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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Bryn Celli Ddu

Bryn Celli Ddu (Welsh for the mound of the dark grove) is probably the best known prehistoric site on Anglesey and an excellent example of a passage grave. The tradition of building passage tombs spread up the Atlantic coast from western Spain to Britain and Ireland about 5000 years ago, towards the end of period of megalithic tomb building. In Ireland there are about 330, mainly in the east of the country, with the pinnacle of passage tomb building being the great tombs at Newgrange. On the other side of the Irish sea the best surviving examples in Wales are  Bryn Celli Ddu and Barclodiad y Gawres on Anglesey.

Passage graves consisted of a passage leading into a central chamber and then the structure was covered with a large mound of stones. Details in the design vary from tomb to tomb and and the passage was often deliberately aligned with solstice events, so that the rising or setting sun would shine down the passage and illuminate the chamber at a precise time of the year.

Bryn Celli Ddu is in the care of Cadw and there is a small park with interpretation boards telling you about prehistoric life on Anglesey and other sites you can visit. On the other side of the road a footpath enclosed by hedges leads up through the fields to the site.

As you emerge from the footpath and go through the gate you are facing what looks at first glance to be the entrance to the tomb – a concave area revealing a couple of orthostats topped by a roof slab and facing this on the edge of the mound, is a highly decorated standing stone.

This is actually the rear of the chamber, which was left exposed to allow some light into it. Personally, I would have preferred it if they had fully enclosed the chamber as the light detracts from the sense of mystery and other-worldliness you get when entering a dark tomb.

 

Entrance to Bryn Celli Ddu tomb

The entrance and the 8m long passage into the chamber is on the opposite side of the mound and what you see today is the result of excavation and reconstruction work in the 1920’s. Before this, there were stone remains but no mound. When excavations were completed, the chamber and the passage were covered by a mound, thus recreating a tomb similar to what it would have looked like when it was built in the early Bronze Age and giving visitors the experience of being able to enter a passage grave.

The passage is aligned so that the sun shines down the passage and illuminates the chamber at sunrise on the summer solstice.

Rather than replicating the full-sized mound which would have had its chamber in the centre, the covering cairn here only reaches as far back as the rear of the chamber and is much smaller than the original would have been. The remains of a ditch and outer ring of stones show the size of the original monument.

Bryn Celli Ddu has a fascinating history, probably going as far back as Mesolithic times and over the past few years it has come to light that Bryn Celli Ddu doesn’t stand alone but is  part of a prehistoric ritual landscape. Archaeologists have uncovered rock art, flint tools, pits containing pottery deposits and evidence of more burial mounds.

In Neolithic times, long before the passage grave was built, a stone circle stood at this site. This was surrounded by a ditch and an embankment. Sometime during this period as a henge, a pit was dug in the centre of the circle and a human ear bone placed in it. The pit was then filled in and covered with one or two stone slabs.  During excavations, a decorated stone slab was found next to the pit remains. The stone now standing outside the rear of the chamber is a replica of this and is next to the spot where the pit was found. The original is now in the National Museum of Wales.

About 1000 years after the construction of the stone circle, it was destroyed and a passage tomb was built on the site. When the tomb came to the end of its use a stone was placed at the entrance to seal it up. There was some evidence that part of the passage was infilled with smaller stones and some human bones placed in among them.

 

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One of the most unusual features of the tomb is a free standing pillar which is situated within the chamber. This is made from the local blueschist stone and has been carved into a smooth shape.

Part of the pillar

 

 

 

 

 

 

More images of Bryn Celli Ddu

 

Ty Mawr Hut Circles on Holyhead Mountain, Anglesey

This hut group on Holyhead Mountain is one of the best places to see Iron-Age hut circles in Wales. The hut remains are situated on the most westerly point of Anglesey near the dramatic South Stack cliffs and are reached from the road up to South Stack lighthouse and the RSPB reserve. There are plenty of footpaths for walkers and birdwatchers, including the Anglesey Coastal Path, all with magnificent views out sea as well as across Anglesey. A small sign across the road from the RSPB car park points the way to the hut circles.

Ty Mawr Hut Circles (10)

Ty Mawr means ‘big house’ but on the OS map the site is called Cytiau’r Gwyddelod, Welsh for Irishmens Huts. Hut circles on Holy Island were traditionally given this name because they were thought to have been built by Irishmen.

Unlike Din Lligwy (Lligwy, Anglesey ) which was a single farmstead with numerous buildings within its walls, the Ty Mawr site consists of about 20, mainly individual, structures spread out across the lower slopes of Holyhead Mountain. When the site was first excavated in 1860 about 50 huts were recorded and it was thought that previously there had been more. Of that 50, many have since been lost due to agriculture but the remaining huts were excavated again in the 20th century and the site taken into the care of Cadw, the Welsh organisation for the care of ancient and historic monuments.

Walking across the road from the car park the first roundhouse soon comes into view as it isn’t far from the road.

Ty Mawr 1

Ty Mawr 1a

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The thick circular walls would have supported rafters pointing upwards to form a high conical shape and this would have been covered with thatch.

Carrying on from the first roundhouse the path leads up to more roundhouses and the remains of other structures which would have been used for a variety of purposes, such as workshops or storage.

The huts are of various sizes and at least one is an oval shape with an internal dividing wall. There are passages of various lengths leading to the doorways (to protect them from the wind?).

Ty Mawr.jpg

The remains of some internal features can still be seen in some of the huts, including hearths, an alcove and a circular stone trough.

The site is well maintained by Cadw and it’s an easy walk from one hut to another. There are so many huts that just when you think you must have seen them all, the path carries on to yet more. It was a long time since I’d been here and I’d forgotten just how many there were! As I followed the grassy paths from one hut to another, going further across the hillside, the grass eventually turned into narrow pathways cut through the bracken and the last but one site came into view. This was more of a farmstead than a single hut, comprising a large hut, the remains of some smaller structures and a large grassy area enclosed by a wall.

Ty Mawr Hut Circles (9)

Holyhead MountainTy Mawr Hut Circles , Holyhead Mountain

Back in Iron-Age times a massive hillfort sat on the summit of the hill and many people must have lived in the huts and farmsteads scattered across its lower slopes.

Hut Circle & Holyhead Mountain One of the Ty Mawr hut circles with Holyhead Mountain behind

Further inland on Anglesey, at Llynnon Mill, 2 roundhouses have been reconstructed, using information gathered from excavations of roundhouse sites on the island.

I’m always amazed at how much bigger they are inside than the impression you get from just looking at the remains of walls. Looking at a hut circle on the ground it is easy to imagine people living in a rather small, crude hut but when when they’ve been reconstructed you can see how much room there was inside, and the extremely high roof  gives a sense of spaciousness as well as allowing the smoke to rise up and dissipate through the thatch. Excavations here and in other parts of Britain show that there was an open central area with a hearth. Round the walls, areas were sectioned off for different activities such as sleeping, cooking, weaving etc. These were often divided by wattle screens.

Llynnon Mill roundhouse interior

South Stack cliffs and lighthouse

Anglesey 084

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