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Ancient Anglesey

01 Sep 2006 / in stone hugging, travels

Last week when we were in Anglesey we stayed in a cottage closest in the world to Barclodiad-y-Gawres, a neolithic chambered cairn just a quarter of a mile away on a headland between two fantastic beaches. This was entirely accidental, but splendid good fortune!

Barclodiad-y-Gawres is a grassy mound from the outside, but inside contains a lovely burial chamber lined with huge stones, some of which have swirly and zigzaggy carvings.

Swirls and zigzags are common patterns in ancient art, one of the finest examples being Gavrinis in Brittany and Newgrange in Ireland. I believe that when the chamber was in use about 4,000 – 5,000 years ago, these patterns would have been painted with bright colours giving a magical, psychedelic ‘wow’ factor to shamens conducting ceremonies in the tomb by flickering lamplight.

Anglesey is blessed with some really superb prehistoric (neolithic and bronze age) sites, but sadly some of them have been unsympathetically ‘restored’. Barclodiad-y-Gawres now has a concrete internal dome to protect the delicate structure which is not exactly nice but does allow modern visitors to understand its construction more clearly. Other sites aren’t so lucky.

Many of the dolmens like Bodowyr and Lligwy are caged in behind nasty, high, ugly, pointy railings placed, in my opinion, too close to the monument. But other sites have suffered a worse fate thanks to restoration by CADW, the official guardian of the built heritage of Wales.

Bryn Celli Ddu is fine burial chamber, a stunning grassy mound within a small henge. Inside there’s an intriguing standing stone, so the chamber must have been built around it when prehistoric improvements and developments were made.

But more recent improvements and developments by CADW include two grotesque concrete lintels within the chamber. After standing for 4,000 years without them was this sledgehammer approach really necessary or is this another example of health and safety gone mad?

Presaddfed is a fabulous tomb, but again screwed by thoughtless restoration. Some ugly timber pitprops now hold up the capstone.

The portal stone is surely big enough to hold it up? And if over-cautious health and safety deems additional bracing necessary surely a clean single metal bar lurking immediately behind the portal stone would have done the trick. Instead we get enough timber to build a small boat.

But surely Ty Newydd takes the award for the sloppiest restoration in Wales.

Whichever cowboys decided to use pillars of bricks to hold up capstone need their brains concreted. I suppose I should be thankful that the capstone is still up but this beautiful monument has been very badly scarred by its repairs.

I shouldn’t slag off CADW too much. They provide really excellent signage and information boards at many sites.

But it wasn’t all burial chambers. We also visited some really wonderful standing stones at Mein Hirion: (how much like a penis is the one I’m standing next to?! )

Checked out the longest place name in the UK:

And readers of my previous post already know there was some time for sketching:
All photos: Moth Clark

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