Earlier this month, my girlfriend Lucy and I went on a weekend trip to Pembrokeshire in West Wales. It was mainly so we could get away from work and the like for a little while, but we also planned a few trips to local landmarks and special sites to visit when we were there. We stayed in a cottage on a working farm, complete with a wood-fired hot tub.
We arrived quite late on the Friday, but not too late to start a fire in the cottage wood-burner and jump into the (very warm!) hot tub. We were so excited to be away from home, on a farm with no mobile reception, that I perhaps got a bit too giddy and nearly polished off a three-quarters full bottle of whisky within a couple of hours (in addition to the two very strong whiskey cocktails I needed to start the wood-burner indoors). I don’t remember much of the rest of the night.
In the morning we were taken on a tour of the farm, which included a visit to the goat shed to see two one-day old goat kids, which was a particular highlight of the weekend for Lucy. After we’d made our lunches, we drove to Crymych where we parked our car ready for the trek up to Foel Drygarn hill fort, on the edge of the Preseli Hills. The weather was miserable and the ground was like a swamp, but I enjoyed the walk and the fresh air started to soothe my hungover brain.
Foel Drygarn comprises three Bronze Age cairns which sit atop a set of remarkable Iron Age defensive ramparts. Drygarn presumably comes from the Welsh tri carn, or “three cairns” which supposedly mark the burial locations of three ancient Welsh kings. More information on this burial folklore can be found in Chris Barber’s Mysterious Wales books. The rocks which make up the defenses of Foel Drygarn are spectacular. They form a rough pattern of points which encircle the cairns and at certain points they are so incredibly balanced and positioned that it’s hard to believe what you’re seeing. From the western side of the hill, which is also the area of the most remarkable fortifications, you can see across to Carn Meini. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to get over to Carn Meini this time, but the tantalising glimpse from the top of Foel Drygarn means that I will definitely be back here soon. We headed back towards the car to warm up and head west to our next destination.
In the parish of Nevern, there stands the neolithic dolmen of Pentre Ifan. Dating from around 3500 BCE, Pentre Ifan is a huge burial chamber complete with enormous capstone which is thought to weigh around 15 tonnes.The capstone rests upon three of the vertical stones and is around 8 feet from the ground. I knew Pentre Ifan was a large monument, but it was even larger than I thought it would be. Looking towards the west, the standing stones frame Carn Ingli in the background, and you can gaze straight down towards Newport and the mouth of the Afon Nyfer. You could also see towards the nearby town of Nevern, which was where we planned to head next.
St Brynach’s Church, Nevern
The small town of Nevern has the questionable distinction of having a “bleeding yew tree” in the graveyard of St. Brynach’s church. A severed branch has a large slash through the centre, from which the tree oozes strange, pinkish-red sap. One of the stories surrounding this strange occurrence suggests that an innocent monk was hanged here and now the tree bleeds for his memory in sympathy. Whatever the cause of the bleeding yew, it was certainly peculiar thing to experience. The graveyard was silent when we visited, so you could actually hear the intermittent dripping of the blood/sap on the branches below. Lucy touched the sap, and we were alarmed to find that it smells awful. A true sensory overload of the sense, sight and scent of death to be found here.
St Brynach’s church is also home to the Vitalianus Stone, an ancient standing stone with Latin and Ogham inscriptions, and the graveyard also boasts a 10th or 11th century Celtic cross with typical intricate patterns and engravings.
Carreg Coetan Arthur
Our final task for the day was to find Carreg Coetan Arthur, another neolithic dolmen situated in Newport. I was sad to see that the dolmen stands alone in a small fenced area measuring approximately 40 x 20 feet, in the middle of an estate of new houses. Still, it was another fantastic sight to see, and I took a moment to sit in the dolmen for a while which was surprisingly comfortable. One remarkable aspect of this is that one of the vertical stones which seemingly supports one section of the capstone is actually not in contact with the capstone at all. It felt as though the capstone could collapse at any moment, but given that it’s been standing for around 5000 years so far, I shouldn’t be too concerned.
For those that are here to read about books, I’ll mention a great book shop found in Newport, which also doubles as an antiques/art dealership. We didn’t have a lot of time to browse (not least due to the soggy socks I had been walking around in all day), but I was pleased to find the first book in the so-called Angel Mountain Saga, called On Angel Mountain. This saga (as far as I know) is the story of Martha Morgan, the mistress of an estate on the edge of the Mynydd Carn Ingli (near to Pentre Ifan mentioned above), set in the late 1700s. I’ve read about half of it so far, so expect my review here fairly soon.
Thanks for reading. If you want more information on any of these monuments or areas, please leave a comment and I’d be happy to give you more information.