Starting mileage: 18323 km
Day started: 11:00
Day ended: 23:00
We’re taking a leisurely pace around Anglesey, for many reasons; the ferry timetable means we got a few days extra before arriving in Liverpool. But also, this is one of our favourite places in Wales, and the best to do a bit of antiquity-spotting.
If you want to find a lot of prehistoric sites in short time, there are two main locations you can go to in the UK: the better known Salisbury Plain, and Anglesey, or Mona Island, the fortress of the Druids.
Only on Mona can you visit three different sites in half an hour of slow driving. There are plenty of cairns, standing stones and other antiquities all around Wales, in Snowdonia and beyond, but they are usually hard to get to, or in various stages of misfortune. Mona is flat, compact, and thoroughly researched. In fact, there are so many sites here that we only resolved to find the most important ones.
A necessary purchase for this kind of trip is a small Cadw booklet, A Guide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle of Anglesey. This has all the information you need, including detailed directions (a few of them outdated, as we noticed later) and a selection of sites that is just perfect for three leisurely days of sight-seeing.
We first retraced our steps back towards Llanfair PG. Here, four sites lay in a small rectangle between Dwyran and Llanfair: the mushroom-shaped Bodowyr chamber, similar to Pentre Ifan and other cromlechs; a round rampart of the neolithic enclosure of Castell Bryn Gwyn; an iron age defensive manor of Caer Leb; and a finely reconstructed burial chamber of Bryn Celli Ddu.
Of these, Bryn Celli Ddu is the finest, and most interesting. Like its kindred in Newgrange or Maeshowe, it is a large earthen mound – the original much larger than even the impressive reconstruction – with several large chambers inside (the reconstruction only has one). A replica of intricately decorated stone stands outside, and inside is a round pillar, said to be – or resemble – a petrified tree. But what makes the site most intriguing lies underneath the floor, hidden from view of a casual tourist.
Underneath “modern” barrow mound were found remains of a henge of the elder period – the period of stone and wooden circles, like those on Salisbury Plain – and of a strange ritual involving a human ear, performed just before the creation of the mound above. This is a fascinating evidence of a change of ritual cultures, perhaps even changes of religions: it’s as if the old henge site was reconsecrated before being replaced by a mound.
From Bryn Celli Ddu we headed for Newborough Forest, which we remembered fondly from our previous visit to Mona. One of the Red Squirrel Forests of the island, it’s well organised into many foot paths, and beyond it lies a fine and popular beach, with a small tidal island of Llandwyn jutting into the sea nearby.
The water, the air, the temperature and the gentle waves made for a perfect afternoon at sea, even if the beach itself had grown tiny in high tide and smelled of rotting seaweed.
On the way out, we stopped by a site we had discovered by pure accident the last time we’ve been to Newborough. We were glad to see that it had been improved considerably, and that archaeological work progressed.
The site is that of Llys Rhosyr, one of the chief palaces of Llywelyn the Great, the 13th century ruler of all of Wales. Only one fourth of the palace had been yet discovered, but the remains give a good impression of the entire complex; it is not a great castle like Dinas Bran, or what we would associate with a medieval palace, but a medium-sized hall for the prince to welcome guests and issue edicts while visiting.
It was getting too late to visit another site on our tour – that was for the next day; it was time to search for a campsite.
There are loads of big caravan parks and campsites on the coast around Rhosneigr – Anglesey’s premier sea resort – but still it’s not an easy task to find a free pitch on a sunny weekend. Eventually we found one at Bodfan Farm, nestled between the town centre, the lake and the bigger caravan park.
The price is Anglesey’s usual £20 with hookup; it’s a big and crowded site, but quite enjoyable and youthful. The only problem are the midges and mosquitoes emerging at dusk from the nearby lake.