on August 6, 2012
June on the Isle of Anglesey is lovely. The countryside is green and lush, and the air is mild—much cooler than we would expect in the American heartland. Views include the distant mountains of Snowdonia, the gently rolling hills of the island itself, and spectacular shorelines. It is also a landscape steeped in both history and prehistory.One of the most impressive sites we found on Anglesey belongs to the latter category. Bryn Celli Ddu is believed to have originated as a henge monument with a stone circle, built about 6,000 years ago. Roughly a thousand years later, the stone circle was dismantled and a passage tomb surrounded with large kerb stones (like those found around passage tombs in Ireland’s Boyne valley) was built inside the henge. Archeologists have determined that the chamber, as some along the River Boyne, was aligned to the winter solstice.Last summer when Yours Truly and Himself visited Anglesey with our grandson, Bryn Celli Ddu was on my personal must-see list. I was intrigued by descriptions I had read and eager to see how they measured up. Finding the site proved easier than we anticipated. We took the A4080 from the A55 and traveled southwest for about 2.5 miles. The site is well signposted, and there is a car park on the south side of the A4080 to accommodate visitors. Once across the road, there is a path (again, well signposted) leading to Bryn Celli Ddu. For much of its 700 yards, the path borders a small stream on one side and a meadow on the other. After crossing the stream, a partially hedged walkway leads on to the site itself.On approaching the site, the mound that covers the tomb seems relatively small. This is accounted for by the fact that it has experienced significant erosion over the centuries. Further, when the mound was reconstructed after excavation, only the burial chamber was covered, leaving it less than a quarter of its initial size. In its present state, the tomb seems to have two entrances—the original, facing slightly north of east, and the other at what would have been the innermost terminus of the burial chamber, facing southwest. The so-called Pattern Stone, covered in a maze-like series of incised lines, was discovered near the interior end of the tomb. The Pattern Stone is now in the National Museum at Cardiff, and a replica stands in its place at Bryn Celli Ddu.We entered the tomb through its eastern end and made our way along a stone passage about 5 feet high, which created a rather tight space for Himself’s 6-ft frame. He decided not to explore further, and I decided go on alone because my 5-ft 5-in height was easier to accommodate. The passage is decidedly close, but it is solidly built and dry despite Britain’s wet climate. A stone shelf several inches deep runs its length along the right side. Putting aside speculation as to its purpose, it looks like a simple stone bench built along the wall. Once through the passage, I stepped through a stone portal into the 8-ft wide burial chamber—and into what seemed another world. Though the date hadn’t figured in our planning, our small party visited Bryn Celli Ddu on 21 June, midsummer’s day—the longest day of the year. The site’s innermost burial chamber has apparently become a shrine for those who follow the Old Religion, and when I entered, I found that the rough stone outcrops and alcoves along the north wall held several small votive candles, some of which were still burning. Coins had been wedged firmly into cracks between the stones, and a wilted bouquet of wildflowers had been draped over the top of a freestanding stone rising from the floor of the chamber. Since the west end of the chamber was left somewhat open by the partial reconstruction of the mound, enough light filters in to add drama (if not clear definition) to interior details. The scene was extremely moving and powerfully evocative, and the sense of otherworldliness returns whenever I return to the memory. Meanwhile, Himself and our grandson explored outside, tracing the markings on the Pattern Stone, climbing the mound for the view, and checking the kerb stones for signs of spirals and cupmarks. Satisfied with our explorations, or rather pressed forward to our next excursion, we took the path back to the car park. As we walked, we speculated about the people and the ceremonies that once took place here—and about modern pilgrims who see fit to honor such ancient places by marking the milestones of the Old Religion.
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