A.J. Walker

writerer

November 2019

Gwytherin Stones

My third visit in a week to see some ancient stones was to see the Gwytherin Stones. This is a line of four stones in the churchyard of St. Winefred's Church in Gwytherin. As a simple line of stones within a church environment there is not much in the way of setting for them to be able to date them and the age of them are disputed from Bronze Age through to something more modern. I won't say who knows, it's a no-one knows - at least yet. The church itself dates to 1869 but there is thought to have been a church on the site since around 600AD.

Gwytherin 1

Gwytherin 2

Gwytherin 3

Gwytherin 4

The stones are each around 1m high and one of them (the western most one) has writing on it. They are aligned perfectly in an east-west direction. They are the closest to the church and it is nice that they have been left in place and not destroyed during its development. You do wonder if other stones may have been on the site previously and how they may have been arranged. The four stones sit above a steep slope down to a stream, a tributary to the nearby River Cledwen, and I wonder how it has moved historically - has it eaten into this embankment and taken away archaeology?

As well as the stones the churchyard has three ancient yews. Three? That's just greedy.

Gwytherin 6

Gwytherin 5

Gwytherin itself is a pretty little village and one literary claim to fame is that it is the setting in 'A Morbid Taste for Bones' the first book of Ellis Peter's Cadfael series (written in 1977 and set in 1137)/ Haven't read it. Wonder if the stones are mentioned by the monks? Will have to buy the book, and maybe read it in front of a roaring fire in the Lion Inn, which is lovely looking old pub opposite the church.

Gwytherin 7
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The Gop

The Gop 1
The Gop

Saturday, another wet autumn day and another Neolithic site in North Wales. Yep, after the previous day's visit to Capel Garmon this time I found myself near to Trelawnyd and The Gop. As I had the time I decided to give it a go and once more, despite squally showers and continuing camera issues, it was well worth the small detour.

I'd only found out about the place the previous night when reading about it both online and in Julian Cope's excellent tome, 'The Modern Antiquarian'. As I approached Trelawnyd from the west in the afternoon I looked up the hillside to see if I could see The Gop and was surprised at how distinct and obvious it was - in so much as I'd travelled this road so many times and never noticed it. Now I know it's there I will never not see it.

The Gop 2
View of The Gop walking up from the path from Trelawnyd

Of course this area is full of hills and sometimes any strange shapes can be interpreted as due to geology or often down to quarrying. In this case The Gop is a man made hill (Neolithic c 3-4000 years old) on top of a hill. It is the second largest Neolithic mound behind only the very famous Silbury Hill. Which makes you wonder why this place isn't more well known. I suppose being a hill on a hill it is less obvious than being a hill on a plain like Sllbury. Unlike Silbury you can walk right up to The Gop and onto it too. Which I did. I parked at the bottom of a path in the village and took the short walk via just one stile and a kissing gate. The path up to The Gop was wet, muddy, quite steep and very slippy. It was actually easier getting up the mound itself.

The mound is massive, but because of its place like a pimple on a hill you really don't feel it from distance. In some places, especially on the northern side of the mound, you can see the construction materials which comprises fragments of limestone, much of which are incredibly small in that you can hold multiple pieces in your hand. To think of the number of people and time it would have taken to construct it is a bit mind boggling.

In the late 19th century there was investigations into the mound looking for burial chambers (or dare I say treasure) which didn't find anything. That doesn't mean there's nothing there given similar early investigation of Sutton Hoo. Given the type of material (loose limestone) it must have been hellish to dig. Nearby at lower levels of the hill are caves where ancient human and animal remains have been found and could well be linked with the site. I can't see it would have been constructed as a hill fort - you'd be better protecting the existing hill top rather than building the hill on a hill - not to mention the issues with constructing on it. Surely the mound is related to the importance of the caves?

The Gop 3
View south east from The Gop

The views from The Gop are great. Or rather would have been on a better day. Apparently on a clear day you can see Blackpool Tower (the universal SI unit for distance viewing in the north west). I was told this by the only couple I saw whilst on my jaunt. They had come up walking their very bouncy, wet, black Labrador. He bounded up to investigate me and seemed an inordinately happy soul. Unfortunately he managed to time one bounce such that the lady owner who was leaning down to say nice things to him got hit in her chin by his head. Bit through her lip, she did. Ouch! Love can be painful.

After they had gone I decided to go down the northern side of the mound to look at where the limestone is exposed towards the base. It was wet and slippy. And yes, I slipped. I managed yet again to fall in glorious slow motion whilst twisting and moving to avoid landing on my shoulder (the one which is already dislocated), and side where my phone was and land so I didn't risk my fingers or arms too much. Basically my arse took the brunt of it and other than being wet I survived without injury or damage to technology. And no-one saw it either. Huzzah!

The Gop4
The northern slope of The Gop, where you can see the building materials

When you see the material and the slope from that position (see fourth pic, below) you get an idea of the size of the place and the effort that must have gone into its construction. It was easier to climb back up the mound from the side - I'm not sure if it was practical to walk around, with the long days of rain I feared further slippage events or a twisting of an ankle. And getting down the mound on the south side is easier as there are paths (after a fashion).

Like Capel Garmon it only took me around half an hour from parking to returning. And the benefit to myself far outweighed getting home that half hour earlier. Next time I'll go when its a blue sky and I'll check out where the caves are (though they are closed off now I believe).

So, lastly, if you're ever on the road through Trelawnyd look up the hill to The Gop and see it for the first time. Then maybe even go and see it close up. On a blue sky day you may be able to see Blackpool Tower (incidentally I would suggest this is about as close as you would want to get to Blackpool).

The Gop 5
View south west from The Gop


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Capel Garmon

Have been around Capel Garmon, which is a few miles south of Llanrwst, a few times over the last couple of months. The very first time I went through I saw this sign to a burial chamber:

Capel Garmon 1
Sign at the main road

When I got home I looked it up on Dr Google and found that it was for a very interesting burial chamber indeed. It is estimated to be around 3500 years old and the site was used for a long time - including by the Beaker people. The working day doesn't always give me half an hour to take a break (or have lunch) but I said to myself if I got the chance sometime I'd go down and take a look. As it happens, whilst there is a bit of walk from the main road, it only took me about 20 minutes to get there and back. It was a shame it was wet and grey day (and that my camera was acting up) but I took a few shots. It was well worth using 20 minutes of my day to pop down to see it.

As you walk down the road towards the site the first thing you see is a massive stone - known as a Gorsedd, or throne - which on the adjoining rise, which is associated with the chamber. The burial chamber is not well signposted (one sign is missing from one of the gates) but as you walk down the private road to the farm there is a swing (kissing) gate through to the public footpath (no real path), which at the time was pretty muddy. And fifty yards up from there is another gate (with the missing sign), go through this and then you should see the fenced off area of the chamber. This field was even wetter than the first one but it has been a very wet couple of weeks.


Capel Garmon 3
Current entrance into the barrow beneath the one remaining top stone.

There was no soul around though somehow one of the sheep from the surrounding field had somehow got in for a gander himself. Not sure how he'd got in through a swing gate. The chamber is of a type known as Severn-Cotswold construction and is one of the most northern examples of it (though Trefignath on Anglesey is of the same classification).

Capel Garmon 2
View out of the barrow from the first circular chamber

Capel Garmon 4
Second circular chamber, which is uncoverered

Capel Garmon 5
This would have been the original entrance into the barrow - with the two chambers either side at the end of the passage. The Gorsedd stone is on the rise in a straight line from this entrance to the chamber.

I'll definitely go and see it again when I get the chance. Preferably when my camera isn't acting up and on a blue sky and dry-underfoot kind of day. I'll also go and look at the Gorsedd.

It's got me fired up to keep an eye out for other ancient sites whilst I'm traveling around. And I've now found, for example, I've regularly driven past The Gop cairn hill which is the second largest Neolithic mound coming behind only Silbury Hill. I have never noticed it (or heard of it before). I also need to see how long it would take to get along to the Druids' Circle above Penmaenmawr; the Four Stones of Gwytherin; and the stones of Tal y Fan.

Unfortunately November on the run up towards Christmas and of course the shorter daylight… well all in all not ideal to try and fit these in now. Though I'll keep my eye out for any which are near a road side.
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