Cors-y-Gedol Dolmen, Gwynedd

Cors-y-Gedol turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. We had planned to spend the day exploring an area south of Harlech, with the main place on our itinerary being the burial cairns at Dyffryn Ardudwy  ( previous post).
This was one of the occasions where the information board at one site mentioned another interesting dolmen in the area (one I hadn’t heard of), so after a look round the burial cairn at Dyffryn Ardudwy we headed south from the village and took the next road left to Cors-y-Gedol.
This was a long straight road lined with oak trees and led up the hill to the Elizabethan manor house of Cors-y-Gedol. At the top of the road was a car park which was the starting point for various footpaths and walking routes up into the hills. We parked here and went through a field gate onto a gated farm road that led across the hillside.

It was a very pleasant walk along the road and the dolmen  was  right beside the road, so no problem finding this one!

The large capstone is supported by an upright at the front but the rear is resting on the cairn material. Like most dolmens, it would have been a long cairn with a cairn of stones covering the chamber and extending some distance to the rear, making it a long trapezoidal shape. This one was about 25m long and some of the cairn material is still clearly visible on the ground.

There isn’t much left of the burial chamber and most of the stones from the cairn would have provided useful building material over the years but it is still a picturesque dolmen in a very attractive setting.

Looking north west to Bardsey Island and the tip of the Llyn Peninsula in the distance

Walking along the road I’d noticed a lot of stones lying around and outlines of stone structures in the grass and undergrowth. Further investigation revealed that the whole area, particularly to the east (on the hill side of the track) was covered in what is probably the remains of hut circles and enclosures. No doubt providing plenty evidence of this area having been inhabited and farmed for thousands of years.

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Further along the road I came to this hut circle, probably dating back to the Iron-age.

The remains of the walls are probably quite well preserved underneath the grass and vegetation that’s grown over them.

Oak trees and gnarled hawthorns growing round the rim of the site emphasis the circular shape and give the interior quite an enclosed and private feel.

From the car park you can do a short walk along the road to the cairn, but for a longer circular walk you can carry on  until you reach the River Ysgethin.  From there you can  follow a footpath up the hillside and back down to the car park. The path skirts round this area which is full of intriguing remains. Definitely requires another visit and more investigation!

 

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Dyffryn Ardudwy Burial Chamber, Gwynedd

This really is a lovely setting. Two burial chambers sit on a bed of stones in the shade of the trees and from their elevated position the sea is visible down below.
The village of Dyffryn Ardudwy is on the coast road, half-way between Harlech and Barmouth and the cairn is accessed by a sign-posted path at the southern end of the village.

 

The smaller, portal dolmen was built first. This is a typical dolmen shape with a heavy capstone resting on two portal stones and sloping down towards the rear. A closing slab acted as a door that sealed the entrance and after that, deposits were probably place inside through gaps in the sides and at the southern end of the tomb.

 

I’ve since read that there’s a small cup mark on one of the portal stones but I didn’t see it at the time.

Some time after the first tomb was built, a larger tomb was built to the east of it and then a monumental cairn was built which incorporated both tombs.  There’s plenty of the cairn material left on the ground to give a good idea of the size of the extended cairn.

The larger tomb, looking west with Cardigan Bay visible on the horizon

Fragments of Neolithic pottery were found in the older tomb and both Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery was found in the later one.

Showing the extent of the cairn material and giving an idea of how long the cairn would have been in its day

There are many prehistoric remains in this area. On the slopes leading up from the coastal plain to the higher hills behind you can find  dolmens, standing stones, stone circles and remains of ancient settlements. The Dyffryn Burial Cairn is the best example of the portal tombs in the area but there are others that are also worth seeing, such as Cors-y-Gedol, which we visited next and will probably be in the next post.

Looking from the large cairn to the small dolmen

 

Strata Florida Cistercian Abbey

Writing the last post about the tiny St Tanwg’s church in Gwynned and how it is one of the Small Pilgrim Places made me think about other early Christian sites and holy places that have a special atmosphere. There are so many such places in Wales. Places that are hidden away, or have a fascinating history that isn’t well known or churches and holy sites that are set in  the most beautiful and tranquil surroundings.

The ruined Cistercian monastery of Strata Florida isn’t one of the ‘Small Pilgrim Places’ – it’s probably too big for a start – but I’ve always had a special affection for it. Well off the beaten track and not on the road to anywhere, it doesn’t get the visitor numbers that the better known Cistercian monasteries get.

It is situated near the small village of  Pontrhydfendigaid, on the edge of the uplands, where fields, farms and narrow country roads start to give way to hill and moorland. The nearest town of any size is Aberystwyth which is 17 miles to the north west.
Even the name is captivating and enigmatic. Strata Florida comes from the Welsh, Ystrad Fflur, meaning Vale of the Flowers.

It’s a beautiful, peaceful setting and with so few remains left it can be hard to imagine that it was once a very large abbey and an important religious centre.

The abbey had vast estates of productive land that brought in a good income from sheep farming and other enterprises.  It was also a centre of Welsh culture and scholarship in the middle ages and would have been visited by  poets, Welsh princes and traders as well as pilgrims. An important Welsh annal, The Chronical of the Princes, is said to have been written here and relates how the Welsh Princes were brought here for burial in the late 13th century. Apart from the graves of some of the Welsh princes, the greatest poet of medieval Wales, Dafydd ap Gwilym is said to be buried here.

Looking closely at the photo below, you can see the sculpture of a pilgrim on the skyline.

The 14ft high sculpture by Glenn Morris stands on the hill above the abbey  and is made from old railway sleepers and recycled oak.

It was the result of an arts collaboration between the local community of Pontrhydfendigaid and Kells in Co. Kilkenny, where well-known sculptors made works inspired by the medieval abbey ruins in each community.