Barclodiad y Gawres, Anglesey

Rock art and rituals in a Neolithic passage grave

This late Neolithic passage grave sits on the highest point of a headland on the west coast of the island. What makes it particularly interesting and worth a visit is the rock art inside the tomb. However, the tomb yielded up another secret when it was excavated in the 1950’s – the remains of what has been described as a witch’s brew – a stew made from small animals, fish and reptiles ( ingredients listed above!).

Its name translates as ‘the giantess’s apronful’ and comes from a legend about a couple of giants who were walking to Anglesey to build a home and were carrying the stones with them. When the wife got exhausted after carrying the heavy stones in her apron she tipped them all out, creating the mound of stones that would have been visible on the headland before it was known to be a tomb.

The mound on the headland
The remains of the original entrance passage

After it was excavated, the tomb was restored and a mound reconstructed over it, so it is completely dark inside.  A 9m long passage leads to a cruciform shaped chamber constructed from large orthostats, 6 of which are covered in rock art.
The most impressive stone is the one that stands at the entrance to the chamber but as you shine your torch around the tomb you begin to see the spirals, zigzags and chevron patterns on the other stones. Perhaps a representation of the entoptic images induced during their rituals and ceremonies?

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Megalithic art tends to be found inside passage tombs and is very rare in any of the other types of prehistoric tombs. Also, the evidence of rituals taking place inside the tomb is also more evident in passage graves.
With its rock art and evidence of ritual, Barclodiad y Gawres has similarities with the passage graves in the Boyne valley in Ireland.

The central chamber has recesses on each side of it and the cremated remains of 2 young men were found in one recess and some traces of bones found in the others.

In the main chamber there was evidence of a large hearth containing a fire that had been kept burning for a long time. This is where the stew remains were found.

Wrasse, eel, frog, toad, grass snake, shrew, mouse and hare had been made into a stew and  placed on the fire, probably to quench it. On top this, pebbles and limpet shells were placed. Pebbles and sometimes shells too, have been found in other passage graves and obviously had symbolic significance. Perhaps these objects and creatures were chosen because they belonged to the ‘other worlds’ of  water, the night and the underground.

The chamber in Barclodiad y Gawres is kept locked and you used to be able to collect a key from the shop in Llanfaelog and go and look round it yourself. Unfortunately, after some vandalism, you now have to arrange for a member of staff at the shop to accompany you and this is only possible at weekends and bank holidays between April and October.

This is one of two reconstructed passage graves on Anglesey, the other one being Bryn Celli Ddu.

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Bach Wen Dolmen & St Beuno’s Church

A cupmarked dolmen and a pilgrimage church

Bach Wen Dolmen is on the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales and the reason I sought out this particular dolmen was because its capstone is literally covered in cupmarks, not something I’ve seen very often on dolmens.

Someone must have counted them because there are reported to be 110 cupmarks and 2 shallow grooves on the top of the capstone, plus 8 more on the eastern edge.

Despite the iron railings around the dolmen, it’s still a lovely location, with the sea on one side and the hills of the Llyn Peninsula on the other. With such views, it’s easy to sea why the dolmen was built here.

We parked in Clynnog Fawr and set off on a well-signposted walk which took us from the village street, down little lanes towards the sea and the dolmen.

Looking back to Clynnog Fawr from near the dolmen

Arriving back in the village, I went to have a look at the church.

St Beuno’s Church, Clynnog Fawr

 I’m so glad I didn’t pass by without stopping to look inside. What struck me on entering was how incredibly light it was. I opened the heavy oak door and walked from the shade of the church yard into a  church bathed in light. The windows are large but I think it was the whitewashed walls that made such a difference.

There was plenty of interest to read about on the information panels and leaflets and I learned that St Beuno’s was one of the stops on a pilgrimage route and long distance footpath.

St Beuno’s was where medieval pilgrims converged to start their pilgrimage down the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula to the holy island of Bardsey. Today it is on the North Wales Pilgrims Way , a 130 mile long distance footpath from Holywell in Flintshire to Bardsey , which takes in little stone churches connected with St Beuno and Saint Winefride and many other holy and ancient places along the way.

The church is said to be on the site of a Celtic monastery founded by St Beuno around 630AD but the present building dates mainly from the late 15th, early 16th century. It used to be an important ecclesiastical centre for this part of Wales, which is why it is such a large church for a little village.

 

A rare example in Wales, of an Irish-style canonical sundial from the 10th-12th century.It was used to mark the time of the canonical hours which centered around the liturgy and don’t bear any relation to civil clock times. 

 

.A set of dog tongs!
These were used to grab hold of unruly dogs at a time when it was common for people to take their dogs into church.

One  thing I was sorry I didn’t see was St Beuno’s Well, which I read about on this information panel at the church.

We set off down the road to look for it but obviously didn’t walk far enough. Afterwards I thought of looking it up on the Well Hopper website, which is the place to find information about holy wells in North Wales and sure enough, there was all the information I needed and some good pictures of it, showing how it has been spruced up in recent years.

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A Broch-like Dun on the Galloway Coast

and  Prehistoric Rock Art, a “Coo Palace” and a very unusual church!

These are all found a short distance from each other, between Knockbrex and Kirkandrews, on the eastern side of Wigtown Bay (nearest towns – Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse of Fleet).

Castle Haven Dun

Entering Castle Haven Dun is like discovering a long lost secret garden, the walls all clad in ivy and the interior a mass of unruly brambles and vegetation. From the shore, the walls emerge up from the rock that it’s built upon, so that it’s hard to see where the rock finishes and the stonework starts. It merges into the landscape in a way that makes it difficult to spot from the road or the coast and there are no signs or even a path to it (style-like steps in the wall beside the road indicate where to go).

Castle Haven Dun from shore
The dun from the shore

Yet, this is an exceptional dun, both because of its state of preservation and its unusual design for this part of Scotland. Built on a small promontory, the dun is D-shaped, with the main entrance from the field on the north side. In the south wall of the dun, a narrow passageway leads to a flight of steps down onto the rocky shore below.

A Galleried Dun

This dun has a feature similar to the Iron Age brochs of northern Scotland, ie. the main structure consists of two concentric walls with a gallery between them. From the central courtyard there are doors leading into the gallery between the walls. The gallery was roofed with stone lintels, some of which are still in situ.

However, unlike the brochs, which had stairs winding up within the walls, Castle Haven has the unusual feature of stone, style-like steps jutting out from the inner wall of the courtyard, to take you up to the next level.

Castle Haven Dun (14)
A plaque in the wall indicates the height of the walls before restoration in 1905

I’d be intrigued to know how high the dun was originally and if there were galleries on more than one level. Due to its shape and fairly large size, it’s unlikely that the walls towered up high like traditional brochs.

Galleried duns are also found in the north of Scotland. For example, Dun Ardtreck on the Isle of Skye, which is also D-shaped and on a promontory, and it is possible that the design of brochs developed from these galleried duns.

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The Coo Palace (a posh cow shed!)

Castle Haven Dun owes its state of preservation to considerable restoration work that was carried out in 1905 by James Brown, the laird of Knockbrex. He had a keen interest in architecture and as well as his work on the dun, he also built Corseyard Dairy with its very posh cow shed, known locally as “The Coo Palace”!

Castle Haven Dun (15)
Looking back towards the road from the dun, you can see the Coo Palace with its own water tower, built in the style of a fortified tower.

Kirkandrews Kirk

Another of James Browns architectural creations was a tiny church in the nearby hamlet of Kirkandrews and I think this is one of the most unusual churches I’ve ever seen. Its design is inspired by a fusion of Arts and Crafts and Celtic design and a fondness for miniature castles! The small panelled room with a fireplace at one end reminded me more of a miniature banqueting hall than a church. It looks very cosy and there are some beautiful photos of when they have had candlelit services there.

The church was locked and I was only able to see through a window but there are more photos on the church website. https://kirkandrewskirk.wordpress.com/

Parking at the church is very limited!  The best way to appreciate this stretch of coastline around Castle Haven Bay is by walking or cycling along the narrow country road. It’s only 2 miles from the Coo Palace to the church and along the way you pass the dun and the rock art and get some lovely views of the bay.

Tongue Croft Rock Art

Tongue Croft Rock Art (3)

Rocks bearing cup and ring marks are plentiful in the Galloway countryside but are often difficult to find (or find access to). This rock art is just a few metres from the road, on the road between the Coo Palace and Kirkandrews. It can be found just over a wall on the right hand side of the road if travelling eastwards.

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