Day 36, part 2 – Merlin’s Quarry

Starting mileage: 17502 km
Day started: 08:00
Day ended: 22:00

Ceredigion

Ceredigion

The day continues, as we get off the jet boat and head back east towards inland Wales.

The immediate first stop is St Davids itself. UK’s smallest city and one of its smallest bishoprics, the reason for this place’s fame is apparent in its very name: this is where Saint David, patron of Wales, was born, died, and was buried.

The cathedral stands tall to this day, a huge building compared to the size of what surrounds it, of rough, sombre black stone; most of its side buildings and cloisters have been utilized for the benefit of tourists, and there’s a large, very modern cafe overlooking the cloistered garden.

The other major attraction stands just opposite, a splendid ruin of a 14th century Bishop’s Palace, finely preserved with most of its outer decoration still perfectly visible ( £3.50 pp).

We stopped again at Porthgain to eat a fresh crab sandwich, and then again at Cwm-yr-Eglwys at the foot of Dinas Island, to make a photo of a church wall; the wall is all that is left of a small village church after the Great Storm of 1859. Between these two stops we passed through a small town of Fishguard, notable for two reasons: a ferry to Ireland, and the last invasion of Great Britain. In 1797 a ship filled with French mercenaries landed at Fishguard as a diversion to France’s intervention in Ireland. They were tasked with trying to reach as far as Bristol, but were stopped in their tracks by a hastily assembled local militia and forced to sign a peace treaty at the local inn.

We were only making short stops because our second main destination of the day was still ahead of us: the Castell Henlys hill fort. There are hundreds of these hill forts scattered around Cornwall and Wales – we’ve seen remains of two on our walk in Marloes the day before; usually all that’s left are barely recognizable earthen ramparts. But in Castell Henlys a reconstruction is made of several round houses, typical dwelling of the Celts before and in the aftermath of the Roman invasion.

The reconstruction is not as impressive as it might be; the trust is obviously lacking money for something big and reflecting the true glory of the settlement. For one thing, according to the drawings, the fort should be surrounded by a tall and wide stone wall, and defended by a mighty gate. There is no trace of such walls, nor of a gate, and you’d be forgiven to think that for a fort, it’s not very well fortified.

The houses themselves are finely made, especially the so-called “chieftain’s house”, where you can handle the shields, swords and spears freely. In another house a fire was roaring under a large copper pot; yet another was made into a smithy, and another, smaller one, into a granary. But more than half of known house spots were only marked with posts; there was a Celtic herb garden in the corner, but it was overgrown and unlabeled. The place has great potential, and is still fun to visit (£4.75 pp), but it really could use some more funding.

It was in the reception of Castell Henlys that I noticed, looking at the maps and fliers, that we were close to the legendary Preseli Hills. So we took the car for a spin up the narrow and steep roads of upland Wales, a deep hinterland where, according to wikipedia, as much as 60% of population speaks Welsh as their first language.

The first sign that things were getting mythical was the enormous burial chamber, one of the largest in the country: Pentre Ifan. All that remains of it now is a massive dolmen – several tall stones, still standing together, just as they had been positioned 5500 years ago at the entrance to the long barrow.

We drove on, in search of Carn Menyn; the roads got even stranger deeper in the hills: we even had to cross a ford at some point. Eventually, we found it: about a mile off the road, up a tall hill, a pile of bluish-grey rocks. It was a bit too far for us to try and reach it that late in the evening, but we could see it clearly in the binoculars.

What’s so special about Carn Menyn? Well, only that this is where the Stonehenge came from! This is the natural source for bluestone, and in the rocky outcrops in Preseli Hills the bluestone is naturally cracked and comes off in gargantuan, almost rectangular chunks: perfect for a stone circle.

There are several theories as to how bluestones from Wales found their way to Salisbury Plain. Some think they were carried by men – and even tried to replicate that feat – others, that it had been brought over by a glacier and only found in Wiltshire by neolithic humans. Personally, I like the “a wizard did it” theory – namely, that Merlin carried the stones over by magic 🙂

There is a small, faint circle of stones just beside the Carn Menyn pile, called Bedd Arthur – Arthur’s Grave (of course), and to me it looks just like a showroom for the bluestone quarry. I can imagine the neolithic adverts, carved in fine slate:

Do you plan to build a stone circle?
Look no further than Carn Menyn,
the most popular (and only) bluestone quarry in Britain!

Visit our show circle and you’ll see for yourself
Why Preseli Bluestone is the best Bluestone!

That was about all we had time for; it was time to leave Pembrokeshire and drive past Cardigan to our chosen campsite.

St Davids Bishop's Palace

St Davids Bishop’s Palace

Castell Henlys

Castell Henlys

IMG_7700

Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber


Ty Gwyn Caravan & Camping Park, Mwnt is all about location. It is perched right on the cliffside, beside the coastal paths, overlooking a National Trust beach and a tall hill, known locally as Mwnt and small, ancient parish. The mood and views are fantastic, of course, especially at sunset, and the opportunities for wildlife watching and coastal walks incomparable. It is cheap, as well, at £12 for night without hookup.

On a more practical side, the owners rely a bit too much on location and popularity; there is only one toilet and shower for Gents in what seems like a 100-pitch site, and both reception and rubbish bins are well hidden and unmarked, resulting in people wandering around helplessly (hint: they are both well outside the campsite).

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