Starting mileage: 18460 km
Day started: 11:00
Day ended: 23:00
A kestrel sits on the wire above the Ty Fawr campsite as we depart, starting one of the busiest days of the Wales part of our trip.
We followed the directions in the Cadw booklet, but they turned out to be outdated; the road that we’re supposed to follow is no longer there – turned into a footpath in places, in places taken over by construction site. This had an unforeseen consequence – we stumble upon a print shop which makes car signs on the outskirts of Holyhead. Five minutes later we drove off with the url of this blog on our back window; better late than never, I suppose.
Anyway, we now decided to go where we remembered to have seen the tomb last time we’d been to Holy Island, and we hit the jackpot right away; just off the main road, the sign points to Trefignath Burial Chamber. For what it’s worth, the tomb looks from a distance like a pile of stone waste left over from some roadworks. The truth is much more intriguing and exciting: these are actually three tombs, built on top of each other in succession. The smallest one, on the side, is the earliest; the middle one collapsed, but the latest one is the most complete and impressive entrance at the top end of the construction. The entire thing had been constructed over the period of almost a thousand years – from 3100 to 2250 BC – which means by the time the last chamber was built, the first one was already almost as old as the Tower of London is now!
There are two more neolithic sites on the Holy Island, which we stopped at only briefly; both are standing stone: a singular one, not far from Trefignath, and a pair- Penrhos Feilw – further to the north positioned in a way which makes the Holyhead Mountain appear between them as if in a frame; the pair puzzles the scholars, who have various theories as to its purpose. To me it looks very much like the beginning of a vast burial chamber entrance which somebody abandoned before putting up the rest, but then I’m a complete amateur 🙂
From Trefignath it’s only a short drive to the Holyhead town centre, where yet another ancient site hides in plain view: a full, almost complete Roman fort wall. It now forms the wall around the St Cybi’s churchyard, right in the middle of the town, but the Roman masonry is still easy to spot, and the entire outline is perfectly preserved.
It was finally time to leave Holy Island – but not yet Anglesey proper; there was far too much still left to see. We drove right across the heart of the island, past the central market town of Llangefni towards the east coast, where perhaps the most remarkable set of ancient sites, spanning several millenia, stands just a few hundred feet away from each other, near the small town of Moelfre: the Lligwy complex.
The first of the three, approaching from the South, is another burial chamber – this one is very different from your typical mushroom-type cromlech, in that it’s made of an enormous single flat stone, dragged onto many small ones; the chamber itself was dug underneath the stone, and can still be seen; as many as 30 bodies have been found in the grave.
Approaching the next site, we skip two thousand years to Roman age. Din Lligwy is a perfectly preserved Celtic village, with a rectangular wall, a smithy, workshops, and several large round houses. Think Asterix’s village, and you’ll have a good approximation of what you can find at Din Lligwy – although merely in the form of foundations. In parts, this 1700-year old village seems better preserved than the dissolutioned monasteries of Henry VIII’s age, or even some of the tin mines of Cornwall. In fact, it looks almost as good as the last site in the series, which is a mere thousand years old: the Lligwy Chapel.
Built sometime around 11th century, during the reign of Owain Gwynedd, at the time of Viking raids and Norman incursions, the chapel – dedicated to an unknown saint, for an unknown community – is a small building of stone, with its roof now gone; a sixteenth century vault is added on the south side, which some antiquarians compared to the burial chambers around it, going so far as to call it an imitation. It certainly looks out of place in this ancient landscape, itself now an ancient monument, abandoned and revered without true knowledge of its purpose.
The day was far from over; we still had two more destinations left to see on Anglesey before crossing the Menai Straits back to the mainland. More on that in the next post.