Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Exploring Ancient Pembrokeshire

A shamanic journey to Pentre Ifan*

The second week of our holiday in Wales June, Simon, Indi and I set off again, leaving Stepaside for a short hour and a half journey to a caravan site at Llanychaer near Fishguard. The caravan site was lovely and very peacefully with beautiful views over Cwm Gwaun. However June and Simon’s faces were not quite so lovely a picture as they approached the site and saw the hill they had to go down to get to it. Going down wasn’t a problem but they were right and had to call out a knight of the road from a local towing company to get them back up it in order to go home at the end of the week!

Tycanol ancient woodland
The first place June wanted to visit was Pentre Ifan. Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, they turned off the road too soon and ended up at the beginning of a walk to Tycanol ancient woodland. Tycanol,one of the few remaining ancient woodlands in Wales, is representative of the type of forest that would have surrounded Pentre Ifan when the tomb was built around 3500 BCE.

These lucky sheep live in the tranquility of Tycanol
Tycanol is understandably wonderfully atmospheric and if you are fortunate enough to take a walk there yourself look out for one of its outstanding features, the variety of lichen. There are over 400 species of lichen many of which are rare, as well as of course many trees including ancient oak.

Pentre Ifan framing Carningli
Pentre Ifan itself has a huge capstone unbelievably balanced on three upright stones. This Bronze Age megalithic burial is surrounded by extensive views over the Nevern Valley. Turn one way and you can see the sea, turn the other way and you see the stones perfectly framing Carningli, Hill of Angels.

Carreg Coetan - 5 foot 5 inches tall to the capstone as proven by June (and Indi)!
A smaller Neolithic tomb, Carreg Coetan, can be found in the middle of a small private housing estate at Newport.

The Great Cross
Another visit on June’s list of ‘essentials’ was the Celtic Cross at the Church of St Brynach, an ancient church located in a wooded valley at Nevern. St Brynach was an Irish born Celtic monk who married the daughter of a Breconshire chieftan. Legend says St Bryach came to the Gwaun Valley and freed Pontfaen from evil spirits whose horrible howling had made the village uninhabitable. When he arrived in Nevern an angel told him a white sow would show him where to build his church.

Standing under a 'bleeding yew' in the rain
The tower of the church you can visit today is Norman but the remainder dates to around 1425 – 1525. The avenue leading to the church is ancient yew trees. These ‘bleeding yews’ were believed to shed blood and you can see why when you see the red sap dripping from the trees yourself!

Church of St Brynach
If you visit do go into the church itself to see the Maglocunus Stone which has an Ogham inscription in Goidelic, the Irish branch of the Celtic language then predominant in parts of Wales.  No dog's are allowed inside but as hedgehogs weren't mentioned I went in with June.  While you are in the church pick up a booklet (for a small donation) to make sure you don’t miss any of the other fascinating ancient features here. The Great Cross itself is very difficult to miss at 13 feet high. One of the most perfect specimens of Celtic Cross of its kind it dates from around the 10th or 11th century. Just before the Celtic Cross near the church porch is the bilingual Vitalianus Stone, believed to date from the 5th century – one of the oldest examples of this type of monument.

The Vitalianus Stone
Other features well worth looking out for include: the male mask on the wall near the Vitalianus stone; the incised stone believed to be a remnant of a vertical Latin inscription dating from the last years of the Roman occupation on the north wall of the church; and the Consecration Cross on the wall of the Glasdir Chapel.

We will definitely be going back to visit this beautiful area of Pembrokeshire again to explore all the areas of the Preseli Hills we didn't have time to see. In the meantime I am leaving June and Simon to work on creating the Summer edition of the Indie Shaman magazine while I hit the road again. Back soon to tell you all about where I am and what I am learning about!

Many blessings
Shaman Sham

p.s. * My title photo 'A shamanic journey to Pentre Ifan' is apropos and in appreciation of Kenn Day's book 'Dance of Stones: A Shamanic Road Trip'.  June reviewed it for the Indie Shaman magazine and highly recommended it so I'm reading it before I hit the road again for another shamanic road trip of my own.  

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