentre Ifan type, perhaps that is why I am always drawn to this part of Wales - the sense of the familiar.

Grimes, another archaeologists who trod the ground round Somerset as well, excavated in 1936 and 1958, and he described the forecourt where ritual feasts may have been held, it consisting of two orthostats placed either side of an entrance, itself blocked by the massive 'closing' door. This door is of course speculated upon wildly by archaeologists, maybe it was open on occasions to bring in bodies that had been stored elsewhere. Maybe, it was a great chieftans tomb, with his retainers being sacrificed with him (bit dubious). Or in fact was a false door, the bones of the dead being inserted from the side of the mound.
The mound does not survive, but could have measured about 40 metres long by 17 metres wide. There are traces of kerbing stones, but they do not always align with the mound, and it could be linked with possible ritual pits.
Nash points to the dip in the capstone and the slope of Carningli, both point to the sea and the Afon Nyer Valley. This I could'nt see, being misty and very cold but I did find one of the fallen stones rather beautifully white with lichen and, a bit like a 'jewel 'stone, a rather rounded female stone.

Brynberian's Bedd y Franc is not far from this tomb, but failed miserably to find it, though I drove down three lanes, perhaps it was the fourth quarter at the crossroads, but welsh signposting has a logic all of its own, a GPS would not come amiss.
N.P.Figgis in Prehistoric Preseli gives another theory; there is a fallen stone, that remained in situ as the stones of the burial chamber were put up. This may have been a first phase, a single standing stone with a fire pit near to it, making this a dual mortuary site, or at least, a site that was in use over a long period but again all conjecture, with the stone being part of the first chamber building and single unembellished facade, with short mound. "The latest elongated tapering mound, and the elaborate facade covered the whole of the earlier structure".

Carreg Coetan - Newport

When people write about this small dolmen they talk of mushrooms and fairies, and it does indeed sit tranquilly in its own little garden surrounded by a surburban small settlement of bungalows. Coetan Arthur was excavated in 1981, there had been a build up of plough soil over the centuries and in fact, the stones would have had another metre added to their height originally, making them much taller than they are today. There are four stones theoretically supporting the capstones, but only two are in contact.

One of the marvellous things about neolithic builders, is their ability to balance a huge capstone on a fine point. Think of a stiletto heel, its fine point bringing all that excruciating pain on to someone's foot, the weight of a person concentrated on a small round five pence bit. So it is with the capstone pressing its enormous weight down, thrusting it through the upright to secure thousands of years permanency - it gives one pause for thought.

Carreg Coetan is low-lying, just eight metres above sea level, close to the Afon Nyer estuary and about half a mile from the coast. To the south is Carningli, and the usual legend has been attributed to the stones, that they were thrown from the summit of the mountain. According to George Nash, the capstone when aligned with Carningli peak seems to match it.
Turning to N.P.Figgis on the subject, he cites a recent excavation which gives Coetan Arthur a somewhat different history. It had been presumed up till recently that the tomb had a closing 'portal door' and that its corresponding upright stone had disappeared, it was in fact an 'H' shaped portal dolmen similar to Pentre Ifan. It seems though that there never was a third stone, so no portal door. An arc of small stones had been laid like a kerb to the south round the remains of the mound, and between it and the now supposed 'front' of the chamber a space had been cleared. In front of the chamber had been a platform with some pottery and 'clumps' of cremated bone.

Radio-carbon dating gives the early date of 3500 years old for the construction - middle neolithic. But also inside the chamber there had been found much later Grooved Ware and Beaker Ware, showing that it had been in use over a long period of time.
Figgis goes on to speculate that perhaps we should not fall into the easy trap of labelling these sites as chambered tombs, but that they may have had a mulitiplicity of functions, which is little understood today

refs; Neolithic Sites of Geo.Children and Geo.Nash; 1997 Logaston Press.
Prehistoric Presili (a Field Guide) N.P.Figgis 2001 Atelier Production.

Carreg Samson

Carreg Samson looking out to Strumble Head

Looking east toward the old farmhouse

Carreg Samson, my favourite of the three, though this could be to do with its surroundings; chunky is the best way to describe it, standing at the head of a small valley that runs down to the sea, the great capstone perched on three of the seven large uprights forms an oval/polygonal chamber. It dips towards the bay and Strumble Head, dominated by the peaks of Garn Fawr, Garn Gilfach and Garn Wnda, again the siting of the tomb is not on high ground, its reference point seems to be easy accessability to the sea and stream that runs down a few yards away. The chamber being constructed over an irregularly cut pit, stones that may have been found in the chamber could be put down to the fac that it was recently recorded that it was used as sheep shelter and had drystone walling inserted between the stones. There is no direct evidence for a covering mound but Nash suggests that the elongated shape of the stones points to a covering mound, not unlike Pentre Ifan.
The three different stones facing north

The little valley that the tomb overlooks towards the sea

Rejigging old Blog

Clearing the mind and sliding in
to that created space,
a web of waters streaming over rocks,
air misty but not raining, seeing this land from a boat on a lake
or a broad slow river, coasting by....
step back again and gaze at the land;
It rises and subsides -
ravines and cliffs like waves of blowing leaves-
stamp the foot, walk with, clap! turn,
the creeks come in, ah!
strained through boulders, mountains walking on the water,
water ripples every hill.
Old ghost ranges, sunken rivers, come again
stand by the wall and tell their tale
walk the path, sit the rains,
grind the ink, wet the brush, unroll the
broad white space
lead out and tip
the moist black line.
Endless Streams and Mountains - Ch'i Shan Wu Chin
My Northstoke blog is being spring cleaned and sadly has been inadvertently deleted but I shall put some of my old bits and pieces back again eventually but perhaps in a different order.