This is the second part of our trip to West Wales last September.
Whilst camping in Carmarthenshire we managed a trip to two local cromlechs, this, the larger of the two is Pentre Ifan and is supposedly high enough for a man on horseback to stand under. As it’s just eight foot I think they may have meant a man on a pony.
The monument is on a hillside with an amazing outlook over Fishguard Bay – a tomb with a view! It was constructed around 4000 years ago and is the remains of a long barrow. There would originally have been a mound of earth over 120’ long laid on the top and which would have extended around the entrance to form a courtyard a little like Belas Knap. The huge capstone, which looks delicately balanced on the tips of the surrounding stones has been estimated to weigh 16 tons.
There is a connection with Druids, as according to W.Y. Evans Wentz, writing in The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
"The region, the little valley on whose side stands the Pentre Ifan cromlech, the finest in Britain, is believed to have been a favourite place with the ancient Drulds. And in the oak groves (Ty Canol Wood) that still exist there, tradition says there was once a flourishing school for neophytes, and that the cromlech instead of being a place for internments or sacrifices was in those days completely enclosed, forming like other cromlechs a darkened chamber in which novices when initiated were placed for a certain number of days….the interior (of Pentre Ifan) being called the womb or court of Ceridwen. "
Of course it could have been re-used by the Druids for this purpose, it would have been ancient and probably disused even then.
In June 1884 it was named as Wale’s first scheduled Ancient Monument.
Another fascinating thing about it is that it’s a focus for fairy sightings. One of which described them as being as small as little children, dressed in clothes like soldiers’ clothes, and with red caps.
Waldo Williams, one of the greatest Welsh Language poets of the last century was born in Preseli, which is just up the road from Pentre Ifan. He was predominantly a folk poet (Bardd Gwladd) and his verse celebrated the locality and the people who lived there. The following poem was inspired by the monument.
Before the sun has left the sky, one minute
One dear minute, before the journeying night,
To call to mind the things that are forgotten,
Now in the dust of ages lost from sight.
Like foam of a wave on a lonely seacoast breaking,
Like the wind’s song where there’s no ear to mind,
I know they’re calling, calling to us vainly –
Old unremembered things of humankind.
Exploit and skill of early generations,
From tiny cottages or mighty hall,
Fine tales that centuries ago were scattered,
The gods that nobody knows now at all.
Little words of old fugitive languages
That were spritely on the lips of men,
And pretty to the ear in the prattle of children –
But no one’s tongue will call on them again.
Oh, generations on the earth unnumbered.
Their divine dreams, fragile divinity –
Is only silence left to the heart’s affections
That once rejoiced and grieved as much as we?
Often when I’m alone and it’s near nightfall,
I yearn to acknowledge you and know each one.
Is there no way fond memory can keep you?
Forgotten ancient things of the family of man?
Translated by Tony Conran
The second cromlech was closer to the coast, near the River Nyfer’s (Nevern) mouth, in a small field by a housing estate in Newport. It was tiny in comparison to Pentre Ifan and you had to hunch up to get under the cap stone. It reminded me of a toadstool, I absolutely loved it, there was such an amazing and friendly energy to it.
Both these cromlechs are aligned with the nearby hill of Carn Ingli (‘Hill of Angels’) which is part of the sacred landscape, although it is difficult to envisage Carreg Coetan’s position in respect of the others, enclosed as it is with hedges and houses. Carn Ingli would have been a great place to visit as it has a large number of interesting monuments - neolithic tombs, standing stones and an Iron Age Hillfort. It apparently takes it’s modern name from the antics of a local Christian saint, St. Brynach, a great friend of St. David, who used to climb the hill to converse with angels.