#116 – Visiting the ancestors – time travel in North Wales

Maen y Bardd tomb, near Tal y Fan in the Northern Carneddau

Maen y Bardd tomb, near Tal y Fan in the Northern Carneddau

Living in the UK we don’t have to travel very far to find traces of those who lived here before us.   North Wales is particularly rich in examples, but pick almost any upland area of Britain or Ireland and you will find the traces of our ancestors stretching back over centuries and even millenia.   Why the upland areas?  It’s all about the weather.

The Maen y Bardd dolmen, looking down towards the Afon (River) Conwy

The Maen y Bardd dolmen, looking down towards the Afon (River) Conwy

About 4-5000 years ago, the British climate was warmer and drier than nowadays, and areas now marginal were quite cosy – climate change later made these areas unattractive and difficult to farm.  Because of that, many of the ancient remains have hardly been disturbed over the succeeding centuries – when you are engaged in subsistence agriculture, you usually have better things to do than knocking down ancient stone circles!

On the Roman road from Rowen to Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen (Pass of the Two Stones)

On the Roman road from Rowen to Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen (Pass of the Two Stones)

Chris and I had decided on a bit of time travel, following part of the route of the old Roman road from the tiny settlement of Caerhun (Canovium) to Caernarfon (Segontium).  Anything Roman is not far off two thousand years old, which is already pretty ancient, but the route we followed, starting from the Youth Hostel above Rowen, was already old when the Romans arrived on the scene.

‘Mist’ investigates the Maen y Bardd tomb

‘Mist’ investigates the Maen y Bardd tomb

Just the right size for a dog kennel!

Just the right size for a dog kennel!

Cae Coch standing stone

Cae Coch standing stone

Another view of the stone – the bracken makes the name ‘Cau Coch’ (Red Enclosure) quite accurate

Another view of the stone – the bracken makes the name ‘Cau Coch’ (Red Enclosure) quite accurate

First on the list was the impressive Dolmen (chambered tomb) at Maen y Bardd.  It is probably at least 5000 years old, dating back to Neolithic times – a local name is Cwt y Filiast meaning the ‘Kennel of the Greyhound’, and ‘Mist’ seemed to find it cosy enough.  From there we passed a prominent standing stone from the same period at Cau Coch (the ‘Red Enclosure’) before heading up to two more standing stones at Bwlch y Ddeufean (the ‘Pass of Two Stones’)

Chris next to the 3 metres high standing-stone at Bwlch y Ddeufean

Chris next to the 3 metres high standing-stone at Bwlch y Ddeufean

Another view of the stone with the 20th Century power lines above

Another view of the stone with the 20th Century power lines above

The author and ‘Mist’ at the 2 metre stone

The author and ‘Mist’ at the 2 metre stone

Looking down towards the sea from the pass

Looking down towards the sea from the pass

The Neolithic people knew this pass 5000 years ago, and the Romans came this way  3000 years later.  More recently, drovers would have herded their cattle along here and 20th Century man added power lines and pylons – the two Neolithic standing-stones, two and three metres in height respectively, will probably outlast all the other traces of human activity.

The start of the climb up Foel Lwyd

The start of the climb up Foel Lwyd

Wild horses, often seen in the hills of the Northern Carneddau

Wild horses, often seen in the hills of the Northern Carneddau

‘Mist’ weighing up the local wild-life ….

‘Mist’ weighing up the local wild-life ….

…. whilst Chris just concentrates on getting over the next rise

…. whilst Chris just concentrates on getting over the next rise

For us, it was time to leave this ancient by-way to follow something even older, the hill ridge with the summits of Foel Lwyd and Tal y Fan – the second is the most northerly 600 metre peak in North Wales, and at 610metres (2001ft) height it just achieves the status of being classed as a mountain.

Tal y Fan, seen from Foel Lwyd

Tal y Fan, seen from Foel Lwyd

The summit of Tal y Fan looking down towards the Conwy estuary

The summit of Tal y Fan looking down towards the Conwy estuary

Looking back to Tal y Fan from the moor below

Looking back to Tal y Fan from the moor below

The view from the moor towards the sea

The view from the moor towards the sea

Readers outside the UK may consider it stretching things a bit in calling a 600 metre hill a mountain, but what these hills lack in altitude they make up for in their northerly latitude, and also in their ‘attitude’, being near enough to the sea to be influenced by maritime storms – for small hills, they have the ability to bite you when you least expect it!    For us it was a sunny day, though chilly in a cold January wind.

Old stone hut near to Maen Penddu

Old stone hut near to Maen Penddu

Another view of the entrance to the hut

Another view of the entrance to the hut

Maen Penddu standing-stone

Maen Penddu standing-stone

We passed an old stone hut, probably originally used by shepherds or quarrymen, before arriving at our last standing stone, Maen Penddu.  From there a short height gain set us up for a steady descent back towards Rowen Youth Hostel.  The light was just starting to change, but in deference to Chris I timed it so that we were down before dark – a pity really, as I’m sure those ancestors must still roam these hills when dusk falls!

On the way home as the light starts to fade

On the way home as the light starts to fade

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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16 Responses to #116 – Visiting the ancestors – time travel in North Wales

  1. Mark Kelly says:

    Really interesting post Paul, the timescales between successive peoples always intrigues me.

    • Thanks for that Mark. The great thing is that there are examples all around us, and I’m sure you could tell a tale or two about the moors you walk near your home.

  2. lanceleuven says:

    Very interesting. The Maen y Bardd tomb is very similar to some I’ve seen in Cornwall. A particualrly interesting one is Trevethy Quoit. The capstone has a hole in it but no one knows why.

    • Your Trevethy Quoit pic is superb, Lance! Thanks for that.

      • lanceleuven says:

        It’s not my pic I’m afraid! I did take a few photos but I don’t have any online, so I simply grabbed a link to one from Google images! Glad you liked it all the same! 🙂

  3. I have to say I like walking with a bit of history. Mist obviously appreciates it too!

  4. Mist is probably more interested in the ‘Spiller’s Shapes’ in the top pocket of my sack, but I’m with you Chrissie, a bit of a story or a trip back in history can bring a walk to life!

  5. Carol O says:

    Love the dog kennel. That bwlch with the 2 standing stones is the one I know as ‘Power Bwlch’ ‘cos of all the high-voltage power lines running through it (3 I think?). To be honest, walking the track under them scared the hell out of me as I was really afraid one of them would drop a cable on me and fry me – I have a deep-seated fear of walking under pylons. And it has been known – cables have been dropped and both cows and people have been fried! 😮

    Tal-y-Fan is great for bilberries 🙂

    Great photos you’ve got there – looked a nice walk on a nice day for January…
    Carol.

    • Apparently there’s a local legend about a giant and his dog, and the dolmen being used as a dog kennel 🙂
      Yes, there are three power cables over the bwlch – I never even considered that one might drop on me ‘ead 😮
      We didn’t find bilberries, but it was January! A good excuse to go back again 🙂

  6. Another great post Paul…I am Canadian and spent most of my early life there. Anything which is over 100 years is ‘old’ in Canada..when I came to the UK I found it difficult to comprehend that there were things here that were thousands of years old…just didn’t sink in really. Especially as these artifacts are spread all over the place and are accessible by anyone. Still amazes and fascinates me! Maybe that’s why I have a love of history…

  7. Cheers SP – I share your love of history, and a good story enhances a walk.

  8. Chris looked to be enjoying every minute of that walk – with the possible exception of the climb. Or was it just deep concentration! Mist doesn’t seem to notice if she’s going up, down or round in circles – it’s all fun fun fun.
    A very interesting looking walk, with an added historical bonus and beautiful photos – the light was perfect. Of course, being a standing stone yourself (Long Meg!!) you should know all about them 🙂
    I dislike pylon wires too – I have to go under quite a few on one of my regular cycle/walking routes and they make the most horrendous crackling noise.

  9. It was a great day out, with just a bit of chill in the air, but great light as you say.

    All this pylon stuff is a bit of a bind, isn’t it? We don’t want pylons, wind-farms, nuclear power stations, coal powered power stations, etc, but we want to run our computers, boil the kettle, etc.

    We can’t put the genie back in the bottle, and probably wouldn’t if we could 😦

    • I know, and our house probably has more than it’s fair share of gadgets and appliances. I live in hope that one day there will be a less invasive way for folk to get their ‘power fix’. I wonder if people complained when those standing stones were first put in place? Bloomin’ great things spoiling the view, and all the noise, then the mess and rubbish left after that ritual feasting…

  10. Pingback: #147 – Ring out the old … 2013 hill memories | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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