If your car, after a trip west-bound down the A55 (depending on where you’re coming from), can then handle a few B-roads leading to an unrelenting ascent half way up a 610m mountain with roads wide enough to mean any walkers have to climb over your car (rather than wait at the side as you pass) then get your walking boots on!
Oh yeah, you’ll also need walking boots!
I’m mightily impulsive at the best of times – not that I mind personally…. it’s Angharad I worry about!
From one week to the next I’m changing my tune. “Read this chapter,” “Come and see this rock formation,” “Let’s watch Wrecsam AFC in a town I’ve never heard of,” “What do you think of this lesson plan?” “Listen to this riff I’ve just learnt on my bass guitar,” and “oh my word…. guess what [insert boring noun here] is in Manx Gaelic!”
And, despite there being many more riveting other peculiarities that grab my attention from week to week, she’s always there.
This weekend, however, I felt a little bit more harsh than usual.
Most of the time my impulse interests take us no further than our front room. Granted, watching Wrecsam in weird places is quite the trek but we merely drive to the stadium and then sit down (and stand up waving arms on rare occasions) for two hours. That’s about it!
During the week I’ve been scoping out neolithic sites across North Wales. We’ve seen Siambr Gladdu Capel Garmon (a burial chamber near Betws-y-coed) and I witnessed Bryn Celli Ddu over the Summer. Keen to find more I took my map and, following the Conwy river from the estuary towards the source, I noticed a large collection of neolithic sites all on a single lane with merely a mile between them all.
Tuesday night I told Angharad. Thankfully, and once again, I received no objection.
All through the week I’ve been plotting the points of interest on my phone’s maps ready for the short stroll. I located a small car park (probably more for hikers than for neolithic enthusiasts) and popped a pin. Apple maps informed me that it was less than half a mile between the car park and the first site. It also looked reasonably accessible to unseasoned hikers like ourselves despite being close to the summit of Tal-y-fan. These were to be the reasons I’m about to tell you to rid yourself of modern smart-phone maps and grab a real paper one made by a professional cartographer that can recognise the differences between half a mile’s stroll on flat ground and a three mile hike across rocky terrain…. all whilst being battered by bitter winds!
The car was parked and we began our journey. Passers-by were clearly more seasoned in the art of hiking this area – that was obvious by their metal walking sticks, huge bags and professional attire. The closest thing I could boast to being even as mildly prepared as them were my £30 walking boots!
We’d been walking along the track for around half an hour until I realised that this was the Roman road about which I’d read. The road, linking Deva (Caer/Chester) with Segontium (Caernarfon) via Canovium (Caerhun) would, for sure, have previously been a track used by the Celtic peoples following the same journey – hence the blatant neolithic and bronze age activity – which was later ‘improved’ by the invading west-bound Romans. This is yet another example of how invading civilisations adapted prior cultures rather than simply smearing them from history. This was obviously quite a sacred path…. and the Romans knew it. Destroying it and forging a new path across the mountains of Eryri would have caused an uproar considering there were far more locals around than invading Roman soldiers. The wise option would be to accommodate their rituals and not destroy them.
A quick note for those wishing to walk this same trek…. the primary school teacher who told you that Roman roads were the bees’ knees has probably not been on this particular Roman road. Yes, it’s been some 2,000 years of hikers and 4x4s but I reckon a fair few more people and cars have been around Chester and Caernarfon (and Rome for that matter!) and their roads don’t try and break your ankle every 10 yards!
Having walked so far before spotting anything close to being neolithic, I started to panic. I was even checking out random gate posts (much to the wonder of the hikers behind me) in the hope they were former ceremonial monoliths that had been recycled to keep wandering sheep in their field. Every pile of stones (that were blatantly simply fallen-down dry-stone partitions) were cairns and barrows…. they had to be. I was losing faith!
GPS said I was right next to Maen Cae Coch (The Stone in/of the Red/Brown Field/Enclosure…. Don’t you just love the ever-ambiguous Welsh language?!?) but all I could see were streams of crystal water and a few small collections of autumnal bushes. A small part of me wanted to turn back until Angharad made the point that we’d come far too far to turn back and go home. She was right, of course. Oh, and as a side note, her words were not quite as eloquent as I’ve written here as she responded to my suggestion to abandon the mission. Never before have I seen a facial expression that says “I’ve come too bl**dy far wearing the contents of my bl**dy wardrobe across cold and inhumane terrain with you for the satisfaction of your bl**dy neolithic impulsiveness to go home now!”
As we continued, I spotted the first site. A solitary rock stood upright around 50 yards from the track. From where we were it didn’t look greatly impressive…. so I deviated from the path and ran up to see it.
Maen Cae Coch stood a few inches taller than my-6’2″-self and, when I spread out my arms, I could just about reach the opposite edges. It was much wider than it was in thickness meaning its shape resembled more of an oversized spearhead rather than the simple rounded cone-shape I was expecting.
By the time we’d reached the next site my excitement was growing. Ffon y Cawr (The Giant’s Staff) stood much thinner than Maen Cae Coch and, had it not been bowing to the awesome view it had beheld for some 4,500 years, would’ve stood much taller too.
I ran up the bank beside the path to snap the above picture. It was there that the beauty of the area grabbed my attention. I couldn’t help but scan the land in panoramic fashion to witness its majesty. Reaching the extreme left of my pano-vision I spotted the main attraction in the corner of my eye. There, less than a few hundred yards away, was Maen-y-bardd. A hefty capstone perched upon four standing boulders all being guarded by a sheep. I say guarded…. she scarpered the moment she spotted me.
With a spring in my step I hopped towards it.
I sat beside the ancient stones and looked down towards the river in the valley. For a moment, as I placed my arm atop the giant capstone, there was no wind and the cold, chilly air dissipated. My legs stopped aching and I managed a smile. I don’t believe in magical locations and I’m not 100% certain on what the word ambience means but it was a lovely place for reasons I can’t explain.
When we reached the site, Angharad asked me what it exactly was. All I could tell her was its age, how it would’ve been originally covered by earth and how our ancients would have scaled these mountains to place their dead and other offerings. For a moment I was worried that such an explanation didn’t warrant the journey. Bit then, like I said, we just sat and looked and no further words were required.
As we walked back along the ankle-ruining track, I spotted more and more stones (no more than a foot in height) all seemingly strategically placed to follow this ancient lane. Where the surrounding fields were bleak aside from the odd sheep, this lane was littered with rocks outlining its direction. I even wondered whether the might of Maen Cae Coch and Ffon y Cawr were simply road markers rather than something magical and ceremonial that I’d hoped they were.
But all this took nothing away from Maen-y-bardd. Even all my worries that Angharad would be bored on this mini-stroll were quashed when I saw her taking her own pictures to note the visit. At one point she even decided to strike a noble pose atop the giant capstone!
They say a night spent in the cozy confines of Maen-y-bardd would, with the morning, leave you either wise or dead. I did wonder why the local sheep (the ones who hadn’t made it to a kebab shop in Llandudno) were looking at me with such strange interest….
By the way, if anyone wishes to propose another location or pastime or language or book or song or whatever so I can reignite my impulse energy, I welcome suggestions.
Neolithic smiley face 🙂