The Day The Sun Fell Into Henllys Woods And Other Light Shows

Henllys Woods

It is said that the Druids faced their final battle with the Roman Army on the North Wales island of Anglesey in 60-61 AD. According to Tacitus, things did not end well for them and their sacred oak groves. [See my earlier post Island Of Old Ghosts]. Early on in the invasion of Britain, the island had become a refuge for resisting Celtic warriors, doubtless assuming that the Menai Strait would present an obstacle to the legions. (It didn’t).

But for the Druids – the seer-diviner-lore-keeper-law-makers of the community, I tend to wonder if it wasn’t the island’s more extraordinary characteristics that they drew on. The quality of the light for one, and especially in winter when the sun over sea and strait and mainland mountains creates some mesmerizing effects, even when caught in monochrome.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Light

Looking Back: The Old Stones Of Din Lligwy

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We came here last week, Monday 2nd January 2023. I’d been here before – the north-easterly corner of Ynys Mon (Anglesey) and to this field above the sea, where there are ruins of a Norman chapel (12th century) and a Romano-Celtic settlement of the late 300s AD.

And with all these chronological markers in place, I should perhaps add one more and say that it was probably 60 years since I was last here. Sixty years. Ye gods! How time does fly.

Back then, we were visiting what my mother mistakenly called ‘a stone age village’. It was one of my big holiday excitements whenever we came to Anglesey.

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Above and below are the settlement’s two circular houses, inhabited during the later Roman era, but abandoned by 400 AD when the legions departed. So, mummy dear, not a Stone Age village at all, though unknown to me at the time of those childhood visits, there is in fact an impressive Stone Age monument very close by.

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As you can see, the stone houses have massively constructed walls, faced inside and out with huge slabs, and the space between packed with rubble. They probably supported conical, timber-framed and thatched roofs. (A reconstruction HERE)

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There are also at least 7 rectangular buildings associated with the houses. Two of these contained several smelting hearths and were probably iron-making workshops supplying the local Roman legions with tools and weapons. The whole site was then bounded by a pentagonal wall, well over a metre thick, and entered via a gatehouse. There were also further house remains outside the boundary wall.

To me it has the looks of a secure unit. Perhaps with workshops under direct Roman control. By the 4th century the locals could well have been growing restive; itching to arm themselves. This is just my hypothesis. Other interpretations are that the outer wall was for keeping cattle in, and that the defences were considered ‘light’.

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But now a step back in more recent times and the way things were for the Ashford family circa 1960:

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And finally a giant’s leap back – some 5, 000 years:

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It’s only a short walk from the Romano-Celtic settlement, and barely a stone’s throw behind a field hedge, but here we have a Stone Age cromlech, the burial place of some thirty Neolithic farmers, men, women and children. Among their remains archaeologists also found animal bones, flint tools and pottery.

The hugeness of the capstone is breath-taking. It’s reckoned to weigh 25 tons and, in consequence, it’s also thought that the stone was already in situ at the time of construction (a handy glacial delivery?) and that the tomb builders excavated underneath, wedging it on boulders to create the chamber. The whole was then probably covered with turves and soil, and as with similar monuments that were in use over a period of time, may also have included some kind of ceremonial forecourt. But however it was constructed, it surely took a massively concerted effort.

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Our visit over, we turned back to the car. Back to the present. Across the lane from the tomb was the misty view of the Great Orme on the mainland (named by the Vikings during the next invasion phase). Behind us was the  small place called Din Lligwy  – five millennia of human history documented in stone.

On my personal time-scale, I’d like to say I’ll be back there in another sixty years, but it seems unlikely. Still, you never know…

Lens-Artists: Looking Back This week Sofia sets the challenge.

copyright 2023 Tish Farrell

The Best Of All Seasons 2022

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New Year on Newborough Beach, Anglesey –  mainland Wales in the mist

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We began and ended 2022 on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. In between there were meanderings to favourite spots in Shropshire and around and about the town of Much Wenlock.So here we have a random selection of a year’s happy moments and things that caught my eye.

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January walk on Wenlock Edge – looking down on Much Wenlock

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On the Cutlins in February

And finding aconites: first signs of spring

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The Linden Walk in early March

And alder catkins in the Linden Field

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April over the garden fence

Oil Seed Rape in full flourish in the Corve Valley

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May on the Linden Walk

And on Windmill Hill

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June on Wenlock’s old railway line

And on the Stiperstones viewing the Devil’s Chair from a respectful distance

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June in the garden

And on the Bull Ring, Much Wenlock

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July in the garden

And in the Shropshire Hills at Mitchell’s Fold

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August over the garden fence

And with the Cutlins MacMoos during the two-day heatwave

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And after the wheat harvest on Callaughton Ash

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September: harvesting the field beans in Townsend Meadow

Gathering storm clouds, but no rain

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Early October and back to Wales: Barmouth Beach

And October’s end in Ludlow

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November: windfall quinces at the allotment

And a sundowner stroll on Windmill Hill

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December over the garden fence

And on hoar-frosty Downs Hill

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And so back to the beach, Lligwy, Anglesey, January 2023

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Lens-Artists: Favourite 2022 images John at Journeys with Johnbo sets the theme for this week.

Winter Sea

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Finishing the year with a photo that began it, taken during our New Year break at Aberffraw on the North Wales island of Anglesey. It’s a place you can always rely on for some stunning light effects, even in winter. Last January did not disappoint, though we had some gales too. Here are some of the more peaceful on-the-beach moments.

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Here’s wishing you glowing horizons, whatever your outlook.

Lens-Artists: Last Chance

This week Tina gives us the opportunity to post any 2022 photos of our choice, though not ones previously posted for this challenge. Please take a look at her lovely gallery of photos.

Just About Room For Two

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This seat looks to have been created from driftwood and sea debris, with just enough room for two to huddle. It’s sited on the path through the dunes to Harlech Beach (see previous post). You can just glimpse the mountains of Snowdonia in the distance.

There were also some pretty interesting seats In the garden of Borthwnog Hall (where we were spending a few nights back in October). This next one takes repurposed driftwood to a new level. Perhaps a little spooky? Or made specially for dryads.

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And then there was this more conventional bench in the rock garden. It caught the sun only as it was setting over the mountains above the house:

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And then there was the bench with the Mawddach Estuary view:

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And this was the view, and with plenty of room to perch on the wall:

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Seating for more than one

Walking Squares #19   The header square also for Becky’s November #WalkingSquares

Beach Walking

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This is a walk we did earlier – i.e. back in early October when we staying at Borthwnog Hall on the Mawddach Estuary in Wales. The beaches along this part of the coast from Barmouth to Harlech (where these photos were taken) are stupendous – sandscape heaven with much of the area designated nature reserve.

My only quibble (as a life-long beach-comber and shell gatherer) was the tide had swept the shore so clean, there was hardly a thing to find. So this is my main sighting: the skeleton (test) of a common heart urchin Echinocardium cordatum, also known as a sea potato.

You can see what they look like in real life HERE. When they have all their spines they’re rather hairy entities. They burrow several inches into sandy sea bottoms and both feed themselves with passing particles and avoid getting completely buried with a mobile feeding tube that keeps a clear shaft of water above them.

So there you have it: a heart urchin test. And some rather pleasing red seaweed.

Walking Squares #18  Today Becky is wondering what kinds of things we notice when we’re out walking.

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Communing With The Ancestors At Dyffryn Ardudwy

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Scan an ordnance survey map of Wales, and especially the county of Gwynedd where we were a couple of weeks ago, and you will soon spot a host of prehistoric remains: hut circles, standing stones and chambered tombs. They can be found on the coast, in the immediate hinterland and in the uplands of Snowdonia, thus giving an impression of a very busy ancestral landscape.

Of course there is no way of knowing if these are the scant remains of many more monuments, lost to collapse, deliberate destruction and/or repurposing by later populations, or if they roughly represent the sum of the stone-built prehistoric past. Another problem is dating them. For example, Neolithic chambered tombs appear to have served the whole community, were constantly re-used and so remained in use over a considerable period of time. On our recent Wales trip we found a good example in the little village of Dyffryn Ardudwy (OS grid ref: SH585235), one of a group of 6 similar monuments between Barmouth and Harlech.

The unusual feature here is there are the two burial chambers in close proximity, the earliest (far right in header photo) dating from around 6,000 years ago and built by Neolithic farmers. This was originally covered by a small oval cairn, but with a forecourt facing east. Shards of Neolithic pottery were found during excavations.

Sometime later, the larger easterly chamber was constructed, and the whole area including the earlier chamber and its surrounding cairn, was covered by a large trapezoidal barrow  some 100 feet (30 metres) long. This construction phase also included a forecourt facing east. These forecourts are thought to have provided the ceremonial setting for funerary rituals. The big scatter of rubble is all that is left of the mound. Over succeeding millennia it has doubtless provided a handy source of building material.

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The building of such monuments suggests that Neolithic communities had both plenty of human-power and the spare time to do the building work.  And while the large chamber slabs most likely came from the immediate vicinity, they still had to be shifted and lifted.

From our consumption-heavy perspective is easy to think that stone age life was tough and impoverished. But the coastal region would have been very rich in resources – not only a range of seafood, especially shellfish, but also the wildfowl, fish and game of the salt marsh estuaries to supplement farm produce.

The immediate hillside area was anyway still occupied two plus millennia later by Bronze Age-Iron Age people. In the next field to the burial cairns are the stone foundations of two circular houses together with evidence of field terracing and an enclosure. So life went on there, though probably with settlers of quite different/or at least mixed cultural origins.

But one of the most beguiling features of the Dyffryn ‘house of the dead’ in our era is that it feels embraced. The path to it runs beside the village community centre and then beside the primary school, the setting is cared for, pastoral, almost domestic. It’s reminding me of a chambered tomb of the cromlech variety I once spotted on a lane skirting a Breton farmyard. The tomb had been incorporated into the outbuildings; the past very purposely repurposed and impressively too. Adaptive re-use as conservation persons are wont to say. I like it.

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Related: Pentre Ifan chambered tomb.

Good Heavens: A Real Sand Castle?

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We did not go inside the castle on our recent visit to Harlech on the Mid-Wales coast. To tell the truth I’m rather offended by the tyranny that these brutish bastions of Edward I  represent. He, the irascible English monarch (1272-1307) built a whole string of overbearing fortifications between 1277 and 1304 (Caernarfon being the very grandest), this in a bid to subjugate the Welsh. Of course, in a nice twist of historical irony, the castles are now major international tourist attractions, bringing welcome income to the Welsh economy. (Take that, Edward Longshanks!)

What interested me was a little photo exploration of the castle’s present setting.

For instance, the header photo is something of a trompe l’oeil. Quite misleading in fact. The castle does not sit among the massive sand dunes that have invaded much of the Welsh coast over past centuries and are still growing. It sits on a 200 foot (61 metres) eminence of ancient Cambrian rock (the Harlech Dome), whose footings were once lapped by the sea, and where ships bringing in supplies would once have docked.

So yes, here we have a fascinating case of falling sea levels, or rather, rising land levels. Parts of  Britain’s landmass have risen, and apparently some are still rising (e.g. Scotland) in response to the post-glacial ice weight reduction (isostatic rebound), as in ten thousand years after the event, while others, e.g. south east England, where there are newer rocks and/or compacting clay strata (as in London), are sinking or eroding each year.

Geology has much to answer for. It is ongoing, never static.  A pity that most of us (and that very much includes Mrs. Farrell) know so little about it, or the forces that have shaped and continue to influence the planet. I seem to remember my geography teacher, aeons ago, telling us that Britain was tilting. And it’s far from being the only place where geology is still  moving upwards or downwards. [e.g. an unrelated phenomenon in the Pacific where satellite data show many atolls and islands are growing in size rather than eroding].

But back to Harlech. There’s a diagrammatic reconstruction of the early 14th century castle’s outer defences and setting above the sea here:

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This photo above gives you a glimpse of the golf course that lies between Harlech  (castle and lower town) and the massive dune system behind the now distant beach.

And looking from the other direction:

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It should be said that the Welsh people did not take English oppression lying down. There were a good few revolts and uprisings, and one in particular in 1400 under Owain Glendwyr, an actual Prince of Wales (as opposed to the  fabricated English ones of recent times). He captured Harlech in 1404 and made it his family home and military HQ for four years. He also held his second parliament there in 1405. However, for all that, Welsh rule was short lived. English forces retook Harlech in 1409 during the reign of Henry V.

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Looking from the castle towards North Wales, to Eryri, the mountains of  Snowdonia, and the plain below where once there was sea.

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It is intriguing how things change, and how if we fail to grasp in what ways they change and why, we truly risk  losing the reality plot. As we headed to the beach I was amused by this sign on the golf course:

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Where once there was passage for ships, the biggest risk is now flying golf balls. Who’d’ve thought it.

And finally an old image of the castle around 1890-1900 courtesy of the Library of Congress on Wikipedia:

Harlech Castle c 1890 Library of Congress

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More about the Morfa Harlech dune system HERE. Yes, it is still growing.

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Lens-Artists: One Subject Three Ways  Patti wants us to look at our subject from different angles.