Monday, 31 July 2017

50 METRES ABOVE SEA LEVEL

Is not very high but it’s enough for me to see the circle of mountains and hills which surround my new house. 

I want to describe them from the north west, starting with Garn Boduan, a rather uninteresting hill to climb due to its dense covering of fir trees which gives its outline an unshaved stubbly look.  But it is of interest in that nearby is Bodfel Hall, birthplace of Hester Thrale, friend of Samuel Johnson who visited this area with her.  See Beryl Bainbridge’s excellent novel According to Queenie.

To the north are the elegant triple peaks of Yr Eifl, looking like extinct volcanoes (which they are).  On the seaward side there was extensive quarrying of granite setts, widely used for urban streets in the 19th and early 20th century.  A whole village was built for the workers at Nant Gwrtheyrn and later abandoned.  It has now been given a new lease of life as the National Language Centre of Wales.  On the most easterly peak is a well-survived iron age hill fort, Tre’r Ceiri, (the Town of the Giants) with high stone ramparts and hut circles – most atmospheric when the mist is swirling round the ramparts.

The quiet group of hills I call Bwlch Mawr after one of its summits lies behind the village of Clynnog Fawr, with its ancient church on the pilgrim route to Bardsey. 

If it’s clear enough the next most noticeable mountain to the north east is Snowdon, obviously higher than any surrounding hills.  In The Prelude Wordsworth described his ascent at night with a shepherd guide, the only excitement provided by
    
     The shepherd’s lurcher, who among the crags,
     Had do his joy unearthed a hedgehog, teased
     His coiled-up prey with barkings turbulent.

Then they climbed above the mist into moonlight –

     The Moon hung naked in a firmament
     Of azure without cloud, and at my feet
     Rested a silent sea of hoary mist.
     A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved
     All over this still ocean; and beyond,
     Far, far beyond, the solid vapours stretched
     In headlands, tongues and promontory shapes.

Looking sunwise to the east there are more mountains, incuding Moel Hebog and the Rhinogs (loved by poet Lee Harwood and listed in Robert Graves’ poem “Letter to SS from Mametz Wood”).

Looking through the bushes along the boundary fence of the garden I can see the blue line of the sea of Cardigan Bay and to the south east the classic outline of Cadair Idris (Idris’s Chair – yes, Idris was a giant).

To the south west and nearer to my house are Moel y Felyn Wynt, Carneddol and Garn Saethon, insignificant hills of Pen Llŷn but they form the view from my living room.   Moel y Felyn Wynt has the stump of an old windmill on its summit.  Its Welsh name translates as Windmill Hill but locally it is known as the Jam Pot.  I asked someone working on my house what this nickname was in Welsh and was told that it was not very original – the Pot Jam. 

Garn Saethon is the hill I find most interesting, with its hill fort (“date unknown”), its nearby reminders of the Crimean War (Inkerman Bridge, Balaclava Road) and its long deserted stone church dedicated to the archangel Michael.  An 1851 a religious census recorded a congregation of 7 “owing to the inconvenient location of the church”.  The parish was abolished in 1934.

The OS maps’ gothic lettering of historical sites features on several of the hills – settlement, fort, field systems, hut circles – but this is not an exhaustive list.  I found this out by visiting the Bangor University dig at Meillionydd at Rhiw a few days ago.  The archaeologists are most enthusiastic about this site, not marked on any maps but shown up as two circles by aerial photography.  They have discovered that Meillionydd (named after a nearby farm) was occupied from the 13th century to the 8th century BC – from the late Bronze Age to the Iron Age.  I was fascinated to see a stone lamp which still had soot embedded in its shallow reservoir, spindle whorls (one of them decorated), glass beads, grinding stones and - the archaeologists were most excited about this one - a jet bracelet.

Visiting the dig has made me view the encircling hills differently.  The deserted summits were once occupied, fires would have flickered from the hills at night and below the soil must lie evidence of human habitation. 

For information about the dig

 meillionydd.bangor.ac.uk

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