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

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