A.J. Walker


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

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


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.

Reading - The Way I Roll

It's been a good year for reading. I've already surpassed the book numbers I read last year and am just four books shy of my 40 target. From my initial plan back in January I have read the majority of the non-fiction books from the reading list, but I've been a lot less successful with the books from the fiction list–in that I keep getting other second-hand books to read.


I have just finished 'Rivers of London' by Ben Aaronovitch, which actually is one from my initial list - I'd previously read a later book from the series ('Lies Sleeping'). Have loved both of them - and it didn't matter too much that I read them out of order either - I will defo keep my eyes open for other books in the series when I'm in second-hand bookshops. So that is basically just two out of eleven of my fiction reads achieved–so far.

Currently reading another book on my Kindle, which wasn't on my list for the year but has been on my TBR list for several years. It's 'Station Eleven' by Emily St. John Mandel. It's another dystopian story to follow on the footsteps of Margaret Atwood from last month. Not sure which books will follow but it would be good to catch up on some of the fiction ones; maybe Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake, The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, and They Came and Ate Us by Robert Rankin.


That said I suspect it'll be four completely different books, because that's the way I roll.


By the way, clearly I only know where I'm up to because I use Goodreads. It's a great website/app for tracking your reading and seeing what books are out there that you may like. One of my favourite apps, it's got one job and it does it very well.

VSS365 Anthology

Since the early days of VSS365 I've been involved in writing from these daily word prompts. It has grown immensely over the years and in the last six months in particular it has become a bit of a juggernaut. 'Back in the day' these wee stories were confined to 140 characters–I ask ya! But now we're back in the realms of flash fiction with up to 280 characters–wow!

Back in November 2018 I hosted it whilst travelling around the distant states of Zevonia and Zevonistan - from the foothills of the Mountains of Ruin and the famous Sprout Festival, along with my mate Benzo Diazapan - and it was very much a fun month.

Despite being a keen as mustard VSSer and evangelic about it I wasn't sure when the news of the anthology came out. I wasn't sure about an entire book featuring tweet length stories and wondered whether anyone would be interested in reading them. But I must say having just finished reading the anthology it hangs together very well indeed and looks great. I found it compelling to see how different the stories or poems were from each single prompt. And it is amazing how beautiful some of them were with so few words to play with. The quality of the stories are fantastic. It is sometimes difficult when reading one after the other to remember what the prompt was when they take you in different directions.

VSS Book1

The work of Mark and the Ambassadors in producing this book has got to be appreciated. They have done a fab job, as it has paid off in spades. It is a book to pop in and out of–Maybe even one for the small room.

I've only got the Kindle version at the moment. But I think I'll have to get myself the paperback.

Follow Mark King on Twitter @Making_Fiction

Buy the book: VSS365 Anthology

Kathryn Williams Gig

On Wednesday I went to watch Kathryn Williams play a gig at the Music Room in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Not sure what my last gig was or when, it must have been sometime last year I think. Whatever it was it could not have been better than this one–or else I'd remember it (even with my ever growing years and diminishing brain cells).

The tour is to showcase the release of Kathryn's 'Anthology'. And by anthology I don't mean a single or double CD with all her best songs, oh no. The anthology is a release of the majority of her whole albums (ten of them), each of which is accompanied by a CD with alternate takes, covers, live stuff etc (aka 'rarities'). That's a lot of music.


It was the first time I've been to the music room, which is at the rear of the Philharmonic Hall–at the same time as Kathryn's gig Christy Moore was playing the hall. Had an okay keg beer on (keg = expensive and cold, but better than a bottle of lager) and was glad to see it was a local brewery. The gig itself featured Kathryn, largely playing acoustic, accompanied by Neill MacColl (and yes, Ewan's son/Kirsty's brother). Whilst she was born in Liverpool, so it was a bit of a homecoming gig, she is based in the north east. She went through her back catalogue chronologically and interspersed it with some short stories and reminiscences–and occasionally jokes which didn't hit the mark, but were nonetheless engaging. It's amazing that her second album 'Little Black Numbers' – which was nominated for the Mercury prize that year – was back in 2000. Where does the time go when it's not around here?


It was a gentle, spine-tingling occasion. I won't spend much time going over it, in fact I'll give you my eight word summary: Great songs, beautiful voice and a wonderful soul.


I bumped into four people there I knew, which goes to show some of my friends have fabulous taste in music. If you get the chance to see Kathryn play anywhere: don't miss it. In the meantime you can always buy an album or two of hers, or check her out first on Spotify. I went for the Anthology (sold at the gig at a good discount from the RRP), which I bought from the lady herself, and so I now have 20 CDs worth of music to enjoy.


Website: kathrynwilliams.co.uk

Gigs... It's Been A While.

Been a while (ages) since I've been to any gigs. I used to go to loads but with one thing and another I just haven't been gigging lately. But I've actually got a couple coming up now and I can't wait.

Firstly, next week I'm going to see Kathryn Williams at the Liverpool Philharmonic in the Music Room and I've got tickets for Calexico and Iron & Wine in November also in the Philharmonic Hall. Last week I got their recent album 'Years to Burn' which I've hardly turned off. It's bloody brilliant. I saw them play in Manchester many years ago in the Academy. Acoustically the Phil will be miles better - the acoustics in the Academy seem better designed to magnify the volume of people chatting away about the current issues on Eastenders than the bands. Why do people spend money to go to a gig then chat all the way through it - just to say they were there? That said I would rather be standing than sitting. So the Phil will be both better and not as good - although very comfortable.

Calexico and Iron & Wine: Years to Burn

Anyway roll on Wednesday, and Kathryn. It'll be the first time I've seen her live. Perhaps I'll write a wee review. In the meantime if you don't know either of the artistes I recommend you check them out. I've put a link to a song each on YouTube for each of them (click on the photos) and their websites and Twitter details are below. Happy listening.

Kathryn Williams: Monday Morning

Website: www.kathrynwilliams.co.uk
YouTube Video:
Monday Morning

YouTube video:
Father Mountain

Words with Bots

I've been playing Words with Friends with… well, with friends, for years now. There's only a couple of people I play with regularly now, which is good - when I used to play more people it could eat into a lot of time. Now I just slot it in every now and again.

Last week something odd happened when someone I didn't now invited me to play. I know it always asks you to '
play with someone new' and gives you 'coins' if you start a match with someone that way. So I thought maybe it was someone winning a few coins for playing a match with me. Anyways I beat her easy enough and wondered if she'd play again afterwards, but no. Instead a few minutes later another 'woman' invited me to play. The timing could not be a coincidence; no new people had invited me to play for many months so to get two consecutive like that was clearly wonky. I suspected bots.

I went back to the one I'd just beaten and saw on her profile she played in multiple languages (six or so), not just English and American English. And so did the new invitee. I smelled a rat. Since then I've declined all these games, as they keep coming.

I like the game. I like challenging friends not a bloody computer. So why does the App do this? And why suddenly now? I'm assuming it's to collect more ad money. If I'm playing more games then I'm seeing more adverts. But who knows, perhaps there is some other more nefarious reason for this uncalled for activity. Or perhaps it has something to do with the recent hack of Zynga from Pakistan?

Interestingly all these new players have attractive women avatars with professional looking shots–apart from one; which had a cat. Their algorithms aren't working if they thought I'd go for a cat! There doesn't seem to be a setting to turn off these bots. And I haven't seen anything from the software maker, Zynga, on their use. All in all; very poor.

So far the bots who have invited me to play were:

  • Holly Rose
  • Emma Radcliff
  • Gaby Spiers (the cat)
  • Alexa Dimitrov
  • Tara McClusky

If you play Words with Friends keep an eye out for these characters. You may find you're playing them too.

Microcosms Results

The Microcosms website still seems to be having severe issues. I posted the results off a couple of weeks ago and due to those issues the results have yet to be posted up. In the interim whilst the website elves deal with the gremlins here are the results. Hope the Microcosms site is sorted soon.


As someone who never spins on principle I was surprised at how many did this week. That said, I hadn’t looked at the page until after I had completed the judging (which reminds me: thanks Sal for sending me the stories minus the authors so I could do the judging blind). I assume the spinning was to avoid the steampunk form, which may be a bit constraining and not an obvious choice so I do understand the spinning; and after all the option is there for a reason.

There were eight entries this week, but one was using the previous week’s prompts which I’ve discounted - not sure whether this has appeared in the wrong section due to some of the current issues the site has been experiencing.

There was a fun range of stories taking in time-travel to Stonehenge, steam-driven aeroplanes, environmental activism, transcendentalism, and the mundanity of war. Well done to all, it was pleasure to read them.

Favourite Lines

Earth Daze
After the massive marches in the States, the exhilaration of them, the fear of what they signified, Lucy asked, “What if…” and she hesitated a fraction, “what if we dedicated our lives to the earth?”
Sunset At Stonehenge
All human eyes were fixed on the sunset, so none noticed the otherworldly traveler who stepped from the shadows of the eastern arch.
The Transcendental Artist
‘I’m going to paint my way out of here,’ I told myself.
Five Words Screaming
But the message itself – the message was always the same:
I regret to inform you…
Per Ardua Ad Astra
It was a large machine, larger than any steam-powered aeroplane flown so far, it had to be to accommodate all the coal required to reach the fabulous speed expected of it.
The Gold Mine
A gigantic steamy bird is taking off: miners are on board cheering and screaming towards the freedom
On Pain of Death
“Everyone,” her voice cut through the flurry of screams. “Remain calm.”

Oscar (previous week’s challenge)
“Having trouble finishing my sentenc… ” Oscar said. Oscar 99-101 refilled his bowl with organic, unsalted puffed peas.
Er… maybe an issue with the website?

Five Words Screaming : Ellen Grace
Tightly written story and evocative of the hopes and expectations of the protagonist. Dreaming of helping the war effort, sending messages that would impact on the war effort–help in winning it. Then these hopes to be dashed (and dotted) by being given the task of sending out death notices time and time again. Well done. Lovely job.

The Transcendental Artist : KJ Watson
What fun we’d have if we could paint what we needed or wanted to happen. Great idea, nicely paced, well written and totally fun.

The (New) Dispensary


It's been an interesting couple of weeks seeing how the Dispensary transitions after the long reign from Pauline and Dave came to a quite abrupt end. It is understood that the tenancy came to an end on the 15th September and they decided not to renew it. The Dispensary under their stewardship won the Liverpool CAMRA branch Pub of the Year on multiple occasions and the beer choice and quality was never less than exceptional. They kept their decision to leave pretty quiet and it was only in the last ten days of their rule that it became common knowledge. Wherever they end up going and whatever they end up doing I wish them the best of luck.

In the meantime the new managers of the Dispensary require luck and hard work to maintain the tradition of the excellent cellar here, lest it become just another pub. I've been in a few times since the change of the guard and although it's very early days things are looking good. There have been a few changes which are mostly positive or at least neutral. The board with the beers on now has prices on it which is always handy in decision making and getting your money ready at the bar. And talking of money they have entered the 21st century and like many of the other nearby pubs now take card payments. Yay!

The beer choices so far comprise the same breweries that Dave and Pauline took, including Titanic, Ossett and Rat. Definitely a great big plus. Got to be good to have White Rat still available.



There is now no fear of the answer at the bar if you ask for a coke (not that I ever would) but sometimes people require a soft drink. Here is my mate with half a coke…


They still have TVs and the footy channels (BT and Sky) for those interested. And Liverpool are still winning. They've retained the bar staff too.

They also now sell Guinness. It is a drink from my past, but I have often heard people ask for it here and been disappointed not to find it. Not a big fan these days but hey, at least they've got themselves a nice old school pump display for it. They also have a small heater perched at the end of the bar for pies and whatnot. Food in the Dizzy! What next…?


… well, toilet roll in the toilets for a start which is nice.

In the last few days there have been returning customers who were previously banned or at least felt unwelcome. No doubt the customer base will settle down in the coming weeks when the novelty value has ended.

So, in summary, a positive start for the new guys. The key to its continued success will be all about the cellar and the bar staff.