There is a certain sense of ancient grace present at Pentre Ifan. Allied with its brooding air of myth and magic, it is unsuprising to discover that this is the most popular megalithic site in Wales.
The tomb’s incredibly massive five metre long capstone weighs in at over sixteen tons but appears almost delicately held, eight feet clear of the ground, upon three gnarled and tapered supports. Appearing to all that the whole monument might collapse at any moment, it is easy for the visitor to wonder upon what supernatural intervention might be at work preventing it from all crashing to the ground. Such stirrings of the imagination are easily raised at Pentre Ifan.
It is believed that Pentre Ifan was an important site for Druid worship in the past and evidence of more recent occult practices were discovered here during this author’s 2007 visit to the dolmen.
Yellow Top Cliff, Gower
Scarring the massive limestone outcrop of Yellow Top Cliff (named after the yellow-orange lichen that decorates its rock face) on the south coast of the Gower Peninsula are numerous caves of various sizes and of differing archaeological significance. These are known collectively as Paviland.
The most important cave in the Paviland Series is Paviland Cave itself (pictured above). More accurately known as Goat's Hole (SS 437 858), the cave offers moderately easy access during low tide conditions only. A watchful eye should be kept on the sea, however, as the cave becomes isolated with the incoming tide. There is access to the cave at other tidal conditions, though these routes are far more difficult to navigate and have led to several deaths in the past. Formed by wave action, when the sea level was up to 8 metres higher than today, the cave entrance is pear shaped and faces S40 degrees West. Standing 10 metres high by 7 metres wide, the entrance leads onto a passage which continues at walking height for some 30 metres into the limestone cliff. This chamber leads into a chimney, from which daylight can be glimpsed 20 metres above, and to two hollows in the ground. These depressions are the remnants of the two major excavations of the cave, dated 1823 and 1912.
Goat's Hole was first excavated in 1822 by Mr. L W Dillwyn and Miss Talbot of Penrice Castle. Interested by the discoveries made here, the Very Reverend Dr. William Buckley re-excavated the cave the following year. It was during this secondary and more substantial exploration that one of the World's most important archaeological finds was uncovered. At the time, however, the discovery was completely misidentified. Buckley was the first Professor of Geology at Oxford at the time and was later to become Dean of Westminster. He was also a devout Christian and it was this latter fact that led Buckley into not recognising the full importance of his find.
Buckland believed that no animal or human remains could be dated earlier than the Great Flood that is recorded in the Bible. Misguided by his religious preconceptions, his dating of the skeleton was wildly off the mark. Another misconception of his also guided him into misjudging the sex of the skeleton as well.
The Sweyne Howes tombs (SS 421 898) are situated approximately 300 feet apart and were constructed by the peninsula's very first farmers. It was their funeral practice to bury their deceased along with certain goods and belongings (which they believed the dead would be able to make use of in the afterlife) and to then balance large slabs of stone upon the graves.
The northern most tomb stones are the best preserved of the two monuments, although neither anywhere near approaches the fine condition of the similar Neolithic tomb construction on Cefn Bryn known as Arthur's Stone (I'll publish more on that particular monument in tomorrow's post).
The Sweyne Howes Northern Tomb
Driving along the A4 road, between Marlborough and Beckhampton, very close to the village of Avebury (famous for its stone circles), a curious (odd-looking may be a more appropriate description) hill distracts all but the most unimaginative of motorist's attention.
Legend holds that the Devil, on his way to Marlborough to deposit an absolutely immense shovel full of earth on the town (it is unknown to this author exactly what the townsfolk of Marlborough had done to irk the Devil into such an act) when he passed a cobbler, labouring to the town with a large sack full of old shoes on his back. Asking the cobbler how much further it was to the town, the wise cobbler, recognising his fellow traveller as the Devil, replied:
High above the village of Uffington, sprawled some 374 feet across the peak of the Berkshire Downs, lies the leviathon and abstract figure of a creature - known as the Uffington White Horse (SU 302 866). So immense and commanding is this landmark - formed by cutting the outline of the animal from the turf to reveal the white chalk underlaying the hill - that it drains much of the attention away from the village's list of other historical and literary points of interest.
John Betjemen (Poet Laureate 1972 - 1984) lived in Uffington, as did 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' author Thomas Hughes, who used this landscape so evocatively in many of his novels (a bronze statue of Hughes is displayed in the village's 13th Century Church). The area also holds many legends - one of which asserts that Dragon Hill - a peak nearby the Uffington figure - is the scene where St. George slew the infamous dragon (a patch of barren ground on this hill is said to have been poisoned by the dragon's spilt blood). Indeed, so prevalent is this particular legend amongst the locals of Uffington, that many people believe that the White Horse is not a horse at all, but is instead a representation of the huge, fiersome dragon destroyed by St. George. However, whilst its abstract and somewhat ambiguous design allows for such an interpretaion, most scholars on the subject are of the opinion that this hilltop creature is, in fact, a symbol of a horse and point to historical and archaeological evidence to support their assertions.
Often overlooked by visitors to the neighbouring monuments of the Avebury Stone Circle and Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow ( SU 105677) possesses an atmosphere at total odds to the lush and vibrant countryside amongst which it stands. A definite aura of death resides amongst this, the largest of Britain's Neolithic Long Barrows and this rather chilling vibe has both attracted and been intensified by practitioners of the ocult using the tomb for their ceremonies and spellcraft.
Evidence of Ritual Magick Practised at West Kennet Long Barrow
Woodhenge (SU 151 434), one of Britain's most sinister ancient sites, lies just 2 km north east from Stonehenge.Although the place can strike modern day visitors as little more than a rather confusing, bizarre and curious place, the location has a macabre history rare amongst such prehistoric landmarks.
Broad Pool, Cefn Bryn
Cefn Bryn is the Gower Peninsula's second highest point, rising 188 metres above sea level. As well as being Gower's dominant land mass, it also holds one of the densest collections of cairns and othe pagan stone relic formations in the whole of South Wales.
Over four metres long, two metres broad and two and a half metres high and raised on a series of angular stone supports, the capstone is an incredible twenty-five ton boulder of quartz conglomerate that was deposited here by a glacial ice sheet that crossed the entire South Wales countryside during the last great Ice Age. At this time the stone weighed a good ten tons heavier that it does today as some time before 1693 the rock was split cleanly in two. The stone was once the centre of druid worship and it is said that St. David took his mighty sword to the monument to prove it as an altar of false gods. The large segment of split rock still lays at the foot of Arthur's Stone.
About five miles North of Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan, lies Tinkinswood Burial Chamber - a spectacular tomb boasting one of the largest known capstones in Western Europe.
Tinkinswood has a low chamber, walled on three sides and two flanking walls either side of the mighty capstone that creates a forecourt effect in front of the monument. In 1914 the tomb was excavated and the remains of about 50 people were unearthed from beneath the capstone. (Sadly their remains are now believed to be in storage in Cardiff Museum. I disagree very strongly with this; in my view these bones should be reburied in the tomb.)
Tinkinswood is believed to have been constructed around 2000-1800 BCE in the Megalithic period, and there are many strange legends attached to it. For instance, if you sleep overnight there on Beltane (or some way the Summer Solstice), you are supposed to either become a poet or go insane. Having camped there myself on the Summer Solstice about ten years ago, I certainly haven't written much poetry in the meantime, although I can't really comment on how my sanity has been affected. The only odd thing that did occur on my vigil was at one point I heard footsteps and the sound of breathing behind me, but when I went to investigate (I thought a fellow Pagan had come to join me) there was not a soul in sight.
Giant's Grave, Parkmill, Gower
Tucked away, many would say hidden, in Gower's quiet countryside stand nine mysterious Standing Stones (Menhirs). Standing Stones pose difficult questions for archaeologists and historians alike. Despite often exhaustive research and excavations, very little is still known about these enigmatic megaliths. An assorted number of reasons have been suggested for their existence - funerary sites, way markers, boundary posts and ley line signifiers all number amongst present day theories for the stone's existence. All that can really be stated, with any real authority, is that these monuments were the work of Bronze Age Man. But whatever theory the present reader ascribes to these stones, their visual magnificence and historic importance can never be denied.
No-one knows exactly how many standing stones were once scattered around the Gower Peninsula. Recent theories have even suggested that one stood as far east as Penclawdd. Today, only nine remain to be visited. A word of caution, however, must be noted to those intrepid individuals willing to pass an afternoon following the succeeding route that visits all of these memorials. Some of these stones have become shy creatures and have hidden themselves amongst the tangled undergrowth of hedge boundaries and overgrown fields. None announce themselves to visitors in the manner of other megalithic Gower monuments such as Arthur's Stone (Cefn Bryn) and Giant's Grave (Parkmill). Many visitors to Gower must have tried to find these stones with the aid of a pair of walking boots and an ordnance survey pathfinder map. Of these, an unaccountable number must have failed. The stones' locations, even on the most detailed Ordnance Survey map, are vague to say the least and it took me several visits to accurately pinpoint some of the more retiring of the menhirs. That said, the present reader can now forego the hit and miss treks over Gower's farmland that may have hitherto dissuaded all but the most fervent against such visits. For the first time, a complete guide to reaching all of Gower's Standing Stones can now direct even the most uninitiated country walker to the splendour and brooding magnificence of Gower's mysterious menhirs.
For opening times, car parking restrictions and other visitor information please see the official Chalice Well internet site.
Chalice Well garden, Glastonbury, is an astoundingly peaceful and beautiful refuge from the hectic hustle and bustle of modern life. Rich in legend and sacred symbolism, the Garden is sited upon two potent leylines (known as the 'Michael and Miary' lines). These leylines cross paths at the region of the garden known as 'King Arthur's Court' along their routes between Cornwall, Glastonbury Abbey, Glastonbury Tor, the Avebury Stone Circle and Norfolk. A shallow healing spa is located at the cross over point of these great, powerful energy lines and the waters here have been famed for centuries for their curative properties (on a single day in the early 1750's, 10,000 people seeking relief from their various maladies attended the spa to sample its miraculous waters).
Situated inland, Cat Hole cave is the easiest of the Gower Peninsula's famous bone caves to access and explore. Reached from Parkmill Heritage Centre by following the footpath through Parc-le-Breos, the cave can be found only a short distance north from the neolithic burial monument of Giant 's Grave. Set some 15 metres above the valley floor in a limestone rock face, the entrance to the cave can be reached by a rough track that rises steeply through the woodland to the east of the main footpath.
Cat Hole Hole, Rising High Above Parc-le-Breos
Carreg Lleidr is one of Anglesey’s trickiest to find and difficult to access ancient pagan monuments. However, the curious-looking standing stone certainly rewards the effort required in visiting the small menhir.
Also known as the Robber’s Stone, Carreg Lleidr is ripe with folklore. The most popular tale attached to the standing stone is that it is a petrified thief who had stolen an expensive bible, whose cover was inlaid with precious gems, amongst other items, from a nearby church and was thus punished by it’s patron, St. Tyrnog. At midnight on Christmas Eve each year, the stone is said to drag itself from the soil to run three times around the field, pursued by demons wielding pitchforks aglow from the fires of hell!