Friday, October 5, 2007

Presceli Mountains

Sheep and stones beneath sun and dark skies

Tuesday is a grey rather bleak day for setting out to visit mountains but rain is forecast tomorrow so greyness must be faced. My torturous route through the back lanes of Pembrokeshire takes me on a delightful tour of small hamlets with sheepdogs sprawled in the road, old churches and even speckled hens parading around in the middle of the lane. Wales is at its verdant best,summer may be over but the hedgerows are still heavy with greenery, blackberries, wild honeysuckle, red berried hawthorns and the sound of splashing water as the car goes over humped bridges.
At last I find my way to Carn Meini, and stop by the moor to take a photo of Waldo's striking stone memorial - his history is not told but what a magnificent place to be remembered.
Foel Drygarn looking towards Carn Meini

Then to Foel Drygarn, a spectacular Iron age fort with three late bronze age barrows inside. Parking in the little layby which is the start of the path to the fort, and by the way the much longer walk to Carn Meini - home of the bluestones - we traipse through a field dotted liberally with sheep. On the far hill, four landrovers are bringing a great stream of sheep down, tooting their horns, the sheep are tightly bunched, though they are so far away I can't see any dogs. Up the steep path to the stony eminence of Foel Drygarn, great slabs of vertical rock guard it well, there are three periods to the fort, but what makes it so spectacular are the three late bronze age stone cairns in the centre. They form a straight line looking towards the spiky top of Carn Meini. They are large and untidy, the stone slipping away on all sides, this of course has happened over millenia, with perhaps more slippage due to people climbing in the last 100 years or so
One of the barrows on Foel Drygarn

Wilderness is forced back to these stony outcrops, up the side of the mountains fields creep then give way to moor and rock, and this yellowish grass of the moor is eaten velvet smooth by the sheep, just leaving patches of gorse and rushes round the little streams that run down the side of the mountain. This open expanse of mountain, moor and sky always lifts the heart and everything in life pales into insignificance - if there is a god to be met than he is here, if its ones soul, then it happily takes flight into the grey cloudy sky full of mountainous clouds and rain.
Of course there is also bleakness up on this tor, iron age people forced to live in a defensive mode, pinned to the rocks and a small livelihood which at all times must be defended. The three bronze age cairns are probably there for a different reason, their occupants are most likely tribal elders; they have been awarded this high eyrie to record their eminence and eternity is given to them under the great pile of stones.

Gors Fawr circle seen from a distance

Back down, turn round to the village and off in search of Gors Fawr circle, which is but a couple of miles down the road; Slowly the geography of the place had started to creep into my consciousness, how everything was near to each other,and as I walked to this little stone circle I realised it stood on the same part of the moor as Waldo's grave.

Standing Stones at Gors Fawr
Another surprise was of course on finding the two standing stones that stand a little way from the circle lead the eye towards Carn Meini's rocky presence on the skyline.
In N.P.Figgis's book, (Prehistoric Preseli) he says there are 16 small stones, squat stones of inderminate shape, mostly of the local erratic stones, some of which are bluestone type. There is supposed to be the remains of an avenue towards the two larger stones, but as there is so much stone around it is difficult to judge. He puts there smallness down to being typical of western Britain or Ireland, but of course they are miniscule to Avebury or Stonehenge. But they have a pleasing presence here in this quiet moorland, and I could quite happily live in the area divorced from all the problems that humans bring into ones life.

Small stones of the circle

To end with the words of Jacquetta Hawkes from her book The Land;-

"It is this immense antiquity that gives our land its look of confidence and peace, its power to give both rest and inspiration. When returning from hill or moor one looks down on a village, one's destination, swaddled in trees, and with only the church tower breaking the thin blue layer of evening smoke, the emotion it provokes is as precious as it may be commonplace. Time, that has caressed this place until it lies as comfortably as a favourite cat in an armchair. Caresses also even the least imaginative of beholders"

Of course the Land of Wales does not have such spires, the grey dull chapel must suffice to walk back to, but when walking back to Avebury the same feeling is felt, some decry the little village in the centre of the great stone circle, but as the church spire appears above the trees, ones heart suddenly aches with such a longing for something that is just out of reach that sometimes I wonder if its our inherited ancestors genes that suddenly call out with such longing for times that have vanished - why is there this yearning for the past?

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