Thursday, 9 February 2017

Megaliths in North Wales.

I have always had a fascination with prehistoric peoples and civilisations of Northern and Western Europe, but especially the megalithic structures they built. My late father was a native of Orkney, an archipelago just off the north coast of Scotland, a place with a deep and rich history stretching back thousands of years. I have very fond memories of the first time I visited Orkney, I must have been around 8 years old at the time and I loved the place the second I set foot off the ferry. It's rugged landscapes and wild coastline dotted with countless hidden coves, caves, rock pools and jagged cliffs perfect for climbing, a true paradise for an adventurous and imaginative young boy. It was during this trip that I also encountered for the first time, an ancient stone circle called the Ring of Brodgar. This was the first megalithic site I had ever visited and I have been captivated by the subject ever since. I now always make an effort on my trips and holidays, to seek out and visit at least a few local ancient and megalithic sites.

Last summer I visited Snowdonia national park in North Wales. It is a truly stunning corner of the British Isles and well worth a visit. And yes, you guessed it, I had the Ordinance Survey maps out in search of ancient sites. And there are a lot of them in North Wales, many don't even have names, are in remote locations far from any roads and difficult to find without good navigational skills. Thus, I was only able to visit and photograph handful of sites during my short stay.

Bedd Gorfal ring cairn

You'll need a map and compass to find this one. A bronze age ring cairn, most likely marking a burial. It's small, only a few metres in diameter and the standing stones are no taller than a meter. There is an indent in the ground at the centre of the circle which is possibly an indication that somebody has attempted to dig the site at some point.

Unnamed ring cairn

One of a pair of ring cairns, high in the hills above Harlech, with stunning views off the Cardigan Bay. Less than a mile north from Bedd Gorfal and very similar in size and characteristics, probably of the same era. A short walk to the east, atop a hill, lies the remaining earthworks of an Iron Age hill fort known as Moel Goedog, pictured below.

Below, the two ring ditches and ramparts of the fort are clearly visible.

Unnamed Stone Circle

We found this rather impressive henge entirely by accident. Whilst taking a drive through the mountains, we glimpsed it from the road and stopped to have look. It was a good 30ft in diameter and the stones themselves ranged between 6 - 8ft. Other than that I know next to nothing about the site, and have been unable to find any information. If you recognise this site and know anything about it, don't hesitate to contact me.

Lligwy Burial Chamber 

This Neolithic burial chamber, located on the island of Anglesey, is impressive to say the least, a 'megalith' in every sense of the word. The enormous capstone is estimated to weigh over 30 tons, the supporting ring of stones are in fact partially buried and stand over 6ft in height meaning the structure would have appeared twice it's current height. How ancient man was able to construct this megalith remains a mystery, but it is undoubtedly a phenomenal feat of Neolithic engineering.

Excavations carried out in 1909 revealed remains of up to 30 bodies, along with both Neolithic and early Bronze Age pottery. Evidence of rainfall erosion on the capstone suggests this burial chamber was not covered by a cairn (i.e covered with a mound of soil), which would make this structure a dolmen.

A short distance to the north are the foundational remains of an Iron Age settlement called Din Lligwy.

Bryn Celli Ddu

Probably one of the finest chambered cairns in Wales. Located on Anglesey and very similar in style to Maeshowe in Orkney, though more crude in it's construction, it was built around 2000bc, during the Neolithic on an older, existing henge, which itself appears to have been built on a late Mesolithic site of unknown purpose. Numerous human remains, including evidence of cremations have been discovered within the burial chamber. Like Maeshowe in Orkney and Newgrange in Ireland, Bryn Celli Ddu is aligned with the Summer Solstice, allowing the light of the sunrise to enter the passage and flood the interior of the burial chamber.

To the rear of the mound, you will find an interesting standing stone, known as the "Pattern Stone", replete with serpentine and spiral carvings. This stone is thought to be part of the original henge. The stone at the site is a replica, the real one currently resides in the National Museum of Wales.

Another intriguing standing stone can be found inside the burial chamber. A smooth, rounded pillar made of blueschist rock, standing guard over the chamber at a statuesque 6ft 6. It's significance is unknown, it is possible that it was part of the original henge, like the Pattern Stone.

The view from inside.

Dyffryn Ardudwy Burial Chambers

Possibly two of the oldest examples of portal dolmens in the British Isles, dated to almost 4000bc. Thought to originally have been covered by a large cairn of stones. They are referred to as "tombs", though it would appear that subsequent excavations have not turned up any evidence of human remains. Other finds however include numerous pieces of deliberately broken pottery from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, a stone pendant and two polished stone plaques, made from local Mynydd Rhiw stone.

This style of tomb or dolmen construction, and indeed most of the other megalithic structures I have shown here, are commonly seen throughout not only Britain and Ireland, but also Scandinavia, France and the Iberian peninsula, lending further credence to the hypothesis of a common, neolithic culture or civilisation spanning much of the Atlantic regions of Western and Northern Europe.


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