There has been, some might say, a bit of a trend occurring with my articles and blogs of late. I mean, if anyone I know is still blissfully unaware that my free time has been given solely to spreading the idea of what an independent Wales can (and will) look like then, for you, ignorance most certainly is bliss.
I’ve even managed to get a plug into this blog – and Wales wasn’t even a country when the things I’m about to talk about were going on!
Angharad and I are (finally) moving house. We had previously agreed that if 152 people told us renting was “dead money,” we’d up sticks and get a place of our own!!
That’s a joke, by the way!
Searching for those bricks and mortar to call our own has been frustrating to say the least but our searching came to an end when we saw a beautiful house in Abermorddu (near Caergwrle, Sir y Fflint). After a few arguments regarding how to pronounce the name, we both agreed that this was the one.
Reading the surveyors’ report last week I found that, due to Flintshire’s mining past, a section in the report warned us of potential shafts around the house. For peace of mind, I dug out all the maps I could find of the area. A map from 1938 seemed to be the most informative – the closest shaft was a good way away. Phew!
Whilst searching the old maps, curiosity got the better of me and I started scanning for more shafts and other points of interest. In the immediate vicinity of our new house-to-be, I found a Bronze Age hill fort (Bryn/Caer Estyn), a castle (Caergwrle – my favourite) and a ‘burial chamber’?….
Since solidly declaring my interest in Neolithic (and early Bronze Age) sites about a year ago after visiting Capel Garmon, I have read books, watched documentaries, become an amateur cartographer and dragged Angharad to loads of sites across the British isles. As cool as this has been, I can’t put into words how frustrating it has been to know that the closest sites to me we ruined hill forts and flattened barrows. West Wales really is the place to be for neolithic activity.
But a burial chamber. Five minutes from my favourite castle and two minutes from my new house. This was too good to be true!
My spirits were dampened when I thought to myself about all the reading and map-searching I’d done and never heard of a site here. I thought of the über-ambiguous term; ‘Site of‘ from the map. I thought of how I’d pass this spot EVERY DAY on my way to and from work when I lived in the Ffrith and still noticed nothing. I thought of the new housing estate built there and what damage that may have done to any remains.
The only reference I have since found to a potential neolithic site in the area was from 1914 – and that doesn’t fill me with much enthusiasm.
In his Flintshire edition for ‘Cambridge County Geographies,’ Head Master of Holywell School, J. M. Edwards wrote;
“The cromlechs also belong to this period [“antiquities”], but there is no cromlech in the county now, as the one in Hope parish has been lost. This was known as the burial place of Gwrle Gawr [=Cwrle the Giant], who was supposed to have been connected to Caergwrle Castle.”
To be honest, Hope parish itself is a pretty big area – was he even referring to same spot as the burial site on my map?
It felt silly to attach my hopes of finding something onto the fact that an old story mentioned the burial of a giant, but don’t all legends and fairy tales contain at least some element of the truth?
On my more modern smartphone map I was able to locate the area described in the 1938 map. There appeared to be a raised area but absolutely no evidence of any obvious stone structures. I simply had to go.
First impressions on the site implored me to ask myself how I’d missed it until now. My second thought was one of thankfulness – the new estate had stopped a few hundred yards short of the site.
I jumped over the stile and was immediately confronted by a large stone.
In the hugely unlikely event it had anything at all to do with ancient activity in the area, it may have merely been a marker stone on a pre-Roman path. The moment I saw it, I felt like I’d been fishing for a day and caught nothing but a solitary minnow – at least I had (possibly) caught something!
The setting Sun didn’t help. It seemed every time I tried to set the scene of an ancient barrow tumulus, the Sun (that any ancients in this area would almost certainly have worshipped) blinded me.
I thought of how places like Tinkinswood in Cardiff (with the largest cromlech capstone in Europe) and Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey were aligned NE-SW to accept the Sun’s light at different parts of the year. This site was boring old N-S!
Towards the far (northern) side of the site I started to notice smaller stones dotted around. Stones notorious in size to many kerb stones I’ve seen surrounding neolithic sites across the British isles. Their size also gave rise to the possibility that they were cairn stones. Their presence, however, was still not evidence enough to claim the site is 4,000-6,000 years old.
Next to a couple more possible kerb / cairn stones there was a larger, more rounded stone.
It was different in colour and texture to the smaller stones but was largely covered by earth. I had a feel around and it was definitely iceberg-like in that most of its mass was out of sight. A capstone, perhaps? Unikely, of course, and once again I had proven nothing.
I remembered the time where Angharad and I went searching for Maen-y-bardd near Caerhun, Conwy (which, like this site in Abermorddu, lies on a N-S path and is located close to later Roman activity!)
After walking some distance with no sight of the cromlech, I was starting to desperately claim every farm’s gate post was a standing stone just so I could persuade myself (and Angharad) to keep walking.
The erratic stones were enough to keep my diminishing interest alive.
This was more like it…. even though it was nothing like I’d seen before!
Stones I had earlier hoped were ex situ kerb stones seemed, here at least, to form a C-shape. Too close together to be kerb stones, I considered that they may be cairn stones covering a plundered kist. The henge-like ditch and the circular shape were too man-made for me. This was not natural.
As I walked back I decided to walk over the mound. The sheer length of reminded me again of Tinkinswood and Maen-y-bardd and how cromlechs were often covered by a mound of earth and stone.
According to my maps, this site would have been around twice the size of Tinkinswood’s 130x60ft structure. Again, unlikely but then Flintshire does possess the Gop – an 823ft man-made neolithic structure which, as the second largest man-made mound in the British isles after Silbury Hill, contains many prehistoric burials….
Thinking again to Tinkinswood (and of the cromlech at Saint Lythans around a mile to the South of it), long barrows had small burial holes and kists dotted all over their sites – as can be seen as a stony-hole behind the capstone below;
I toyed with the idea that this site also once included a cromlech structure as an entrance with various mini-burials dotted across its barrow-mound.
A long ditch right at the summit excited this possibility but told me nothing conclusive.
Is this a man-made site containing prehistoric burials like the local Gop? Is it a huge long barrow rivalling the majesty of Tinkinswood? Is it perhaps just the site of a kist burial in a natural mound? Or is it simply none of the above?
Unless someone hands me a shovel and the phone number of someone who has the knowledge and equipment to obtain geophysical information about the site, we may never know.
The benefit of finding interest in sites so ancient as this means that I can throw around lavish and far-fetched ideas and only ever be proven 99% wrong.
To quote Rupert Soskin, writer and co-producer of the Standing with Stones documentary series; “Imagine it snows and somebody builds a snowman in the time-honoured way of a lovely carrot for his nose and two lumps of coal for his eyes. And then the warmer weather comes and the snowman melts. Then one day you’re walking across the field and you come across the two lumps of coal and the carrot but you have no knowledge of the tradition of making snowmen. What would be your interpretation? A messy coal man with a careless donkey? But then worse still, say, a sheep came along first and ate the carrot and you’re excavating the lumps of coal thousands of years later. That’s the problem with our distant past. Fragmented pieces from different jigsaw puzzles and we just don’t know what goes with what. It’s a nightmare but it’s so exciting.”
In truth, I left with perhaps more uncertainty as I had before I visited the site. The number of variables and questions and ideas in my head had multiplied and I felt no closer to (re-)discovering anything.
I just needed something. Something tangible and real to which I could cling. A ray of truth amidst the fabrication of giants and legends.
It seemed ironic, in a way, that leaving the site back to the main road would draw my attentions back to the new housing estate that was so close to obliterating the site entirely. And as much as I should have begun drafting a letter to Flintshire County Council in my head explaining how ‘leading to‘ is ‘yn arwain i‘ in Welsh, I think I’ll lay off this time.
Llys Cromlech…. Cromlech Court.